How to sell over the phone
- Define your purpose: What do you want to achieve?
- Prepare questions: What do you need to ask?
- Prepare answers: Summarize answers to likely questions.
- Practice: Use a voice recorder to hear how you come across.
- Visualize: Put up a picture of your caller or another person. Imagine you are talking to a person rather than a disembodied voice.
If you’re not comfortable on the phone, sales probably isn't the career for you. Learning how to capture and keep someone's attention without physically being in their presence is a skill all salespeople need. It’s also a skill that demands constant practice and improvement.
Phone Sales Tips
Make Sure You’re Comfortable on the Phone
There are a few basic characteristics everyone needs in a phone-centric career like sales. Don't have the characteristics outlined below? Either practice until you do or look for another gig.
- Enthusiasm: Be eager to discuss your client’s background, pain points, and goals. Your prospect can sense when you sound bored or uninterested and will be less willing to open up. So, ramp up your enthusiasm until you're both excited to find a solution for their use case.
- Patience: Be ready to listen. Don’t rush your prospect through the conversation, because you never know when a tangent might lead to valuable insights that will help you close. Be firm in guiding the conversation, but allow enough time for the prospect to share openly.
- Passion: If you don’t love what you’re talking about, how can you expect anyone else to? Passion is critical to selling. Of course, very few of us are “passionate” about selling software, cars, or service packages, so we have to find an angle that does make us excited. If your software helps users get promoted or frees up time they can spend with their families that’s something to get passionate about. Tell yourself a story that motivates and inspires you, and you’ll have the same effect on others.
- Confidence: Be comfortable sharing your views. Everyone -- including prospects -- wants honesty. If you think a prospect might not be a good fit for your product/service, tell them. If you don’t have a feature your prospect wants, be honest about it and propose solutions or product roadmaps that prove you’re proactively thinking about ways forward. Your confidence sets the tone of the call, so be authoritative and proactive.
- Sense of Humor: Don’t take yourself or your sales call too seriously. Have a little fun and help your prospect relax. You might try a trusty joke ("Want to hear a joke about a piece of paper? Never mind... it's tearable.") or self-deprecating humor, but break the ice and it’ll be much easier when you press for next steps.
Never dial the phone without preparing. Whether you’re taking your first call or your 400th, there are a few things you should do before every meeting:
- Define your purpose: Ask yourself what you want to achieve during this call and how you'll get there.
- Prepare questions in advance: What questions do you need to ask to achieve your goal?
- Brainstorm answers: What are likely responses your prospect will have to your questions? By thinking these through ahead of time, you’ll anticipate push back and tangential questions and be more --prepared to answer them.
- Practice: Whether pitching a new product or giving the same spiel you’ve orated a hundred times, check in every few months to see how you’re doing. Record yourself giving a practice presentation and conduct your own call review to tune up your demo.
- Visualize: Put up a picture of your caller -- or another person -- and pretend you’re talking to them while they’re on the phone. Sound creepy? Maybe. Does it help you speak to the disembodied voice at the end of the line like they're a real person? Absolutely.
- Dress the part: Would you be confident if the caller saw you? If not, that'll project over the phone. Dress in a way that makes you feel great and your caller will pick up on it.
Achieve a Relaxed Voice
You can sense when someone’s smiling on the phone, right? It’s not just your imagination. Talking with a grin creates a higher frequency in your mouth which changes the tone of your voice and reassures the listener.
To practice this technique, record a sentence in your own non-smiling style. Then record the same words again with a smile and notice the difference.
Also, you can achieve a relaxed and persuasive tone by putting your voice’s most powerful tools to work. Here’s how:
- Pace: Speak too slowly and your listener might get bored or frustrated. Speak too fast and they may mishear. An expert caller will mirror the pace of the person they’re speaking with. And remember: It takes 10-30 seconds to adjust to a new voice, so give your listener time to adjust to you before diving into the most important part of your presentation.
- Volume: A drawn-out, high-pitched voice says, “I don’t believe what I’m hearing,” while a low-and-slow pitch says, “I want to be left alone.” Aim for an emphatic, high-pitched volume telling your listener you’re enthusiastic. And, of course, avoid sounding loud and abrupt, because that says you’re angry and not open to discussion.
- Tone: Don’t apologize for “interrupting” with your call. This sounds like you’ve done something wrong -- which you haven’t. Instead, act as if this call is doing your listener a favor.
- Clarity: Be clear and concise in what you stress in your presentation. Consider the meaning of a sentence and how important the stress of each word can be. Take these examples:
- Apathetic: “What would you like us to do about it?”
- Defensive: “What would you like me to do about it?”
- Curious: “What would you like me to do about it?”
Convince Your Listener
They key to running professional calls is being aware of how your physical cues are impacting your prospect and the energy of your meeting. Here are a few things to be aware of:
- Body language: It’s natural to use your hands as you talk, and that’s a good thing. The more you gesture, the more vocal range you use. And when you increase your vocal range, your calls sound natural and conversational. Only 7% of a message is transferred using words. 38% is transferred by the way those words are spoken and 55% is transferred by body language. Headsets are a great way to free up your hands and let them do the talking during your call.
