Connecting on an Outbound B2B Sales Call



By Matthew Robison

Let’s face it: Nobody likes receiving sales calls. Those of us who aren’t millennials remember the days of the landline ringing at dinnertime and having to listen to someone trying to sell us a vacuum cleaner or get us to contribute to the latest fund-raising event. The timing was never good, and there was always the internal struggle of being rude and just hanging up or waiting until we could politely say we weren’t interested. Over time salespeople got better at recognizing this and developed the technique of not pausing where we expected them to while giving us their spiel, which would throw us off our game of ending the call as quickly as possible.

Since the advent of the Do Not Call (DNC) list, most people rarely have to deal with solicitors at home. But what about at work? For many, those dinnertime phone call memories are still ingrained, and the hairs on the back of their necks automatically go up when they receive a sales call at the office. So how do we counteract that reaction when we’re on the other side of the phone line? Your goal should be to develop a long-term relationship not just for the one-time sale. Click To Tweet

Ditch the Salesy Talk: Picture wanting to buy a used car and having to deal with one of those salespeople. What happened when you read that? Did your heart start beating a little faster? Did a deep sense of dread envelope you? For so many people, that’s the feeling they get when they receive an unsolicited sales call. It’s our job—in a matter of seconds—to try and assuage those fears.

Start by being a real human being. Use the same tone of voice you would use when speaking with a manager at work. Be friendly and engaging while still showing respect. You’re not your prospect’s best friend, but you also don’t need to be overly formal.

Another salesy turnoff that most people hate is answering the phone and hearing the salesperson say, “How are you doing?” You may think you’re being friendly, but until you have developed a relationship with that buyer, asking him or her that question right away will most likely earn you a terse “Fine” that does nothing to move you down the path toward a sale.

Instead, introduce yourself politely. Ensure that you have the correct person, and start by letting them know you will be taking only a few moments of their time. Then state the reason for your call. When you actually sound like a human being instead of a salesperson, you’re much more likely to be responded to as a human being. 

Ask Questions and Be Engaging: A fundamental rule about human beings is that we love to talk about ourselves. What questions can you ask your prospects to learn more about their business (thus helping you with the sale) while getting them to open up? Depending on the product you’re selling, it can be extremely important to find out what processes they’re using. Learn what they do on a daily basis at that facility. Ask how long they have been with the company.

There are many great questions you can ask to get people to open up. The key is to always be ready with a few questions—and most importantly, to listen when they answer. Many times telesales representatives are so worried about what they will say next that they don’t truly listen to the customer.

The most powerful weapon you have is your ability to ask questions and listen to the answers. When customers are willing to share even the most basic of answers, you have a great opportunity to find out what’s important to them and what their current pain points are. This information can give you fantastic insight into knowing how best to sell to them.

Connect on a Human Level: If you are lucky enough to reach a someone who is willing to hear you out, it’s extremely important to somehow connect with him or her on a human level. Be personal. Customers want to buy from people, not companies. Is it Monday morning and you’re calling Bob in Wisconsin? Bring up yesterday’s big win for the Packers. Does Jane say something about being behind today because she was in charge of the carpool this morning? Ask her how old her kids are and briefly mention your own. Any chance to connect on a personal level can be helpful in building the bridge toward a sale.

Conclusion: In spite of the fact that our society runs on technology, there is still a need and desire for good human interaction. Unless you are selling a one-time purchase item, your goal should always be to develop a long-term relationship, not to just go for the one-time sale. If you can provide value while also connecting on a human level, you’ll go a long way toward becoming a valued partner for your customers.

Matthew Robison has spent over ten years working in call centers in a variety of roles. He is currently sales manager for a nationwide welding and safety distributor.

Telemarketing Lead Generation

Five Tips for High Quality Leads

By A. J. Windle

Our economy exists because of sales. Think about it. Everything we have is tied back to a sale that was made from a conversation, which all started by generating that first lead. Most businesses have a goal to grow, and in order to do that, they need new leads and new opportunities.

So what’s the secret sauce? How can you get more leads, and how can you make sure that your sales team is capitalizing on those leads? Every business is different. However, I can tell you that after running hundreds of B2B telemarketing lead-generation programs, there are several processes that I believe will make sure your team is generating strong leads and your sales force is capitalizing on those opportunities.

Follow these five tips, and you’ll see improved results.

1) Multiple Touch Points: One of the hardest and most time-consuming aspects of lead generation is actually reaching the person who actually makes the decisions. Regardless if you are generating your own leads or using outsourced telemarketing, the days of people sitting at their desk all day is dead. We are truly living in a mobile age. So how can you more effectively reach prospects? You must use a multiple-touch approach.

Call, leave voicemails, send emails, connect on LinkedIn, and join groups with people you know need the product or service you are selling. Implement a process for these contact methods, including what attempts you will try using a different or multiple-touch approach. Also consider the amount of time between contact attempts. You do not want to call, leave a voicemail, send an email, and connect with your prospects on LinkedIn on the same day. That is borderline creepy, and it will more than likely push them into your competitor’s hands.

