In our increasingly technology-driven society, using the phone to make a call or talk to people seems an antiquated concept. Memes abound of telephone conversation avoidance. This mindset has seeped its way into some sales professionals and organizations. The thinking goes that today’s buyers hate talking on the phone, it’s too hard to get through when you’ll just get voicemail, you might get blocked as a spam caller, they prefer email or text, etc. The excuses are endless.
But as much as these claims appear to make sense on the surface, and despite some schools of sales thought heralding the death of the phone (cold calling in particular), the reality is completely different.
There’s no replacement for the personal nature of voice
Here’s the problem with relying solely on emails, social media contacts, and text messaging. While all of them have their place and value as part of the sales strategy tool kit, they can’t replicate one of the most important aspects of getting to know someone – hearing them speak.
You don’t need to be master orator like Martin Luther King Jr to establish connection and engage with someone. But you do need to have a welcoming voice that puts the buyer at ease and makes them become more comfortable and familiar with you – more willing to share information and explore the objectives and issues that your products can solve.
Conversely, pure text-based communication is easily ignored or discarded
When you send an email or a text, it’s something that can be left on unread or, if read, let lapse without a response. Unless you’ve created real value in the missive, there’s no need to reply immediately and continue the conversation.
A telephone call, in counterpoint, is real-time and immediate. Yes, there can be pauses (and in some cases should be so that you and the buyer can take a bit of time to process what the other person has said). But unless they rudely hang up on you in the middle of the talk, there’s not going to be the kind of silence and non-response you have with written communication.
That’s great, you say. But how can I or my sales reps make sure that our calls are generating true value for our buyers and helping progress the sales process?
Phone Call Best Practices
- Prepare before each call.
Often, the success or failure of a phone call comes before you even punch that first digit. This falls into two phases.
First, conduct research about the prospect and do your best to preliminarily qualify them. Spending time calling someone who doesn’t match you is inefficient at best. If they’re qualified, see if you can locate a hook or insight, such as a recent news event, product rollout, or an expansion. The company website, industry trade publications, and LinkedIn are all excellent starting points – especially in terms of discovering something you can congratulate them on, given that good results and exciting news are frequently broadcast.
Second, include a purposeful, legitimate reason for calling that adds value for the buyer. Often this involves discovery to go deeper and learn more about their situation, using your initial research as a jumping off point to help further qualify. Whether you or your organization uses scripts or not, you should have an approximate outline or shape of how the conversation will go. That includes anticipating likely objections and mapping out your responses to those challenges (but keep it flexible so you can tailor the answer to the buyer’s specifics).
- Skip the sales pitch – especially early on.
Even in high velocity sales industries, pitching too soon is a mistake that greatly reduces the chances of closing, if not eliminates it outright. Remember, with those early calls, you’re learning about the potential client. Keep the focus on them and talking about themselves. Make sure they feel heard and reinforce the fact that you have their best interests in mind – this is the way to build toward Trusted Advisor status.
- Concentrate quickly on figuring out their communication style and adapt to it.
A garrulous, expressive buyer is going to present a completely different style, tone, and tenor for a phone conversation than a cautious, skeptical one. Be prepared to shift your own vocal qualities, word choice, etc. to align with theirs. Adopting a somber, straightforward manner with someone who’s expressive can dampen enthusiasm, while being cheery and chipper with someone who’s cautious might come across as insincere and communicate a sense of being sold to rather than consultative.
- Always secure next steps, no matter how short the talk.
Frequently the response to discovery attempts is, “Just send me the information and I’ll take a look.” If you need to know more before you can select the right materials, say that. If, however, you’ve obtained what you need, agree to do so, but establish next steps of when to reach back out to get their thoughts, then gain confirmation of those steps.
If the conversation goes well and isn’t curtailed, you still want to settle on a plan for next steps, including the next point of contact, and obtain the buyer’s agreement. Failing to engage in this practice – no matter the conversation length – is often an offramp for the sales process, resulting in either the conclusion or in needless delays that drag out the process longer than it needs to.
In short, yes, the phone still matters and is one of the most powerful forms of sales communication available – even in our digital age. In order to get the most out of it, though, you’ll need to have the right plans and strategies in place to maximize each and every dial. For best voicemail practices, see our blog on the subject.