Hunting for new customers via telemarketing?
Telemarketing – which has always been the method and an unbeatable tool for qualifying customers – is a hugely important instrument when it comes to gaining new customers. It poses a number of challenges even to sales professionals, as it all boils down to picking up the phone and talking to complete strangers who are often difficult to get hold of.
It’s no wonder that the majority of sales staff have a healthy respect for the activity and can be sorely tempted to pass the job over to the secretary, a trainee or even outsource it to a call-centre. But that is precisely what you should never do. Why? Because 9 of the 10 commandments of telemarketing say: “Perfect preparation is half the battle!“
When you’re working in the B2B segment with a product that needs a fair deal of explaining, perfect preparation will help you work through your call list faster than you could teach a trainee or an outsider how to handle the calls more or less well. But that itself is not the main benefit. In addition to saving time, we are talking about your greatest asset for sustainable sales success – namely customer relationships.
Here are 6 tips for more success in developing relationships with new customers on the phone.
1. Don’t prepare well – prepare perfectly!
You cannot spend enough time on preparation. We assume you have completed your address research and have already provided your potential customers with initial information within the scope of an email campaign. The next job is to contact everyone who received your email within two to three days. Prepare a contact list. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an Excel spreadsheet, a piece of paper or a target list in a CRM programme as long as it allows you to jot down a couple of informatory notes on each customer, a follow-up reminder and a phone call memo.
You should now research each company via the Internet. Does the website have a team with contact partners? Are there references, showcases or solution portfolios? What does the local press or community newsletter say about your potential customer? Are there any special events you could make use of during your conversation? Now that you know more about your contact partner you probably feel more motivated to talk to him, don’t you? Resist the temptation to grab the phone and call him right now..
First, write everything down very carefully. You don’t know whether you’ll get through on the first attempt, and if a little time passes – perhaps because you make a couple of other calls in the meantime – you might not remember what your research revealed and your efforts would be worthless.
TIP from sales practice: I like to jot down ten contact partners on one page of an A5 notepad. Each contact has a header with basic details such as name, phone number and website. I put a ballpoint pen and a marker pen next to the notepad. Before calling the person I call up the website so I can look at additional information during the conversation (references, portfolio of services, etc.) – it is more beneficial to me during the call than staring at the mask of my CRM sofware. Afterwards, I jot down the content of the phone call. I assign a status at the bottom right (more about that in 4.) and write down a follow-up date. I highlight both of them and any agreements I have made such as “send presentation”. Then it’s time for the next call until I have made all ten. It’s also OK if you only make five! And the CRM tool? There’s enough time for that later!
2. Set yourself a goal and pursue it.
You’ve compiled your list, done your research and you’re ready to go? Not so fast. First, you should remind yourself why you are making these calls in the first place. Your goal must be realistic. Your ultimate goal is to sell, but you’re hardly likely to clinch the sale of a product that needs explaining over the phone, especially during the first phone call. Once you have introduced yourself and your product, it’s highly improbable that your customer will jump for joy and say: “Brilliant, that is exactly what I need – please come round right away!” By the way, that is also the reason why some sales people – and there are quite a few, believe me – don’t think much of telemarketing: all they can think of is the immediate sale – and they lose out because of it.
If you avoid this perilous cliff and promote telemarketing to one of your most important activities, you will have a decisive advantage over around 80% of your competitors and are bound to be rewarded with greater success as a result. You wouldn’t believe how many providers of complex products do not practice active customer acquisition themselves or don’t bother with it at all.
Put yourself in the shoes of your contact partner: Even if your potential customer has a real and immediate need, you are still a complete and utter stranger to them. But you have an opportunity to change that here and now, during this conversation. Your goal is to develop a relationship. This is how you lay the foundations for your future sales success – it makes no difference whether it’s in the short, medium or long term because you will set yourself a corresponding follow-up reminder.