2) It’s Not an Interrogation: One of the biggest mistakes I see when launching a B2B telemarketing lead-generation program is using an overly interrogative script. I get it—you want to ensure that your sales team has as much information as possible going into the sales call in order to be successful. Consider this: If you had to sit on the phone for fifteen minutes answering questions, only to find out the purpose of the call was to set up another call with more questions, would you stay on the phone? I’m going to put my money on “no.”

Don’t get me wrong, valuable information needs to be collected. However, if you are skilled enough to get C-Level managers on the phone, respect their time and understand that they probably have better things to do. Keep questions to a minimum. Part of the follow-up call from your sales team should be engaging the conversation and asking more questions so they can build the relationship with the potential client.

3) Setting Up the Sales Call: This is critical. If your outsourced telemarketing team does not have a proper process in place to set up the follow-up sales call, your leads will run cold. Time is critical. The closer the follow-up call to the original lead generation call, the more successful you are going to be.

I recommend a maximum of no more than two days, which should only be exceeded if there is a very valid reason. If your prospect wants to push past a week, don’t set the appointment. Instead schedule a time to call the prospect back when there is a smaller window. This will keep show rates up and the likelihood of your prospect recalling the initial interest much higher. Second, send the prospect a calendar invite while you’re on the phone together and get the prospect to commit to adding it to his or her Outlook calendar. If the time is blocked off, it is a lot less likely the prospect will back out of the appointment. Last, walk your prospect through the next steps. If a prospect clearly knows what is going to happen after you get off the phone, he or she more likely will be prepared for the next level conversation.

4) Create a Lead Rating System: Every lead is not equal, so why do people classify them as such? When conducting a lead-generation program, you are going to get bad, good, and great leads. The key is to know the difference so you can appropriately prioritize the time in which you contact these prospects back.

When conducting B2B telemarketing lead generation, you should have a method for rating prospects on how they answer specific questions you have deemed necessary within the script. You can use the hot or cold method; however, I prefer a bit more detailed approach of A, B, or C.

“A” leads want to make a decision now; they have been looking, have the budget, and want a call right away. They are informed, and you can tell they have done their research.

“B” leads are prospects who are interested in having further conversations. However, their time frame for a decision could be several months out. You will know when talking to them that they are interested, but they just don’t have a plan in place.

“C” leads are those who don’t necessarily want to have a phone call or in-person conversation but would like more information sent to them for future reference. Because timely follow-up is critical with prospects, having a system in place for your outsourced telemarketing team that clearly conveys who is priority number one helps increase the likelihood of closing deals.

 5) Synergize Lead-Generation and Sales Teams: Finally, one of the most important pieces of a successful B2B telemarketing lead-generation program is to open communication between your lead-generation team and sales team. Although these teams both play separate roles, the goal is the same, and you should never create silos.

A strong lead-generation team should always know what the sales team is looking for in new leads, the results of leads sent, and what they need to do to improve the quality of leads that the sales team is receiving. I recommend a weekly or even monthly call between the two teams to ensure everyone is on the same page. The time spent will be worth it.

Conclusion: Generating high-quality leads for your sales team is a learning process and one that requires constant refinement. However, if you stick to some basic processes and communicate your expectations clearly, it can be fun and rewarding.

A. J. Windle is senior operations manager for Quality Contact Solutions, an outsourced telemarketing organization, which has run hundreds of B2B telemarketing lead-generation programs. With fourteen years of telemarketing experience, A. J. has built his career on creating win-win-win relationships between his team, his clients, and his telemarketing vendors that drives success. A. J. can be reached at aj.windle@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5106.

Ask Kathy: Effectively Prevent Customer Cancellations

By Kathy Sisk

Customer cancellations are inevitable in the BPO industry, and they can be frustrating. There are many reasons why a customer might cancel an order, but most are triggered by buyer’s remorse. However, you can take steps to solidify your customers’ buying decisions.

Solidify Your Sale: This crucial step in preventing cancellations is easy to do and only takes a few minutes. Solidify the sale by reviewing the payment information and order details before asking the customer why he or she decided to buy. Do not sound hesitant when asking this question; make your prospect feel like you want to know.

Phrase the question to make it comfortable for you, such as, “John, I’m really glad you decided to go with us and get product X! I like to ask my customers what made them decide to order. Can you tell me the reasons behind your decision?” Then give him time to talk; your job is to listen. Avoid leading him.

Seek a Second Chance: When a customer calls to cancel, ask why. Phrase this carefully, such as, “Please share with me why you feel it wouldn’t work for or benefit you?” This will help you dig deeper into customers’ real issues and handle their hesitation in order to provide the opportunity to ask for a second chance. You may change their minds and resolve specific doubts.

