Prospecting calls are an invaluable tool in every good salesperson's repertoire. You can find out more information on a five-minute call with someone than you can in a multiple-email exchange, if you play your cards right. But on the rare occasion that a prospect picks up the phone and wants to talk, many reps squander their opportunity.
The 12 behaviors below are a quick checklist of classic telephone prospecting mistakes you can refer to before your next call. Are you making any of them? If so, take action to correct your behavior before you sabotage your next outreach call.
12 Common Sales Prospecting Call Mistakes
1) Opening the call with “How are you today?”
This smacks of telemarketing -- and bad telemarketing at that. This is not a question you ask a stranger, unless you want to put them on the defensive immediately. Since you haven't scheduled a call, assume you're being interruptive and get to your point quickly.
2) Asking “Are you busy?”
Of course they are -- everybody is busy. Your prospect will say “Yes,” and you’ll immediately feel pressure to cut your call short. Instead, say, “I know you’re busy, so I’ll get right to the reason I’m calling.” After you state your reason and the call opens up a little, then you can follow up with, “Is now a good time to talk?”
3) Assuming the prospect is a match for your business and you’re a match for their situation.
Qualify over the phone before you try to set an appointment. The buyer will appreciate your careful approach to making sure you’re not wasting their time. In fact, it doesn't hurt to say so explicitly. Try a soundbite like: "I don't want to waste either of our time, so my goal in today's call is to figure out whether it makes sense to keep talking further."
Double down on that promise by not leading with your elevator pitch or even talking about your product until you've gotten buy-in from the prospect.
4) Thinking you can wing it.
Have a clear goal in mind for the call and your likely path to get there. Think through your calls and potential outcomes before you pick up the phone. If you're new to your role, run through different scenarios with your manager and teammates so you're prepared to handle a handful of common situations. Even if you're a veteran, do some homework (see #11) to determine whether this prospect seems similar to customers you've sold to in the past to anticipate potential responses.
5) Reading from a script.
It’s okay to write out your scripts, but then you need to own them through consistent practice and real-life application. If you rely too much on your script, you’ll have no flexibility. You have to strike a balance between ad-libbing and sounding scripted. Rely on a template or general call framework that contains customizable areas per prospect instead of reading a speech off index cards.
6) Talking too fast.
Slow down! Talking too fast can make you appear nervous or lacking in confidence. When leaving your phone number on a voicemail, take your time and leave the number twice … slowly ... so the prospect can write it down.
7) Using the “alternative choice” close.
Don’t say, “How about tomorrow at 3:00 or Tuesday at 11:00?” Just ask the prospect to pull out their calendar and match it against yours. You don’t want to trick them into setting an appointment with you. That’s a no-show waiting to happen.
8) Going on an appointment without confirming it a few days in advance.
Consider emailing or mailing something of value before the appointment. A report that teaches the prospect how to buy what you sell is always appreciated. For example: “7 Tips to [solve X business problem your product addresses].”
9) Expecting one email or one phone call to result in an appointment.
You must have a series of value-oriented reasons to stay in touch. Timing is everything and it often takes five or more contacts to generate an appointment. Don’t give up too easily!
10) Expecting time for calling prospects to magically appear on your calendar.
Prospecting is one of those sales activities that's easy to brush off because its impact isn't immediate. But by the time you notice your empty pipeline (due to a lack of prospecting), it'll be too late.
Block off enough time each and every week for prospecting calls. Treat that appointment with yourself like a client appointment. Don't move it.
11) Not knowing anything about your buyer before picking up the phone.
Obviously, you won't know everything about your prospect's problems before you get on a call -- that's the point of having a connect call. In fact, you should never enter a prospecting call assuming you know everything about your prospect. You should actively work to discover new information.
However, you should also never make a prospecting call completely blind. You'll only get your prospect to open up if you're able to ask thoughtful questions -- and that means doing some research.
12) Not asking for a next step.
Every touchpoint in the sales process should build upon itself, and set the stage for your next interaction. Never close a prospecting call without asking for something from your prospect. Do you want them to review a whitepaper? Get on another call with the decision maker looped in? Try out a sample of your product you'll send in the mail? Define a next step and then ask for it before getting off the phone.
In summary, be thoughtful, prepared, and systematic with your prospecting calls. Think through your processes and the words you plan to use. The work you do is too important to not put your best foot forward from the very beginning!
Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.