I Like Your Style

Many telephone salespeople I know don’t pay much attention to dressing stylishly during the week. After all, the customer can’t see what they are wearing, and it’s more important to be comfortable. But regardless of the type of clothing they select, each telephone salesperson has a personality style; systematic, direct, spirited or considerate.

Systematic salespeople tend to follow a selling process, and generally expect their customers to follow a distinct buying process. Direct salespeople get to the point, and don’t cherish small talk. Spirited salespeople are animated and infuse each sale situation with emotion. And considerate salespeople are concerned primarily about the customer as a person.

Customers too come in these four shades. Problems can occur when the style of the buyer is mismatched with the style of the seller.

For example, if a salesperson is direct and their customer is considerate, the customer may be put off because the salesperson does not take the time to build sufficient rapport before talking business. But the shoe may be on the other foot. If the salesperson is considerate and the customer is direct, the customer may feel the salesperson is wasting their time with needless relationship building. Or, if the salesperson is spirited, they may overwhelm the systematic customer with their possibly scattered approach, bore the direct customer with their stories, and scare the considerate person with their emotion. Of course, a fellow spirited would fit hand in glove.

Therefore, it is good sales practice for the salesperson to flex their style to the style of the buyer. This is an absolute requirement when introducing yourself and your organization for the first time, and becomes less necessary as the relationship is established and flourishes. For example, a systematic salesperson may need to dispense with the ruffles and lace and get right to the point with a direct customer, tolerate the emotional side tracks of the spirited customer, and reveal some personal details to the considerate.

I have used HRDQ’s “What’s My Selling Style?” for years as an assessment for salespeople to learn their style and to determine the style of any customer. (HRDQ.com) The instrument can be taken online or on paper, and in just 40 minutes it can provide insights into why customers react like they do.

I recall giving the assessment to a customer service team who was struggling with cross- and up-selling. It turns out many on the team were considerate, and many of the purchasing agents calling them were direct. In the past, the customer service reps thought the direct customers were impatient, and perhaps upset. Once they realized it was just a different style, they were comfortable recommending cross- and up-selling items. Sales flourished.

And that never goes out of style.

How to Master Phone Sales

One of my goals in life was to pilot an airplane, so I began flight instruction with eager anticipation. Once airborne for the first time however, I found myself struggling to stay ahead of the airplane, and relying more than once on my instructor in the right seat to keep us safe. After a few hours, I became more and more comfortable. Much later, when I had been pilot-in-command hundreds of hours, each maneuver felt as comfortable as walking.

Mastering phone sales takes the same dedication, and has the same beginning struggles. Your mind will be filled with many do’s and don’ts, stuffed with product information, and potentially prepared for all the wrong objections. It takes time for your reactions to be natural; practice for your recall to bring up timely information; and dedication to cope with the embarrassment you may occasionally experience while learning.

To master phone sales, first create a call outline for each type of call. This call outline should include your call opening, compelling reason to call statement, open- and close-ended questions and your close. A call outline is not a script, rather it’s a map of how you expect this type of call to proceed. Batch your calls so you have at least 10 conversations using this call outline before you move on to something else. Take good notes, and make changes in the outline as you gain experience. No pilot ever takes off without referring to written checklist.

Second, remember you are talking to another human being. They aren’t expecting a performance or a show, they are expecting a conversation. The best way to encourage dialogue is to ask good questions and to truly focus and intently listen. Incorporate all the conversational extenders you use when talking to a friend or family member – for example, reflect what the customer just said to encourage the conversation to continue. If the customer just told you they were busy because their department was merged with another, you could reflect by saying “you found the merger was challenging.” Most customers will agree, and then give you even more information.

Third, remember when calling business-to-business, it is all about the customer’s business first, not yours. If what you are selling doesn’t address your customer’s business issue, what you are selling just won’t fly. Because of this elemental law of business sales, your first goal is to uncover the need. Therefore, don’t throw the product out there until you are parachuting into a need.

Fourth, keep great notes. Oh, I know, as salespeople, we’d rather talk than write, and English may not have been your best subject in school, but your notes will give you plenty of ways to keep subsequent calls with each customer unique, personal and customized. Relationships are built this way, and once you have great relationships with your customers, you’ll master phone sales. No goggles and scarf needed.

Okay, you are number one on the runway, take off!

Did You Hear the One About?

Did you hear the one about the salesperson who told good short and relevant stories to her customers and completely out sold the rest of the department? Ah, I tell you she is a real champ. You see, she recognized the human brain processes in an analog mode, not the digital format used by smart phones, laptops and tablets. We humans like to connect new information to correlations from previous experiences, and telling a customer a short story of how a previous customer used our products or services to solve a business issue gives the customer’s mind an analogy. A way to connect.

Oh, let me see, where was I? Oh yes, our salesperson who tells a great story.

You ask how she does this? Okay, first she describes the customer in the story’s business. Second, she refers to the business issue the customer solved using our product or service, and then third, what created the business issue. Fourth, she describes why the business issue happened, and fifth, what the product or service provided. Finally, she finishes by describing the result.

An example? Sure, I have one for you.

I have a salesperson in my department who was struggling to generate excitement with his customers. He wasn’t giving his customers a way to connect their business issues to the solutions we offered. As I listened to him, I felt it was because he wasn’t using enough reference stories. He wanted to improve, so I taught him how to construct these stories, and his sales have been soaring ever since.

