For the inexperienced, sales calls can be unnerving.
Done right, however, they can be the most powerful engine of business growth.
There are many effective business models to be found out there on the Web, but nothing beats the sheer responsiveness of being able to pick up the phone, engage in a dialogue, and close an agreement that’s mutually beneficial.
When it works right, it’s great for you and your clients. (It can even be a terrific confidence boost.)
Still, it’s important to make sure you approach sales calls the right way.
Old-fashioned sales calls are out: Your leads don’t want sales pressure, and they can afford to look elsewhere if you pile it on. In truth, though, not much is lost: Sales pros love to get the deal, but the constant conflict can take its toll.
There must be a better way – and there is.
Applying Inbound Marketing Philosophy to the Sales Call
Inbound marketing is the art of attracting prospects by creating value. Although its ideas apply mainly to digital marketing, it can be extended to just about any part of the business that serves as a customer touch point. Sales calls make for a natural place to try it out.
Inbound marketing is all about building rapport, and rapport is a key part of making sure your lead is comfortable making a commitment to your product, service, or way of doing things.
It not only makes the initial sale easier, but sets the groundwork for future collaboration.
Here’s how you can spark rapport from the first time you talk to your lead:
Start by Lowering their Guard
The average person carries around a lot of negative preconceptions about sales professionals. Perhaps the biggest one is this: A salesman comes after you no matter what. It doesn’t matter if the product isn’t right for you. In some cases, it doesn’t even matter if you don’t have the money.
Nobody wants to deal with that – so start by proving you’re on a different level.
How? It’s actually simple: Admit that this person you’re talking to might not be a customer.
A good sales call is a collaborative process. In this case, we’re defining good as something that not only leads toward a sale, but gives someone confidence to continue working with you – now or in the future. And you can’t collaborate if you come in with preconceptions.
The biggest preconception is that you’re going to make a big sale – no matter what.
What happens when you start off by admitting that you’re not sure if your solution is the right one, but you want to work together to find out? Three things:
- You grant them power by giving them “permission” to tell you if your solution fits;
- You induce them to invest in the process – to make a decision, they have to listen;
- You create a space where they can let their guard down and see you as a partner.
Starting this way colors the entire interaction going forward, so use it well.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Look at the average business website. Here, where businesses have the chance to say just about anything, many fall into the trap of acting like it’s “all about them.” They go on for screens and screens about their breathtaking vision, brilliant executive team, and amazing innovations.
All too often, something important is overlooked: “What’s in it for the prospective customer?”
On a sales call, you have the opportunity to read subtle cues and respond appropriately. Getting prospects to feed you those clues means one thing: Asking lots of questions.
When you ask questions, you have the opportunity to find out what’s really troubling someone.
Questions give your conversation partners the opportunity to talk about a favorite subject (themselves) and see you as someone who is genuinely interested in their situation.
Some important questions:
- “What have you tried to solve the problem?”
- “What results have you gotten so far?”
- “What do you feel an ideal solution would look like?”
Practice Active Listening
Asking questions is so powerful that it can take up the majority of a sales call. You can learn a tremendous amount about someone in twenty minutes. Even that much time spent together can help them feel invested in both your relationship and your solution.
However, it all hinges on active listening – truly hearing and responding to what’s been said.
Since a phone conversation lacks so many useful nonverbal cues, acknowledging another’s comments is extra valuable. Acknowledgment can be as simple as “yes,” “mmhm,” or “I see,” but be sure to strike the right tone.
If you sound too informal, it could still seem like you’re tuning out.
Reflecting is also crucial: It serves as an affirmation of the other person’s points while helping you remember what went on. Reflecting simply means taking what’s been said and repeating it in your own words to confirm your understanding.
Again, be judicious about how many times you do this – too much can seem canned or mocking.
Last, but not least, don’t underestimate the value of recording your calls for later reference. By listening to your own calls, you get information you may have missed the first time. You can also zoom in on areas of your own performance you can improve.
In cases where you’ve done a full recording, a quick follow-up email soon after the conversation may be the perfect tool to move things along. Just remember that, in many states, you need to ask for a caller’s consent before you can record. (However some conference call softwares alert attendees that the organizer is recording the call.)
Propose Options – But Not Too Many
Research has shown that people like options – but not too many.
When looking at a selection of products, people feel most confident and energized making a selection between two or three. As you add more options, things get more confusing and people feel less certain about their options.
That triggers the feeling they need more information ... and thus more time to decide.
If you want to smooth the path to a high-value sale, narrow down the options to two – three at most. At the end of a conversation, if you want to move things forward, do the same: Give the prospect options so they can make an immediate decision about where to go next.
They’ll feel more empowered and you’ll have the benefit of knowing where they stand.
Beyond “please” and “thank you,” there are other things sales pros can do to convey respect.
Remember, your prospects probably receive many calls from salespeople. The more experienced they are at taking these calls, the more likely it is that they “know” – or think they know – whether they want to work with you within a few minutes.
Save time for yourself and them by doing your research. The more you know about a prospect, the more value you can offer in a concise way.
Last, but not least, check your use of sales jargon. Prospects sense, for example, that most salespeople asking about their “mindset” are really asking if they’re ready to pay today.
There are better, clearer ways to make a connection – and inbound marketing frees you to find them.