The Good and Bad of BTB Calling

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How many of you can hardly wait to get home from work so you can be telemarketed? Look at all the hands not going up! Might we see the same results if we asked your prospects and customers?


For more than 16 years in my consulting and training practices, I have compiled opinions from our clients and their business customers about how phone business is conducted, what we should avoid and what we should do. First, here's what they don't like:


Telemarketing. No explanation required.


Pitches and hype. They've heard 'em all. They recognize them. They reject them.


Presumptions. Self-congratulatory attitude and verbiage caused by marketers believing their own ads and press releases. Example: "We're the leading provider of hi-tech two-funnel framistats and have just been named best of breed by two magazines in which we advertise. Have you heard of us?"


Assumptions. The premature, wishful behavior and words that follow a prospect's indication of possible interest, such as response to a direct marketing piece or visit to a Web site. "Thank you for your inquiry ... what's your budget and timetable for purchase? Are you the decision maker?"


Same old stuff. The uninspired, undifferentiated lines that prospects and customers hear all too often. "We recently sent you a mailing. Did you get it?"


"Just" anything. The most self-diminishing word in marketing is "just": "I'm just calling to follow up and see how things are going." Yawn. "I just want to take a couple of minutes of your time to learn a little bit about your company." Snore.


Interrogation. Interrogation means a stream of closed-ended questions designed to populate the data capture fields in CRM systems. The calls sound like depositions, not conversations. The worst I have seen was a 22-question pre-qualification script for a Silicon Valley company. We fixed it, and results improved right away.


Gadgets and trickery. The most despised phone gadget is the predictive dialer, a specialized computer that cycles through a database and calls automatically based on an algorithm that "predicts" when a rep will be available to talk with the prospect or customer. But when the prior call runs long, the PD dials anyway, and the prospect hears dead air. Click. The most common form of trickery, my clients say, is the sales call disguised as a survey. Lay off phone surveys for a while until the nefarious marketers move on to their next scam.


Having to repeat their story. This one is curious, given all the databases and CRM systems that companies have bought. It happens when the content and results of prior conversations are not noted, or worse, are recorded but then ignored on subsequent calls.


Random contact. These are calls that appear out of the blue, motivated by something in the would-be vendor's life rather than the prospect or customer's business life. Examples include cold calls to lists based on demographics rather than on actions or affinities.


Here's what companies like from a sales call:


Establishing the value of the conversation. Business customers are adamant that before we try to sell our products or our companies, we have to sell the value of having a conversation. That is why our "reason for the call" must be where we make and win the case for dialogue.


Sensitivity to time. None of us would barge into a prospect or customer's office unannounced. But some marketers and salespeople think they can phone prospects and customers any time they want and start their spiel. Our phone calls always interrupt other thought streams in the recipient's activities, so we should always follow our "reason for the call" by asking, "Is this a good (or convenient or appropriate) time to talk?"


Clarity of purpose. Get right to the point to help realign the contact's thought stream to your new subject matter. But do not pitch! State what you know, what you want to find out and what causes you to think that there may be a good fit between their requirements and preferences and what you offer.


Asking before telling, learning before selling. We need to dispel the outdated notion of making an "opening benefit statement." We do not know yet which products, services or benefits, if any, to offer. Begin by asking an open-ended question about what the prospect is doing, has just done or intends to do that causes you to believe that there may be a match with what you sell.


Targeted vs. generic benefits. Sell the pluses of your product or service exclusively on the contact's responses to your questions. Customers tune out boilerplate benefits, feature-dumps and self-aggrandizing serenades. To sell your benefits most effectively, apply the "you get ... because of" approach. "You can redeploy your IT talent to more productive projects, save a ton of overtime and still rest easy because the new software monitors and automatically fixes the network problems you described."


A reasonable, definitive next step. Some calls simply dissolve at the end. Conversations trail off into a lame, "Well, OK ... feel free to call me if you have any questions." To keep calls from evaporating and to encourage forward motion, issue a solid call to action. "It certainly seems that we have a good matchup. Here's what I recommend ..." Also, train your reps to secure the next step by saying, for example, "I will send you exactly what we talked about. And the only thing I'll ask in return is that we can have a conversation on Thursday so you can tell me what you and your colleagues think. Will that be OK?"


Knowing when to back off. Not every prospect is viable. Not every customer is ready to advance or purchase. If they are not viable, leave them alone.


Courtesy, humility and respect. Great marketers, salespeople and companies are unfailingly polite and usually much more profitable than those that are not. Humility is the opposite of arrogance and assumptions and gets you wealthier than either.


Timely follow-through and commitments met. If you do what you promise before the sale, your prospect or customer has much greater confidence that you will perform once they have committed the great act of faith by saying "yes." Plus, you continue the favorable differentiation because of the dismal record of non-response by many companies, probably including your competitors.


To start benefiting from the "what they likes," I recommend four proactive steps:


· Communicate internally and externally.


· Ensure that systems and data are in place to perform the "likes."


· Hire people who actually want to perform the "likes."


· Train all marketers and salespeople to deliver on the "likes."


Not always easy, but quite profitable!


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