Help Customers Rethink Their Options: Start a constructive conversation to prevent customer cancellations from occurring. This will help you get to the root of the problem and enable you to take the necessary actions:

  • Offer assistance to correct any product problems.
  • Set up a webinar for customers who find it difficult to use your product and show hidden benefits they can get from it.
  • Show them you value their opinion by adding their input to a public forum.
  • Create a billing option or give a discount to address issues about cost.
  • Provide time for the feeling to pass when a customer makes a knee-jerk reaction; then make a follow up call.

However, if cancelling is truly the best option, make sure the customer’s final experience with the company leaves a great impression.

Kathy Sisk, founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries.

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

Ask Kathy: Mastering the Trial Close

By Kathy Sisk

Closing a sale occurs when the customer agrees with the conditions and gives the agent his or her firm commitment. Closing a sale should be a natural ending of the sales process, but it should not be viewed as transactional, because customers may hesitate with purchases made over the phone. Don’t try to close without trial closing first.

Mastering the trial close is a paramount for an effective sales agent. It places you in a solid selling position and gives you the perfect time to test for a commitment before the final close.

The Trial Close Is a Powerful Tool: A trial close helps sales agents assess how customers feel about a product or service. It is a powerful sales tool that is critical in closing a sale. However, if you use a trial close in the wrong way or at the wrong time, you may lose the opportunity of selling the customer altogether.

While speaking with customers, a sales agent must constantly note the customers’ reactions. Gauging their interest helps determine when to use a trial close. Practice helps agents become instinctive regarding the process. The use of an effective trial close is a technique to achieve a higher close percentage.

 Trial Close Examples: Prior to trial closing you need to get your customers’ reaction. You are not asking for a commitment. Instead you are asking how they feel about what you have shared so far.

  • Do you have any questions about what we have discussed?
  • Do you have any suggestions about our proposal?
  • Does that sound reasonable?
  • Does that sound fair enough?

The trial close happens after sharing the features and benefits and after you get your customers’ reaction to ensure that what you communicated with them is of interest. When the customers’ response is positive, you can safely go to the trial close, restate the offer with benefits, and give the price.

Trial Close Importance: Many agents make the mistake of asking customers for their commitment without knowing how they feel about the offer. Failing to acknowledge customers’ questions and concerns may result in a “not interested” response.

A trial close helps agents strengthen their sales process and prevent lost sales.

Kathy Sisk, founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

Monitoring Your Salespeoples’ Gatekeeper Skills

By Nathan Teahon

Is your business-to-business telesales program performing below par? If so, what’s wrong? This could be a million-dollar question. Poor performance might be due to any number of things. Most smart telesales managers will look at the pitch, the offer, the close, or perhaps the call list. Those are great items to constantly evaluate, and many times a small adjustment will yield tremendous results. However, one of the most overlooked pieces of the equation can be successfully getting past the gatekeeper to reach a decision maker. In fact, I’ve found that getting to a decision maker is 75 percent of the battle.

So, if that is true, why is it one of the last things to be evaluated? A typical sales staff is made up of talented individuals who know how to talk and how to sell. One of the first things they learn is how to get past a gatekeeper. It is not the core of the sales process, and it is almost certainly not the aspect of a call that people would consider the most fun. Naturally, the most mundane part of a person’s job often leads to resting on one’s laurels. When the salesperson gets the decision maker on the phone, the job gets fun and the salesperson become fired up. Getting past a gatekeeper? Meh. No fun there. And because managers often view this as a basic skill versus a sales skill that separates the leaders from the pack, it’s easy to overlook.

Getting past the gatekeeper isn’t a new concept; it’s simply the most overlooked. It might be time for a reality check on how staff is handling gatekeepers. You can do this by conducting 100 percent non-contact monitoring sessions. Sure, you can listen to how they are doing in this regard during the course of normal monitoring, but inevitably, the bulk of your attention is going to be on the core goal of the sales call.

During a non-contact session, you can pull fifty random non-contact recordings and spend an hour, or even just thirty minutes, listening to nothing other than how your team is handling gatekeepers. This will tell you exactly what you need to focus on. The top four basic requirements are:

  1. Ask for a specific callback time if the decision maker is not available.
  2. Ask for an alternate decision maker if the person asked for is not available.
  3. Use the client name up front with the gatekeeper.
  4. Work quickly and intelligently through automated machines.

Using this list, keep score and mark a point off for each category missed. At the end of the session, you will have a non-contact accuracy score. Doing this evaluation is mundane and not much fun. You should probably load up on coffee or an energy drink prior to doing it. But, rarely is one of these sessions unproductive. No matter how experienced and diligent your team is, these habits are the easiest to forget.

The Importance of Alternate Decision Makers: Why is it important to ask for alternate decision makers? Most gatekeepers will tell you that at least half the calls they get are someone asking for “Bob Smith” when they really needed “Joe Nelson.”

Also, there are usually additional people with decision-making authority. Most companies don’t have a structure where only one person has the authority to buy. Seventy-five percent of the battle is getting a decision maker on the phone, but it’s naïve to think there is only one person in an organization with the authority to deal with a sales agent.

