Tag Archives: Sales Articles

How Do Your Prospects Perceive You?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When 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?”


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.


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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.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]

Turn Your Call Center into a Sales Center

By Randall McKee

Let’s assume increased sales are the first priority for your company, compared to customer acquisition. Let’s agree that your call center agents care for your customers. Let’s also agree that your “Average Order Value” (AOV) could use a lift. Finally, let’s agree that your customers are willing to spend more because they love your products and services. They like you.

Unless you have a boiler room full of sales junkies, increasing AOV can be a challenge. Why?  Because, if we’re honest, we have to admit that many veterans are burned out and new hires are tentative at best to up-sell or cross-sell, not having gained the confidence that comes with time and familiarity. Here are some ideas to get your new sales efforts started:

For upper management:

  • Administrators need to provide sales leaders with the tools agents need to succeed: Train them if they don’t know how to sell, and create offers for your consumers to make the sales easier.
  • Administrators need to both show and tell all staff members why increased sales matters: Don’t scare them with financial issues, but let agents know how increased sales will benefit the entire company and them as well.
  • Make sure your sales leaders are motivated: Performance-based incentive given in a timely fashion makes leaders sing; if they don’t grab on to it, they are not your sales leaders.
  • Deliver a new culture and re-brand your sales force: Make sure they understand that this is not a “project” with a finite ending; this increased sales effort is a new direction for the company. “We always have a special offer” is your new battle cry.

For the call center:

  • Hold monthly sales meetings to set and discuss sales goals: Explain not only what but also how sales goals fit with corporate goals; for example, “If we can do this, it will mean that to the company.”
  • Hold weekly product interaction sessions to build confidence in the entire line of options: Knowing the options makes up-selling and cross-selling natural from a suggestive approach.
  • Post sales results by agent ID daily: No names, please; instead, allow your agents to set personal goals. As nonconfrontational competition sets in, show and trend the results over each month.
  • Use financial and/or non-compensation incentives weekly to make reward timely and relative to efforts: Don’t just consider individual and team competition; try a quarterly “all hands” bonus when overall goals are met.
  • Support your strugglers with timely call monitoring and coaching: Point out where opportunities were missed while this is still fresh in your agents’ minds, and help them set specific goals; they will be rewarded when improvement shows.

Aside from increased sales, what you will gain is variable, but you may learn who does not fit into your organization. You might learn what your customers really want from you, and you’ll hopefully find out what is most important to your company.

Before you start any effort toward increased sales, make sure you have an incentive structure that works for your company, and set aside resources to ensure that they are delivered as promised. Make sure your corporate goals are realistic and attainable and that everyone has a full understanding of the program before its launch.

I’ll never forget the manager who ran up to me and handed me a fifty-dollar bill on my first sale, and he’ll never forget his manager who made sure he had that fifty in his pocket!

Randall McKee is sales manager for Taction – The Contact Center; he may be reached at rmm@taction.net.

[From Connection Magazine April 2010]

Using the Internet for Lead Generation and Lead Tracking

By Sue McCrossin

Wouldn’t it be great if every morning you turned on your computer and there were several targeted leads waiting for you in your email inbox? Why not position your website to be your 24/7 salesperson, gathering leads for you? No more cold calling – let your website do the dirty work for you, offering you warm leads on a daily basis.

The Internet is the cheapest method of gathering leads, and you should be taking full advantage of it. In addition, Internet leads can be tracked with precision, so you know exactly what you are spending for a lead. So how do you go about using the Internet and your website to generate targeted leads? Here is a short list of effective lead sources:

  • Google Adwords
  • BuyerZone
  • Industry specific lead generation sites
  • Social sites
  • Your own website’s landing pages

Keep in mind that the Internet is a limitless resource for leads, and you are only hindered by your own creativity in finding the best lead sources for your business.

Google Adwords is instantly available to anyone who has a credit card and an Internet connection. Google displays ads on search pages as individuals search for relevant information. This is called search targeting. The searcher is looking for a widget, and the ad for widgets appears on the sponsored listing areas of Google. The ad campaign is charged when a visitor clicks through the ad and onto the subsequent Web page. The position of the ad is determined by the bid amount the advertiser is willing to pay, and daily or monthly maximums can be set so advertisers stay within their budgets.

