You didn’t say it right! You have to say it right…

-Ragetti, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Here’s another phone call example with poor phone conversation techniques pulled from my early days in lead generation.

The Worst Phone Conversations Make Mediocre Impressions

He was the vice president of an architectural firm, and I called him once a week for 6 months.  I always managed to either get his voicemail or his administrative assistant.  She was always cordial and polite when she took my information. And she always told me she would relay my message when I spoke to her.  But on this particular day in August when I called, she let me in on a secret.

She said, “Mr. Prevost, he really doesn’t want to talk to you… ever!”

It’s extremely disheartening to get this kind of response.

How do you make that next call when you get a response like this?

One of the challenges with phone prospecting is knowing what to say to a prospect when you get them on the phone, or what kind of message to leave when you get their voicemail.

Knowing nothing about them or their business only exacerbates the challenge.

If you find that you’re light on details about your prospect, then your phone conversations probably includes a lot of content that you’re familiar with, like yourself, your company, and your products.

Which is exactly what I did for 6 months and why this call ended the way it did.

So, how can you change your phone conversations to avoid similar situations?

If you are getting responses like this from the majority of your prospects, then it’s a sign that you aren’t focusing the call on their interests during the opening stages.  You need to take another look at your phone conversations and rethink your strategy.

Tips to Improve the Quality of Your Phone Conversations

We’ve touched on some of this in the past.  Your best strategy in overcoming these initial challenges is gathering knowledge about your prospect and their problems.  Once you know something about your prospect and what they are facing, you can use your language to redirect the conversation to address their wants and needs.

However, once you’ve made the transition to focusing on their challenges, there’s something else to keep in mind.  Words have power.

We use words to help guide our audience’s mental awareness.  And when we are using the phone, words are the only thing we have. As sales people, we need to make our words count towards the end goal.

Here are several words and phrases to listen for during your phone conversations.  It’s possible that these may be impeding your ability to move the conversation forward.

Crutch word: Just

We looked at the effect of using the word “just” in our conversations and voicemails in a previous tip.  Whenever we use the word “just” we are lowering the value of our offer when compared to whatever is occupying their attention at that moment.  When I call “Bob” and say, “Bob.  It’s just Larry” I have effectively said that I’m second to whatever he has going on at the moment.  And in sales, you don’t have to be “last” to be considered last.  You and your product will be last if you are second to everything else that is on your prospect’s mind.  And using the word “just” places you second to whatever is happening in Bob’s mind at the time.

When you call your prospect, tell them why you are calling. Don’t reduce the value of your insights, information, or products with the word “just”.   Take the word “just” out of your initial conversations and your voicemails.

Crutch Phrase: I would like to

This is a phrase that asks for permission.  We learned it when we were children and we’ve been told that it’s essential for good manners.  The phrase becomes a challenge when we use it habitually in our business phone conversations.  When you get your prospect on the phone and they happen to be a director, vice president, or chief officer, you want to keep the conversation on their level.  Whenever I used a phrase like, “I would like to set an appointment with you to ask a few questions…” they would politely set the time, but something would always come up causing them to miss the meeting and the project would be put on indefinite hold.

Instead of using the phrase “I would like to…” try something like, “We typically sit down with our clients for a brief consultation to verify that this is a good fit.  I currently have 2:30 and 4:00 open next Wednesday.  Which works for you?” In this instance, you’ve simply stated your process and revealed which time slots you have available.  Stop asking for permission.  Take out the “I would like to…”

Besides, they really don’t care what you want or what you would like to do anyway.

Crutch Phrase: I want to

This phrase essentially tells the prospect that you are focusing on you.  And what you want is more important than what they want.  Remember, you called them and you are discussing the benefits of your solution to them so that they will buy.  When you call into your prospect and start making demands based around what you want, their mindset turns back to their problems and their needs.  Your prospect really doesn’t care what you want and they don’t want to hear about your demands.  So when you call them, don’t talk about what you want, and refrain from saying anything with, “I want to…” in it.

To Much Specificity: Minute of time

I’m a big advocate of asking for time in some way.  By doing this, you are verifying that they aren’t currently engaged in another activity, such as a meeting. If you do any kind of lead generation on the phone, you will catch prospects at off moments.  I’ve pulled sales managers out of sales meetings, interrupted operations managers during performance reviews, caught directors as they were leaving for the hospital, and I’ve phoned people who were on their vacation.  Guess what – if you make a lot of dials, it will happen to you as well.

When you manage to get someone on the phone, you want to verify that it’s a good time for them to talk.  Here’s a tip: when asking for their time, ask for a moment instead of a minute. A minute has a well-defined length so when you ask if they have a minute, you will get 60 seconds.  A “moment”, however is an undefined span of time. So when you ask, “Do you have a moment?” you will typically get as much time as you need to build your case.  As usual, keep your conversation to one subject and keep it brief.  A moment of time is not a license to “move in”.

Using Specificity: Asking for an appointment

This is another one of those word choices that we covered before. Research has shown that when sales people used the word “meeting”, they were 30% more effective in securing time with their prospects.  Doctors, lawyers and dentists set appointments with their clients. And in those relationships, client part ways with a sizeable chunk of money and receives some amount of pain in return.  As sales people, we solve problems.  We want to sit down with our clients and consult with them on solutions.  When you call your prospect, don’t ask for the appointment – go for the meeting.

Pleading: May I please speak with…?

This is another one of those opening phrases that we learned when we were young. It shows good manners and politeness.  It’s also a “yes – no” question and, once again, you are asking for permission. In today’s business environment, when you finally get through the VoIP switchboard, you will find yourself connected to either the person you are trying reach, their voicemail, or their administrative assistants, who is going to grill you like a hot dog at a cookout. If you reach the administrative assistant, one way to avoid getting the third degree is to not use this phrase. Instead, take a lesson from your face-to-face meetings.

Think about the last time that you had an onsite meeting with a prospect.  You walked up to the reception desk or the security desk and you said, “I’m here to see Victoria VITO. Could you let her know I’m here?” And the person at the desk said, “Who should I say is here?”   And you said, “Bob Solution Provider.  I’ll be over here by the window, thank you.”    Simply do the same over the phone.  When you call in and you get a live person that is not the person you are trying to reach, simply say, “I’m calling for Victoria VITO.  Could you let her know I’m on the line?  Thank you.”   They will typically say, “Who’s calling?” to which you will reply, “Bob Solution Provider from ABC Corp.  Thank you.”

Remember, this is not a social call.  You are calling to conduct business.  Take out the “May I please speak with…” phrase from your opening line and speak from a position of confidence and knowledge.

Improve Your Phone Conversations by Removing These Phrases

Many of the practices and habits  in our phone conversations originated at a time when companies used people to manage switchboards.

Times have changed considerably.  Today, we have to deal with VoIP switchboards that can automatically route calls based on the phone number of the caller, business contacts with smart phones attached to both hips and voicemail systems that screen calls.  You’ll have to change up your language to leverage the power that technology brings our society.  And it’s only going to get more interesting.

So. in addressing the challenges of reaching the decision-maker and making a good first impression, first make sure you know something about your prospect’s business.  Then, review the words you are using in your business language and start updating them accordingly.  By doing so, you will increase your effectiveness over the phone and get more prospects into your sales pipeline.

For additional ideas on public speaking and communication effectiveness, get a copy of Maximum Impact, my latest collaboration with Paul Bagan on presentation skills and tactics.

Maximum Impact Public Speaking and Presentations