How to Train Your Sales Force – Selling Skills Training

There’s something undeniably “big time” and impressive about the scene: The steely-eyed sales exec jets to the coast, hunkers down with a hard-boiled buyer and the two hammer out a hot deal. But put a simple pocket calculator to work on that scenario and you’ll soon discover the cost/benefit figures of cold call, face-to-face selling don’t always add up. Not in today’s economy. Not compared to the cost/benefit figures for a sophisticated “tele-selling” program.

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Round-trip coach class airfare New York to Los Angeles runs $300 to $600, depending upon the “fly me” deal a carrier is offering on any given day. Throw in four taxi or limo rides and a “fitting” client lunch, and the cost of our Hollywood-inspired sales call runs about a grand— not count¬ing the cost of the dead time logged during the coast-to-coast commute. Stand that $1,000, face-to-face sales call next to the $9.42 plus tax 20-minute person-to-person prime-time telephone call, and it’s no contest. Tele-selling looks too good.

Admittedly, our hypothetical case and comparison are a bit specious. But the point is clear: A telephone sales call is, to paraphrase Ma Bell, a cheap way to “reach out and put the touch on someone.”

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The pros and cons of tele-selling
Sales trainer Bill Murray, a mid¬west rep for Wilson Learning Corpo¬ration, claims that selling over the phone can be as effective as selling face-to-face. “I used to sell Christmas decorations to small municipalities,”Murray explains, “and I was con¬vinced that face-to-face cold calling was inefficient. So I took a couple of ‘sell-by-phone’ courses, and, sure enough, I earned double the commissions of the best face-to-face salesman and I rarely went on the road.”

According to Murray, the problems that apply in face-to-face selling are just about the same as those encountered in telephone selling. “Prove it to yourself,” he suggests. “Ask your next sales training class to list all the problems and pitfalls of selling over the telephone. When they’ve dumped the whole bucket, have them go back through the laundry list with you and cross off the problems that apply to both face-to-face and telephone selling.

“What you end up with is a list of no more than three or four problems that are unique to telephone selling. The big ones are the absence of body language lot of communication is visual rather than verbal and the fact that you can get a lot of ‘nos’ in a very short time frame, which can be stressful. Otherwise, things are the same. Even the same old three-four-three principle applies. Thirty percent of the people you call will be tip-ins, people who were just sitting around waiting for someone to call and ask them to buy something.

Then there’s the 30% at the far end of the spectrum who wouldn’t buy water from you if they were dying of thirst in the desert. The 40% in the middle are the ones that separate salespeople from order-takers; they have to be sold. Those ratios hold for tele-selling as well as face-to-face.”

A.M. Brown, training manager for American Cyanamid Company in Princeton, NJ, sees some distinct ad¬vantages for the sales rep who sells over the phone. Besides the obvious time and money advantages of phoning over face-to-face calling, he lists these five benefits of phone selling:

• Tough to contact people, those not willing to schedule you for a face-to-face, are often amiable to a phone call, especially long distance.
• You can take notes, refer to job aids and use a script without the customer knowing or being distracted.
• The telephone commands attention and privacy. People seldom let a phone go unanswered, nor do they let a third party butt in when they’re talking on the phone. People also tend to be more candid on the phone; it’s like talking in the dark.
• The phone has immediacy. It is easier to come to the point to set a businesslike climate without the customer feeling rushed.
• The customer can’t read your body language. Your clothing, facial expressions and any nervous mannerisms are hidden from the customer. You can concentrate on one vehicle, your voice.

Regardless of opportunities, benefits and similarities shared by telephone and face-to-face selling, a switch toward more teleselling re¬quires planning and training to make the effort successful. John H. Rosenheim, president of Universal Training Systems, Wilmette, IL, of¬fers these general guidelines for set-ting up an effective telephone sales effort.

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1. Develop a “telephone itinerary.” Each sales representative should plan in advance exactly which accounts will be called and with what frequency.
2. Set telephone sales objectives. Each call as well as the entire telephone effort, should have a specific sales objective.
3. Plan direct-mail follow-up. A systematic program of mailings even if only handwritten postcards should follow telephone calls to confirm the agreements reached.
4. Train each individual in telephone techniques.
5. Evaluate results and redirect as needed. Results should be evaluated in terms of orders written, and plans should be modified accordingly.

