How to Close a Phone Sales Call

In the classic sales movie “Glengarry Glen Ross”, Alec Baldwin’s character berates the sales team and shouts caustically, “Always Be Closing”! There is an element of truth to this of course. Some salespeople get signals from the customer they are ready to buy, and keep talking. Eventually, something comes out of the salesperson’s mouth which causes the customer to reconsider, and the sale is lost. But in most business-to-business phone sales situations, the right time to close is when you have completed the sales cycle you established with the customer.

The close itself is simply a close-ended question. It is also a question which – if answered affirmatively – means the sale is done.  A close is not a question like “how does that sound to you?” or “have I answered all your questions?” Your product or service may sound good to the customer, and they may not have any further questions, but a “yes” to either of these or something similar does not mean the sale is done. These questions are trial closes. Perfect for taking the buyer’s temperature, but not for closing the sale.

So, what is your favorite close? Perhaps somewhat brazen. “Which purchase order number would you like to use?” “When will you be picking up this order?” Or distinctly less confrontational. “May I set up this order for you?” “Is there any reason we shouldn’t move forward?” Pick a closed-ended question you are comfortable with which, when answered positively, means you move right to the order entry screen.

Before the close should come the business proposal which includes the timeline, the product or service, and the investment. For example, “I recommend you purchase the XYZ Striker package as we discussed. I can have it delivered by next Friday before close-of-business, and your investment will be $ 1,502 plus the applicable sales tax.” After all, you’ve built a relationship through your needs analysis and presentation, your recommendation means something to the customer.  The business proposal also clarifies exactly what they are buying, among all the alternatives you may have discussed.

Finally, what do you close? Of course, the money call, where you ask for the sale. But you should be closing something on every call. Each call in the sales cycle, except for the last one where you ask for money, you are asking for the customer’s time. Time to gather information maybe, or to read a brochure, or to look at your website. Close the customer on the gift of their time. For example, “As we agreed, a good next step is for me to email you information on the XYZ Striker package. It will take you about 10 minutes or so to look over. As we discussed, I’ll call you on Tuesday morning at 10:00 to review the information, and answer any questions you may have. May I set this up for you?” This close allows you to open the call on Tuesday morning by saying, “You asked me to give you a call today to discuss the information I emailed you on the Striker package. What did you think?”

Alec was right. Always be closing. Closing something on each call.

Why Phone Sales Doesn’t Work

Phone sales doesn’t work for you because you think you need to sell a customer something. Your whole object in picking up the phone was to persuade the person on the other end of the line to buy your product or service. On the other hand, your prospect is unhappy and defensive. The former because you just interrupted their day, and the latter because of bad experiences in the past, and a natural skepticism of taking advice from someone they don’t know. Think of your language – full of “us” and “I” plus the name of your company. Think of your presentation, stuffed full of features, ladled with superlative language. All the while the hapless prospect half-heartedly listens, while mostly trying to figure out how to gracefully end the call.

The reality is – your job is to help your customer buy.

Business-to-business buyers purchase solutions to help their businesses grow, cut costs, or improve. Buying the right things at the right time is part of their job. They get paid to make good procurement decisions. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes for a moment. If they make a wrong decision, and purchase a solution that doesn’t work, they could be in hot water. Many buyers are cautious, and careful, and politically sensitive to the blame that cascades abundantly in the direction of a buyer who makes a bad investment.

And then you call.

What do you offer this cautious buyer? You know your product or service; therefore, you can explore the buyer’s business issues for opportunities to deploy your solutions to improve the buyer’s firm. Buyers are great self-educators today; they know how to search the internet for data, so provide information. Provide context to data. Provide interpretation, and connect the buyer’s business issues with your solutions. Don’t make the buyer draw the connection, that’s your job as the salesperson. To first listen to their business issues, and then to make the connection to your offerings.

If you weren’t feeling well and visited a doctor, you’d be offended if the physician walked into the patient room and without examining you, began immediately writing out a prescription. You’d worry the medicine might not fit your ailment. You’d fret about side effects, the cost, that you wouldn’t get better. You’d be concerned your friends or significant other would think you were crazy to trust such a practitioner.

To the business buyer, you’re the doctor. You have the power of prescription, and you have a medicine chest chock full of solutions just waiting for the right application. But you must diagnose first, before you prescribe. If you don’t its sales malpractice.

How to Track Phone Sales

Management guru Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Telephone sales business-to-business can be measured in many ways, and the successful manager crafts a dashboard of metrics which are the best indicators.

The first set of measurements are activities. These are the measurable parts of the job sales reps do every day. Examples include: the number of dials and the minutes of talk time. The second set of measurements are results. Examples include: sales closed and leads generated. In many business-to-business sales roles, results are a lagging indicator. Activities happen first, and results happen after a sales cycle. In my experience, many sales cycles in business-to-business may last around sixty days. In other words, from the time the sales rep first contacts the customer until the deal closes is about two months.

If today’s activities are poor, it is likely results will be unsatisfactory in the future. If sales cycles aren’t started today, they won’t be there to close down the road. By watching activities daily, the sales manager can avoid a costly future downturn.

Which activities and results should be monitored? It all depends on your business model. First, calculate your allowable cost-of-sales. This is what you can spend on the phone sales effort per sale generated or leads produced or whatever the results you require. Next, work backward. What is the sales cycle? For example, a telephone sales conversation, a webinar demonstration, a proposal and close – probably 3 steps in this example. Most reps can make about 60 dials a day, and usually the connect rate is 20%, so the typical rep calling business-to-business may talk to 12 people a day. Next, what is the attrition rate during the sales cycle? Say with 100 initial prospecting conversations, 20 folks say yes to the webinar.  And out of 20 folks who go through the webinar, 8 will ask for a proposal. And say out of 8 proposals you’ll close 2. 

