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Calling The Shots

Hit the phone running by preparing your pitch before you dial.

If you're a homebased entrepreneur who conducts most of your selling and marketing by phone, you might want to keep this column right up there next to the Chinese takeout menu. Even if you think you give good phone, stellar seller Art Sobczak points out that "many folks sell by throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks"-and we don't mean the receiver or chow mein noodles.

One of the hallmarks of poor preparation for a cold call is nonexistent or inadequate questioning. You lose credibility in the listener's mind when you ramble foolishly on about what you'd like to sell rather than what the listener might be interested in buying. Usually, the prospect then channels all their energy into thinking of reasons why he or she should get you off the phone. However, you can turn things around by mapping out your questions before your call.

Make three columns on a piece of paper. In the left-hand column, write down all your product or service's benefits. Label the middle column "Needs Filled/Problems Solved," and for each corresponding benefit, write down what customer need or problem it satisfies. Label the third column "Questions to Ask." For each need or problem, jot down a question that would determine whether that situation existed. Obviously, you can't script out an entire call; there are too many possible ways the conversation could branch. But you can be prepared by brainstorming every possibility beforehand.

You can also improve your perception of your prospects' needs by getting them to "think about the pain." If they tell you they waste time now, ask how much. If they're losing money, ask for the figure.

Finally, clarify the fuzzy phrases. For example, if a prospect says, "We'll think about it. Let's stay in touch," counter with, "Does 'stay in touch' mean I should call at a certain time?"

For other telemarketing tips, visit Sobczak's Web site at www.BusinessByPhone.com.

Julia Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer who specializes in business and marketing. She can be reached at juliam129@aol.com.

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