Articles providing practical, field-tested advice to sales professionals.

Location: Houston, Texas, United States

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Part 1

When using the telephone to set an appointment or introduce yourself or your product, some customers or prospects will encourage you to “drop in anytime”. They will say, “You don’t need an appointment. However, the professional sales person will accept this statement as an expression of friendship, but will never accept the suggestion. Making an appointment, even with a close friend, signifies that you respect his or her busy work schedule and that you, too, have many things to do and you cannot afford wasted time. The appointment also serves to emphasize the importance of your call. If you do not communicate that you are important, that your call is important and that what you want to say is important, why should your prospect or customer think it is?

The telephone represents a network of sales helpers available to save you time. Learn to use it well and it will help you increase your sales proficiency. The telephone is used efficiently by some sales people, but abused by others. The difference is that if you are selling appointments over the phone, you are using it. If you are trying to sell your product or service, you are very likely abusing it. You may want to sell your product or service by phone periodically, but to establish a sales relationship for an extended period of time requires ongoing personal contact.

Telephone Techniques….Your Professional Plus

Preparation for setting the appointment is just as important as preparing for the presentation itself. More commonly used methods of setting an appointment include the telephone, calling on the prospect in person, being introduced by a third party, mail or email.

Plan, Practice and Phone

Telephoning a prospect for an appointment is the most frequently used method. But, before you make the call, PREPARE! Your objective is to secure an appointment, not to make the sales presentation on the telephone. So, you must talk in terms of the decision-maker’s interests. Lead with a benefit; convince the prospect that it would be worthwhile for them to see you. The following is an example of this approach.

Example: Hello. Mr. Garret. This is Alice McKloskey. Our mutual friend, Steve Worthy, suggested that I call you. I am a graduating senior at State University. Mr. Worthy thought you might appreciate knowing about the national sales contest I won representing our Excellence in Professional Selling. This contest was designed for sales candidates who have shown some evidence in sales success. The championship sales presentation that I presented at the national competition took only eight minutes. Mr. Worthy thought it might be mutually rewarding (benefit) if we could meet and visit. When would be a good time for you? Additional points for your telephone call are shown below.
  • Be prepared with the prospect or customer’s name and how to pronounce it. Have it written down in front of you. Have your sales tools organized and available.
  • Out-listen your prospect and hang up last.
  • Stand while talking. (Note that professional singers or speakers perform while standing.)
  • Visualize your listener. For the extra personal contact, you should see him or her mentally as you talk.
  • Sell appointments by phone so you can sell your product or service in person.

The Gatekeepers:

Receptionists, executive assistants and secretaries deserve special consideration as you plan your telephone calls. These people can be your friends and allies if you win their good will.
Gatekeepers ¾ referring to receptionists, executive assistants and secretaries ¾ are in a position to help you or hurt you. It is always in your best interest to have them for you instead of against you. These gatekeepers are in a professional position to influence their boss ¾ your prospect or customer. Their boss may know them better than he or she knows you, and may take them into their confidence and ask their opinions on certain aspects of the business. Treat them as a part of the “buying team”. This well help you avoid the attitude of “they only work here and answer the phones; they aren’t really important”.
When you call a customer or prospect for an appointment or for information, always address the receptionist or secretary on the other end of the telephone by name. If you don’t have the name, be friendly, but not too friendly or pushy. Whether you know the person or not, be gracious. A word of warning: don’t run the risk of offending the person on the other end of the telephone by using a pet name. One of the chief complaints of female receptionists and secretaries about salespeople (either male or female) is that they are much too free with terms such as “Honey”, “Doll” or “Babe”.

Special panels of top-paid secretaries and receptionists have appeared before groups at conferences and seminars of sales people who call on their companies. High on their list of dislikes is the sales person who tries to be too familiar in language and behavior. Respect their position and their personality. Remember, they may have the power to make or break your sale!

Personal Identification:

At the beginning of the call, always identify yourself and your company, speaking slowly, clearly and confidently. When you give your name over the phone, it is a good practice to give your first name and then count silently “1,2,3” before stating your last name. This pause of approximately one second between your first and last name makes it easier for your listener to understand and remember your name. This is also a good practice when you introduce yourself in person. If you have an unusual name, offer the spelling of it after pronouncing it.
Show consideration for the secretary or associate’s time and for the decision maker’s time. He or she will appreciate your asking. “Is it convenient for Mr. Allen to talk with me now?” You may be advised that you should call back later or ask your prospect to call you. The receptionist is on the scene and knows the situation. He or she may advise you as to when it would be convenient for you to call again. If you leave your phone number, please say it slowly and distinctly so the person on the other end of the telephone will be able to write it down as you say it.

State your Reason for Requesting an Appointment:

When you call a prospect, have a good reason, plus a potential benefit for wanting an appointment. Be professional and have a specific purpose. For example: “If we could get together, you might appreciate seeing a cost-per-foot analysis we have just completed on your last installation. I think it may suggest some new ideas on product selection.” You have to tell your listener that there is a potential benefit for him or her to make an appointment to see you soon to discuss the benefit.
Inquire and Respect your Customer’s Policies and Procedures.
Consider and respect your customer’s company policies and procedures. If your prospect wants to discuss some point regarding a past presentation because this is their standard procedure, offer to be present at that meeting to answer questions. Or offer to be present, along with someone else from your company who is more qualified to answer questions. Try not to show irritation at any of their company procedures. Obviously, they think they are important or they wouldn’t use them.

Be Courteous and be Prepared.

Conduct yourself on the phone courteously and chances are that you will be accepted and treated courteously as a professional. Taking time ahead of your phone call to prepare properly can pay big dividends and make you more comfortable and relaxed. Again, try to sell interviews and appointments, not products and services over the telephone. The following formula may help make it as simple as ABC to get more interviews from your telephone calls.
Attention (A) ¾ Get your customer to respond favorably by asking a “yes-getting” question or by making a statement with which he or she can readily agree. For example: “Good morning, Mr. Allen. This is Bob Bradford. Did you receive the information on A-1 Widgets which I sent to you last week?”
Business (B) ¾ Tell your listener why you are calling. State your business briefly. “A new laboratory study has just been completed which I believe provides just what you are looking for. I thought you might appreciate knowing exactly how it can help you.”
Commitment ( C ) – Ask for a definite appointment at a specific time and day.

Part 2 to be posted on May 31, 2006