Because of the ever increasing cost of a sales visit, many companies are encouraging their salespeople to replace the unsolicited or cold call approach with the telephone call to make initial contact with a prospect. Studies have shown that a cold call can cost up to $300, depending on the industry and size of territory covered. Not only can the telephone call be a less expensive selling procedure, but it can also be highly effective.

Proper use of the telephone helps to qualify prospects and to budget time. In addition, good telephone technique can enhance the salesperson’s image and precondition the prospect to receive you favorably. Telephoning for an appointment implies courtesy and consideration of the prospect’s time. It also suggests that your time is as valuable as the time of other successful professionals. The phone call helps to create a selling situation because, just by agreeing to see you, the prospect tacitly indicates interest in your product or service.

You must regard the use of the telephone to set up appointments as a true sales activity and not just a necessary evil. You must also remember what you are selling. The mini-sale is selling the prospect on the idea of giving you an appointment; your purpose is not to sell your product or service on the telephone.

Telephoning customers or prospects requires a carefully thought out plan of action. Basically, you do exactly what you do in person; sell benefits. You must convince prospects that seeing you is in their own best interest.

An organized, professional salesperson knows what to say in advance of placing the call. Whether working from a set script or a general outline, each part of the conversation should have specific purposes. The following six-step telephone track is designed to generate appointments.

Step 1: Introduce Yourself and Your Company. Most sales relationships depend heavily on initial impressions. When you call on the telephone, the prospect will have made a judgment about you before your first fifteen words are said. How you introduce yourself, therefore, and what you say immediately afterward are vitally important.

A weak or tentative opening puts a salesperson at a severe disadvantage throughout the rest of the call. Your opening words should tell who you are, indicate the company you represent, and conform that you are speaking to the right person.

Be sure the person you reach is someone who can make or influence a buying decision. Smile as you speak so that you transmit a warm, friendly personality. Watch the rate at which you speak. Prospects initially pay more attention to someone with a moderate rate.

Step 2: Take the Curse Off the Call. The telephone call is an interruption of your prospect’s work. It can be a source of real frustration or nuisance. To sell people on the idea of granting you an appointment, you must detach their attention from what they were doing or thinking when the phone rang and attach it to what you propose. Think about your calls as a service your are offering rather than an interruption for which you must apologize.

You can take the curse off the call with a statement and a question to soften the impact of the interruption. “It will just take a minute to explain why I’m calling. Is it convenient for you to talk now?” If now is not the right time, ask for another time to call back.

Step 3: State the Purpose of the Call. Make a brief, hard-hitting lead-in statement about why you are calling – just enough to capture the prospect’s attention, but short of describing the benefits you will present later. You may want to refer to a direct mail piece, mention a referral source, or name the product or service relevant to the prospect.

Step 4: Make an Interest-Capturing statement. Your next task is to convert attention into interest by promising a benefit. Use product benefits, company services, or financial rewards to answer to prospect’s unspoken “What’s in it for me?” Offer to do something for-not to-the prospect.

Be sure to say how long the actual personal visit will take, and assure the prospect that everything you have to say can be covered in that length of time unless the prospect wants to explore certain areas in greater detail.

Step 5: Request an Appointment. Remember that your goal at this point is to secure an appointment with the prospect so that you can make a complete presentation. Avoid giving interview information over the phone. Then, the prospect can easily say “I’m not interested” and you have nowhere to go.

Many salespeople provide prospects with too much information over the phone; the more information you put forth, the more problems the prospect may see. Ask for the appointment confidently and directly. Give a choice of times to meet instead of one alternative that can easily be rejected.

Step 6: Overcome Resistance. There are two types of objections raised from this call. The first objection is to receiving the call and thus an interruption to an activity; it should be countered with an offer to re-contact the prospect at a more convenient time. Sometimes this objection may really be a screen for another objection like lack of money or wrong contact person.

The second objection stems from a fear or reluctance to purchase. To diffuse this fear, first agree sympathetically with the objection and follow with a transition back to your purpose. “I can appreciate the fact that a person in your position is busy, Mr. Jones: that’s why I phoned. It will take me ten minutes to explain…” Switch from the prospect’s objection to your idea or purpose for the interview, then ask again for the appointment. You need to anticipate the kinds of objections you may receive and develop logical responses.

With careful planning of your calls and diligent practice so that you can converse with a natural, easy flow, you should find your rate of setting appointments increasing and your overall sales improving.

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