Enquiry management: Converting more telephone enquiries with basic sales training

At a “Business development for lawyers” course a while back the topic that the delegates asked me to write about was that of converting telephone enquiries. More recently, at a practice development course for private client solicitors, the same issue arose and other insights were shared at a recent in-house workshop on the topic. So here are my thoughts on enquiry management: Converting more telephone enquiries with basic sales training.

The importance of enquiry management processes

Management guru Peter Drucker once said “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous”. The idea is that if your marketing is really effective, customers and clients will be happy to buy without needing to speak to a salesperson. The latest figures suggest that 80% of the buying decision is made before the customer or clients contacts the supplier so we have some way to go yet.

However, in complex buying situations – for example when purchasing legal, accountancy or property advice – it is likely that a client will contact a variety of potential advisers before making their final decision. So our marketing teams – using traditional and digital methods – generate the enquiries and leads. Then someone – often a lawyer, accountant or surveyor – has to convert that interest into a client. This requires selling skills.

When we consider the sales buying funnel – or pipeline – if we can increase the number of enquiries that are converted, we can have a significant impact on the fees and profits generated – without any additional investment. Too many marketing departments are working harder and harder to generate strong leads only to see the opportunities lost when fee-earners fail to convert them effectively.

Different approaches to enquiry management in the professions

There are different approaches to enquiry management systems within the professions.

  • Centralised administrative centre – Some firms centralise inbound telephone calls to what is effectively a call centre. Sometimes it is a single person who is not professionally trained in the service being provided. It is this person’s role to respond to all incoming enquiries. Sometimes they will simply do an initial assessment and then allocate the call to the appropriate professional and sometimes they will do the lion’s share of the enquiry management including issuing and following up any quotes, estimates and proposals.
  • Rota of professionals – Some firms operate a rota where professional staff take it in turns to respond to enquiries. Whilst this is good for ensuring that the time investment and work allocation is shared, it does mean that – without standard processes and adequate training – some professionals may be more effective at converting enquiries than others.
  • Individual professionals – In many firms, incoming enquiries are handled by whoever happens to take the call. While this has value to the clients in that they get to speak to and assess the professional who is likely to manage their work, it does mean that the firm may suffer dramatically different conversion rates as a result of individual approaches and competencies (there are also issues around wide service or product knowledge and cross-selling).
  • Business development professionals – Increasingly, professional service firms are hiring specialist business development people with in-depth sales experience and expert sales skills to manage their incoming enquiries.

Information systems for enquiry management

Larger firms may have sophisticated technology systems that track incoming calls and gather and analyse the relevant statistics. But many smaller firms do not have such systems. There is a range of information to be collected during enquiry management (please take care with GDPR regulations):

  • The name and contact details of the caller
  • The reason they are calling
  • What prompted their call (attribution is still a challenge in marketing but it is helpful to ask whether the caller has seen the web site, social media posts or been recommended by someone)
  • An indication of what they were told by the person taking the enquiry
  • The amount of time the professional spent taking the call and managing the enquiry
  • The price quoted for any work (this is vitally important to analyse the relationship between the price offered and the conversion rate in case adjustments are needed for the pricing strategy)
  • The outcome (e.g. information sent, a quote issued or a meeting arranged)
  • The follow up actions

This information needs to be captured into the firm’s Client Relationship Management ((CRM) or enquiry management system. This will enable a number of analyses such as:

  • The source of calls (and therefore the effectiveness of different marketing programmes)
  • Follow up processes – analysing the length of the sales cycle
  • Costs – Professionals’ time is expensive so understanding the cost per call and the cost per conversion are important metrics
  • Outcomes – the conversion rate for different approaches, types of clients, types of work and prices quoted

There is some interesting information about the lack of follow up from law firms as a result of mystery shopping exercises here: http://kimtasso.com/client-experience-management-cem-research-into-the-client-journey-at-law-firms/

Many firms are now exploring client journey mapping and Client Experience Management (CEM). The experience that clients have when they telephone their advisers is a vital part of a successful start to a client journey. http://kimtasso.com/client-experience-management-cem-nine-takeaways-perspective-emotions-tension-journeys-involvement-tangible-systems-technology-process/

Improving the effectiveness of enquiry management

From experience, there are three things that a firm can do to increase the effectiveness of its enquiry management;

  1. Collect and share best practice – Some professionals will have a higher conversion rate than others. This might be due to personality, experience or training. Analysing and understanding what they do and how they do it enables you to produce guidance, processes, prompt lists and confidence to other professionals. I have worked with firms where we have recorded telephone calls and used the material to produce best practice and training materials.
  1. Provide training – Selling in any situation is hard and on the telephone it is even harder. Too many firms expect professional staff with no sales training to be effective at converting telephone and other enquiries. There are many proven sales methodologies that suit professional advisers and short workshops can increase the skills and confidence of professionals quickly. General telephone skills are covered here http://kimtasso.com/pick-phone-creating-better-business-relationships-telephones/ 
  1. Provide clarity – Many young professionals are unsure of what they can and cannot say to callers – and this is particularly so when it comes to pricing. Firms need to provide real clarity in their pricing to the professionals and build their confidence in talking about price with enquirers and clients. Price communications are dealt with in more detail here http://kimtasso.com/price-communications-for-professionals/ The firm’s value proposition – why we are different and/or better than competitors and what value we deliver to clients – needs to be understood (http://kimtasso.com/faq/what-is-a-value-proposition-or-usp-and-how-do-i-create-one/)