Hits too close to home?

Okay, let me give you another example. I have customer who is the landscape business. He was upset because his insurance costs were rising much faster than the price he could get for his work. He thought his insurance carrier was taking him for granted, and not really looking at how he controlled risk and exposure to potential losses. He wanted an insurance agent who got to know him, his business, and his loss prevention strategies, and gave him credit for the work he did. I showed him that our agency takes the time to profile each client completely, and sells the carriers on each client individually. He saved bundles using our services, and he’s one of my best long-term clients.

And that’s the rest of the story.

For Every Action

In physics, I learned for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, if you stand on a sled and throw a snowball forward, the sled will start moving slowly backwards in proportion to the mass of the snowball and sled. In sales, our actions produce revenue, in direct proportion to the mass of actions we do.

The number of actions (activities) a telephone salesperson can do in a day is dependent on how much “back office” work they are required to perform. Typically, telephone salespeople will make in the neighborhood of 60 dials in a day and talk to twelve customers. An experienced salesperson will receive about 1/3rd of their calls inbound, so they will talk to another five customers who will call them. A sales manager should watch dials, conversations, and inbound calls.

Sales managers can also watch the sales funnel, or the number of customers at each stage of the sales cycle. This can be a great management tool, and problems can be spotted long before they show up in disappointing revenue numbers. For example, say you have a sales cycle of four steps; first, the representative uncovers a need; second, they conduct a screen share with the prospective customer to display a PowerPoint with relevant information; third, they provide a quotation and close the sale. The fourth step is customers who haven’t said no, but haven’t said yes after reviewing the quotation. These are folks who want to think about it.

A manager can use the customer relationship management to track the sales funnel, and can use historical estimates of the percentage of customers who advance to the next step to make predictions of revenue. The manager can also look at trouble spots where a representative may be struggling against benchmarks established by his or her peers. Salespeople should be doing enough activities (screen shares, quotations and closing calls) to keep the sales funnels clearing.

I recommend each telephone representative have a Personal Business Plan which states not only the revenue expected, but also the activities required to hit those revenue targets. When a salesperson goes to work in the morning, they often can’t control the revenue delivered that day, that is also up to customers. However, they can control the actions they take each day, and over time, these actions will lead to sales success.

In my management career, I have often had salespeople who fall into a slump, where revenue does not meet either my or their expectations. A review of the sales actions shows however, they are making the dials and managing their sales funnels. And sure enough, sales soon pick up. Others may be delivering revenue, but activity measurements are flashing warning signs – danger, low sales ahead. Measuring activities daily can provide an early warning of trouble, or a reassurance that a slump is temporary, and the quarter will end up just fine.

So, salespeople, throw out a bunch of sales snowballs and get moving!

Who’s On First?

In the famous Abbott and Costello comedy routine about baseball, “Who” is on first base, “What’s” on second base, and “I don’t know” is on third. For the business-to-business telephone sales manager, the same is true of the team they will field. “Who” can bring home the revenue bacon? “What’s” the best telephone salesperson selection methodology?  And, “I don’t know if this person will work out.”

“Who” makes the best business-to-business telephone salesperson? Someone who has a demonstrated history of doing a repetitive job. Sitting in a cubicle and picking up the hook sixty or more times a day is repetitive. Some salespeople, especially those who started out in a field sales position, can’t sit still. A job on the phone may not be a particularly good fit. Those who are audio learners make good telephone sales reps. Visual learners may have difficulty with the lack of visual clues, and kinesthetic learners may be unhappy with the lack of tactile stimulation.

“What’s” required in a good selection process? At Business Performance Group, we use a 9-step process, because failure is not an option.  It’s way too expensive to hire someone, train them, and then let them go because they weren’t a good fit in the first place. The process begins with soliciting resumes, most commonly done online today. The second step is to review the solicited resumes and grade them, assigning a numerical score. The third step is a graded telephone interview, again as a screening tool, to eliminate candidates which are clearly not a fit. The fourth step is a face-to-face interview, using a scoring tool to reach a quantitative result. Next, a validated personality profile, we use Caliper. Sixth, a second face-to-face interview to clear up any questions from the profile, done at the same time as step seven, a job shadow. The eighth step is a reference check, and finally, the ninth step the offer.

This selection process provides hiring assurance, and avoids the “I don’t know.” Sure, it’s more work than hiring with your gut, but most of us managers have been fooled by the slick interviewee who verbally hit it out of the park.  Then, once on the job, couldn’t sit still and make nearly the number of calls required in a day.  Or, the candidate with the sure-fire resume of seemingly steady advancement, who when hired strikes out.  We quickly realize their history was an embellishment.

Not everyone is cut out for this job. It’s not a personality defect, or a lack of trying or a character flaw. It’s the basic fact that only a certain subset of people has the aptitude for this challenging position. Those that do, will do it for a long time. I know telephone salespeople who have been happily in the role for over 25 years, but others are miserable from day one. They are not bad people, just a bad fit.  It’s our job as managers to go through the effort to select the diamonds out of the hundreds of resumes we may receive, and hire just those who will be a hit.

Now that’s a home run!