Google Adwords is an excellent lead generation tool if you understand what your online audience is looking for when they search for your products or services. In addition, you need to optimize your ad campaigns by monitoring the results to improve click through rates (CRT). The best way to do this is to create a unique ad, and then test different versions to determine which combination of headline and description gets the highest CTR.

Next, you will want to increase conversions on these ad campaigns by creating specific landing pages for your ads. When someone clicks on your Web page, you have about six seconds to convince them that they have landed in the right spot. Make sure the landing page contains the searched phrase in the top left-hand corner, where the searcher’s eyes first view your page.

BuyerZone and sites like it connect millions of active buyers to a network of suppliers in more than 125 product and service categories. BuyerZone matches buyers with the most appropriate suppliers for their needs. Buyers receive competitive price quotes and can access expert purchasing advice. The service is fast and free. Suppliers receive the buyer’s quote request, which turns out to be extremely targeted leads with high close rates and impressive return on investment (ROI). The supplier network consists of over 2,000 top national and local vendors who represent more than 100 categories of business products and services.

Industry Specific Lead Generation Sites: Use Google search to find specific lead generation sites for your products and services. For instance, search “lead generation automotive,” and you will find sites like dealer.automotive.com. There are similar sites for the mortgage, education, insurance, manufacturing, and communication industries. There are even companies like salesgenie.com with databases of leads that you can purchase. The only caution in trying these services is to do your homework to make sure the leads will be targeted for your business.

Social Sites: You can improve your lead generation by placing ads on social networks. The more specific the network, the more targeted the ad. Many of these social networks have site search capabilities. When a site search brings visitors to a page with targeted ads, the CTRs dramatically increase, because not only can you tailor the ad to the content the person is reading, you can target the ad to the type of person searching. All types of ads can be used on social sites: banner ads, text ads, and video ads. What’s different with social targeting is the ability to reach visitors more precisely and not worry about offending someone with your ad – they will be shown to people with similar interests. It’s been proven that people actually welcome and click through ads about their interests.

Social marketing enables you to reach people who potentially would be interested in your content but might never discover your site. Look at some of the most popular social sites, such as facebook.com, technorati.com, and youtube.com, to review their targeted ad placement.

Your Own Website: Almost all your prospective customers will visit your website before contacting you. Does your website move them along the buying process, or does it turn them away? In many cases, you will need to change your site from an online brochure into a lead-generation funnel. Your website should contain items like success stories, case studies, white papers, FAQs, and other items that instill confidence to convert prospects into warm leads.

Web Analytics Tools: When you have leads coming to your site, you will need to be able to measure the quality of those leads. You’ll need some kind of Web analytic lead-tracking software, a tool to monitor site visitors, referring websites, and what these visitors are doing on your site. For instance, do you know what percentage of visitors fill out a contact form, download something, or at least visit your contact page? This will help you see the percentage of visitors who have started down the sales funnel, and you can begin to track them.

A free Web analytics tool is Google Analytics. Analytics software requires you to place “hidden” code on your website pages, and it is best to place this code at the top of each page so you don’t miss any visitors.

There are even more robust tools, although they are not free, which track Web analytics, such as WebTrends and ClickTracks Professional.

With more than 8 billion people searching the Internet daily, the potential to use it as a lead generation source for your business is limitless. Search the Web yourself, as though you were a potential prospect for your services or products, and see what you find. You may surprise yourself with the potential lead generation sources you find in just a few minutes.

Sue McCrossin is a writer for Answer Center America, Inc., which offers answer center outsourcing services.

[From Connection Magazine May 2009]

Want More Sales? Check Your Email

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

If it’s your job to obtain clients for your call center, I have a secret technique to increase your closing ratio and success rate: check your email. Seriously.

I suspect that there’s a better than even chance that you are missing leads, spurning prospects, and losing sales – all because of email. If you don’t believe me, I have proof.

