Telemarketing

Definition: Use of the telephone to market goods or services directly to prospective customers

The aspect of selling that strikes the greatest fear in people's hearts is usually cold calls. A good way to make cold calls more appealing is to stop thinking of them as "cold" calls. Try thinking of them as "introductory" calls instead. All you're trying to do is introduce yourself and your business to the prospect.

It's important to understand the purpose of introductory calls so you have a realistic attitude about this type of business development activity. Phone prospecting takes longer to pay off than other types of marketing efforts, so go into it knowing you're exploring a new frontier, and it's going to take some time to get results.

Just as with any marketing method, you should never make introductory calls without a plan. First, always use a targeted list of prospects when making your calls. If your product is household cleaning services, why call a random neighborhood if you have no knowledge of income levels, number of household wage earners, or number of children? If you sell nutritional products to hospitals, why call nurses or doctors if a third-party pharmacy makes all the buying decisions? Get the right list of prospects.

You can obtain information about prospects from the list broker who provides you with the list;

if you are working from your house list, you should already have the information. If for some reason you don't, try an introductory call like the following: "We provide mobile pet grooming for dogs and cats. Would that be a service your customers would want to know about, Mr./Ms. Veterinarian?"

Next, determine the best time frames for calling. If you are selling financial services to upper-income CEOs or entrepreneurs, wouldn't it be nice to know when their corporate fiscal years end? Perhaps most of their investment purchases are made two to four weeks prior to that year-end close-out. That's when they know how much extra income needs to be sheltered in a pension plan.

Sometimes timing is your ace in the hole. Granted, follow-up calls throughout the year may make that one important sale possible, but knowing when to instigate the first call is a priceless piece of information.

Third, plan by preparing a "sales script" ahead of time. Write down what you are going to say, what responses the prospect is likely to have and how you will reply to them. No, you're not going to follow this word for word, but if you're nervous about making calls, it helps to have something in front of you. Chances are, after you get beyond the opening sentences, you'll be able to "wing it" just fine.

If preparation for cold-calling is easy but actually making calls is painful for you, here are seven easy steps to get you on the phone fast:

1. Personalize each call by preparing mentally. Your mind-set needs to be aligned with your language, or the conversation will not ring true. You need to work on developing a warm but not sugarcoated telephone voice that has that "Don't I know you?" or "Gee, you sound familiar" ring to it.

2. Perfect your phone style alone before making any calls. If you are self-conscious about calling, you need to feel safe to act uninhibited. Try this: Gather a tape recorder, a mirror, a sales journal of incoming and outgoing phone scripts, a pen and a legal-sized pad. Either write or select a favorite phone dialogue; then talk to yourself in the mirror. Do you look relaxed, or are your facial expressions rigid? Our exteriors reflect our inner selves. If you look like you're in knots, your voice will sound strained as well.

Push the "record" button on your tape recorder, and pretend you're talking to a new prospect. Play back the tape, and listen to your conversation. Ask yourself how you could improve your delivery. If your voice seems unnatural and the dialogue contrived, do not despair. As you practice and participate in real phone experiences, you will improve. Mastering the art of cold-calling is no different than improving your golf swing or skiing technique.

3. Create familiarity all around you. Use family photos, framed testimonial letters, motivational quotes, or whatever gets you in a positive, enthusiastic mood. If you like, play some music that inspires you.

4. Use your imagination. Pretend you are a prospective customer calling a bookstore to see if they have a book in stock. If it helps, record how you sound to get the feel of your inquiring phone voice. It's always easier to imagine you're a customer in need of information than a salesperson trying to force your way into the customer's time. The inquiry call is good practice because the tone of the conversation is "Can you help me?" or "I need some information." Try to convey that same attitude when you use the phone to contact future customers.

5. Watch your tone of voice. You do not want to sound sheepish and embarrassed, nor do you want to be arrogant. The ideal tone is warm, businesslike, curious and straight to the point. A good option is a question or a cut-to-the-chase statement such as: "I've got a problem. We are offering a two-for-one special during the next 30 days on all our coffee drinks, just to get people into the store. I need to know if you have ever stopped in while shopping at the mall, and, if not, why not? We have got the greatest ice-blended mochas in town."

6. Make your goal a fast "50 in 150"-that is, 50 calls in 150 minutes. Three minutes per call is all you need. With so many voice-mail systems intercepting calls today, this should be easy. Never give people the impression you have time to chat. Chatting is not prospecting. You're on a mission. Get to the point, then move to the next prospect.

7. Take five after 15. After 15 calls, take a five-minute break-stretch, eat, sip a soda, turn on some tunes, and pat yourself on the back because you're making it happen. Then grab the phone for 15 more calls.

Your initial cold call typically will not result in a sale, or even in an appointment to make a sales presentation. One study shows it takes an average of seven contacts, impressions or follow-ups to make a sale. Think of each follow-up contact as a chance to get closer to the prospect and change his or her mind about meeting with you. Plan your follow-up contacts carefully, and be flexible and creative.

How do you start the follow-up call? Here are some lead-in lines:

  • "I thought of a few things that might help you decide..."

  • "Something recently happened that I thought you might want to know about..."

  • "There has been a change in the status of..."

  • "I just was thinking about you recently and I wanted to tell you about..."

Here are other sales tools you can use in follow-up situations:

  • A personal note: A handwritten note on your company note cards is far more effective than a typed business letter.
  • An endorsement from a mutual friend: A friend is far more influential than you are.
  • An article about your company: Something in print can work wonders. You can even send articles about the prospect's company or, better yet, about a personal interest of the prospect "Thought you might be interested in..."
  • An invitation to visit your facility: Bring the prospect to your home turf.
  • A meal: Meetings in a nonbusiness environment are powerful and help you build personal relationships that lead to sales.
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