Telephone call challenges: Emotions, data, selling and follow up

Accountants, lawyers, paralegals, patent attorneys and financial advisers (both professional advisors and dedicated business development professionals) joined me at an MBL workshop on telephone skills for client service and selling. We explored the fundamentals of relationships, managing inbound calls and planning outbound calls. This article supplements the learning resources from the session. Telephone call challenges: Emotions, data, selling and follow up.

Telephone call challenges

The delegates identified various challenges on telephone calls including:

  • Representing your firm – Being professional, conveying the firm’s values and promoting its services whilst being genuine and authentic and responding to the caller’s needs
  • Lack of process – There were not always agreed processes and evidence-based best practice for how to respond to incoming calls or make outbound calls. This meant that most people had to establish their own processes – which took time and could lead to inconsistent performance 
  • Establishing a connection – Without visual input, it is harder to understand the context and personality of the caller and to create rapport and trust
  • Time pressures – Calls are expected to be relatively short and you have to achieve a lot in the time available. If your primary focus is delivering services (as opposed to selling) you can invest a lot of time responding to calls that is not recognised or valued
  • Not interrupting – Sometimes callers want to provide a lot of detail and it is hard not to interrupt (avoid cutting them off when they are in full flow) and know when you can ask questions
  • Understanding services – Most firms offer many services and it is hard to keep in mind all of the different ways that callers might be helped. You need to have a deep knowledge of all the different issues clients may have and examples and stories of how your firm has helped people in similar situations. Those with experience of delivering the service are often better placed to take calls than dedicated client service or sales professionals
  • Performance monitoring – Without processes and systems, it can be hard to track the effectiveness of call handling

Managing emotions

There was a discussion about how best to deal with callers who are experiencing intense emotions.

Suggestions included:

  • Maintain a calm and reassuring voice
  • Listen patiently “It’s OK, take your time”
  • Reflect back “You say you are…”
  • Empathise “I can hear that you are upset”
  • Reassure them “I’m listening”
  • Encourage them “Please continue
  • Validate them “How awful for you”
  • Offer options “Would you prefer me to call you back in a few minutes?”

General information on emotions:

change process – Emotions when reacting to change (

Emotional Regulation – A key element of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) (

Soft skills – Dealing with difficult conversations (

Information on specific emotions:

Managing client complaints – Process, anger and apologies (

Dealing with “difficult” people – Nine strategies for dealing with arrogance (

Data, research and planning supporting call preparation

When responding to enquiries or making outbound calls, the amount and quality of information delegates received to help them prepare for calls varied significantly.

Some were fortunate to receive full details from the firm’s CRM supported by analytics showing digital activity and enquiry details. Others had little more than a name and telephone number. Where information was sparse it limited the amount of preparation that could be done.

With little advance information it was more challenging to engage the caller and direct the conversation appropriately. Qualification of calls and enquiries was also more difficult.

Delegates suggested planning time for calls at the start of the day. Finding a suitable location (quiet and without interruptions) to make calls when working in an office environment was sometimes a challenge.

Fact-based selling

When discussing different styles of selling (e.g. transactional, consultative etc) a delegate talked about fact-based selling. This is a consultative approach using facts, data, insight and storytelling to build and maintain relationships.

Sometimes called value selling, it is focused on the client (their current and future needs). A consultative or fact-based technique focuses on what builds value for the client. You take time to understand the client’s pain points and business goals and provide relevant insight into the possibilities and potential strategies.

Recent research (from Challenger Sales and Insight Selling Insight selling – building on consultative selling models ( suggests that whilst solution and consultative selling approaches are effective, the most successful approach is Challenger/Insight selling where you educate and challenge the client and provide new insights.

Telephone sales facts

21 Mind-Blowing Sales Stats ( Brian Williams PhD (US) – but there’s no date on his post – says:

  • 92% of all customer interactions happen over the telephone
  • It takes an average of eight cold call attempts to reach a prospect
  • The best time to cold call is between 4pm and 5pm
  • 30-50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first
  • 80% of sales require five follow up calls after the meeting – 44% of sales reps give up and one follow up
  • Thursday is the best day to prospect
  • In a typical firm with 100-500 employees, an average of seven people are involved in most buying decisions
  • Salespeople who actively seek out and exploit referrals earn four to five times more than those who don’t
  • 91% of customers say they’d give referrals – only 11% of salespeople ask for referrals

Follow up

Delegates knew that identifying and agreeing a follow up during a call was important. But ensuring this occurred was more hit and miss for those without a high degree of automation to support them.

Some had a selection of templates that could be easily adapted to reflect information and actions agreed during calls. Others had automated reminder systems to prompt follow up action. Few had systems that monitored call, follow up and conversion data to support pipeline and performance analysis.

Delegate key takeaways




Delegate poll results

Your background/role is mostly:

17%      Business development/selling

85%      Delivering professional advice

Have you received sales training?

83%      No – and no experience

17%      Yes – formally

Your sector:

33%      Legal

50%      Accountancy/Insolvency

17%      Property/surveying

How confident are you at taking and making telephone calls?

Start of session End of session
Very low
Low 17%
Average 83%
High 50%
Very high 50%


Which topic is of most interest?

14%      Responding better to telephone enquiries (and conversion)

43%      Improving client service on the telephone

14%      Building relationships on the telephone

29%      Using the telephone to reach people proactively (initiate sales conversations)

How would you assess your emotional intelligence?

17%      Really high

39%      High

50%      Average

Do you think your personality is mostly: Adapting to dog, cat and bear personalities – Better business relationships (

25%      Dog

63%      Cat

13%      Bear

Are you clear on your message (value proposition) when taking/making calls?

100%    No I need to learn what the client needs first

How good is your technical product/service knowledge?

14%      Really good – I deliver the service

57%      Average – sometimes I struggle to understand what clients wants and our services

29%      Poor – I am new in the role/there are many services

How well do you know stories that reflect different client challenges and how your firm has solved them?

17%      I know a few stories (we have some case studies)

83%      I don’t know any stories at all

Are your marketing systems integrated with your sales plans and activities?

40%      Yes – sort of

60%      No – they are separate

When making outbound calls – what information do you have?

83%      From marketing – details of their online activity/enquiry

17%      From marketing – indication of their interest

What is your primary goal when making “cold” calls?

50%      Qualify the prospect/lead

50%      Secure a meeting

How much time do you spend preparing and researching before making a “cold” call?

100%    About 10-15 minutes

Related articles

Conversation skills book review 2 – How to talk to anyone: 92 little tricks ( May 2023

Assertive communication: The importance of voice ( May 2023

Telephone skills for lawyers and accountants ( April 2023

Telephone skills: Anxiety, voice, etiquette and the client experience ( September 2022

Does Zoom/Teams replace telephone calls? Telephone skills workshop ( February 2022

Practical sales tips: Reach out and Follow up ( October 2021

Telephone skills workshop – 11 key points (Kim Tasso) July 2021

Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan ( June 2021

Book review – Persuasion: The art of influencing people by James Borg ( March 2021

Active Listening (Video) ( November 2020

Enquiry management: Converting more telephone enquiries ( July 2019

better business relationships with telephones ( January 2018