A phone call is still a potent tool in a world where communication takes so many forms. When we are lonely, we wait for someone to call. When sad, we need someone to talk to, and we like to share our good news and joy when happy. However, it’s universally accepted that we all hate the sales call, cold pitches, and talking to strangers.
Yet, if that is the case, why wouldn’t companies reduce the use of calls in their arsenal of sales tools? The fact is that discourse and dialogue play a massive role in persuasion, and selling is all about persuading someone to use your products, services and solutions. Moreover, the sound of a voice or facial expression can play a massive part in the discourse, which is entirely absent in a text discussion.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity that a sales call can offer. The personal touch and the intimacy that a sales call can create can be the key to closing the deal. When so many of us communicate with text via chat messengers and emails, the simple act of speaking to clients over a voice or even a video sales call is a skill that is both art and science.
What is a Sales Call? What is the Purpose?
A sales call is any call to a potential customer you have no established relationship with. It might be cold calling, and these are usually the least productive, but they are also targeted at people who might have expressed an interest in a similar product or service. They’re generally from a list of leads purchased from marketing surveys and similar lead generation companies. Warm calling is generally when a potential client has specifically shown an interest in your production service and submitted their contact details to you for a follow-up call.
Technically, you might also class customer service and customer retention as sales calls, but these are clients with whom you already have an established relationship. You already have a lot of information about them, which you can use to assist your cause.
The entire purpose of a sales call is to engage a potential client who will buy your product/service/solution.
What Makes a Great Sales Call?
Making a great sales call depends heavily on the perspective of the salesperson or the lead. Undoubtedly, the best sales calls are those that result in a closed sale – or at the very least a scheduled follow-up. However, the best sales calls for the customer or clients are those that understand their needs, constraints and processes – whether they choose to buy from them or not.
At some point, the two perspectives must merge for the best possible outcome of a sales call.
Not unlike a great novel, a great sales call comprises the same three parts required of good storytelling – a beginning, middle and an end.
The Beginning – Introductions and Rapport building
Every relationship has a beginning, and a sales call is no different. And the only way to begin a relationship is with an introduction. Whether you are cold or warm calling the introduction is key. Keep it brief and direct. Something like,
“Good Morning, I’m (name) from (company) and we (what the company does and why you are calling them specifically). Do you have a few minutes to chat?”
“Good Afternoon, (name – and keep it formal). I’m (name) from (company) and you recently expressed an interest in a call back about (what your company does). Do you have a few minutes to chat?”
You would be surprised how many people will say yes if they have any interest at all in what you have to offer. Otherwise, they would never have expressed an interest in the first place.
Once you have the introduction out of the way, it’s time to start on the initial icebreaking and rapport building. We’ve already established that most of us don’t like unsolicited calls will strangers, so keep it friendly and upbeat.
Always start your rapport building with positivity. Great weather, fun plans for the weekend or the fantastic weekend that’s just gone, a sports team win or something similar. You don’t need to know much about your prospect to make an educated guess about their sports teams or local weather.
Use positive and uplifting labels to make your prospect feel better about themselves and to make them want to BE better. If you tell them it’s a pleasure doing business with them, they will want to be pleasant. If you ascribe intelligence to them for their interest in your product, they will want to demonstrate that intelligence.
Now it’s time to ask ‘soft’ questions, don’t jump straight in with a pitch – people HATE pushy sales pitches.
This is the meat of the conversation. And you need to remember that it is a conversation, with a back and forth discussion about personal and business needs.
According to Gong.io, the top salespeople speak less than 50% of the call duration, allowing the prospective client to give more information and insight into how they might use the product being sold to them. Conversely, the lowest-performing sales calls had the salesperson talking up to 75% of the time, which tells you something very interesting about how the best and worst sales calls use their time.
There is an old adage about us having “two ears and only one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk”. While it’s not entirely as accurate in a sales role, the evidence does suggest taking a “less is more” approach to pitching and talking all the way through a sales call.
The Needs of the Prospect
In the middle of the call, you take control of the discussion and guide it towards your solution, with probing questions and focusing on 3-4 pain points that your product or service can solve. The number of pain points is something of a “sweet spot”, with 1-2 points not being reason enough to choose the offered product, and 5+ being “too good to be true”, – Not to mention that more than 4 points are too much to cover in any depth on a discovery call.
An excellent salesperson will use probing questions at the beginning of this part to ascertain the best perspective to sell their product. They will dive deep into the pain points they plan to solve for the potential customer, and they will also get emotional about the product they are selling. Across the centre part of this sales call, there will probably be between 11 and 17 questions about the needs and requirements of the client.
