By Kathy Sisk
The opening statement of a call is one of the most crucial parts of your presentation. With only seconds to create a favorable impression, your opening statement must captivate your prospect and proclaim, “Here is a reason to listen to me!” In the first fifteen seconds, bridges must be built and crossed. The right introduction will get you beyond your salutation. The wrong introduction is likely to get you nothing more than an abrupt end to your prospecting. You must impress your prospective client with your courtesy and patience, while maintaining control of your presentation.
What is the most effective opening? How do you optimize your chances for completing your presentation in these critical seconds? It all begins with the proper introduction. By following a few general principles, you should be able to establish a positive rapport and continue with the call. To increase your chances of success, it is essential that your introduction accomplish the following:
- Confirm the identity of your contact
- Give your name
- Share what company you represent
- Communicate where you are located
Offering these four key pieces of information will improve communication with your prospect in a number of ways. First, you make sure you are talking to the right person, a decision maker. Second, by openly giving out information about who you are and the company your represent, you anticipate and satisfy your prospect’s curiosity, which often emerges in the opening stages of communication as an objection. Finally, you distinguish yourself from other sales representatives by being deliberately up front with your prospects. This information helps disarm objections that tend to appear in these early stages.
Why should you take this approach? Remember the first fear point: “What does this salesperson want from me?” Put yourself in your prospects’ place. Will they want to embark on a potentially long telephone conversation with an anonymous voice without first knowing some basic details? A prospect’s first inclination is to detach from the call, withdraw, and be defensive and skeptical. Giving your prospect some of this basic information will decrease the likelihood of a defensive response.
By offering a greeting that identifies yourself, the company you represent, and where you are located, you begin to take shape as an individual in your prospect’s mind. You are no longer just a disembodied voice over the telephone. Your name, your company, and your location are clarified. And as you begin to present a picture of yourself, your prospect becomes preoccupied with trying to visualize you. Creating an objection at this point becomes less likely.
Each of the twelve steps has one or more functions that make that step work to accomplish your primary objective: to generate an interested prospect. The following are the five functions that must be contained in the first step.
The Greeting: Greet your prospect with “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” This is the first stage in developing rapport with your prospect. Why? Look at it this way: Modern technology has made it convenient and cost-effective for almost anyone with a product or service to utilize the telephone as a marketing tool. As a result, your prospects are inundated with unprofessional solicitation calls on a daily basis. These calls usually begin with “Hi,” “Hello,” “Hey,” “How are you doing,” and the like. Haven’t you received some of these calls yourself? A formal greeting serves to set you apart from those annoying solicitation calls and helps to project a positive professional image about you and the company you represent.
Establish Contact: Have you ever made the mistake of assuming someone’s gender or age over the telephone? Perhaps due to the tonality of the person’s voice, you believed you were talking to Mr. Smith when you were, in fact, talking to his wife. Do you think you succeeded in partially alienating Mrs. Smith by committing that error? Or have you ever asked, “Is your mommy home?” and received an icy reply, “This is the mommy.”
Making mistakes in assuming a person’s gender or age is quite common in telemarketing, but it is also unnecessary. You should never assume that the person answering the telephone is male or female, adult or child, simply by the sound of the person’s voice. Below are some examples of how to establish contact for residential and business-to-business prospecting.
Residential Prospecting. In residential prospecting, it is best to specifically ask for your prospect, using a statement such as, “Good morning, I need (…pause) to speak with Mr. or Mrs. Phillips, please.” Notice “I need” was used rather than “May I.” The benefit of using “I need” is to remain in control and to show a sense of urgency in your call. By asking, “May I,” you give up control, encouraging your prospect to begin playing “twenty questions” and screening you out.
Your prospect might answer, “This is Mrs. Phillips” or “This is Mr. Phillips.” If you’re dealing with a single person or a divorcee, a typical response is, “This is Ms. Phillips,” or “There is no Mrs. Phillips, but this is Mr. Phillips.” In some instances, the marital status may not be clarified here. (In such a case, it will then be identified in Step Eleven: The Close).
Notice that a strategic pause was used after the word “need.” A strategic pause encourages active listening. Your prospect will be actively thinking, “You need what?”