Try Setting a Phone Appointment: Are your agents’ calls typically ten to fifteen minutes or more in length? If they are, that is a significant amount of time for the decision maker to spend with a salesperson when the person is not expecting the call.

Most people keep rigid calendars, and salespeople can increase the odds of a decision-maker contact by getting the call on that person’s calendar. Have your team set up an appointment, and then send an outlook calendar invitation. Many people will end up canceling or not taking the sales agent’s call at the set appointment time, but if they have the placeholder for a time to talk with the agent, he or she is less likely to have to play phone tag. People appreciate having an appointment, and sending out a calendar invite is professional, giving the agent more credibility. This isn’t the right approach for every campaign, but depending on the objective of the call and how long it takes, it can be very effective.

Approaching the Gatekeeper: I’m not going to cover getting past a gatekeeper from a sales agent’s perspective; that article has been written many times, and it’s funny how a process seemingly so simple has so many varying opinions on which strategy is best. Should the agent say, “I am calling for John Smith,” or should he ask, “Is John Smith available?” Is it better for agents to treat gatekeepers like gold, or is it better to be as nondescript as possible and pretend the decision maker has been sitting by the phone anxiously awaiting the agent’s call all day? Should the salesperson be polite and ask them how they are, or is it a waste of time that will annoy them? I’ve seen articles written on both sides of these considerations, each giving a very convincing argument.

First, each one of these approaches will work in specific circumstances. Next, not all sales programs are the same. What works best for getting to the president of a hospital is not necessarily what works best in connecting with an owner of a fitness facility. Also, sales agents aren’t created equal. It’s certainly worthy to create standard practices for your team, but don’t take away their flexibility to do what works best for them.

Final Thoughts: One last rule of thumb: Instruct your agents to not treat gatekeepers like gatekeepers. I’ve never seen an employee with the title “Gatekeeper.” They are human beings doing a job, just like everyone else. When they are screening calls for their boss, they aren’t being mean to your salespeople – they are doing their job. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a National Gatekeeper Convention where they all gather and snicker about the time they wouldn’t let that salesperson through despite his or her strongest efforts. If I am wrong, someone let me know.

As my mother said, “Treat people the way you would like to be treated. If you do that, odds are you’ll have some success. “

Nathan Teahon is the director of operations for Quality Contact Solutions, www.qualitycontactsolutions.com.

[From Connection Magazine May/Jun 2014]

Don’t Chase Away Shoppers: Turning Prospects into Customers

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI often share customer service stories in this column. While I prefer to pass on examples of excellence, they are harder to spot than service gone awry. Even so, I try not to let these tales become a rant but instead offer helpful information in an interesting way.

As my history teacher said, “If we can learn from history, we will avoid repeating its mistakes.” Contact center managers, then, will benefit by considering my accounts of less-than-ideal customer service. Here are two more that occurred while researching Internet access for a friend.

I entered his address into the website of the most likely provider. Four options came up. I clicked the first, and it said, “Service not available.” I clicked the second, and it said, “Service available.” What perplexed me is that they appeared to be the same basic service, but one had more features. The third was likewise not available, while the fourth one was.

I called the support number, and the rep said, “I’m sorry, but we do not serve your area.” I explained what I found online. He checked again and then a third time, verifying the address with each attempt and muttering as he did. Finally, he said, “I guess my system’s not up-to-date. Let me transfer you to customer service. Even though you’re not a customer, they can help.”

The person in customer service didn’t appreciate me being transferred to her, acted snarky, and assured me that all four options were available. She needed to transfer me to another department, but I never heard what they had to say; I was disconnected during the transfer.

I intended to start all over, but then I considered the company I called. I had a bad encounter with them, a relative had a string of bad experiences, and several friends also complained. I couldn’t recall anyone ever sharing a positive experience about this outfit.

I went on to the second company. Again, four options came up, but there was no indication whether or not they were available in the area. I called the number listed. The closest prompt on the IVR was “To order service, press 1.”

The rep wasn’t pleased that I only wanted information. In less time than it would take to check, she snapped, “Of course it’s available.” Then she tried to sign me up. Despite me saying I didn’t want to order service, she made three attempts, with the last one being for a delayed installation. At each try, she grew more irritated over me wasting her time. When I said no the third time, she hung up.

I’d heard negative things about this company, too, but also some positive things. As the least undesirable option, I’ll recommend this one to my friend. I hope they really do service his area and won’t subject him to frustration by later telling him, “Oops, service isn’t available in your area after all.” I’ve heard stories of that happening.

No self-respecting call center manager wants to hear these types of complaints, yet how can you know for sure? Here’s an idea. Ask some friends to place an order – friends you trust to give you honest feedback. But don’t give them any background about your company or call center; don’t even tell them what number to dial. Just share your company name, and then make them work to find the number, just as a real prospect would. Also, if it’s legal in their area, have them record the call. But don’t merely rely on the recording; ask them to share what happened and their reaction to the experience.

