TELEPHONE SKILLS & TELEPHONE SALES

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1 TELEPHONE SKILLS & TELEPHONE SALES You never get a second chance to make a first impression! Do you want to add new customers and increase sales? Viable solutions, such as database software packages, employee training DVD s, marketing consultants and agencies, stare you in the face daily. These are all fine possibilities, but why spend extra money when you already possess the most valuable business tool available to many businesses - the telephone? But like any gold mine, the phone must be worked properly to reap the benefits. For many customers, the telephone is the first contact they have with a business. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And that first impression can either leave customers calling elsewhere, or have them excited about learning more about your products or services. Entire business philosophies are based on the concept of answering the phone after no more than three rings, and also not keeping a customer on hold for longer than 10 seconds. While this is nice in theory, it's not always practical. However, with proper practice and patience, you can easily turn a ringing telephone into overwhelming sales. The first part of this article is about general telephone skills, the second part specifically relates to telephone sales. Multi-tasking Some businesses find it necessary to have one person answer the phone, greet customers and do other administrative tasks. Or in the case of a retail environment, answer the phones and act as cashier. This doesn't have to be as difficult and confused as many people make it out to be. Bear in mind that talking on the phone and touching buttons on a machine use two separate parts of your brain! First learn to isolate those two parts and use them well. For example, the next time you are engaged in a casual phone conversation at home, play with writing a detailed fictional note to yourself at the same time. Try to keep your friend on the other end from knowing what you are doing. If you find that you come across as disconnected and unfocused, keep practicing your multi-tasking.

2 The best scenario is to practice multi-tasking when it's slow, that way if you run into problems you can easily and professionally interrupt one of your responsibilities. Never allow the telephone interaction to suffer due to multi-tasking, although, once again, you might be faced with another tough choice. Do you focus on the phone conversation and risk having the customers in front of you walk out rather than wait for you to finish, or do you convey to your phone customer that you are distracted and obviously doing something else? If you must, ask if you can interrupt the telephone customer and put them on hold. Example: "I'm sorry. I hate to do this but do you mind if I put you on hold for a moment? Or I could definitely call you back if you'd like to leave a number." OK, so that's a lot of words to get out when you're swamped, but doesn't it sound better than, "I'm totally swamped here. Can you call back later?" Even if this is said with a smile it usually doesn't come across too well. Customers are calling on their valuable time. They want to be taken care of with the least amount of hassle. You're lucky they took the time to call you, and if you must inconvenience them, it's up to you to follow up and satisfy their needs. If you know you'll be keeping someone on hold longer than 30 seconds, definitely opt for the call-back option. After you've written down their contact information, repeat it to them, and reiterate that you will call them back. To become really effective on the phone three areas need attention: Planning and preparing for calls Telephone techniques Receiving calls Plan and prepare Before you make any call, be sure that you know: Your objective the outcome you want to achieve by the end of the conversation (A meeting with a contact, a specific piece of information) What you want to get across What you need from the other person. Write yourself an agenda in the same way that you would for a meeting and use it as a prompt. Prepare yourself if it s an important call and you just don t feel right (low energy time of day for example) then do it when you feel right. If you know you have several calls to make tomorrow, visualise yourself making excellent calls and the call going well, you ll be amazed at how well it can work

3 Making calls Here are some pointers that you might find helpful: Smile your voice conveys it. Sit upright or stand this helps you to sound enthusiastic and positive because you are using energy (relaxing comfortably tends to make you sound relaxed and comfortable!) Speak more slowly than normal. Choose your words carefully here are two examples; the first salesperson replies to your question with: "Hold on. I'll have to check." Doesn't sound like they are really thrilled about it, does it? It's something that they have to do, implying that they don't really want to bother. I have to go to the doctors. I have to do my taxes. The inference is one of unpleasantness. The second salesperson replies to your question with; "Let me check for you. Can you hold a moment?" What are the key words here? First of all the employee has implied that he truly wants to go to work for you and even politely demanded that you let him. Second, he asked if you minded being put on hold (and if he is working the phone correctly, he will wait for your answer and actually hear it). If that salesperson adds the proper smile and, you, as a customer, will probably be anxious to work with that business. Introduce yourself clearly, using both your first name and surname. If you can, make the call away from noise and distractions. Keep a record of who you spoke to and when, what you discussed and any follow-up action that you promised to take. Why not ask someone to listen to you making a call and give you feedback on your technique, looking particularly at: Your tone of voice and its pitch How clearly and loudly you spoke How well you paused or listened Your choice of words How well you listened did you interrupt? The mood and overall impression you conveyed. You may also find it helpful to consider people you think are good on the phone. What is it that impresses you about their technique? Is there anything that you can adapt to suit your style? Tips for making better calls After giving your name, put yourself in context so that the receiver knows who you are: I have something I d like to ask you I recently wrote to you about Your name was given to me by

