Salespeople: Stop me if the dialogue below seems at all familiar. Because unfortunately, it happens to your prospects all the time.
Sales rep: “Hello, Kathy?”
Me: “Actually, it’s Katie. Can I help you?”
Sales rep: “Oh yes, Kathy, sorry. (Person you’ve never heard of) suggested I reach out to you about (product I’ve never heard of) for DubStop.”
Me: “That’s odd -- I work at HubSpot, not DubStop.”
Sales Rep: “Oh yes, yes, HubSpot, that’s what I meant -- what a great name. You really need our services.”
Me: (Eye roll and politely ends conversation)
Anyone who has even been on the other side of a bad sales call knows just how painful they can be. The awkward pauses, the terribly phrased questions, the flustered demeanor -- they are brutal for everyone involved, and elicit a wide range of emotions from sympathy for the rep to discomfort of trying to keep your anger in check when the rep finally exceeds your patience.
Having been on the receiving end of countless pitches for everything from software, to media monitoring services, to fitness equipment, to sponsorship opportunities, I’ve seen my fair share of horrendous sales calls. But, I’ve also been fortunate to work with exceptional professionals who truly offer value on every interaction.
Below is a quick overview of what not to do to avoid eye rolls on the receiving end of your sales calls.
1) Don't Ask Awkward, Open-Ended Questions
Small talk is tough, there’s no question, but there is nothing worse than an awkward floater question to get things started. In my previous role, our company was headquartered in Phoenix but I was in our Boston office. I cannot tell you how many people started the conversation with “How is life in Phoenix?” Inevitably, I’d have to respond: “Unfortunately, I can't tell you because I don’t live and work there.”
If you didn’t have time to look up the city I’m located in on LinkedIn, chances are, our conversation will be a short one. Anyone can sympathize with an awkward kickoff, but don’t compensate by asking questions that don’t lead to a more productive conversation.
It's imperative to ask questions that are grounded in things you truly know about the person on the other end of the phone (leveraging a recent tweet, for example) or that actually lead to a helpful conversation (focused on a recent brand initiative or company project). Develop great icebreaker questions that work for your phone cadence, personality, and sales style, and keep the conversation moving -- no one wants to spend 30 minutes talking to you about generic weather patterns.
2) Don't Come to the Call Unprepared
Bad sales reps are surprised when you pick up the phone. Great sales reps anticipate it and are ready and armed with the information they need to connect.
I can’t tell you how many people have called and asked me to tell them a little bit about what HubSpot does. There is nothing more annoying. If you’re going to call me during the workday, know a little bit about my business, what we do, and, at the very least, ask questions that help get to the point of what you’re selling. Asking me open-ended questions that you can answer by Googling our company is not the fastest way to a sale -- it’s just endlessly frustrating.
Great sales reps follow the ultimate Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. They are armed with smart questions that lead to a productive conversations and up-to-date information on our company. Exceptional salespeople don’t just look at the top search result or quickly scan your website -- they understand your current business priorities and ask intelligent questions based on what’s available on your company’s website and social media channels.
A lack of preparation reflects a lack of respect for your prospect’s time. Value it accordingly by taking the time to research their business prior to the call.
3) Don't Lose Focus
Nowadays, it’s very common to be on a work call, looking at a monitor with your Gmail open, and glancing at your iPhone to see if someone responded to your text. We are the ultimate attention-deficit generation, as enabled by both technology and the pace of a modern workplace.
A confluence of devices and conversations can be great to keep things interesting, but when it comes to a sales connect call, a lack of focus is endlessly frustrating to your prospect. Generally, it means you miss valuable information, inflection points where you can push for more information, or opportunities to build additional rapport or solve their business problems.
Once you’ve earned your way into a two-way conversation on a sales call, it’s imperative that you bring your A-game -- not for five seconds or five minutes, but for the duration of the entire call. It’s blatantly obvious to prospects when you’re just running through a script and not listening to their responses, and it’s annoying to have to repeat yourself to the rep on the other end of the phone.
A consultative sale is a two-way street, and the best reps are like athletes: intensely focused on the task at hand and invested 100% in seeing it through. Whether you are prospecting or closing, the person on the other end of the phone deserves your undivided attention, so stick with one conversation, shut out the distractions, and make the most of your time. The information you gather as a rep will be of higher quality, and the prospect will know that you were truly invested in learning more about their business needs and challenges.
4) Don't Talk Too Much
Thirty years ago, salespeople played a largely informative role. Buyers couldn't find basic information like pricing, product features, terms of service, or testimonials online, so they relied on sales reps to provide that information. Today, buyers are far more informed and rely on sales reps to use their experience to craft a customized plan for buyers. That means your primary goal as a salesperson is to determine how your product or service aligns with the challenges and goals of the people you're speaking with.
Your first call to a prospect should be all about determining if that basic fit exists. You'll probably have to do some education and explanation so your buyer can learn what you're about. But nothing turns prospects off more quickly than a sales rep who doesn't know when to stop talking.
Think about it: You should walk away from that first call with an understanding of the problems your prospect's facing, why those problems are important, whether they are willing to invest time and money in solving those problems, and how you can help. But too many reps jump the gun on that last part and start reciting their value proposition, a list of their features, and what they can do.
Stop. Breathe. Is what you're saying even relevant yet? At some point, prospects will want to hear your insight. But if you're coming into every call guns blazing, you won't give buyers any opportunity to tell you what they're looking for -- which means you won't have any idea if you're being relevant.
Effective selling is exceptionally hard work and requires a combination of intelligence, leadership, assertiveness, preparation, and patience, but truly terrible sales calls make sales painful and significantly harder than they need to be. The best sales reps in the world guide and help their prospects to long-term success, while unprepared and unfocused reps often earn their way to a dial tone or very brief conversations.
Thinking and preparing before you dial improves the experience for both parties and makes the likelihood of a sale increase exponentially, which is a win for everyone involved. What’s not to love about that? It sure beats talking about the weather.