On the Connections Magazine website, I list outsource call centers. There is an expanded version of the same information on the website Find a Call Center. All the data listed have been directly submitted by the call center themselves, be it the owners, marketing managers, or sales professionals.  [List your call center.] The one thing they have in common is that they are all eager to receive leads and make sales. Once the information is submitted, I review it, verify that the information is relevant, and then post it on both sites.

I verify listings annually and recently sent out the verification messages. The lack of response—and the slowness of response—was appalling. Emailing sales contacts at 188 call centers, only 48 (25%) responded to my first email message, while 21 (11%) of the addresses generated a failure notice. The majority of those responding did so the first day, but many trickled in over the next week.

I sent a second email message to the remaining 119 non-responders. This time 16 (13%) responded, with 4 (3%) generating a “delayed” message, eventually “giving up.” One third of the responders did so within one day, with the rest taking up to five days. A third and final email was sent out to the remaining 103 call centers. This time only 5 (5%) responded.

Someone might assert that sales inquiries take precedence over my verification email, but does this somehow justify never responding? That is unacceptable. Remember, if my verification request is ignored, they lose their listing and all subsequent leads.

In summary, only 37% responded at all—only about half did so on the same business day; 13% had non-working email addresses (“failures” or “delayed”); an entire 50% were seemingly received but ignored.

If your call center marketing strategy and sales staff relies on email inquiries for lead generation, prospecting, and sales, then these are indeed sobering numbers.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

The Fatal Sales Presentation Trap

By Jeff Thull

If you are a call center salesperson, you can probably relate to this scenario. You spend days preparing a razzle-dazzle presentation. During the big event, you expound on the greatness of your call center. You show slides of your top-notch operation. You paint a rosy picture of the future the prospect will have if he buys. What happens after you wrap up the presentation is anyone’s guess, but two things are certain. You’ve spent valuable time and resources on your “dog and pony” show and you’re left with the unsettling knowledge that the decision to buy from you (or not) is completely out of your hands.

Sound familiar? It probably does. You may be thinking it’s just the nature of the beast. Presentations are no fun, but they’re part of selling, right? No! Not only are presentations usually a waste of time, but they can actually decrease the chances that you’ll make the sale.

Think about the nature of the presentation and you’ll see why it’s so often an exercise in futility. Salespeople think that they are educating the prospect, but a presentation is a lecture. It’s been proven repeatedly that a lecture is the least effective way to educate. Why? Because, chances are we are doing the worst thing an educator can do; we are answering unasked questions!

Sales people probably spend 80% of their time talking about their service, while the prospect may not even understand his problem. So no matter how impressive your call center sounds, the potential customer is not going to grasp how it applies to his situation. Finally, the prospect probably has several other presentations just like yours lined up. In his mind, you are a commodity. The only way you’re going to ‘win’ is if you’re the lowest bidder, and that doesn’t guarantee success. The major tragedy of this overwhelming urge to present and propose, which is a carryover from simpler times, is the high number of these pursuits that end in no decision at all. The strongest sign of the ineffectiveness of presentations is the percentage that results in no action on the part of the prospect.

Presentations actually create a value gap, the misalignment between buyers and sellers. This worsening of already-present barriers occurs in at least three areas:

  • Relevancy. It’s quite possible that your solution isn’twhat the prospect needs at all. Since you haven’t talked in depth to people in each department your service will affect, how would you really know? It’s arrogant to assume that you do. Your prospect may feel manipulated and become defensive. Preaching is the worst of all presentation characteristics.
  • Comprehension. Let’s say that your solution is what the prospect needs. You know it beyond the shadow of a doubt, but does your prospect? Probably not. While you are bombarding him your painstakingly prepared presentation, he comprehends maybe one-quarter of it. You simply can’t fully convey complex ideas in an hour-long “lecture.” If a prospect doesn’t understand, he isn’t going to buy.
  • Inflation of Benefits. By its very nature, presentations are focused on the features and benefits of the service you are selling. You play up the glowing future the prospect will have if he selects your proposal, while playing down the changes he must undertake to implement it. If he does buy it, he will feel misled and frustrated when your solution’s performance falls short of the value promised.