If the report and recording are perfect, you can celebrate your success – but also take steps to make sure every call produces the same level of excellence. However, if your friends uncover glitches or shortfalls, address each problem, starting with the most critical one. If your friends have issues placing orders, prospects are likely suffering the same fate, resulting in lost business.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine May/Jun 2014]

Seven Ways to Keep Young Sales Reps from Crashing and Burning

By Lance Cooper

Millennials enter the nation’s sales teams as the most parented generation in history. Yet, many do not have the goals or plans to achieve compelling ambitions. Today, twenty million young men delay maturing until their late twenties and are without solid commitments and responsibilities to guide their lives. This leads to young sales reps that may crash when they try to take on the demanding challenges of monthly sales production.

Both inexperienced and seasoned sales managers often are not prepared for this new generation of sales reps. As a result they encounter the following three scenarios:

Fast-Start Fades: A sales manager hires an engaging young person who seems full of fire and enthusiasm. His or her early success causes the sales manager to feel good about the hire. And then it happens: the new recruit’s enthusiasm and production begins to fade.

Roller-Coaster Rep: A new hire works hard to sell enough to meet assigned budget numbers one month, and then falls short the following month. Back and forth, up and down: The rep sells just enough to get close to budget and then misses for two months, only to rise again, hit budget, and survive termination.

Character Losses: Many young men and women today join a sales team without the basic values and character traits necessary to make a positive social impact on new customers. If they do meet their quota, they may do so with poor customer satisfaction and unfulfilled co-worker needs.

New reps with these performance issues foster a poor sales culture with low referral rates and repeat business. This brings inconsistency to monthly sales production, creates high turnover, and can adversely affect a company’s brand, reputation, or market share.

Building a productive sales team from new millennial candidates requires paying attention to two important areas: recruiting and coaching. Here are seven ways to keep young sales reps from crashing and burning.

1) Use structured questions and validated profiles. These should be designed to identify the character traits, personality behaviors, and sales competencies of a successful sales hire. Key traits would include honest, ethical, hard work ethic, personal responsibility, deadline motivated, a need for independence, asking questions and listening, and presenting solutions. For example, some sample questions might be:

  • What was important about ______ to you?
  • What was it about you that led to success?
  • What is the minimum amount of money you must earn with us to feel successful?
  • Tell me about some previous successes at school, work, sports, a sales position, or with your hobbies.

Make sure you hire someone who has a motivational center, meaning they have a specific reason to excel. Also, hire someone who has to make enough money equal to or above the income of your minimum sales standard.

2) Install a ninety-day ramp-up process. Your goal is to cause the candidate to exclaim, “Wow, this is a better company and sales job than I expected when I was hired!” Ask for feedback from reps on the sales team, and create a checklist that includes training, introductions, and celebrating progress points.

3) During the first ninety days, have the sales rep complete a goal-setting sheet. Have them detail the amount of money they need to survive and the additional monthly amounts to sell beyond survival and fulfill a better lifestyle (such as building saving accounts, paying off debt, or saving for a new home). You will discover some of their motivating influences when you do this, and both you and your rep will know what income is important and why.

4) Get to know the rep and customize your coaching approach. Develop a scavenger list of twelve personal and important things to know about each rep. Interestingly, many young reps today do not often feel they’ve been listened to by authority figures or that anyone has really tried to get to know them. What you learn will help you tailor your coaching for each rep. What they learn about you when you listen will increase their trust in your coaching.

5) Learn to ask coaching and mentoring questions. Schedule a foundation interview for each new rep. This foundation interview will contain anchor questions like:

  • What do you want?” follow by layered questions such as
  • Why is ____ important to you?
  • What difference will not being able to pay for ____ make in your life?
  • How are you impacted by goals for which you have a low commitment?

6) Help each new rep develop a sales plan. Show them the activity levels necessary to reach their lifestyle goals (see number 3). Focus your reps on the activity levels (prospects found, first appointments held, presentations done) and the character and personality traits that will maintain these levels: hard work, perseverance, discipline, adapting to personalities, asking questions, and listening. As a mentor, teach them how to handle setbacks and challenges. Many millennial employees have been taught to believe that trophies and results are earned by merely showing up. Therefore, recognize and reward effort, courage, persistence, and self-discipline. For example, reward behaviors like meeting prospecting and appointment goals or handling tough customer problems with great service.

7) Set standards for your sales team. Examples of standards are honest and ethical behavior, activity levels, appearance, customer follow-up, and minimum sales results. When introducing young reps to these standards, always explain why they exist and how they help people. If standards are not met, make sure you enforce them at once; do not wait to make it clear what is acceptable and what is not. Then, once defined and enforced, make sure the reps know that you believe they have what it takes and they can improve; they can achieve the results for which they strive.

When you these seven steps, you can recruit better reps and develop high-performance cultures with today’s young people. You will coach them to sell beyond quota, above survival, and at activity levels necessary for the incomes they want.