Lots of math. But what does it mean? For one sale, the rep needs to have 50 prospecting conversations and 14 within the sales cycle for a total of 64 conversations. At 12 per day, the sales rep should close ideally about 3.75 sales a month. But this is not an ideal world – customers will miss the webinar and need to re-schedule; the rep will call with the proposal and the customer will not be able to take the call. The prospect may want to buy but needs to check with a manager. A beginning estimate would be 3 sales a month. Do three sales a month meet the cost-of-sales requirements? If not, can marketing generate webinar leads directly avoiding the cold calling, or maybe half?

In this example, the manager would probably want to measure dials, talk time (to make sure the rep was having real conversations), webinars held, proposals generated and of course sales. The sales funnel would also be tracked as customers move from prospect to webinar to proposal to close. Are some reps better at different stages at moving customers through? If so, coaching may help bring up laggards at each step of the sales cycle.

What gets measured, gets managed.

How to Do Phone Sales

Selling over the telephone is both an art and a science. The art part of the equation you’ll need to master first. Are you focused? Will you make the dials? Are you empathetic to customer needs? Can you stick with it? You’ll get this art stuff through your natural talent and training. Now, on to the science.

The first part of the science is proper positioning, and using this positioning to craft a compelling reason to call. What stage of the customer’s buying cycle are you entering? Do you need to develop a need from scratch? (No one knew they needed a smart phone until Apple developed the need.) Do you know the customer has a need, and you are simply a great solution? (Almost every organization needs insurance for example.) Are you the lowest cost solution, or are you faster than the other guy? This is important because what comes out of your mouth during the beginning of the call must resonate with the customer and hit the right stage of their buying cycle. Remember, they were doing something else before you called, and they’d really like to go back to what they were doing. If you don’t hit the positioning right, they’ll politely (or not so politely) end the call.  If you nail the positioning, the customer will see it is just possible you might add value, and they’ll continue.

Second, you need the customer to articulate their needs. What open-ended questions can you ask to make the call about them, not about you. Oh, come on, park your ego on the end of the desk and repeat after me, “the call is not about me, it is about the customer.” If you want something who is totally focused on you, get a dog. Articulating needs makes them top of mind, and when something is resting on the top of a customer’s noggin, they’ll itch to solve it. Luckily for the customer with the itchy head, you have a solution, and all they need for this soothing balm is to buy what you are offering.

Third, make your product or service presentation conversational.  Don’t prattle on for over 20 seconds on the phone, the customer will drift away to points unknown to you; perhaps checking email or the instant message which just popped up. Ask a question about what the customer wants, present back a benefit statement. Repeat.

Fourth, ask for the sale, or for the next step of the sales process, whatever is relevant. Your expert positioning, and use of brilliant open-ended questions encouraged wonderful dialogue. Your conversational presentation generated significant interest. Use this interest to close on what’s next. If your product or service can be sold on one call, ask for the sale. If what you are selling takes multiple steps, close on the next step.

Think of the interest you’ve generated as money in the sales bank. The biggest thief of your accumulated interest is time. Ask now.

How to Make Phone Sales Fun

Every manager of a phone sales operation struggles with how to make the job fun. Representative burnout is a definite occupational hazard. The field salesperson travels from place to place, seeing different sights and having the escape of travel time. The phone salesperson sees the inside of a cubicle, day after seemingly endless day. The only travel time is from keyboard to phone. But I’ve known telephone salespeople who have been on the job longer than twenty years, and they and their managers have learned a few secrets along the way, so here is my advice for the telephone sales rep.

First, batch your calls. Nothing is more exhausting than making a call, running around taking care of any issues from the call, and then sitting down and starting to dial again. Do at least 10 dials, talk to at least two customers, and spend at least 50 minutes focused on calling before you get up and handle details. Mentally engaging and disengaging is taxing. Batch your work, then take a break.

Second, treasure your favorite customers. We all have customers who bond with us, who gladly take our calls, who brighten our day. Keep a list of your conversational favorites, and give them a call when you need a pick-me-up. Maybe you aren’t a morning person, call a favorite first thing. Perhaps your energy lags right after lunch, call another favorite. These calls are treats, treat yourself when you need it.

Third, take time to train and keep fresh. If possible, managers should provide time each month for you to train and learn. Products and services are always changing, sales techniques can be honed and refined. Take time to shadow the product or service factory, and see how customers are served.

Fourth, gather as a team. Nothing drives out burnout like sharing as a team. “What objections are you hearing Joe, and how do you overcome them? Sue, how are you presenting the new product we introduced last month? And Bill, how did you land that big sale, I’d like to know.” Sales meeting can be either incredibly creative or numbingly boring. Avoid just data dumping and download. Take time during sales meetings for dialogue, about things that really matter. Like how the job is going, and what is working and why.

Fifth, read. This blog contains dozens of entries, and the web is full of others. Spend a little time each day reading about your profession, and try to incorporate one new thing a week. All of us get bored with our sales conversations. How many times have you said the same thing? Burnout evaporates when we mentality stretch.

Sixth, take vacation. I’ve managed some reps who take every day they are allotted, and push the boundaries for more. Others must be pried off their chairs, and pushed out the door. Whatever vacation you have, save a few days to scatter between summer vacations and winter holidays. Take a Friday off occasionally, just to do something totally fun. The sales profession is a marathon, not a sprint. Although you are only as good as your last sale, you’ll need another one tomorrow. Take a day now and again to raise your spirits, and to remind yourself of how much fun sales can be. And unlike your friend the field salesperson, you won’t be hours away from home at the end of the day, and you won’t be out in the rain. See, you feel better already!