In short, presentations can lead to frustration, misunderstandings, conflict, and adversarial relationships between you and your prospect, all of which impede your ability to create cooperative and trust-based relationships. The solution is clear: don’t do them. Sidestep the presentation trap altogether by taking a diagnostic approach. Physicians don’t do presentations, so why should you?

Your prospect probably will ask for a presentation; that’s how he or she operates. Your goal is to avoid getting caught up in that system. When the prospect asks for a presentation, agree and then discuss how you will prepare. Reframe the issue in terms of preparation. Discuss how you will interview various people in his organization in order to fully understand his situation and determine where your solution fits in, if it fits in at all. Then you’ll be able to build a diagnostic presentation, which is based on the prospect’s business, their situation, and the cost of their problem. It will be a discussion guided by PowerPoint rather than a presentation.

  • Pull together a “cast of characters” to help you diagnose. Identify and recruit cast members from the prospect’s organization who have the information, impact, influence, and insight needed to undertake an interactive decision process. If the prospect balks at allowing you access to these employees, explain that you would be very uncomfortable doing a presentation without the preparation and focus the interviews would provide. If still no access, politely decline and withdraw from the sales engagement. There is no point in wasting your time with an organization that doesn’t allow access to diagnose the situation so that you can help resolve their problem.
  • Commit to finding a prime solution. You and the cast of characters will travel together through the multiple decisions that must be navigated in a complex sale. It is important to create mutual understanding and goals around your prospect’s situation and the best solution to ensure a secure foundation for value achievement, both now and in the future.
  • Show the prospect the cost of his problem. Thoroughly examine the prospect’s situation; look for the common indicators of the problems your call center’s services have been designed to eliminate. Then identify the consequences across the prospect’s entire organization. Analyze the consequences and track the business impact. Finally, report the findings, unveiling figures that represent the total cost of the problem.
  • Show the prospect the cost of the solution. Sellers are usually happy to discuss the price of a solution, but few are nearly so forthcoming about the true cost. Implementing and using your solution may require that the prospect change his processes, train (or re-train) employees, or make other changes. In the new world of complex solutions, the costs of implementation and use often exceed the selling price. Walking through this process quantifies the cost of change and gives the prospect all he needs to make a confident, informed decision.

By the end of this process, whether or not the prospect should buy your solution has become clear. You’ve enabled “decision acuity”; there is no longer any need for the traditional presentation.

The interactive decision process that you set in motion creates trust and transparency. It gives the prospect the confidence to invest. It lays a foundation for future efforts to help the prospect maximize the value inherent to your solution and to measure results.

If you’re still relying on presentations, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re actually working against your own interests. Rethink your approach now. Your prospect will stop seeing you as a purveyor of a commodity or an adversary trying to wrangle dollars from them for your benefit and will start seeing you as a trusted partner.

Jeff Thull is President and CEO of Prime Resource Group. He is the bestselling author of the recently released The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale. For more information, call 800-876-0378 or email support@primeresource.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2008]

Selling to Today’s Customers

By Brian Tracy

What is selling? In its simplest terms, selling is the process of helping a person to conclude that your product or service is of greater value to him than the price you are asking for. Our market society is based on the principles of freedom and mutual benefit. Each party to a transaction only enters into it when he feels that he will be better off as a result of the transaction than he would be without it. In a free market, the customer always has three options with any purchase decision. First, the customer can buy your product or service. Second, the customer can buy the product or service from someone else. Third, the customer can decide to buy nothing at all.

For the customer to buy your particular product or service, he or she must be convinced that it is not only the best choice available, but must also be persuaded that there is no better way for him to spend the equivalent amount of money.  Your job as a salesperson is to convince the customer that all these conditions exist and then to elicit a commitment from him to take action on your offer.

The field of professional selling has changed dramatically since World War II. In a way, selling methodologies are merely responses to customer requirements. At one time, customers were relatively unsophisticated and poorly informed about their choices. Salespeople catered to this customer with carefully planned and memorized sales presentations, loads of enthusiasm, and a bag full of techniques designed to crush resistance and get the order at virtually any cost.

