How to Make a Better Phone Call

By Heather Baldwin

For all the advances in sales technology, there’s one old fashioned piece of equipment that will never be replaced – the telephone. In today’s fast-paced, low-cost world, the opportunity to meet customers face-to-face is diminishing, making the telephone an increasingly important tool in the sales process. Sales reps, however, rarely get formal training in how to use a telephone, says Renee Walkup, leader of SalesPEAK, a sales performance organization, and author of Selling to Anyone Over the Phone (AMACOM, 2005). To stand out above the barrage of calls your prospects receive every day, follow these tips from Walkup.

Set the bar high. Start your call day with a plan for contacting three times more customers than you think is humanly possible. If you typically plan to contact 30 people on a call day, plan on 90 calls. Before you choke on your coffee, remember this: At least three-quarters of your calls are going to be voicemail calls, which should take about 30 seconds. “Considering that,” says Walkup, “in one hour, with good planning, you should easily get in 30 outbound call messages.” Of course, if you don’t make your new target number because you spend five hours actually talking to customers and moving the sales process forward, that’s even better. But at least you’re prepared with numbers and strategy notes to fill your day in case you don’t have that kind of luck.

Prep ahead of time. Don’t wait to plan your calls on the morning of your call day. Instead, do your preparatory work the day or evening before you make those calls. Not only will you be more likely to connect with people if you have them prioritized properly, but you’ll feel more energized if you can walk in and start dialing.

Start with a winner. Always plan your first call to be a friendly, low-stress, positive call that will get your day started the right way. For example, an upbeat thank you to a regular customer is always a good first call, as is a return call to a customer who has requested information. Commit to making that first call at a specified time so you have a definite start to your call day.

Look for voicemail. In most cases your goal is to reach an actual human being. The exception is when you’re calling to confirm appointments. “If you leave enthusiastic reminders on voicemail customers will get the nudge but won’t have an easy opportunity to tell you that they must cancel your appointment,” says Walkup. To ensure you get voicemail, call customers the night before your appointment or early in the morning, when they are unlikely to be in the office. If you must confirm the appointment when customers are likely to be in the office, call the main switchboard and ask to be forwarded to the customer’s voicemail.

Remember to focus, focus, focus. Sales reps tend to be high-energy people who want to be on the move and closing deals, not sitting at a desk. That is why so many find themselves multitasking during phone calls. Why just be on the phone when you also can be sending emails to prospects, filling out expense reports and placing a sandwich order with a colleague at the same time? Unfortunately, dividing your attention means you aren’t listening to and engaging with the prospect on the phone. Don’t pick up the phone, admonishes Walkup, until you have cleared your desk; turned your chair away from all distractions; closed your door or put up a Making Calls – Do Not Disturb sign; turned off audible distractions such as music, email alert tones and call waiting; and prepared yourself mentally to make calls.