Basic sales training to support conversion

There are many posts on selling skills elsewhere in this blog (e.g. basic selling skills – http://kimtasso.com/getting-your-head-around-basic-selling-skills/ and cold calling – outbound calls – are tackled here http://kimtasso.com/sales-selling-tips-11-point-plan-cold-calling/). I have also written a book on selling skills for professionals (http://kimtasso.com/publications/selling-skills-for-the-professions/) .But here are some selected tips:

  • Empathy – We need to put ourselves in the callers’ shoes. If the caller is not professionally-qualified they are unlikely to know what questions to ask. They may also feel intimidated speaking to a highly educated professional. Often, callers will ask first about the price. Sometimes this is because they have a bargain-hunting mind set or are shopping around to find the cheapest deal. But often clients do not know what other questions to ask. Inexperienced professionals will therefore plunge into a discussion of price too early. Many professionals fear coming across as “too pushy”. However, if they are empathic and focus on the client’s needs first then they need not fear this.
  • Rapport and trust – Those handling calls need to be aware of the impact of non-verbal communication (e.g. tone of voice, warmth, enthusiasm, sympathy) on the impression that they are creating on the caller. Price is rarely the deciding factor for clients. When they call a firm they are effectively “trying before buying” to see if they like and trust the person they are speaking to. The initial part of the conversation should concentrate on establishing rapport and trust with the caller (http://kimtasso.com/trust-better-business-relationships/ You may need to assess the different personalities and styles of the callers and adapt your style and communications in response. Where callers are experiencing distress, you may have to manage their emotions. Listening, validation and patience might be required.
  • Avoid jargon – Callers may be deterred if the professional that they are speaking to uses a lot of jargon that they don’t understand or sounds intimidating. Professionals may not be aware that they are using jargon specific to the firm or their area of professional practice. It can be hard for expert professionals to use plain English to explain complex ideas. This requires practice. 
  • Questions and active listening – The core of many sales methodologies that focus on consultative and solutions-selling require the skilled use of different types of questions to assess needs and identify opportunities. This is particularly important in professional services where we need to establish early on whether the caller is knowledgeable about the services sought or whether education is a key part of the interaction. Also important are active listening skills when the client responds. http://kimtasso.com/coaching-skills-importance-active-listening/
  • Persuasion and negotiation – At the simplest level, those handling calls need to know the difference between features and benefits. Those managing calls must be clear on their value proposition and what value they or their firm will bring to the client. This will ensure that the professionals are confident when talking about price as well. The psychology of persuasion is a big topic but the essential elements of influence and persuasion need to be understood. http://kimtasso.com/top-tips-on-the-psychology-of-persuasion/ Similarly, with negotiation. If a caller requests something then it is fair to expect some sort of concession in return (see http://kimtasso.com/nine-ideas-for-better-conflict-management/),
  • Manage objections – Callers are likely to state a number of objections during the call, some may be false or hidden. Those handling the calls need to be familiar with the most common objections and have strategies for how to deal with them. There also needs to be an understanding that often callers will need time and more information before making what, for them, might be a big decision. 
  • Sales process – There needs to be a process for professionals to follow. The sales process needs to closely match the typical decision-making and buying processes of the callers. How the call should be structured, what information to obtain and convey and how to manage the end of calls and the various options for the next steps. In complex selling situations, the sales cycle might be long with several touchpoints and the initial telephone call might be the first step of many. Professionals need to understand the different paths after the initial call.
  • Agree the next steps – It may be that an effective outcome for the call is the caller agreeing to read or view information that is sent and perhaps submit some information. Another next step might be that the client agrees to attend a meeting (although please be careful in offering initial meetings for free – these take a lot of professionals’ time so it is important that callers are qualified first). Another outcome might be that the professional sends an estimate and terms and conditions of business. There may be a need to have a solution where the caller is unable to hire the professionals but would value further information – perhaps available on the web site or with another adviser. Professionals need to know the different next steps depending on what the caller has said.
  • Follow up – All calls should be followed up. There should be agreed processes, resources and systems to do so. These might include emails, letters and telephone calls which in turn may need to be followed up. The minimum might be to simply add details to a database (with the relevant permissions) so that the caller receives relevant information in the future. The marketing teams in many firms will have detailed content management plans to ensure that callers receive regular and relevant information relating to their call. Whatever is to happen, the professional handling the call must manage the caller’s expectations and gain permission and approval to proceed.

Feedback from the business development for lawyers session

Comments included:

  • “Kim was absolutely brilliant in her presentation and made me more aware of the various opportunities for both individual and firm business development. A lot to think about”
  • “Thought provoking and informative”
  • “A brilliant course, inspiring speaker, content on taking your business to the next level”
  • “This was incredibly useful – so many ideas to take back”
  • “It exceeded my expectations – it was practical and relevant”
  • “I really enjoyed the course. It was well planned, presented extremely well and has given me some new ideas”
  • “Kim Tasso was extremely knowledgeable. Brought experience and case studies to bring the technical knowledge to life”
  • “Once again, great course with lots of food for thought”
  • “Thank you again for the most inspiring insight into growing and developing your business – by far the most valuable course ever!”

Business development books

These business development for lawyer themes are expanded upon in my book “Rainmakers and trailblazers – step by step guide to business development for lawyers” http://kimtasso.com/publications/rainmakers-trailblazers-business-development-lawyers/

Selling skills for professionals was one of the first books I published http://kimtasso.com/publications/selling-skills-for-the-professions/

Communication and interpersonal skills – including telephone techniques – are covered in my book that was published late 2018 “Better Business Relationships – Insights from psychology and management for working in a digital world”  http://kimtasso.com/publications/better-business-relationships/