kraig-kleeman-1The last time you attended a friend's dinner party and had to sit next to someone you didn't know, what did you do? Did you start the conversation with a deep, probing question about what problems they were facing? Or, perhaps, did you prematurely ask them to have dinner with you next week within five minutes of meeting them?

Unless your intention is to make them run the other way, you wouldn't start the conversation like that. The same applies to your first call with a prospect. Your goal is to come off as interesting and intelligible enough for them to want to continue speaking with you.

At the Blaire Group, we've conducted extensive research to identify the biggest mistakes made on sales calls. Here's a breakdown of the top-five errors we discovered -- and how to avoid making them.

1) Inability to Manage Objections

Our research shows that most teams cannot properly answer basic objections, let alone complex objections. The root problem is that most salespeople are not trained in the basic principles of refutation. They have not been exposed to the concept of managing all objections head-on.

To avoid this problem, your sales team should facilitate the identification of all objections and the creation of rebuttals for each. Further, managers should use extensive and structured role-playing during training of new salespeople to ensure these skills are practiced before getting on the phone.

2) Incompetence at Leaving Voicemail

We've observed some rather bizarre voicemail messages that were ... well ... unnerving. Surprisingly, we've never seen a sales team that could achieve more than a 3% callback rate from voicemail messages. The average callback rate is less than 1%.

The trick to securing a high callback rate is to:  
  • Leave as little information as possible because less is really more.
  • Invoke a deadline because deadlines really work ("Would you please contact me prior to close of business tomorrow, if possible?")
  • Create a sense of urgency -- again, providing limited information and a deadline helps create just that.

3) Incorrect Usage of Product-Benefit Statements

In the context of calling your prospect for the first time, product-benefit statements simply do not work. Because sales resistance is deeply embedded in our culture, incorporating product-benefit statements into introductory messaging is fatal. To the prospect, this approach shows a lack of creativity and effort.

Instead, approach the prospect from the perspective of a consultant trying to help solve a problem. State that the reason you are calling is to give them tips on how to improve their business. Then, follow-up with an email and include a relevant piece of content that addresses a problem you think they might be facing.

4) Inviting Prospect to Attend Sales Demo Too Early

The fastest way to ensure your prospects will not meet with you is to invite them to attend a sales demo. Think about it: Who wakes up in the morning, hops in the shower, and imagines how great their day will be if they get called by some salesperson they have never met to attend a sales meeting about a product for which they have no prior knowledge? Sure, they have been visiting your company's website and you saw that they downloaded an ebook, but inbound lead or not, they don't know you.

And yet, I observe sellers waste company resources daily with this nonproductive activity. Teams need to replace initial sales calls with analyst briefings. Why? Your targeted buyers are far more inclined to accept a meeting in which the purpose is to deliver research that is relevant to their professional life. When structured properly, the analyst briefing becomes the perfect venue for deeply qualifying the target and converting them to a sales cycle if qualified. 

5) Inclusion of Easy-Outs

Most sellers make it easy for their targets to say no by including "easy-out" statements or questions in their first sentence. Some prime examples of these include:

  • Is this a good time?
  • Do you have a minute?
  • Are you free to talk now?

We agree that these types of statements are polite and show respect for your lead's time. But politeness at the expense of persuasion is one of the biggest selling mistakes. Getting targets on the phone is difficult enough as it is. Please -- don't provide them with an easy escape!

How do you ensure you're 100% prepared to speak with leads for the first time on the phone? Fill us in on your best practices below!

Kraig Kleeman is an accomplished author and speaker. Kleeman's first book, entitled The Must-React System: A Users Guide to Cold-Calling, has been heralded as The Bible for Sales Prospecting. His management consulting practice has him traveling all over the world conducting sales transformation engagements.

Originally published Oct 18, 2013 10:00:00 AM, updated October 18 2013

Topics:

Call Prospecting