Lance Cooper is a keynote speaker and author of Selling BEYOND Survival: The Essential System for High-Activity Sales Professionals. Lance is president of SalesManage Solutions, a company that teaches sales leaders how to recruit sales superstars and coach teams to greatness. For more information email lcooper@salesmanage.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2013]

How Do Your Prospects Perceive You?

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineWhen my office phone rings, I don’t want to answer it. This may seem odd coming from someone who has spent three decades in the call center industry, experiencing it from almost every angle. Though there are multiple root causes, the primary reason is that these calls are seldom welcome.

With over half the calls I answer, my greeting encounters silence. But this column isn’t about dialers set too tight or high abandon rates; it’s about the other calls.

Of the remaining calls – either made by a person or a machine that connects me to a person – most have a goal counter to mine; some are a complete mismatch. Judging by these calls, some databases must indicate that I run a call center or a print shop.

For example:

“May I ask you a few questions?”

I sigh. Do I have a choice? “Go ahead.”

“How many seats do you have?”

“Just one.” I smile as the agent processes this.

“Well then, do you outsource your calls?”

“No. I’m not a call center.”

Usually the call wraps up at this point, but one agent pushed forward. “Do you currently use workforce management software?”

Sheesh.

Or consider this exchange:

“How many offset printers do you have in your plant?”

“None.” This is going to be interesting.

“Ah…well…how many digital printers do you have?”

“Zero.” My anticipation mounts.

“How can you be a printer if you don’t have any printers?”

“I’m not a printer.”

“You’re not? It says here you’re a printer. May I speak with the person who handles your printers?”

But I digress. Many of my unwanted intrusions are automated calls from a big name company wanting to verify information for my free local online listing. I receive these calls a couple times a week, every week. All I need to do is press “one” to confirm or “nine” to be removed. Of course, they don’t mention the part about opting out until I listen to the entire recording. On every call, no matter how busy I am or what project they interrupted, I take time to press “nine,” hoping it will be the last time. It never is.

Yesterday when they rang I had no deadlines looming so I put extra effort into the call. This time I pressed “one” to verify my information, hoping to reach a person and stop the unwanted phone calls.

The agent answered in an upbeat manner, bordering on perky but in an annoying way. I think he might have been having a good day.

I began sharing my frustration over the repeated calls and not removing my information as requested. But then, months of pent up frustration boiled over and spewed out of my mouth. Within moments, raw emotion took me from civil to incensed, with colorful language that my tongue seldom tells, spilling forth to my unsuspecting target.

“I can tell you’re upset.” He took charge of the call. “Let me get you over to the ‘permanent opt-out department’ right away.”

“That would be great.” Now I’m getting somewhere. I wanted to apologize for my tirade, but before I could, he transferred me.

The man at the “permanent opt-out department” asked for my number so he could enter it into their “permanent do-not-call database.” Since I didn’t know which number they were calling, I said I’d give him both. I shared my local number but while relaying my toll-free number, the line went dead.

Sheesh.

This company has repeatedly irritated me for months with their unwanted calls. Now in their one moment to shine, they disappointed me again. They could have ended the call in a positive manner, but instead they confirmed they don’t care.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]

Why Traditional Methods for Motivating Salesforce Don’t Work

By Joe Laipple

Observing salespeople who operate at peak performance levels and do a good job – whether they are being watched or not – helps call center managers better understand how to earn “discretionary effort” from the rest of the salesforce. Consider what motivates these individuals on a daily and weekly basis. Three sources of motivation provide clues to how one should manage the entire workforce: self-reinforcement, customer reinforcement, and the work itself.

Notice that traditional rewards and recognition aren’t on this list. These employees motivate themselves daily, and they know when they do a good job. They receive reinforcement from clients many times a day, even when they are doing challenging work. They also are motivated by what others, who may be less skilled, consider extra work. They take the extra steps, they ask the extra questions, and they follow up better than others do.

The fact is that top performers manage themselves. Leaders who understand this and take action to encourage better self-management are able to create more discretionary effort. Maintaining and improving the performance of this group, as well as moving other performers to this level, provide the key to positively motivating an entire salesforce.

In contrast, some employees do what they do to avoid being detected. They do what they do because they have to rather than want to. This kind of compliance behavior is created when organizations manage exceptions, approaching performers when there are problems, crises, and issues. As a leader, ask yourself what prompts your actions on a daily basis. There are fires, crises, emails, phone calls, meetings, problems, and challenges – you react and respond to these issues, solving the problems, responding to the emails, putting out the fires. This reactive approach to managing others accomplishes short-term goals, but it also creates a workforce that does what it does only because it has to.

Motivating a salesforce that creates exceptional results requires leading in a way that creates a want to do environment, where discretionary effort is encouraged. This requires that leaders are proactive and influence others to create more self-management. Leaders that help others to be successful by asking questions encourage employees to achieve optimal performance.