4 Clarify the purpose of your call. I m ringing to find out more about.. Some people are difficult to locate or shielded by secretaries/pa s. Do not be put off by the secretary. Say firmly and politely that you want to talk to the person you want to speak to and ask the best time to call back. The best time to catch people may be early or late in the day. Think about making your calls before 9.30am and after 4.00pm. Imagine you are speaking to other person face-to-face, smile and be yourself, people love talking to other real people who are not putting on an act. When you first speak, ask if it is convenient, if not arrange a suitable time to call back, then do exactly that. Receiving phone calls Your response to incoming calls also needs to create a businesslike impression. Keep a pen, notepad and your diary by the phone at all times. Answer as you would if it was someone calling who you knew were going to give you something of high personal value to you. If the caller does not say who they are, ask. You need to know whom you are talking to and why. Brief colleagues to take good messages, you will be judged in your absence. If the call is inconvenient or you are not prepared, say that you are unable to talk at the moment and that you will call them back at a mutually convenient time. Then make sure you do, we seem to live in a business culture of not returning calls and it is infuriating to the other person how do you feel when people don t return your calls? Make sure your staff return calls, even if it s a polite No. Use an answer machine. This allows you to screen calls if you wish. It also allows you to speak later when it is quieter or you are more composed. Telephone sales Many people would agree that the best way to make a sale would be through a direct sale, face-to-face, from your shop, or on the Internet. Consequently, telemarketing is commonly overlooked, but in fact telemarketing is responsible for millions of sales each year. For those people that telemarketing is new to, it may take time to become a sales expert on the phone (just like it would for most tasks) but once you have mastered the technique, it can become a strong and very cost and time effective marketing tool.

5 Telemarketing is not solely used to make an instant sale, but also to make appointments or to generate leads that may lead to a sale. First things first What are you trying to achieve when you first make contact with a customer by telephone? 1. A meeting? 2. A commitment to buy? 3. A sale? In most instances you should only try to fix a meeting or agree a baby step such as sending some information. All too often prospective customers are being lost not due to your product, but by the attempt to get the customer to buy something they have not seen, by someone they do not know. The pressure of trying to sell over the telephone is almost without parallel. How much simpler the whole process would be if you just concentrated on getting the appointment. By concentrating on the appointment you can avoid the specifics of product/service performance and instead concentrate on: We have something here that I know will excite you, and if you can give me 30 minutes (be honest with the time) I would love to show you how it will immediately improve your profitability or, We have a new product/service that has a number of new/advanced/interesting/cutting edge/low cost advantages and I m sure you would want to be one of the first to see them. (But of course use your own words). Appointment Vs direct selling Through the Internet and emerging countries, such as China and India, the customer has more choice of supplier than ever before, with the need to understand what the customer wants at the forefront of today's sales methods. Consultative selling providing products/services orientated to the customers specific needs is of paramount importance, and nowhere can consultative selling be more effectively conducted than face to face with the customer. Asking a customer ten questions over the telephone is a high-risk strategy and is very rarely considered a benefit by the potential customer. However, enquiring tactics when interacting with a prospect in person is easily projected as personal and responsible selling: we would all prefer to be asked what we want and not told what we need. Overcoming the gatekeeper (again) The gatekeeper is any person between you and the contact in the company that you are calling: any member of staff, an under manager, a receptionist, a secretary, a personal assistant, his wife etc. Depending on how well you have researched your telephone list you will get a certain level of response. When you call a prospective customer you can be sure of one thing: you are not the first person to call them today to sell

6 something. If your product/service is of a general nature, say cleaning services, you will have to be an excellent communicator to reach the decision maker. However, if you are selling tyres to a car accessories company you have a good starting point. Always assume that the gatekeeper is an important individual in the company: you will never succeed in reaching your target if you fail to offer respect to this person. That said, keep your initial introduction short. Say to the gatekeeper, Hello, could you put me through to John Smith please. By keeping it short you are displaying a degree of closeness to the target, and you give the gatekeeper nothing to work with. The gatekeeper will probably ask for your company name, and if very good, whether your call is expected. Give your company name and say that you are following up your letter of last week: because you have sent a mailing to these people, well I hope you have! If you are told that the target is unavailable ask when they will be available, would you do me a favour and tell me the best time to call. You now know this person (the gatekeeper) and your next call will be remember me, you said I should... The first few seconds are crucial Just like you would when writing a sales letter or press release, you should fill the first few seconds with as many key words and phrases as possible to gain an immediate interest from the customer. You may only get chance to get out two or three sentences before the customer stops you to say they have no interest, so make them count. However you start your call, be sure that it will get their attention and interest as quickly as possible: letting the phone call drag is wasting their time and especially yours. Get to the point You are more likely to succeed in your goal if the customer fully understands what you are offering or require. Consequently, keep your reason for calling clear and make sure that you can get to the point quickly (and effectively!). Be natural be yourself be passionate It has been proved in many businesses that customers respond better when the seller (telemarketer) is talking naturally i.e. not holding their hand to their head (holding the phone), or balancing the phone on their shoulders, etc.

7 To compensate, headsets are extremely useful for allowing you to talk more naturally on the phone - as if you were talking to them face-to-face being able to use your hands. Practice, practice and practice Practising before you begin your telemarketing campaign will pay off, allowing you to build your confidence and rectify mistakes early on: role plays are ideal. Of course, your skills and confidence will develop more through experience, but practicing will give you a head start. Record yourself and listen to it! Use notes Stick notes to your desk, phone or wall to help 'jog' your memory for persuasive words, phrases, discussion areas, etc. There is nothing worse than pausing to collect your thoughts and comments when trying to sell over the phone: be ready to reply to anything. Don t be controversial or even insulting! People do it without even realising by using comments like "did you understand that?" and "are you following what I'm saying?" This automatically shrinks the customers' intelligence and ability to catch on. It is down to your own ability to make the customer understand and therefore if you feel the customer is failing to do so, use comments such as "did I explain that clearly" and so on. Trust, the glue that holds it all together Make customers feel as if they are talking to a friend by making yourself come across as the person that everyone wants to know. Be friendly, be concerned, assure them, praise them - anything that makes them develop a sense of trust: trust goes a long way. To become composed and effective when using the telephone in your organisation whether it is sales calls or general calls you need to deal with better, call us now on

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