Last week I facilitated a half day MBL telephone skills workshop titled “Pick up the phone! Client service and sales opportunities for professionals in the digital age”. Delegates included lawyers, property professionals, actuaries and risk management consultants. We considered both inbound calls (enquiry management) and outbound calls (proactive sales calls). So, from this telephone skills workshop – 11 key points.
1. Obtain base line conversion data
You can set targets for and measure performance in telephone conversion if you have base data on what is currently happening. This data will also reveal where there are differences in conversion rates for services, offices, price policies and individuals. Best practice can be gleaned and weak points identified.
Some firms have automated systems for logging inbound calls – but are reliant on staff to input details of calls, follow up actions and conversion rates. Systems for outbound calls are often less developed.
2. Agree your strategy for enquiry management
We considered the pros and cons of different approaches to managing inbound enquiries:
- All professional/technical people (i.e. the fee-earners)
- Nominated fee-earners or support staff who are good at converting telephone calls
- Dedicated and specialist enquiry managers
- Professional sales, business development or account management people
These approaches are considered in an earlier article on telephone enquiry management. There are strengths and weaknesses in each approach. The training (both technical and sales/communication skills) and support needed – and the cost – varies with each.
Firms may need to experiment with different approaches or adopt an approach for the short term whilst gearing up to move to another approach. Some firms will have different strategies for different teams/services.
3. Research and prepare for calls
Most delegates felt that making “cold” calls was scary. For outbound calls we talked about the need for advance integrated marketing campaigns to both raise awareness of the service being provided, to generate enquiries and to harvest contact details. This way the outbound calls are then “warm”.
We also talked about targeting techniques – whether using triggers and filters or personas or rabbits, deer and elephants (video). This should be part of the marketing and sales plan. And there was some discussion about decision-making units in commercial transactions (video).
Before making a call (to obtain more information or secure a meeting) we talked about the internal and external research that should be completed. We considered how you prepare yourself mentally (increase confidence (video)) and practice what you will say. Having a checklist of questions to ask and being prepared for client questions and common objections also helps.
4. Have a process
In professional services, telephone calls are often just one stage in the sales process.
It was suggested that you needed an overall process for how you manage enquiries and prospects through often multipoint sales – emails, calls, meetings, connecting with others on the client side, presentations, proposals, negotiations etc.
And also a process to ensure that you cover all the key elements of a specific telephone call.
5. Delay price conversations
Many clients ask about price first as they are not sure what other questions to ask.
Where possible, don’t jump straight into talking about price. Focus on creating a connection, exploring needs, educating callers on their options and explaining the differences and benefits of your service. We used the model – Engage. Explore. Explain. Earn.
There’s some guidance on talking about price:
6. Use empathy to make an emotional connection
Try to see things from the caller’s point of view.
Develop empathy by asking questions and showing interest in their responses. Recognise that different segments of the market or different types of client personas may need a different approach depending on their understanding and situation.
Ice-breaking small talk or comments about location can also help to find common ground and forge an emotional connection. Delegates found that many callers were keen to talk about Covid issues as it was something that we all had in common. We also talked about matching and mirroring non-verbal and verbal communication.
7. Adapt to different personalities and preferences
Part of forming an emotional connection and rapport is recognising the different personalities and preferences of callers and adapting your style accordingly. While remaining authentic.
Delegates liked the simplicity of the dogs (like social interaction), cats (focus on the task at hand) and bears (want power and control) model. This short video explains cats, dogs and bear personalities.
8. Think about HOW you say things
What you say during a call is important. But it is also important how you say it. We looked at non-verbal communication and considered the importance of voice in conveying attention, interest and warmth.
This recent book on digital body language considers how you convey emotion and personality through writing in digital channels.
9. Try to get face-to-face contact
In these post-Covid times, it is almost as easy to achieve a face-to-face interaction through Teams or Zoom as it is a telephone call.
Face-to-face contact is known to be more powerful (we considered the figure that people are 34 times more likely to agree to a request when it is made face-to-face than email) and has the advantage of allowing access to non-verbal communications cues.
10. Use stories to persuade
Delegates were struck by the power of stories. How they help with creating an emotional connection and persuading people. Research shows that stories are remembered 22 times more than facts and figures alone.
There’s also some insight on storytelling for lawyers.
11. Follow up fast
Immediately after a call, send an email reflecting the key points discussed, any supporting information and clarity on the next steps. We used the 5Cs model.
This demonstrates that you are responsive. Such emails also need to be followed up – by telephone.
The following articles look at other aspects of telephone skills:
This book on Digital Body Language provides guidance on communicating effectively in digital channels with writing.
Delegate poll results
- 40% BD/selling
- 40% Client/customer service
- 20% Delivering professional advice (“fee-earner”)
Have you had sales training:
- 40% No
- 60% Yes – informally
- 50% Financial services
- 25% Legal
- 25% Property/surveying/engineering
Topic of most interest:
- 60% Building relationships on the telephone
- 40% Using the telephone to reach people proactively (initiate sales relationships)
How would you assess your emotional intelligence (EQ)?
- 80% Average
- 20% High
- 60% Dog
- 40% Cat
Are you clear on your message (value proposition) when making calls?
- 80% Sort of – I have an idea what I want to convey
- 20% Yes – agreed before each call/campaign
How good is your technical “product” knowledge?
- 60% Good – I have training/experience
- 20% Really good – I deliver(ed) the service
- 20% Other
How well do you know stories that reflect how your firm has solved client challenges:
- 80% I know a few stories (we have some case studies)
- 20% I don’t know any stories at all
Are your marketing systems integrated with your sales plans/activities?
- 50% Yes, sort of
- 25% Yes – really well
- 25% Something else
When making outbound calls, what information do you have (Multiple choice)
- 60% From marketing – contact details only
- 60% From marketing – indication of their interest
- 40% From marketing – details of their online activity/enquiry
- 20% Information from our CRM/Sales systems
- 20% Just a target list of names and contact details
When making “cold” calls what is your primary goal?
- 50% Initiate a conversation
- 25% Find out more information
- 25% Secure a meting
How much time do you spend preparing and researching before making a call?
- 75% About 10 – 15 minutes
- 25% About an hour