AT&T’s telemarketing experts individuals who go into companies and help set up telephone selling, market research, customer service and fulfillment systems- provide dif¬ferent but equally valuable advice. According to James M. Mahood, branch manager of AT&T’s Long Lines Telemarketing Division in Bedminster, NJ, caution should be the watchword of anyone who’s mov¬ing from outside to tele-selling.

“You have to look at telemarketing as a system, as an innovation that can affect many parts of your business,” says Mahood. “If you’re going to make a serious effort to change the way you’re selling, to respond effectively to today’s very cost-efficient, fuel-short business environment, you have to do a lot of careful study and long range planning.

“We are working with a number of Fortune 500 manufacturing organizations that are moving their sales activities from the road to a centralized telephone operation. We— and they— are seeing that everyone from the advertising department to customer service and billing has to have input. And we all are finding that everything from forms to physical environment must be looked at. And all that takes lead time.

“But the upside, the good news, is that you can better service key ac¬counts, you can be more responsive, and you have the time, and can afford, to continue actively working with smaller and marginal accounts. Many of our clients have been surprised to find that cross-sell and upgrade ef¬forts are more effective when done over the phone.

American Cyanamid’s Brown, for instance, stresses listening skills, voice control and the development of a good “telephone personality.” Under voice control, Brown includes such as elements as:
• speaking distinctly;
• using a varied and interesting tone;
• being courteous;
• developing a conversational style; and
• controlling your rate of speech.

At New York’s Reuben H. Donnelly, a direct marketing company that sells specialized business di¬rectories and Yellow Pages advertising over the phone, planning and probing are stressed instead of nitty-gritty communication skills. According to Shirley Juris, a marketing service rep at Donnelly, there are three keys to effective teleselling. The first is preparation.

“The sales¬person must be better prepared for telephone selling than for a face-to-face call,” says Juris. “You don’t have any visuals or sample ads to help over the phone. You’ve got to appeal to their imagination.” The second and third keys Juris cites are finding the buying authority and probing effectively. “Beginners don’t seem to ask enough open-ended questions, and they often interview the wrong people,” Juris comments.

Susan Riback, manager of tele¬phone sales at Salenger Educational Media in Santa Monica, CA, divides the telephone sale into three parts: preparation, the call and follow-up. The specific, critical, on-the-phone skills, she says, tend to depend on the kind of call the salesperson is making. Is it a direct phone sale of a product or service? Is the goal to sell only a face-to-face appointment? Are you calling cold? Or were you referred? Is it a call-in from an interested prospect?

But, when pressed, she suggests that listening skills— “You have to listen harder, more intently”— benefit selling and probing are key tele-selling skills. “You can’t show them the product, so feature selling is out, even if it were a good idea,” she comments. “So you really need to spend more time probing and finding needs you can match benefits to. If you’re used to showing the product to the prospect and finding one or two benefits that appeal, you have to develop a habit of finding more benefits that apply before you move on to a trial close.”

Riback also stresses follow-up speed. “You have to work to keep the relationship alive. You have to get follow-up materials to them quickly, and you need to call back the day you expect them to get the materials. Essentially, you have to work harder on making an impression, giving the prospect a positive image of you when you’re selling over the phone.”

AT&T’s Mahood suggests that teleselling, because of its intensity, re¬quires that the salesperson learn to control his or her environment positively. “We found at our large telemarketing center in Kansas City, MO that turnover could be a problem if we didn’t give people work options. For instance, some of our people wear headsets and walk around the work area as they’re talking to customers.

When they’re sitting down, they say, they can’t communicate as well. You see a lot of body language gesturing, head moving and so on when they’re talking to customers. And we’ve found that there’s less stress in making calls to qualified leads, people who have requested information or with whom there is an existing relationship.”

Mahood says that the AT&T Telemarketing Center also has taught him some things about supervision. “We monitor our salespeople’s calls and give them feedback on a regular basis. We’ve found, to our surprise, that our telephone salespeople need and want different amounts of feed¬back on different days.

Some days they go to their supervisors and ask to be monitored more closely and given more feedback. Making feedback available to the salesperson as a standard part of the operation seems critical to us.”

Whether your people are going to direct sell over the phone or simply use the phone to sell appointments, get reorders, and find better quality suspects, your training must, according to Norman, help them to:

1. Eliminate the fear of using the telephone. According to Norman, FEAR (false evidence-appearing-real) is the number-one deterrent to telephone use. “No one likes rejection,” he says, “and that must be mastered first.”

