Telephone selling to build business-to-business relationships and sales suffers from the reputation of its much less sophisticated and more abrasive relative, telemarketing. The telephone sales representative – unlike the telemarketer – engages in open-dialogue, relationship building conversation. An observer overhearing the conversation, but not seeing it, would rarely note a quality difference between the conversation of the field salesperson sitting face-to-face with a customer and the telephone salesperson on the phone. However, since almost everyone has encountered a rowdy and intrusive telemarketer, in business or in their personal life, the telephone selling family has acquired an unsavory reputation. Ask anyone who’s relative has been involved in unwholesome activity, and they will tell you the burden a tarnished family name can carry.
Think of the last time you were interrupted by a phone call when you were concentrating on something else. Did you mind easily jump to focusing on the telephone conversation? Probably not. The human brain tends to want to keep doing what it was doing, and sees any interruption as an intrusion. Because of this, the telephone salesperson’s first responsibility is to generate interest at the beginning of the call. The high-performing telephone salesperson learns how to generate interest on the first call and on each subsequent call, to entice the customer to stop what they are doing, and welcome the interruption.
The high-performing telephone salesperson also develops an easy-to-detect business curiosity. Ask yourself, who is most important to you? You of course! How does the telephone salesperson succeed? By making the call about the customer, not themselves, and this is exceedingly hard. After all, when the salesperson is hired, the selling organization pumps them full of features, drizzles on specials and promotions, and inflates them with motivational pep talks. Why wouldn’t they want to talk about themselves and the selling organization? Because it doesn’t work that’s why.
The high-performing telephone salesperson also asks good open-ended questions. Yes, I know, asking open-ended questions is a part of any sales curriculum – and you’ve probably been there and done that – but it takes on a different significance when using the telephone. The telephone salesperson is without body language and the conversation starters the face-to-face salesperson sees in any customer’s office or work setting. For the telephone salesperson, open-ended questions take on a whole new meaning, of enlarging the conversation to explore more than what the customer needs right now, and of uncovering business issues that aren’t top of mind, but which will generate business tomorrow – if we only ask of course.
Unlike the telemarketer, the telephone salesperson encourages the customer to talk, and should spend 60% of their time listening. Unlike the telemarketer, the telephone salesperson can’t follow a script, but instead uses a call outline designed to provide a framework for the call which allows them to listen, not worry about what to ask next. Unlike the telemarketer, the telephone salesperson is genuinely interested in establishing an ongoing relationship with their customers.
The family’s reputation depends on it.