The 3 Reasons Your Phone Calls Suck

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Jeff Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman



As a salesperson, you spend a lot of time on the phone. And you probably think you’re pretty good at talking with prospects. But are you really? Below, I’ve outlined three sales mistakes I often hear reps make on the phone. One such mistake is even commonly taught as a best practice.

These missteps can make your prospects feel overlooked, manipulated, and hurried. Learn how to avoid these unfortunate habits, and you’ll build better relationships with your prospects.

3 Common Sales Mistakes You’re Making on the Phone

1) You’re Interrupting the Customer

I’m not talking about cutting them off mid-sentence. I’m talking about cutting them off mid-silence. Salespeople are highly motivated to be liked by their customers. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to be an active communicator and practiced conversationalist. But sometimes “active listening” can turn into “active interrupting.”

If you ask your prospect a question over the phone, they’ll probably take a moment to consider their response. Those few seconds might seem brutal to a salesperson, but it’s important to give prospects time to think before asking “Did you understand the question?” or “Can I rephrase the question?” This gives the impression you’re impatient for a response or don’t really care what they have to say.

Also, don’t jump in before your prospect has had time to finish a thought. If your prospect takes a brief pause between points, it’s tempting to interject with “I see,” “That makes sense,” or “Uh-huh.” With these responses, you risk interrupting your prospect’s thoughts before they’ve been fully communicated.

When your prospect finishes a sentence, pause for one complete second to ensure they have nothing left to add. This might feel unnatural, but for every second of silence your prospect takes you should assume they’re thinking that much more deeply, which benefits you both.

Here’s what not to do:

Salesperson:Mary, how long have you been working in your field?

Prospect:About seven years.

Salesperson:Oh, that’s great!

There’s nothing great about the fact that Mary has worked in her field for seven years. There’s also nothing great about the way you’ve just stalled the conversation. What if Mary had answered that she’d been in her field for four years? Your answer would have been the same generic “Oh, that’s great!” which can come off as disingenuous.

A better way to handle this conversation would be:

Salesperson:Mary, how long have you been working in your field?

Prospect:About seven years.

Salesperson:How did you get started in that line of work?

Always respond to answers with another question. Make it clear you’re listening to your prospect’s answers instead of commenting to fill the silence. In the example above, you’ve continued the conversation and shown true active listening by basing your response on your prospect’s unique answer.

2) You’re Referencing Previous Conversations

Many salespeople are taught to reference previous conversations when speaking with their prospects. It’s referred to as a “call back,” because you’re calling back to something familiar. Don’t do it.

You might start a conversation with, “Mary, I remember last time we spoke, you said you’d speak with your coworker about trialing our product. Has that happened yet?” This gives the impression you’re keeping record of your conversations.

Remember, great conversations don’t need record keeping. Instead, say, “Hey Mary, has your coworker had a chance to trial our software yet?” You’ll get the answer you need without making the prospect feel like you’ve caught them in a trap.

Here’s what not to do:

Salesperson:Mary, last time we spoke, you told me you’d pass along your boss’ contact information.

Mary:Oh, uh, sorry about that. Let me get you that information.

You’ve made Mary feel like she has something to be sorry for, and you’ve given the impression you’re trying to force a commitment. To your prospect, it can feel like a passive aggressive plot to catch them in a lie. You also risk making them more careful with their words in the future.

A better way to handle this conversation would be:

Salesperson:Mary, would you please share your boss’ contact information with me so I can give them a call?

Mary:Sure! I’ll send you that information now.

You’ve reminded Mary of her promise without making her feel guilty. It also prevents her from feeling like you’re holding her current activities hostage.

3) You Don’t Leave Enough Time to Close

If you schedule a 30-minute call and realize -- at minute 29 -- you haven’t gotten what you need, that’s a problem. You’ll wind up closing poorly, seeming flustered, or begging for more time.

Instead, plan for your close before the call. First set a goal for your conversation. If that goal is to get an org chart from your prospect, plan accordingly.

If you have 30 minutes for a phone call, determine the last possible minute you’ll feel comfortable asking your question. In this case, you might decide that the 25-minute mark is when you’ll ask about the org chart.

This approach gives you a roadmap for steering the conversation and getting what you need. It also makes the best use of everyone’s time.

Here’s what not to do:

Salesperson:Oh, it looks like we’ve run out of time. May I ask you one more question before you go?

Mary:Well, I’ve got another meeting right now. Can we circle back tomorrow?

Not only have you given the impression you’re disorganized, but you’ve delayed your timeline and asked for more of Mary’s valuable time. Think of call efficiency as another way to show respect for your prospects.

A better way to handle this conversation would be:

Salesperson:Mary, I see we’ve got five minutes left and I want to be respectful of your time. Would you mind emailing me an org chart so I know who to follow up with before our next meeting?

Mary:Of course! I’ll send that over after our call.

You’ve taken an honest and direct approach to your call and used the time productively. You have to own the close of your phone call, and that means leaving enough room to get the answers you need.

Never rush your prospect or ask for additional time. Stay organized and in control to show your prospect how professional and reliable you are to work with.

These missteps are born out of good intentions. Avoid these three mistakes and your relationships with prospects will be stronger and more successful.

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