But the customer of the 1950s has matured into the customer of the 21st century.  Customers are now more intelligent and knowledgeable than ever before. They are experienced buyers and they have interacted with hundreds of salespeople. They are extremely sophisticated and aware of the incredible variety of products and services that are available to them, as well as the relative strengths and weaknesses of those products. Many of them are smarter and better educated than most salespeople and they are far more careful about making a buying decision of any kind.

In addition, today’s customers are overwhelmed with work and under-supplied with time. Because of the rapidly increasing pace of change, down-sizing, restructuring, and the competitive pressures surrounding them, customers today are harried and hassled. They are swamped with responsibilities, impatient, suspicious, critical, demanding, and spoiled. To sell to today’s customer requires a higher caliber of sales professional than has ever before been required. It is only going to become tougher and more complicated in the years ahead.

Now, here’s what you can do: Think continually about how you can convince your customer that your product or service is the very best available.

  • Learn why he buys or refuses to buy. Develop strategies to turn non-buyers into buyers.
  • Upgrade your knowledge and skills every day so you can sell more effectively. You always want to know more about your product or service than your customer.

Brian Tracy has produced more than 300 audio/video programs and has written 28 books on management, including “Getting Rich Your Own Way” and “TurboStrategy!” He can be reached at 858-481-2977.

[From Connection Magazine March 2008]

When Shall I Check Back With You?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A few months ago, I was doing research on software designed specifically for periodical publishers. The general promise was that this class of software would streamline and integrate operations, as well as provide the ability to offer new services. With all its promises and pretension, I suspected that it would likely be pricey as well.

Why not dream a little, I reasoned? It wouldn’t hurt to get prices. Perhaps I would be pleasantly surprised. I found a resource guide that compared the key factors of the major players’ offerings. Using a couple of basic screens to limit the roster of some thirty providers, I quickly narrowed the list down to four promising contenders. To be efficient, I sent an email to each of them, asking the entry-level price and sharing my contact information.

I chose to request pricing for two reasons. Firstly, if it was astronomical, I could quickly opt out of further interaction and not waste any more time – mine or theirs. The other reason was that I expected a query about pricing to invite dialogue, thereby allowing me to learn more about the product and the company behind it. Although I could have chosen a more formal approach and submitted at RFP (Request for Proposal), preparing it would have taken up a great deal of my time, most likely exposing my naiveté and producing reams of largely worthless documents – not to mention demanding a lot from these vendors. (Now you know what I think about RFPs.)

So, I merely sent an email asking for their entry-level pricing. Of the four, one responded almost immediately, two the next day, and one never answered my query. All three of the responses contained a terse statement of price. Only one asked a solitary follow-up question, and no one attempted to enter into further dialogue. Another promised to send me a demo – but never did. For the third, I needed clarification on his poorly worded message, which garnered me another brusque email.

No one did any follow-up – ever. Although my initial communication was via email, I conspicuously provided both my phone number and mailing address. Sadly, there was nary an email message, phone call, or mailing. It doesn’t even appear that I have been added to any marketing databases for any future sales efforts or routine communication.

Of the three prices, one was too high for consideration, the second was also shocking, although feasible if the software proved as compelling as promised, and the third, although also high, was not unrealistically so. The bottom line is that had either of these later two software packages lived up to their grand pronouncements, I would have made a purchase, most likely within the month. But we will never know, because no one bothered to follow up with me.

Frankly, I am perplexed. At a price point comparable to a decent used car, you would think that there would be sufficient motivation to diligently pursue all possible leads.

The opposite of no follow-up is endless, pointless follow-up. It is perhaps even more deadly, because each purposeless contact serves as an effectively poignant reminder not to buy from that company.

Take Joe for instance. Joe was a good-ol’-boy salesman, with an order-taker mentality. He stumbled onto my name and called to set up an appointment. Even though I stated my preference to conduct business via the telephone and through email, he pressed for an in-person meeting. Since I did have some interest in what he was peddling, and based on his assurances of top-notch customer service and competitive pricing, I eventually acquiesced to meet with him.

