Sell More Successfully on the Phone

We're trying to close more business over the phone. Is there a way to be more persuasive so we get better results? —D.M.H., New York

Telephone sales calls are more difficult than in-person sales. By treating a call as you would a personal meeting, you'll increase the likelihood that the prospective customer will take you seriously. See if you can use technology such as video chat to help personalize your phone interactions.

Whether you are cold-calling hundreds of prospects a day or making a dedicated call to a promising repeat customer, good sales rules always apply, says Scott Messer, principal at sales training company Sales Evolution in Philadelphia. "Be polite and friendly. Ask if they have a moment to talk. Know how to pronounce the person's name. Slow down and give the other person a chance to talk. How many times have you had somebody on the telephone who talks a mile a minute and you never get a chance to chime in?" he says.

Instruct your sales staff that calls are not about them, their quotas, or your company's goals. Sales calls should be all about the customer, says Joanne Black, a San Francisco-based sales trainer and author of No More Cold Calling. "Be flexible. Have an agenda but be ready to throw it out the window to accommodate the client," she says. "Have key questions ready and then drill down into their situation until you're clear what their issues are."

Bill Rosenthal, chief executive officer of corporate communications company Communispond, with headquarters in East Hampton, N.Y., advises clients to practice their sales pitches ahead of time, standing and using the hand and arm movements they would use in a face-to-face meeting. "You'll be more dynamic that way," he says. "Vary your volume and word pacing; make a brief pause before something that's really important. Have a friend role-play with you, then tape the dialogue and listen to see how you can make improvements." Make sure that your conversation does not sound overly programmed or stilted.

Pressing Too Hard

Another sales killer is desperation. "Don't back people into a corner," Black says.

If you can get your prospect open to buying from you on an initial call, then you can get back to them with a specific proposal. "At the end of the conversation, you say: 'I have a couple thoughts about how we can help you. Let me put them down in an e-mail.' Then, before you hang up, set up the time for the next call. They may change it, but at least you've got something on their calendar," Black says.

Of course, it's nearly always preferable to make a "warm call," as opposed to a cold call. "Send a pre-approach letter explaining what you're selling and letting them know you'll be calling on a specific date and time," Messer advises. "If you can get a direct referral or a trusted connection, that's even better."

Anticipate the kinds of questions you'll be asked and prepare concise, persuasive answers, Rosenthal says: "Speak confidently. Don't convey whatever anxiety you may be feeling by speaking too quickly." Even if the person you're speaking to can't see it, they will "hear" it if you smile during the conversation and look up rather than down at your desk, he says.

Avoid schlocky openers such as "how are you on this lovely day?" or "what's the weather like today?" Not only are they time-wasters, they are dead giveaways that you're heading into a sales pitch.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.