Selling the Product
While a few individuals could sell anything to anyone, most people can only sell effectively for a product they genuinely support and believe in. Enthusiasm and belief in what you are selling are infectious. In the same way that “trait transference” will compel your prospect to attribute any negative comments about a competitor to your company, your emotional investment and enthusiasm for your product or service will also transfer to the customer.
Don’t overpitch when you are ready to end the call. You will have a few objections, certainly. It will be the wrong time for some, while others will have financial doubts. A good practice is to have a few cue cards with effective rebuttals for the most common objections.
You have learned a lot about this lead as you have spoken to them. They have told you about their needs and challenges, their goals and what they need to achieve them.
Some people may no longer need the services they previously showed an interest in. What good is an integrated POS system if the client has since sold their retail business? Or even running shoes for someone who has just broken a leg? For these, you can gracefully bow out and accept defeat. There is nothing more irritating or more inclined to get an official complaint than chasing an expired lead.
When you think you have discussed all you can with your prospect, it’s time to attempt to close the deal.
If you are on a scheduled sales call and have another one straight after, never try to end the call without at least 7-10 minutes grace.
Be gentle with your follow-up,
“From what we have discussed today, I genuinely believe you are an excellent candidate for ( our service/product/solution), and it will help you to solve (pain points a, b,c, and d). We can schedule a (visit/call) with a (specialist/account manager/technician). Would (time/date) be appropriate?
If you are still getting vague or unfocused pushback from the prospect, you can help to sway them using “risk-reversal” language. It’s common for anyone to get pre-purchase anxiety, especially when purchasing online or over the phone. You don’t have that direct and tangible proof that what you buy is worth the price or even fit for purpose. It’s even harder when you purchase a service or a solution as there is no physical product.
Uttering words like “no contractual tie-in” or “cancel your subscription at any time” automatically empower people to leap. They can handle a one-month subscription, and if it doesn’t work out, they can walk away.
For expensive items and software packages, words like “money-back guarantee” and “free trial” are powerful indeed.
In both cases, you are taking away any risk to the buyer. When that risk is eliminated, potential clients are up to 32% more likely to embrace the opportunity you are offering.
Don’t be dissuaded by those who claim it is the wrong time for them or are researching the future. Make a note of their contact details, and they can go back in the list of leads.
But There’s Also a Prologue and an Epilogue
Sales calls aren’t just about the call itself. There is preparation, and there’s also follow up. You learn from mistakes and successes and you prepare to do it better than you ever have.
How you approach your calls before you even dial a number will determine how successful you will be in using your knowledge to make the sale. Do you have a template cheat sheet to help you with the flow of the conversation? Perhaps you have cue cards to help with rejection and appropriate rebuttals for vague brush-offs? Sometimes cue cards are better than a defined script because they allow you to behave more naturally and conversationally.
Whether your call is a success, a failure, or somewhere in between, there is plenty you can learn from it. How could you have done better? Do you need to change your templates or your responses? With a significant number of calls, with positive, negative, and neutral outcomes, you can analyse and monitor what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps you need to adjust your language to your target audience, or maybe even the speed of your dialogue.
You might also learn that the time of day affects your success rate or even the day of the week or the position in the month. Time of the month might be significant with B2C sales because people who work salaried positions usually find their spending dictated by their income and monthly spending. The time of the year might be crucial for B2B sales, especially if you require an annual expenditure. That has to fit in the budget, and the budget is set at specific times of the year.
And the cycle starts again. You use what you have learned to alter your cues and perfect your delivery.
An Art and A Science?
Sales calls were always considered an art, with the art of persuasion as the keystone of success. While persuasive influence is still considered an art, psychology, consumer behaviour, and business intelligence have made massive strides in perfecting the sales call.
While there is a science to perfecting the sales call, there is as much art to implementing scientific processes. If your call sounds more like a checklist of procedures, you need more artistry in your execution.
“Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed.”Tim Minchin, Storm
People skills and the art of persuasion are considered arts in their own right. However, business analysis, intelligence, and psychology have quantified and learned to predict much human behaviour and interaction. Moreover, continuous research into sales techniques and responses have given salespeople a vast resource of training materials.
Ever since we’ve observed and recorded customer reactions to sales pitches, we’ve been able to reflect and learn to be better. Every observation we make on our sales calls, whether positive, negative or even neutral, is more data to tweak our sales technique.
With more and more data, we can predict the outcomes of our sales calls using the appropriate techniques.
The artistry is all in your approach. You might know the science of slowing or speeding up your speech to match that of your prospect, but how well do you deliver it? Can you adjust your formality to that of the person on the call? We can learn all of this.
Sure, those with “the gift of the gab” can talk clients into anything. These people are genuinely rare. Learning the art of mimicry without straight copying is a delicate balance. In the same way, great painters probably started with stick figures, and world-class dancers practise daily, you need to practise and hone your skills.