Reward, Recognition, and the Real Function of Positive Reinforcement: There are two functions of positive reinforcement: recognition and repetition. Recognizing the specific behaviors that created the desired business results helps performers to look back on what was done. Repeating the specific behaviors helps to ensure that good outcomes will reoccur. When salespeople describe how they connect their behaviors to business outcomes (key sales results), they show how they create conditions that are self-motivating. It is a sense of accomplishment, a story they owned and created.

When these salespeople figured out how to do a good job, the work itself was likely to have been reinforcing to them. When they retell that story, it gives them an opportunity to be reinforced again. Think about a time when someone shared a story of something he or she accomplished and was proud of: The retelling becomes a motivating event.

Rewards and awards like “Employee of the Month” aren’t specific and immediate enough to guarantee good actions and outcomes reoccur. “Employee of the Month” programs are more likely to punish or frustrate those who didn’t win than it is to help employees repeat the good actions that created the positive results in the first place. While employees enjoy getting money and rewards, it’s not possible to hand out enough money and rewards to reinforce the desired behavior. The momentary satisfaction employees experience after receiving a big pile of money is unlikely to lead to repeating the specific actions that created good outcomes initially.

Recognition provided by managers in the form of “Good job!” and “Thank you!” is not frequent enough to result in repeating those actions in the future. They are also not specific, but rather typically are provided based on results – not on the actions that created those results.

Influencing Skills: The leader’s job is facilitating positive reinforcement rather than attempting to provide rewards and recognition. This requires less telling and more questioning. It requires asking, helping, encouraging, facilitating, and supporting rather than telling, solving, doing, putting out fires, and reacting.

Ask employees to tell their stories. Focus on something that happened today or this week. Ask the employees to tell you about their best customer interaction. They can describe beforehand what they would like the customer to say and do, and then they can then say what they said and did to make this happen. After the interaction, they can relay what the customer actually said or did. This line of questioning encourages self-reinforcement: Salespeople will naturally do extra things to create incrementally better customer responses.

The Sales Process Is Not the Problem: Creating a motivated workforce lies in influence and implementation skills, rather than sales training or the sales process. Organizations invest money in sales processes and training to help provide a path forward for salespeople as they attempt to move customers along a sales continuum. While sales processes and training are fine initial investments, they are not the primary factor that limits salespeople as they interact with customers. The problem is not resident within the salesperson; it is how they are developed and motivated.

Key Behaviors that Lead to Better Sales Outcomes: The leader’s job is to help create successful employees. This leads to a culture in which individuals operate at a high and steady rate, even when no one is looking. Coaching that creates better sales performance will create a more motivated workforce.

Helping your salespeople improve creates that motivated workplace. Coach and develop salespeople to focus on one to two behaviors, and ensure there is a daily or weekly focus on those behaviors. Eight behaviors are likely to lead to improvement in selling and coaching impact:

  • Asking questions
  • Active listening
  • Planning (for customers not the organization)
  • Anticipating and overcoming objections
  • Checking work
  • Follow up
  • Observing customer responses
  • Self-assessment

Pick one or two of these to improve sales performance and help create more self-reinforcement.

Coaching Questions: Coaches who motivate their workforce by creating more self-reinforcement rely on questions to encourage more self-management. Coaching questions should not be used just once a month in the formal coaching meetings that are common in call centers – they should be asked daily or weekly. They help encourage incremental improvement among salespeople that simultaneously improves the culture. Ask them:

  • What’s your best example from this week of what you are working on?
  • How did you do that? (Ask this when you see or hear something you like.)
  • What did you learn that you didn’t know?
  • How are you getting better?
  • How did you modify your approach to make it work better?
  • Why do you think that worked?
  • What did you want the customer to say and do?
  • What did the customer actually say and do?

By answering these questions, you are bound to find new and successful ways to motivate your salesforce to deliver exceptional performance.

Joe Laipple is the senior vice president at Aubrey Daniels International.

[From Connection Magazine March 2013]

Creating Signed, Written Contracts Over the Telephone

By Brett S. Krantz, Mark D. Rasch, and Melissa A. Yasinow

At stage left we see Jack Smith, the sales representative for Crown Corp., sitting next to his work telephone. He has a bandage on his forehead. At stage right we see Jill Jones, the supplies manager for Hill, Inc., sitting at her desk. Jack picks up his phone and dials.

Jill:    Hello, Jill Jones, supplies manager for Hill, Inc., speaking.

Jack: Hello, this is Jack Smith, sales representative for Crown Corp.

Jill:    Oh, hi, Jack, great to speak with you. I heard that you fell down – how are you?

Jack: Minus a couple of stitches, I’m doing fine. Hey, I just got your message that Hill, Inc. is interested in buying ten pails of water. Is that correct?

Jill:    Yes, we want to purchase ten pails of water.

Jack: All right. [Jack presses another button on his phone]. Jill, this conversation is going to be recorded; is that all right with you?

Jill:    Yes.

