Contacting the Prospect: Phone or Email?

Email is the preferred business communication format for most of us and the choice usually makes sense.  An email provides a written record of what the parties have discussed and any agreements that have been proposed and accepted (or not).

However, certain nuances of meaning may not be effectively transmitted in an email and for that reason, it is useful to understand when it might be advantageous to discuss certain subjects by telephone.  It is also useful to recognize when a face-to-face meeting will most likely be the ideal communication method.  Much depends upon your purpose, message and relationship with the other party, whether the topic pertains to a business matter or your personal life.

Furthermore, be sensitive to the time you choose to reach out, whether by telephone or email.  Your request for contact may get lost in the shuffle if you email or telephone on Monday morning, late afternoon on Friday, or on the day before a big holiday. 

Telephone when you would like to:

  • Build a relationship
  • Explain a complicated matter
  • Apologize for a product or service failure
  • Close a sale quickly and successfully

On the telephone, you will more easily convey your authenticity, express concerns, telegraph empathy and build trust as compared to what is usually possible through email exchanges, which can sometimes cause the writer to seem cold and can therefore lead to misunderstanding of intent.

For important goals, be advised that it’s sometimes easier for a prospect to say no when communicating by email, so if you’re hoping to get the green-light for a project or sale, pick of the phone and wager that speaking with you personally will persuade your decision-maker prospect to say yes.

When you must contact someone whom you do not know in order to jump-start a sale, picking up the telephone is what you do. A cold-call prospect who receives an email from an unknown party is almost guaranteed to interpret the outreach as spamming and no ethical sales professional wants that ugly slur attached to his/her name and reputation.  Over the telephone, you’ll be positioned to demonstrate that you are both legitimate and trustworthy.

Cold-calling takes considerable resolve and reliable sales data report that it’s effective only about 5% of the time, but you’ll improve your chance of success when you telephone the probable decision-maker.  If you encounter difficulty in reaching the prospect, experiment with the time frame; call at 7:30 – 8:30 AM (except on Mondays) or 4:30 – 6:00 PM (not on Fridays or the eve of a holiday).  When the prospect answers (s/he will!), ask if it’s a good time to speak. 

Choose email when you’d like to:

  • Simultaneously communicate with several people
  • Generate a written record of the discussion and resulting agreements
  • Follow-up
  • Ask a quick question

Should your cold-call prospect agree to evaluate information beyond what you’ve shared in the phone call, follow-up with an email in which you document the highlights of the conversation, especially time-sensitive action items. Remember to thank the prospect for taking time to speak with you and assess the usefulness of your product or service in his/her organization.

When evaluating which communication method might be most effective when planning to approach a sales prospect, consider first his/her rank within the company and probable decision-making authority, along with what you can learn or infer about his/her priorities, concerns, schedule and even age.  Younger and less senior staff members may respond more favorably to email or even SMS (text).

Both the telephone and email have their advantages throughout the sales process.  Know the preferences of whom you are communicating with (ask), remember your objectives and use the communication format that will bring to you the preferred outcome.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl  (1964)

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Marketing Meets Sales: Selling to Inbound Marketing Callers

Inbound Marketing matters, to your top line revenue and your client list.  Other than “selling” Girl Scout cookies to Mommy and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, there’s no better sales opportunity than a prospect who dials your number and asks about what you sell.  Do not even think about flubbing this.  But without simple yet skillfully designed response guidelines, you are in danger of dropping the ball.

Inbound Marketing begins when a prospective customer who either met you somewhere or was referred to you by someone finds the motivation to contact you and ask if you might answer a couple of questions about your products or services.  Consider that outreach to be your Hollywood screen test and close-up.  If you want to call yourself a business person, then you will learn to confidently and competently handle Inbound Marketing calls (or emails) and emerge with an appointment to meet the caller in person to discuss specifics.

Let’s start with some basic observations about your marketing plan, the carefully choreographed activities that you implement to inform potential customers about your products and services.   Marketing can be divided into two types:

  1. Outbound Marketing, which encompasses traditional, time-tested marketing strategies and tactics such as advertising, networking, speaking engagements, teaching, writing a book, sponsoring a community or business event, nonprofit board service and other activities that broadcast your business brand and marketing message “outward” to the public.
  2. Inbound Marketing, which consists of activities designed to encourage potential customers to develop a level of interest and interaction with your company that “pulls,” i.e., persuades, them to do business with your company as a result of the trust and confidence developed through the ongoing engagement.  Online activities play a dominant role in Inbound Marketing, including social media, newsletters and blogs.  The Inbound Marketing audience is self-selected, as there is always the ability to opt-out of the communication and theoretically this cohort is more likely to do business.

The purpose of creating and executing an Outbound Marketing strategy is to generate Inbound Marketing inquiries by potential customers.  If your business fails to encourage Inbound Marketing,  your venture most likely will not achieve the financial success that you would like.  Inbound Marketing is where the money is made.

An Inbound Marketing call can lead to billable hours or a sale that makes your month, or leave you kicking yourself because you mishandled an objection or forgot to ask an important question.  Let’s see how you can design successful response guidelines.  Grant Cardone, selling skills guru and author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last: Sales Strategies to Dominate Your Market (2010), breaks down his very useful Inbound Marketing call technique:

Greeting

How you welcome the prospect who has chosen to reach out to you, rather than your competitor, is all-important.  Ace the first impression by answering the telephone politely at all times, no matter how annoyed you are by other matters.  When you realize that you’ve been gifted with a prospective customer’s call, i.e., an Inbound Marketing call, slide into character by smiling as you speak and adding a (realistic) dose of enthusiasm to your voice.  Smiling as you talk and imagining that the prospect is in the room with you has been demonstrated to make selling over the phone more successful. Give your name, title and a cheerful, helpful attitude to your caller.

