Understanding the Telephone

For years people have contacted me wanting more information on telephone techniques. Today’s generation of selling demands thorough understanding of the use of the telephone. So how do you gain your share of the million-dollar telephone sales market? By being prepared. People today invest in more products and services over the phone and online than ever before — and they never meet the sales representative. The telephone is a tool of business and it is imperative that we as salespeople know how to use it.

When a consumer calls to inquire about your product or service, we as salespeople, have a moral obligation to turn that inquiry call into a presentation — especially if the company you represent has been in business awhile and has created a reputation.

You have no idea of the large number of consumers who pick up the phone every day, call a department store or a company, and the person who answers for the company has never been trained to use the telephone. Oftentimes, salespeople make it sound as if they are doing the caller a favor by answering the questions. That’s a shame.

As salespeople, we have a responsibility to increase our company’s profit so it stays in existence. When you chose your job as a salesperson, one of your jobs was to do anything in your power to increase your company’s profits — that is your lifeblood and existence.

When I was a manager, I had 18 sales professionals I managed. Every once in a while I would get someone who wasn’t professional, and when a caller would ask for information, the unprofessional would give out all the information and never seek to arrange a time to visit with the caller. Please realize that when your company invests money by doing a mailing or any other direct advertising to make that phone ring, the telephone calls must be handled properly.

Your callers are people who want to know more information. When people call you, they generally have an overall goal. Their basic attitude and purpose is to get information and give nothing. That’s why they are calling you — to get the investment, the details, and then to call another company to see whether they can save a few pennies. If you do not get a visit arranged with the callers, they can wind up with an inferior product because you didn’t do your job to stop their curiosity shopping with the way you used the telephone.

What do you think the average salesperson does when he or she gets an incoming inquiry call? Gives out too much information or tries to sell on the phone.

When receiving a call, your first goal is to get the name of the caller. The way you get his or her name is when he or she calls and says, “I’m calling regarding…” you say, “Yes. By the way, my name is ____. May I ask who is calling please?” You’ll be amazed with that phraseology how he or she will answer, “This is Bill Smith.” Try never to go with their first name. Say, “Yes, Mr. Smith, how may I help you?”

The second goal with an inquiry call is to arrange and confirm a time to meet the caller face-to-face. Your goal is to either have them come into your location or you go visit them. Don’t just let them get information and disappear into the vast unknown.

And of course, number three, get a phone number for follow-up. Never talk with a potential client on the phone without getting a phone number. Whatever your product or service, try to keep files on anyone who calls you. They may not be interested today, but if you keep in touch with people you’ll be amazed how they will be ready when you follow-up with them at a later date.

Like anything you do in selling, you have to prepare for it. The way you are going to handle the phone calls you receive takes preparation too. There are four things I ask people to do as preparation prior to answering the phone. Number one, know all brochures and advertising. If your company regularly mails out printed advertising, you really need to know what that mail piece says because it’s a hot button as to why they are calling you. If your company puts an ad in the paper, or does television, radio, or any other type of advertising, you must really know the ad so you’ll know what the advertising says. When a caller asks questions about the advertising piece, you’ll be more knowledgeable about what your caller is referring to. Something in the ad caused him or her to pick up the phone and call. Find out what the hot button is and then work to get an appointment with the caller using that information.

The second way to be prepared in using the telephone is to always have paper and pen available. Don’t rely on your memory when people call you. I always keep a message pad next to the phone so I can quickly write down the person’s name and what he or she is calling about so when I meet him or her later, I am more intelligent about his or her needs. It’s always impressive when you can reiterate what was expressed during your prior conversation. It shows that you care.

The third step is to forget your own challenges. Many salespeople get on the telephone and suddenly start talking about their own problems. Doing this sends a negative message to the potential client. The instant that phone rings, we have to put aside anything that could keep us from getting an appointment or making a sale. That includes personal challenges, in-office distractions, and any negative feelings from your last client contact. As far as any caller is concerned, when you pick up that telephone, you are there for one and only one reason — to serve their needs to the best of your ability.

The last step is to be mentally prepared to win. I always looked at telephone calls as a contest. Would someone call and get more information from me, or would I get more information from them — and arrange a time to visit? What steps would I take to turn that one call into a presentation and sale, or that transaction into a load of additional referred business?

Consumers don’t really want to meet us when they’re making calls to our places of business. All they want is information. How do I know if the product they’re asking about will even meet their needs if I don’t develop the opportunity to visit with them, get to know them, understand their situation as it stands today, and make a solid recommendation based on my expertise in the field?

I am an industry expert. I have an obligation to help people who are interested in my product or service to make a decision that is truly good for them. That’s a tough thing to do over the telephone with most products and services. So, learn to use that telephone to the best of your ability to make the caller feel an urgent need to meet you.


This information is copyrighted by Tom Hopkins International, Inc. for reprint permission, contact Judy Slack (judys@tomhopkins.com).



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  1. Merrill J. Winoker says:

    I attended Tom Hopkins 3 day sales bootcamp. When I returned to my bank branch, I booked 10 investment appointments in 2 weeks. The quota for the quarter was 4. I will suggest that you attend the boot camp.

    Also, I flew back to Providence, Rhode Island with a case of videos, dvds and books. I studied for 3 months and became one of the top bankers in my bank.

  2. Thanks for your comments. When people ask about price too early in your meeting, use the Triplicate of Choice for money. You give them three options and ask which sounds best to them. It’ll help you qualify non-buyers and potential buyers will give you a price range they expect to pay. Then, they can’t say “it costs too much” when you close them later in the process. They’ve already told you how much they expect to pay. Watch for a blog post on Triplicate of Choice for Money coming soon.

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