- Non-verbal communication: Non-verbal sounds, including laughter, sighs, and gasps, are all ways to influence and encourage your listener. Likewise, pausing on and stressing certain words can affect your listener’s reception as we mentioned above.
- Good posture: Yes, really. Your body’s posture is important to how you sound on the phone. To achieve the most accurate sound, position the receiver mouthpiece an inch away from your mouth. And remember, your lungs can’t fill properly when you’re slumped in a chair, which negatively affects your tone and volume. So, sit up straight, and make your mom proud.
- Never put them on hold: It’s impolite to put your prospect -- or anyone -- on hold without warning or explanation. It also breaks your rhythm and interrupts the connection you’ve built with your prospect. If something urgent does come up and you have to interrupt your call, never place someone on hold for more than 20-30 seconds without offering to reschedule the meeting.
Use Your Call Script Successfully
Call scripts are there for a reason. Practice with them, but keep a few other things in mind before you jump on a call:
- Quit clichés: Common sales phrases like “game-changer,” “par for the course,” and “win-win” are contrived and will turn your caller off. Speak with conversational, everyday language you’d use with a colleague or even a friend, and try to make your prospect forget they’re on a sales call.
- Edit: If you’re given a script, edit it to suit your natural vocabulary and way of talking.
- Don’t read it verbatim: Many salespeople have scripts, but don’t read from them directly. Use it as a guide, and you’ll sound much more natural.
- Have a contingency plan: If a prospect is busy or you’re reaching out for the first time, be prepared for them to try fleeing the phone as quickly as possible. When this happens, break from your script and pull out your contingency plan. For example, if a prospect says, “I’m actually in the middle of something right now,” try responding, “That’s totally fair. Would you mind if I take 30 seconds just to tell you why I called? If it doesn’t make sense, you can hang up. Does that sound OK?” You’re more likely to catch your prospect off guard and keep them on the phone.
Be a Good Listener
Easier said than done. Many salespeople railroad their prospects with too many questions, giving them little or no time to respond.
Others ask too few questions and simply throw out solutions without really understanding their prospect’s unique use case. Here are a few tips for being a good listener who really “gets” your prospect:
- Don’t interrupt: When face-to-face, we give non-verbal cues like shifting slightly, opening our mouths, and nodding to let the other person know we have something to add. Over the phone, those non-verbal cues aren’t available. But that doesn’t mean you should interrupt. Hold your thoughts until there’s a natural break in the conversation to avoid sounding impatient or rude.
- Show you’re listening: Try reflective listening by adding an occasional “yes,” “hmm,” and “I see” as you listen. Make sure these phrases don’t overpower the speaker. Instead, pepper them into the conversation to let your prospect know you’re on the same page.
- Avoid background noise: Show your caller they have your full attention by avoiding background sounds like typing, rustling, or radio/television. If you work on a busy sales floor, book a conference room so you and your prospect aren't distracted by background activity.
Have Great Timing
The best time to conduct outreach is on Thursdays between 8:00 am and 10:00 am and again between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm. The worse time to call someone is on Tuesdays between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.
You can also use timing to get a leg up on your competitors. Know they’re calling prospects between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm? Try phoning prospects outside this timeframe to stand out, and maybe reach high-level prospects who normally have a gatekeeper screening their calls.
Don’t overwhelm prospects with your intense enthusiasm. Starting a sales calls with an eager “Hey! How are you [prospect name]!?” might come off as a pushy and inauthentic.
Maintain a genuine tone and mirror your prospect’s demeanor. A less salesy way to keep things light is by sprinkling positive language into your call. Here are a few examples of cheerful language:
- “You’re welcome”
- “It’s my pleasure”
- “Of course”
- “It’s no trouble”
- “I will find out for you”
- “Rest assured”
- “Thank you”
- “That’s great”
And don’t forget to establish rapport. The best way to start off on a positive note is to be polite, honest, and personalized with your prospect. Use their name, give them your full attention, and take ownership of follow up and next steps.
Close with Style
All of this is worth nothing unless you close the call well. Be clear, offer a review of what you’ve discussed, and always thank your prospect for their time.
- Give verbal signs the call is ending: A common way to do this is by giving a summary of the discussion and offering next steps.
- Make sure you’ve covered it all: Ask your prospect, “Is there anything we didn’t cover that I can speak to before we end the call?”
- Always be thanking: Never end a call without thanking your prospect for their time and attention. They didn’t have to take your call, so acknowledging their busy schedule is always appreciated.
Successful phone calls are an art. Master these techniques and see more deals move forward and your peers and managers take notice.
Want more? Learn about how to get over your fear of cold-calling next.
Originally published Dec 4, 2017 9:25:00 PM, updated February 27 2019