Facts

“Who am I speaking with, please?” Obtaining the name of the caller is an easy Step One of the trust-building that is the foundation of every sale.  Grant Cardone recommends that you resist the temptation to ask for more information because if the caller is really interested, s/he will happily volunteer that information to enable the sale. What you DO want to learn early on is what prompted the call:

  • What the caller would like to know about what you sell and how that information  relates to what s/he would like to achieve or resolve?
  • Which, if any, product or service has been used regarding the issue before and what was the outcome?  Why does the caller want to investigate something else?
  •  Determine the timeline and any deadline “Do you need to make a decision today, or this week?”

Objections 

As you discuss the features and benefits of the product or service that may provide the solution that your caller needs an objection may abruptly spring up and make your caller suddenly lose confidence.  Objections can be skillfully handled through a method I learned many years ago, called “Feel, Felt, Found:”

“I understand why you might feel this issue (or perceived shortcoming) might prevent you from achieving results.  There have been a few others who at first felt this situation could possibly become a problem.  Over the years, my staff and I have found that when you (make this adjustment, or whatever), it’s possible to bring about the results that you want.  Does that sound reasonable to you?”

To help you organize your thoughts during any part of your unexpected Inbound Marketing call, Grant Cardone suggests that you press the hold button to give yourself 30 seconds or so to plan a response.  Making certain that you are able to successfully handle an objection seems to me like the right time to hit the hold button!

Appointment

While you might get lucky and sell your Inbound Marketing caller on the first contact, chances are your prospect will require more information to develop adequate trust in you and your company and make him/her feel confident enough to close the deal.  Suggest to your prospect that you would be happy to come to his/her office to discuss how your customized product or service solutions can benefit his/her organization and its business goals (alternatively, the caller can come to your office).

“Since you don’t need to make a decision immediately, it would seem to make sense for us to sit down together for an hour and discuss what you need, your short and long-term goals and how I can customize a solution for you that respects your budget and time line.  What does your schedule look like? What is your company name and address and what is your call back number and email?”

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Doris Day (left) and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959)                          Directed by Michael Gordon for Universal Pictures

 

 

 

Pick Up the Phone and Sell

Reaching decision-makers becomes more difficult every month.  No one answers the phone,  unless they already know me.  Once I’m on an assignment,  98%  of communication happens on email and that’s OK for all concerned.  But what if I’d like to follow-up with a prospect I’ve met somewhere and he/she suddenly gets elusive?  Or what if some influential person says,  “Call so-and-so and tell him/her that I told you to call”  and then that person never picks up?

Playing telephone tag with someone you want to connect with is a real drag and a time-waster.  If there is a way to get the Very Important Prospect to either pick up the phone or holler back,  you need to know it.  Sales guru Geoffrey James,  author of  “How to Say It: Business to Business Selling ” (2011)  says that if an assistant takes the call and offers to transfer you to the VIP’s voice mail,  ask if VIP actually listens to voice messages.   Evidently,  a significant minority of people do not listen to voice mail and consequently,  do not return calls.

As book publicist Yen Cheong observed in an April 1, 2009 New York Times article,  “Once upon a time,  voice mail was useful.”   Ms. Cheong communicates primarily by text and occasionally by email.  “If you left a message,  I have to dial in,  dial in my code.  Then once I hear the message,   I need the phone number.  I try to write it down and then I have to rewind the message to hear it again.”

Sometimes,  a land line voice message will include  a cell phone number to call.  Dial the cell phone.  If VIP answers,  thank him/her for taking the call,  cut to the chase and state your reason for calling,  referencing either the person who recommended that you make  contact or follow-up from a previous conversation.  If you were invited to call and make an appointment,  then ask if that is possible now.  VIP may be able to schedule an appointment right there on the smart phone.   If not,  you will be given a better time to call the office land line.

To set the stage for an appointment,  offer to send some relevant piece of information that keeps the ball in play and initiates an action that  is easy for your VIP to digest without feeling pressured,  making it more likely that future calls will be accepted.  Confirm the email address and  send ASAP.  Resist the temptation to launch a sales pitch,  unless VIP opens the door by asking questions.  Even then,  be very concise and respectful of time.  People on cell phones are often in transit or otherwise distracted.

The pearl of this story is text messaging,  a tactic which I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t tried when pursuing a prospect.  So why not?  According to a 2008 study for Sprint by Opinion Research Corporation,  91%  of people under age 30 respond to text messages within an hour.   Adults aged 30 and older are four times more likely to respond to text messages than voice messages.  So if the VIP’s voice message includes a cell number,  pounce!

Web developer Charlie Park says text messages are more respectful of the recipient’s time.   Text information or your intent to send same,  or ask for an appointment. Texting is an efficient tool to keep the sale moving forward and much more effective than telephone tag voice messages,  which only cause your prospect to give up on you,  because the two of you can’t connect.

The next time you call a VIP and the assistant answers,  ask if voice messages are listened to and also ask if texting is possible.  If you can’t confirm that info,  try sending a text anyway.   You might be pleasantly surprised by a prompt reply and a successful telephone sales call.

Thanks for reading,

Kim