I’ve done training sessions on inbound telephone calls to improve client service and enhance conversion rates (see, for example, http://kimtasso.com/managing-client-service-surveying-property-partnerships/). I’ve done workshops on outbound calls for cold calling (http://kimtasso.com/sales-selling-tips-11-point-plan-cold-calling/). But I was recently asked to cover the topic of outbound calls to existing contacts and clients to enhance business relationships and support business development. Creating better business relationships with telephones. This led from the observation that many people in the younger generation preferred email to telephone communication. A “Pick up the phone – better business relationships with telephones” session covered the main points below
Telephone vs email?
We spent a lot of time exploring the strengths and weaknesses of both telephone and email communications. Both have a lot in their favour and both have some drawbacks. It was acknowledged that emails were often quicker, less intrusive, good for attachments, leaving a permanent record, for group communication and suitable for out-of-hours communication. Emails as a critical part of the technical element of professional work was not questioned.
However, the interactivity, immediacy, feedback and emotional connection achieved through a telephone call meant that this method was particularly effective when developing client relationships.
Confidence – preparing for calls
In order to feel more confident about making telephone calls you need to prepare. Read and have the relevant papers to hand. Know what you want to achieve and anticipate questions. But also be prepared to tailor or adapt the message in response to the reaction or questions of the person you are calling.
Allocate sufficient time and move to an environment where you won’t be distracted or disturbed and where you can take notes. Some people felt there was value in rehearsing what they planned to say – particularly if they anticipated a difficult call.
We also explored how – using non-verbal communication http://kimtasso.com/faq/how-can-non-verbal-communication-body-language-improve-my-marketing-and-personal-effectiveness/ – you could convey confidence during a call even if you don’t feel it.
The timing of calls was touched on – some people are larks and prefer early morning interaction whereas others are owls and operate best towards the end of the day. Others mentioned the need to think about the “bookends” of the call – the personal small talk at the start and the end of the call to set the emotional tone.
Use empathy to build rapport and trust
Empathy is a core component of emotional intelligence (http://kimtasso.com/book-review-emotional-intelligence-2-0-travis-bradberry-jean-greaves/) and is essential to see things from the perspective of the person you are calling. Empathy is important in building an emotional connection with the person on the other end of the line and generating rapport.
Sensible and rational trust is all about knowing your stuff, demonstrating your expertise and doing what you say you’ll do when you said you’d do it. We explored how empathy and social intelligence is a critical element in creating sensitive or emotional trust. This was felt to be important in setting or picking up on the tone or mood of the call.
On the telephone it is easier to pick up on non-verbal cues that might indicate the call should be postponed or to investigate further any hesitations.
Structure, communication and storytelling
There was an exercise to consider all the components of a good telephone call – with the appropriate amount of time being allocated to each element. We also considered preparing a good introduction – both of yourself and the reason for your call.
We explored other elements of good communication and the role of storytelling in selling http://kimtasso.com/selling-legal-services-storytelling/
Getting on the client’s agenda
The essence of good selling is to use empathy and research (internal, online and through social media) to get on the client’s agenda – to focus on what is of interest to them rather than your own agenda. Professional selling is about identifying or creating needs and then proposing a solution and benefits. Consultative and solutions selling models were reviewed.
The latest research into the effectiveness of insight selling – where there is more challenge and control from the “salesperson” was explored (http://kimtasso.com/book-review-insight-selling-mike-schultz-john-e-doerr/) along with the need to add value to every interaction to ensure that clients will always take your calls in future. The delegates talked about “carrots for carrots” – offering some incentives to people and igniting the reciprocity effect.
The link between marketing communication programmes such as thought leadership (http://kimtasso.com/faq/what-is-thought-leadership-and-why-is-it-so-important/) to insight selling was apparent.
Promoting interaction through questions and active listening
It was acknowledged that the bulk of any business development or relationship management telephone conversation should be interactive. Curiosity is a valuable aid to selling – and so is the ability to tolerate silence to give the other person time to consider their response. The use structured questions (the basis of many sales models) and active listening techniques http://kimtasso.com/faq/how-can-i-improve-my-active-listening-skills/ were discussed.
We touched on the science of persuasion – particularly the difference between features and benefits – and various insights from psychology (see, for example, http://kimtasso.com/book-review-small-big-small-changes-spark-big-influence-steve-j-martin-noah-j-goldstein-robert-b-cialdini-persuasion-science/)
Ending calls – objections, agreement and follow up
Part of the preparation for a telephone call is knowing your desired outcome. Where you are trying to gain agreement to something – sending further information or arranging a meeting – you may encounter objections so we looked at the cause of different types of objections and how they might be handled. We also explored different methods of closing conversations such as confirming all points has been covered or offering alternative courses of action.
It was paramount that a system was used to record calls and any follow up activity that is agreed so that it could be managed as part of the client development process. There are related posts on fabulous first meetings with clients http://kimtasso.com/fabulous-first-meetings-16-selling-insights/
We also touched on the different types of conversations with key clients during the client life cycle http://kimtasso.com/managing-key-client-meetings-key-account-management-kam/