During our appointment, it became quickly apparent that his company was not a good match for me. If Joe’s demeanor was representative of his company, I was confident that customer service would be decidedly inadequate. My conclusion of a mismatch was further confirmed with his price quote, which was twenty-five percent higher than “competitive.” I told him so and concluded by saying that I would call him if I wanted to pursue things further.

Sadly, Joe did not hear me, and my name and number were firmly ensconced in his Rolodex. Mechanically, he would periodically call, not for any real purpose, but just to talk. He never provided more information, never shared company news, and never attempted to move the selling process forward. His spiel was always along the lines of, “Hi, this is Joe; I’m just checkin’ in to see how you’re doin’.”

At first, I was relatively cordial and would conclude each call with, “I’ll call you if I need something.” Over time I became less affable, eventually ending a call with “Joe, please don’t call me anymore; I will call you if I need something.” Although necessary, I felt horrible for being so blunt.

My dismay was short-lived, because two weeks later, he called again. I cut him off, and as politely as I could muster, I said, “Joe, I don’t wish to be rude, but I asked you not to call me anymore. Please don’t call again.”

This may have been the first time he actually listened. “D-d-did I do something to offend you?” he plaintively implored. I explained my perspective on the situation. Incredibly, he called again a few weeks later, spewing his same tired, old rhetoric. That was the last I heard from him. Either he finally got the message – or got canned.

You may think me a malcontent, first complaining about a lack of follow-through and then being critical about too much. In reality, there is a middle ground that salespeople should aim for.

Quite simply, follow up until you hear a definite “Yes” or an emphatic “No.” And by all means, do not assume that the lead is not a good lead or infer that the prospect will say “No”; wait until they actually voice it. If they are not ready to make a yes or no declaration, you need to continue doing your job until a decision can be made.

This brings up two more thoughts. First, use careful discretion in the frequency of your follow-up contacts. Many salespeople ask, “When shall I check back with you?” Seemingly, this is a wise tactic, but the uninterested prospect will simply opt for a time as far in the future as possible, without the need to say “no.” All that does is string the salesperson along and waste time. Better is to ask what other information the prospect needs from you or what the next step is in their decision-making process. The other point is that even when a prospect says “No,” that may not mean “Never.” Ask them if they might want to revisit the situation in the future. If so, make sure you contact them at the appropriate time, but not before.

Most importantly, when you call, be sure that you have a reason for doing so. Don’t call just to chat; today’s decision-makers are far too busy to engage in idle, purposeless conversation. Call only when you have a predetermined purpose in mind or have defined a worthy goal directly relating to the sales process. Examples of reasons to call are to provide more information, update the prospect on new developments, share about new products or services, or offer a special promotion.

This way, your calls will be of value and your communication will have a better chance to be welcomed. And then you will be more likely to make a sale and less apt to read about your failure to do so!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

[From Connection Magazine January 2008]

Check Your Email

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

How do you regard email? Is it something that you can’t live without, a necessary evil, or somewhere in between? At Connections Magazine, email is a critical tool that we use to communicate with readers, advertisers, and each other. Without it, our ability to put out this magazine would come to an abrupt stop. However, even with it being such an indispensable tool, email is also an ongoing source of frustration, sometimes extremely so.

In the October issue of Connections Magazine, we published a list of outsourcing call centers. This list is compiled from submissions which are also posted on our website. This has been an ongoing effort for several years and a service which we are happy to provide to the industry – and to your potential prospects. Since I am well aware that business listings and contact data change over time, I wanted to verify that all listing information was still current before being printed in our magazine’s outsourcing call center directory.

Starting with an initial 156 call centers in our listing, I sent an email to each one, asking them to verify their information prior to publication. Several of those messages bounced back immediately, with varying types of unresolvable error messages. Several more came back after four days of trying. To their credit, some people responded immediately or the next day. After a week, I sent a follow-up email to those who I hadn’t heard from yet. A few additional addresses were undeliverable with this second round.