Business-to-Business Prospecting. In business-to-business prospecting, establishing contact is handled differently. Once you have gone through your gatekeeper screening script, hopefully you will have been transferred to your prospect. Sometimes you are transferred to the wrong department or individual. One way to determine such an error occurs when your prospect answers the phone. He or she may identify themselves and even their department voluntarily: “This is John Smith,” or “Marketing department, this is John.” If your prospects identify themselves, there is no need to verify them further. You can then proceed to your next function. However, if your prospect answers with “Hello” only, then you need to verify your contact by stating: “Good morning, I need (…pause) to speak with Mr. Smith, please.” Be sure to ascertain your prospect’s gender in advance when doing business-to-business prospecting. This information may be available from your lead list or can be obtained during the gatekeeper screening process.
In both instances, by keeping your statement neutral, you allow your prospects to tell you who they are. By remaining neutral, you avoid the potential embarrassment of making an erroneous assumption or assuming you have the correct person when actually you were misdirected.
Whenever there is a difficult last name to pronounce, one of two things happen: the agent will skip over it and move on to the next prospect (rarely are these prospects contacted), or the agent tries to sound it out and ends up mispronouncing the prospect’s last name anyway. If you are not well-versed in other languages and familiar with their vowel constructions, more than likely a difficult last name will not be pronounced correctly.
Mispronouncing names is not only a common mistake in prospecting, but it is extremely unprofessional. It irritates your prospects and creates a new barrier for you to overcome. What should you do? Use “the humbling technique” by simply giving up your control in a way that the prospect will be impressed and make it easier for you to continue with your presentation. The humbling technique is:
“Good morning, this is Susan Garner and I am having a difficult time pronouncing your last name. Would you please help me?” (Use an assumptive statement request, not a question.) More often than not, your prospects will assist you in pronouncing their last names. Also, this serves to break the barriers and allows you to freely move on to the next function.
The First Name Cue: This function allows you to determine whether you should proceed on a first-name basis with your prospect. Never assume that, just because your prospect sounds friendly, it would be all right to call the prospect by her or his first name; it is important that the prospect gives you a cue before you attempt to be on a first-name basis.
Provided you have the first name of your prospect, your next statement will be to simply repeat and emphasize the first name, as if you are verifying your information: “Ms. Mary Smith?” (Use voice inflection on the first name.)
Your prospect will respond with “Yes, this is Mary,” or “Yes, this is Mary Smith,” or “Yes, this is Ms. Smith,” or simply “Yes.” If your prospect responds with a first name only, this is your only cue to proceed on a first-name basis. If the prospect responds in any other way, you must proceed on a last-name basis.
Why is it so important to establish a first name cue? Your entire objective using the twelve steps is to break down barriers. If you approach your prospect and use improper or unprofessional tactics, you run the risk of irritating your prospect and generating an objection. Assuming an attitude of familiarity too quickly in your conversation may alienate your prospect at an early stage. Prospects may feel uncomfortable if a person they don’t know quickly assumes this level of intimacy. For some, prematurely communicating on a first-name basis becomes an immediate turnoff. This is one trap you should be careful to avoid.
Another good reason for using the first name cue is that you may easily compound the error by using an informal name that is simply the wrong one. For example, if in the interest of establishing rapport, you call a prospect named Robert “Bob” and he has been called “Rob” since he was a boy, you have only succeeded in increasing the distance between you. Establishing a positive rapport after you commit a misstep with his name now will be that much more difficult.
The objective at this point is to address your prospects in a manner with which they feel comfortable. Remember, selling your products or services involves selling yourself first. The goal in the early stages is to establish an atmosphere in which to do business.
Keep in mind that not all your prospects answer their telephone in the same way. Effective listening will help you when applying the steps and their functions. For example, if your prospect answers the telephone immediately by saying, “Hello, this is Betty,” you would not say, “Good evening, I need (…pause) to speak with Mr. or Mrs. Phillips, please.” Your prospect has just identified herself as one of the two individuals you were seeking. What is more important, using this same scenario, you would not continue to say, “Mrs. Betty Phillips?” when she has already identified that she is the right contact, confirmed her gender, and given you indirect permission to use her first name.
