Should Sales Reps Call or Email?

One of the conundrums facing sales reps is whether to contact prospects and customers via the phone or email. While the obvious answer is to use both, what isn’t so apparent is that the correct answer isn’t necessarily tied to buyer preference – rather, there’s strong evidence that suggests timing and communication purpose are far better indicators for which method to use.

The power of the phone
Although many reps struggle with phone anxiety, there’s little question as to its effectiveness at conversion over email – specifically over 8% for phone compared to .03% for email – and no, that’s not a misplaced decimal point. But you also want to make sure you’re not annoying your prospect with unnecessary calls, which can damage the relationship. So consider following these guidelines regarding phone contact:

  1. Call to make initial contact.
    Most sales reps use email to make the introductory contact, but the phone’s higher response rate and the more intimate connection created by hearing your voice makes calling a more viable choice. Keep in mind that you don’t want to go into a sales pitch at this stage – rather, the objective should be to identify fundamental client needs and convert to a meeting, whether that’s a deeper dive into discovery (the most likely outcome), or even a demo in verticals with shorter sales cycles.
  2. When an answer is necessary or elaborate
    Need to get a meeting or close the sale? Pick up the phone. Does the customer have a question that requires a nuanced, lengthy explanation due to its complexity? Call them. These are situations where there’s strong value for both you and the customer, and so there’s legitimate reason to make contact via phone.
  3. Trying to reach a higher-up.
    Although some sales professionals suggest using email instead as a way around gatekeepers, the reality is that speaking with a gatekeeper is still a more personal form of contact and establishing a good relationship with them is a way to get privileged, direct access to a C-suite executive. This is particularly true when trying to get a first contact – the process might take longer than email, but the earlier investment in building the relationship will pay outsized long-term dividends that make it worthwhile.
  4. At the end of the selling cycle.
    We’ve referenced this above, but it’s such an important point that we’re repeating it. When a prospect is ready to make a buying decision, make that final push for a close by calling. This creates a space for overcoming objectives quickly and smoothly in a comparatively controlled environment. In contrast, email has a lag time and an uncontrollable situation.

The elegance of email
If the first half of this post has you swearing off email, don’t give it up just yet. Just as there’s situations that call for the phone (pun wholly intended), there’s places where email should take priority over calling. To wit:

  1. When it’s a short answer or communication.
    If it’s something that can be stated in a few lines, or if a question the client has is one that needs just a simple answer, use email. Then the prospect can just quickly scan the response at their leisure, taking up far less time than a phone call would and still getting the information they need.
  2. To get written confirmation.
    Watch any of the courtroom shows like Judge Judy, Hot Bench, or The People’s Court, and you’ll hear the common refrain of decisions made based on the written language of the contract. The same applies to sales. No matter what’s said or promised verbally, the written word is the rule of law. So if you need permission for something, or to get the fine details of a contract finalized, email is the best route to go.Another time you’ll want to use email is to get confirmation of a meeting, often through an integrated calendar system that will provide all attendees with email notifications for the meeting (It’s also a great way to reduce the no-show rate).
  3. You don’t have their phone number.
    This may seem painfully obvious, but if you don’t have a prospect’s phone number, the best option is to email them. It’s also better than the choice some people might make, which is reaching out via social media. Such behavior can come across as creepy and intrusive if it’s done as a cold contact, whereas a cold email is a perfectly acceptable form of contact. Additionally, on some social networks, those types of messages will be filtered from view unless the recipient specifically selects the tab they appear on (primarily Facebook Messenger here).
  4. Reaching out to millennials.
    The one caveat to the phone rules above (bar the close – that’s still so crucial a stage that a phone call is the best route, period) is when you’re contacting a millennial. That generation is much more comfortable with email communication (as well as texting and social media) and many have a far higher preference for those media as opposed to phone calls. In those instances, an email, text, or DM will be more effective in all but the most critical or complex situations.

Both phone calls and email have their place in prospecting and communicating with clients. However, each has their own situations and timing where they’re superior to the other in terms of effectiveness in communication and likelihood of response. Taking on these best practices will improve the quality of your contacts and provide an uptick in your response rate metrics.