With both mailings, I received many “out-of-office” messages. Few of them were of the “out on a sales call” variety, but rather, they were the “on vacation for two weeks” type. This would not be alarming, if not for the fact that I had sent my message to email addresses that had been posted for sales inquires.

The end result was that of 156 originally listed call centers, thirteen (8.3%) were bad email addresses, eighty (51.3%) were apparently good, working email addresses, but no one bothered to respond, and only sixty-three answered, either to confirm or update their listing. Remember, this was not a list that I bought or harvested, but rather the result of self-submitted email addresses from people who wanted to be contacted. This was an astoundingly poor 40.4% response rate.

Can you imagine if someone were that apathetic about their telephone number? The analogy would be that on 8% of call attempts the caller would receive a “nonworking number” recording or a busy signal, 51% would ring but never be answered, and only a scant 40% would be answered by a person and responded to. With a track record like that, how long do you think a call center could stay in business?

Before you criticize me for implying that email is a comparably critical comparison to the telephone, I need to point out that email is the default communication channel for an increasing number of people – especially the younger generation, who are rapidly becoming the decision makers at your prospects’ offices.

Each month I hear from call centers (by the way, they generally email me) who wonder how they can obtain more clients. I have been hesitant to give them my ideas because that was not one of my strengths when I was in their shoes, but I’m starting to realize that perhaps I do have something to offer.

Start with Your Website: Firstly, you need a website. I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again, if your call center doesn’t have a website you won’t be taken seriously. Once you have a site, check it periodically to make sure it is still there and working. Sites can go down (usually temporarily, sometimes permanently), pages can get deleted, links break, domain names become pointed to the wrong place – or to nowhere – and on and on. As I delved into this project, I removed all listings that didn’t have working websites. After all, if a prospect finds you online, they will likely want to contact you online.

Keep Track of Your Email Addresses: You need to assign an email administrator who keeps track of all email addresses that your call center uses. This includes both the ones to individuals, as well as general purpose ones, such as for a department. When an employee leaves, don’t just deactivate their email address, but have it forwarded to the email administrator so that important messages can be received and routed to the proper person.

Test Your Email Addresses: Once you’ve accounted for all your email addresses, they must be periodically checked to make sure they are working. This is especially true of department and company-wide addresses. Also, carefully test all of those email addresses that have an auto-response message or are forwarded to another mailbox. Both of these situations are prime areas for problems to occur – and can easily remain undetected for a long time. The most critical email addresses to check are those that are published. This includes those listed on your website; printed in ads, directories, and listings; and posted online on other websites. These should be tested daily. (Incidentally, this is a service that you should be offering your clients.)  This testing can be automated – just make sure someone is faithfully checking the logs to ensure the program is running and the errors are being addressed. Perhaps better still is to simply have an agent do the testing during a slow time of the day.

Develop a Vacation Policy: A policy needs to be established for staff email when they are on vacation. Short of having them check their email while gone (a requirement that I would discourage), an auto-response message is the minimal expectation. This message must provide the name, number, and email address of a qualified alternate contact. A preferred approach would be to not inconvenience the client or prospect and simply have someone check the vacationing staff’s email account for time critical and urgent communiqués. (This is an excellent reason to keep business and personal email separate. Just as you don’t want personal email encroaching on the business hours, it is wise to keep business email from detracting from personal time.)

Heighten the Importance of Email: If your call center switch, server, or telco connection goes down, it is a problem of the most critical nature; all else becomes subordinate until it is resolved. There are backup options, contingency plans, notification procedures, and escalation steps. The same needs to occur with email.

Verify Your Sales Staff: Up until now, I have addressed the technical side of email. The human side, however, should not be discounted. Left unchecked, salespeople can become lackadaisical, forget to check email, or merely delete any lead that doesn’t sound like a sure thing. This is only remedied through diligent monitoring and verification.

So the answer to my most commonly received query, “How can I get more sales?” may be as simple as “Check your email!”

[Are you listed on the Connections Magazine website and Find a Call Center.com. It only takes a few minutes to sign up. And remember, the next time I email you to verify your listing, be sure to respond!]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

[From Connection Magazine December 2007]