The steps and their functions are designed to guide you smoothly throughout your presentation. If your prospects are ahead of you, then it’s okay to follow the next step or function that would be more appropriate.
Introduce Yourself and Your Company: When introducing yourself and your company, it is best to offer your full name, even if your prospect has given you permission to proceed on a first-name basis. This tells your prospect a little more about who you are. You begin to acquire an identity; you are no longer a nameless voice. If you feel uncomfortable using your full name, especially if you also have a difficult last name, it is appropriate to use a “stage name.” Many agents use a pseudonym – somehow this gives them a separate identity. Whenever a prospect is challenging, the agent doesn’t feel as personally affected when using an alias. Just be sure to use the same name throughout your employment – and make sure that your coworkers are aware of your alternate name. Failure to do so could raise some problems should a prospect call to talk to you.
Now that you have greeted the prospect professionally, you may use the word “hello” to begin the process of building rapport. Your statement should be as follows: “Hello, Ms. Smith, this is Carol Roberts and I represent (…pause) ABC Company.”
Be sure to say, “This is” rather than “My name is,” which reinforces the fact you do not know each other. Think about it – when calling a friend, you would not say, “My name is ____”; it would sound silly. We want to project that we may be someone they know without using any false pretense. Stating who we are reduces the screening that can take place even from a child who answers the phone. Your goal is to gradually increase the level of rapport, not create further distance. Careful, thoughtful selection of effective words is vital to successful prospecting. Remember, you don’t want to sound like a typical solicitation call.
Mention Your Company’s Location or Landmark: Giving your company’s location and/or landmark is essential. The intention here is to create a mental picture of the location or landmark in the prospect’s mind, thereby offering a familiar point of reference. Your prospect’s attempt to visualize a positive and familiar image will help to engage his or her mind and promote active listening.
What is the benefit of creating a mental image by offering a location or landmark? Consider what typically happens when you give your company name – your prospect gets a “warning signal.” In most situations this signal is not positive. Let’s face it, your prospects are not sitting by the telephone anticipating your phone call. When they hear your company name, especially if it identifies your call objective (such as XYZ Insurance Company or ABC Computers), pausing after your company name will allow the prospect to conjure up an objection. In other situations where the name of your company doesn’t identify at all what your call objective is, you may arouse too much curiosity and encourage unnecessary objections or resistance. This is one area where agents fail in the first fifteen seconds of their introduction. The prospect’s objection preempts their presentation, and the agent loses control.
By using a location or landmark, prospects are presented with something tangible, something they can relate to, and something to mentally focus on. This serves to divert the thought process that would create the objection. Your prospect’s familiarity with this landmark will make it easier to visualize you and your company.
Proper use of voice inflection and strategic pauses are crucial throughout your presentation, but they are extremely beneficial during this function. Using the proper voice inflection, along with strategic pauses, helps set the stage to paint a clear mental picture in your prospect’s mind. Remember, you want to engage your prospects; you do not want to give them time to conjure up objections.
The following is an example of this fifth function in your introduction: “Hello, Ms. Smith, this is Carol Roberts. I represent XYZ Company, and we’re located (…pause) near City Hall.”
If you’re calling out of the local area, you might say: “Hello, Ms. Smith, this is Carol Roberts. I represent XYZ Company, and we’re located (…pause) off Highway 99 and Benson.” Or, if you’re calling out of state or into an area that is outside your immediate location, you could say: “Hello, Ms. Smith, this is Carol Roberts. I’m with ABC Company, and I represent (…pause) the West Coast region.”
Notice the italics. For effective emphasis, be sure to raise your voice inflection on the italicized syllables. Also notice the strategic pause. This means you must pause for one beat. Doing so keeps your prospect’s mind actively listening to what comes next. This fifth function tells your prospects a little more than just your name and company, while keeping their minds engaged in active listening, thus preventing premature objections from surfacing. It isn’t important that they know where you are located – the concept is voice inflection with a strategic pause. The objective is to keep their mind actively engaged in your presentation.
Kathy Sisk is president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc.
[From Connection Magazine – September 2011]