Just because a prospect answers their phone doesn't automatically mean the salesperson will get a chance to engage them in conversation. Buyers are busy people, and this is why reps often kick off their calls by asking, "Is this a bad time to talk?" or "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
With this question, salespeople seek to demonstrate respect for the prospect's time and be sensitive to their schedules. These are noble motives. However, while the question might achieve these favorable ends, it also results in a less favorable outcome: It shoots the rep in the foot.
Starting off a connect call with "is this a bad time?" creates a plethora of problems that kill the sale out of the gate. Here are the top seven reasons reps should never ask this seemingly innocent question.
1) You're stating the obvious.
A sales call is by definition an interruption in the buyer's day. So let me ask you: When's the best time for an interruption? Exactly.
Salespeople don't need to ask if it's a bad time to talk, because it most assuredly is. Professionals at all levels of seniority and in every industry are busier than ever before, and they certainly don't have time to answer obvious, useless questions.
Stating the obvious can only stand to annoy prospects. Not to mention that ...
2) You're making the prospect think about their workload.
Sometimes you're not really aware of a certain situation or feeling until someone calls your attention to it. For instance, have you ever forgotten to eat lunch, only to realize your hunger when a coworker commented on your growling stomach? Suddenly you can't get to a sandwich shop fast enough.
Similarly, when a salesperson asks a prospect "Is this a good time?" the rep calls the buyer's attention to their (likely massive) workload. Now having reflected on all the tasks they have in front of them, the buyer truthfully answers, "No, it's not. I have a ton to get done!"
Needless to say, a packed agenda is not a good place to direct your buyer's focus when you're trying to earn a minute of their time.
3) Everyone asks it.
To get a prospect to buy from you and not a competitor, salespeople need to stand out. They need to make it clear that the experience the buyer will get with their company will be drastically different -- and better -- than what the prospect will go through elsewhere.
But what happens when a rep starts a buyer conversation with "Is this a bad time?" The buyer thinks, "Ugh, another salesperson. Let's see how fast I can end this call ... "
If you want to sound like every other salesperson your buyer has ever spoken to, by all means, check to see if it's a bad time. If not, ditch this overused question.
4) You're wasting the opportunity.
As I mentioned above, there's really no good time for an unplanned interruption. On the other hand, there are absolutely terrible times for an unplanned interruption. And when buyers absolutely, positively can't answer their phone? They don't.
So the very fact that the prospect picked up the phone means they could talk for a bit if they felt the interruption was worthwhile. But if you ask if it's a bad time right off the bat, they'll likely say "No," and the crack in the door slams shut.
5) You're putting buyers on the defensive.
You might think asking, "Is this a bad time to talk?" empowers the buyer by allowing them to choose whether or not they'd like to engage with you. However, it actually puts prospects on the defensive.
Think about it: By asking about the businessperson's time, it automatically implies that you'd like to take some. Uh oh. You've just encouraged the prospect to protect their limited hours ... by hanging up on you immediately.
6) You broadcast insecurity.
"Did I catch you at a bad time?" ultimately seeks permission from the prospect to continue speaking. While seeking permission is sometimes a good thing for salespeople to do, it can also communicate insecurity. And who wants to buy something from someone who doesn't seem sure of themselves?
Some sales reps also ask this question as an easy way to let themselves off the hook. It's a fair assumption that the prospect will say, "Yes, it is a bad time," and the call will end. And that's a perfect outcome for a nervous rep who doesn't truly want to push through a prospecting call that will potentially end in rejection.
7) Buyers expect it.
According to sales trainer Jeff Hoffman, salespeople won't get anywhere on a prospecting call unless they find a way to disrupt the buyer's flow. In other words, if you start off with the traditional "sales-y" phrases buyers have been conditioned to tune out (such as, "How are you today?" "My name is X and I'm with Y," "I was wondering if you'd be interested in Z ", etc.), the call will end before it begins.
So with this in mind, perhaps the worst thing about the question "Is this a bad time?" is that buyers expect it. And when buyers expect a sales question, they're prepared to squash it without a second thought.
To prompt a second thought (and a third, and fourth), skip the stale sales questions buyers have heard time and again -- or better yet, flip them on their heads.
For instance, sales expert Colleen Francis recommends the following:
"It sounds like you're busy; are you sure this isn't a bad time?"
But won't that just serve to anger the prospect? Not necessarily.
"When it comes to receiving a sales call, it's always a bad time, so having the person who's making the call recognize this upfront is refreshing," Francis writes in a blog post. "And when you use this approach, two things will happen. First, your prospect will laugh or chuckle, and say 'It's always a bad time!' The laughter's important, because it shows you're building rapport. Second, they'll probably follow with 'but what's up?' or 'but what have you got?'"
Time on a sales call is precious, so don't waste it by asking questions like "Is now a bad time?" Provide the prospect with something of value and you can turn the worst time into time well spent.