Jack: Excellent. This is a conversation between Jack Smith, sales representative of Crown Corp., and Jill Jones, supplies manager for Hill, Inc., on Jan 1, 2012. Crown Corp. is willing to sell Hill, Inc., ten pails of water for $50 with delivery in five business days. Does Hill, Inc., wish to make this purchase?

Jill:    Yes, we do.

Jack: In that case, please press #5 on your touchtone phone to confirm your order. [Jill presses #5 on her phone. A touchtone sound is heard by the audience.]

Jack: Thank you very much. A copy of the contract will be mailed to Hill, Inc., immediately.

Jill:    Thanks, Jack – bye!

Jack: Bye!

Ladies and gentlemen, as you probably already know, you have just witnessed the creation of a binding oral contract between Hill, Inc. and Crown Corp. However, what you may not realize is that, thanks to two relatively new sets of laws – the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (“E-SIGN”) and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“UETA”) –you have witnessed something far greater than the creation of a mere oral contract. Instead, because Jack and Jill intentionally recorded their telephone conversation, and because Jill gave vocal acceptance and touchtone confirmation for her purchase, Jack and Jill actually created an enforceable signed, written contract.

How E-SIGN and UETA Work: Under both E-SIGN and UETA, electronic contracts (that is, contracts comprised of “electronic records” and/or “electronic signatures”) are the legal equivalent of physically signed and written contracts. This legal reality is important for businesses because, thanks to a nationwide law called the Statute of Frauds, many contracts – such as contracts for the sale of goods worth over $500 – are unenforceable if they are not memorialized in a signed, written contract.

An electronic record is created when the parties store the terms of their agreement through electronic means, such as when Groupon offers its deals on the Internet or when Jack recorded his conversation with Jill. An electronic signature is created when the parties express their intent to be contractually bound through electronic means, such as when a consumer clicks on Groupon’s “Complete Order” button or when Jill vocally assented to the contract and then intentionally pressed a button on her phone. Thanks to E‑SIGN and UETA, anytime businesses and consumers create electronic records and electronic signatures, regardless of the medium, they will be creating signed written contracts that satisfy the Statute of Frauds.

Providing Well-Informed Consent: To create legally valid, signed, written contracts over the telephone, businesses must be able to prove that their customers intended to become contractually bound. The easiest way businesses can accomplish this goal is for them to adopt a formal, multi-step process that secures and records their customers’ knowing and well-informed consent.

First, when businesses contact their customers, they should make sure that their customers understand they are being recorded. Not only will this help businesses prove that their customers intended to create an electronic record, it will also help businesses comply with state audio-recording consent laws.

Second, businesses should inform their customers about the material terms of the contract and state that any additional terms will be delivered with their ordered product or service. Businesses should also tell customers that they may reject these additional terms by refusing delivery or returning their order.

Third, businesses should clearly warn their customers that they are about to enter into a binding legal contract. For example, a telephonic seller might tell a customer:

“Ma’am, thank you very much for your business. You are about to enter into a binding, written contract with [insert business name]. Do you understand that you are about to enter into a contract with [insert business name]?”

“Yes, I do.”

Two-Step Confirmation Recommended: Additionally, businesses should also use a recorded two-step vocal-and-touchtone confirmation process to secure their customers’ electronic signature. Although a customer’s vocal agreement alone might be enough to prove her intent to be contractually bound, an additional step of “touchtone confirmation” would help businesses prove, beyond any doubt, that their customers intended to contract with them. For example, a telephonic seller might record the following interaction:

“Sir, do you agree to purchase ten widgets from us for three payments of $9.99 a month?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Please press five on your phone to confirm your order.” The consumer presses five. “Thank you very much for your business. Have a good day.”

By engaging in this multi-step process, businesses will be better able to protect themselves and prove that their customers intended to sign the contract.

Final Considerations: Finally, businesses should remember to check relevant state consumer protection laws, such as the Iowa Discount Buying Club Act, which requires businesses to give consumers physically written contracts in boldface type and large font. Although E-SIGN and UETA help businesses create valid contracts, they do not replace the substantive provisions of state consumer protection laws, and many businesses cannot comply with these laws over the phone. Remember: businesses can receive “signed writings” produced by their customers over the telephone, but they cannot telephonically give their customers a “writing” for them to sign and then telephonically return.

If these recommendations are followed, then, under both UETA and E-SIGN, businesses should be able to enter into signed, written contracts with their customers over the telephone and avoid potential litigation.

Brett S. Krantz is a partner and the head of litigation at the Cleveland, Ohio, law firm Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz, where he specializes in representing clients in responding to regulatory investigations of consumer practices in the telemarketing field.

Mark Rasch is the director of cybersecurity and privacy consulting at technology company CSC, where he helps companies protect the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of digital information.

Melissa A. Yasinow is an associate at the Cleveland, Ohio, law firm Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz, where she practices in litigation and assists clients in the telemarketing industry in responding to regulatory concerns and investigations.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2012]