If you do this consistently, you will create a continuous flow of leads to process. Your goal is to get a little closer to the potential with every new phone call until you can finally convert him. That might happen today, in three months’ time or in a year from now – but you must never give up and stay on the ball. This is the start of customer qualification – and that is your ultimate goal.
TIP from sales practive: Don’t worry about making a call at an inopportune time – it happens now and then. One call too many means a brisk rebuff that the customer will probably have forgotten 30 minutes later. One call too few, on the other hand, means that the more persistent colleague from Company XYZ will make the sale. Stay on the ball – be friendly, relaxed and polite – but always determined. That is professional: It’s quite OK for your contact partner to notice how serious you are about your proposal.
3. LEAD the conversation.
Are you itching to make that call? A little more patience, please, as a part of our preparation is still missing – the call flow guideline. After all, you want to take control of the conversation and ensure you find out what you need to know. However, what you don’t want to do is sound like the annoying student from a market research institute or the over-eager sales rep from the yellow pages. You need to do the following to avoid being fobbed off:
- Get through the secretarial defence line
- Get your partner’s attention
- Make your pitch
- Keep the conversation open
We assume that you have selected and researched a conversation partner who has the authority to purchase your service or product, as anything else would be a waste of time. If you want to get hold of a decision-maker like this, you will often have to overcome an obstacle, especially in larger companies: Reception, secretary’s office, etc. The first step to overcoming the obstacle is to ask to speak to your contact partner using his name. Practice before making the call by saying loudly and assertively: “This is John Smith of ABC company. Please put me through to Mayor Brown / Dr. Jones.“ Be polite, but don’t use the conjunctive tense to avoid coming across as uncertain.
Be armed and ready for the dreaded question: “What’s it about?” To avoid starting to introduce your company at an inopportune time, write down a few sentences that
- contain a complex issue that the secretary’s office probably can’t deal with: “It’s about the EU funding programme for Industry 4.0 within the framework of the European single market. Please put me through.“
- create the impression that contact has already been established: “It’s about an aspect of our email correspondence that I want to discuss with him. Please put me through.”
- or insist emphatically and assertively: “I need to discuss it with him in person. Please put me through.”
In this kind of situation you may have to take a good look at yourself. Am I really convinced I have something to offer the customer that will be of benefit to him? Will he be able to view my phone call as useful information? The better the preparation, the more convinced and convincing you will be, as it reduces the risk of ending up dealing with someone who has no need for your service or product. Your own conviction and a little fighting spirit will help you when the sentences you have prepared are not enough and you have to push a little harder.
So now you’ve made it. The decision-maker is on the line. Keep your personal introduction short and sweet: “This is John Smith of ABC company. Hello, Dr. Jones/Mr. Mayor.” Give your contact partner time to say hello. Remember it is essential to clarify your partner’s competence. Check whether you are indeed talking to the right person: “I’m calling about WiFi access solutions for your corporate network. Are you the person I should be talking to?“ After all, you are offering useful and well-founded information and don’t want to waste it where it’s not needed.
Are you talking to Mr. Right? Very good. Now you can briefly introduce your company. Ideally, you should use a pitch, but make sure you keep it short, 40 to 50 seconds should be enough. Don’t talk about the email you sent just yet; instead, ask an open question:
„Dr. Jones, ABC Company is based in Sampletown and has provided secure and efficient solutions for visitor WiFi access for XX years. Our focus is to offer the best price-performance ratio available. We have information relating to EU funding for visitor and citizen WiFi access that is earmarked specifically fo municipalities such as yours. To what extent is this topic of relevance to you?“
You have aked an open question and stated the reason for your call. That creates confidence and keeps the dialogue climate open and transparent.
The open question that cannot be answered with a quick Yes or No creates good preconditions for developing a dialogue. Listen attentively when the time comes, but never lose sight of what you want to achieve: You want to achieve a customer qualification.
4. Qualify your customer.
Now you can turn to the purpose of your call. Your dialogue partner answers your question about the relevance of the topic. You listen carefully and only intervene if the conversation is threatening to drift off in the wrong direction; you are polite, relaxed and determined at all times. If you refer to an email you have sent, be prepared that your dialogue partner may not have read it yet or may not remember it. You can then either offer to go through it with him there and then, give him a brief synopsis on the phone or, if that doesn’t work, arrange a time when you can call him again after he has read the email.
Either way, what you must do during the conversation is to establish what status you want to assign to the follow-up memo for this customer:
1. Has no need / is not interested – [follow-up in 9 – 12 months]
2. Currently has no need / interested in principle – [follow-up in 2 – 6 months or by agreement]
3. Has a need / is interested – [arrange an appointment immediately or follow-up in 1 – 2 weeks or by agreement]
There are more detailed levels of differentiation, but these three are generally sufficient. Observe and document your conversations by assigning a status. You will become more adept and experienced over time and will be able to assign the most appropriate and effective argumentation techniques to each of the 3 statuses, waste less time and become ever more efficient at closing the deal. Sooner or later you will become a telemarketing expert – and that will pay off!
TIP from sales practice: Many telemarketers react with disappointment when the customer already has what they are selling and doesn’t display any intentions of changing the provider. They do not assign a status. And they miss out on opportunities because of it. After all, an awful lot can happen in a few months: External circumstances can make the topic suddenly relevant; a decision-maker is replaced; the cards are reshuffled. New call, new opportunity – seize it!
5. After the call is before the call.
You have worked through your call list and qualified all of your customers. What matters now is to make sure follow-up dates, agreements made and all the data you have collected do not rot away in a drawer somewhere – it’s documentation time. Doing something different is a welcome change after having made five or ten phone calls. So now is the time to enter all your data, dates and appointments into your CRM programme, Excel-List, customer files or whatever it is you use for follow-up management.
Qualifying your customers has brought your time and resource management a good deal further. You now know which customers you want to deal with in the short term and the priority you should assign to each one. Sticking to this method of priorisation will significantly boost your sales success.
Tip from sales practice: Make sure nothing can disappear off the screen – you have worked hard for it. And this is precisely why you will adhere to every appointment. Your counterpart is unlikely to take your proposal more seriously than you. Show by your actions how determined you are.
6. Beloved routine or: no gain without pain.
An old saying and an old truth. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make things easier for yourself. Develop a routine and design it so that you feel comfortable with it. Look at telemarketing in general and details such as dodging the secretary as a sporting challenge and handle them with humour. It’s fun to polish your rhetoric skills, try out new charm offensives and simply to observe what people on the phone react to. Experiment a little – what’s the worst that can happen?
And always remember the feelgood factor at the workplace. I, for instance, love doodling on a piece of paper when I’m on the phone. I also like music playing quietly in the background and am quite intolerant of interruptions. I used to like taking my laptop to the conference room, sticking a note on the door saying “Conference – do not disturb!” and working through my calls in 90-minute blocks. My mobile phone was switched off and my email client shut down. I now enjoy making five to ten calls distributed throughout the day, whereby my Outlook calendar reminds me when to make them. It’s evolved this way because there are so many activities on my daily schedule, like writing guidelines for instance. I now actually prefer making calls with my mobile while walking around the office or even outside on the terrace.
Pay attention to how you feel when you make your calls, what you would like to change and which disruptive factors should be eliminated. There is usually always a solution. Loud open-plan office? Noise-cancelling wall panels. No discretion zone? Maybe you can use a different room like a conference room or the staff canteen outside of meal times.
Whatever it is that you need or annoys you, do not hesitate to address the subject. Successful sales are the foundation of every healthy enterprise. Pay attention to your needs and wants. Your bosses will support you, especially if you promise it will boost sales figures.
These 6 tips should help you to significantly improve your telemarketing success rate. Be sure to verify whether they do and document your success. It will enable you to understand which measures are sucessful and apply them to other activities.