2. Present a professional image. This, according to both Norman and Riback, is a must. The salesperson must see himself or herself as a pro and must learn to project a positive
personal/professional self-image through the wires. Norman offers these two pieces of specific advice:

• Make sure your salespeople understand that they must be “fresh and up” to sound “fresh and up.” Much more than one hour of calling without a break shows in the way the sales¬person talks to, and sounds to, the prospect.

• Equip salespeople with a first-rate, polished script for talking on the phone. Because they have to make a quick impression, a basic script “words to say when talking to the prospect” is critical to every form of telephone canvassing effort. By the way, there is nothing “shady” about a script or planned presentation; the prospect, after all, has a preplanned script for his or her end of the conversation “not now,” “no,” “later” and “not interested.”

3. Increase the size of his or her prospect list. Prospects are the salesperson’s stock-in-trade. Without active prospects, the salesperson is effectively unemployed. By helping the salesperson to develop a habit of telephoning prospects for one hour a day, you can just about guarantee that he or she will increase his or her “farm” or body of active prospects by over 700 new names a year!

4. Develop a record-keeping or feed¬back system. To improve, everyone needs honest “How am I doing?” in¬formation. And that necessitates a reliable telephone-activity record-keeping system. Norman suggests a 13-item daily record or log. The score sheet Norman favors should have, in this order, entries for:

• Number of times he or she dials the phone.
• Number of contacts people talked to who can set an appointment.
• Appointments set the number of people who agree to a specific day and hour appointment.
• Number of drop-bys persons talked to who have the authority to set a specific day and hour appointment but who only agree to see you if they are in and if you are in the neighborhood and drop by.
• Call backs people who could set an appointment or approve a drop-by but won’t.
• No interest people who say no to everything, even though they are the appropriate people to be calling.

Telephone sales training
• No answer – Note time of day the no answer occurred.
• Busy signal – Note time of day the busy signal occurred.
• Wrong number – Number changed, no longer here and the like are all wrong numbers.
• Not in – Find out when you could call back and expect him or her to be in. Don’t leave call-back messages, which have an uncanny knack for getting misplaced.
• Must talk to other person – You got the right company or house, but the buying authority is someone else.

A fifth objective: building in some strokes
A number of trainers we talked to— Bill Murray for one and Dr. Frances Meritt Stern of Institute for Behavioral Awareness in Springfield, NJ for another— recommended adding a fifth objective to Norman’s list, self-reinforcement or reward for success.

“The intrinsic reward involved in successful appointment setting isn’t always enough of a reinforcement to get the average salesperson back on the phone day after day,” says Stern, who suggests two ways to beef up the reinforcement for telephone calling.

One approach is to have the sales¬person hold off on “coffee and…” until the day’s phoning is complete. “Sales¬people often avoid making calls by developing an extensive make-ready routine. They set work papers out, drink coffee, eat Danish and read the paper before getting into calling, them, and they’ll rationalize the behavior by saying they are getting mentally prepared or looking in the paper for hot prospects.

If they hold all those treats and goodies till after they have made their allotment of calls or have been calling 30 or 40 minutes, then they can feel good about completing a tough task and reward themselves for a job well done,” she says.

Stern also suggests that pleasurable, positive mental imagery can be used to reinforce or reward successful calling. “Many people find the use of pleasant mental images both tension-reducing and highly rewarding,” she explains. “The salesperson who can learn to take a pleasant ‘mind trip’ or mini-vacation for a minute or two after having completed a half dozen phone calls both lowers his or her tension level and rewards the calling effort.”

Murray uses and advocates a similar scheme. “Experienced salespeople generally know that X number of calls leads to Y number of appointments and Z number of sales,” he says. “Put a little arithmetic to those numbers and you can come up with a dollar-value figure for each and every phone call.

Every time I hang up the phone, I say— sometimes out loud, sometimes to myself— ‘Thanks for the $25, Mr. Prospect.’ Statistically, that’s what I made for that call, whether the prospect accepts an appointment or not. It gives me a chuckle, cuts the rejection feelings way down and keeps me going.”

Selling today for tomorrow
If your sales force has been trained only to sell face-to-face, you’ve got a problem, especially in today’s strange economy and unsettled business environment. To be competitive tomorrow, today’s sales pro must be able to make more high-quality sales than. ever before. A local face-to-face call costs over a hundred dollars.

Business mailings, be they brochures, custom letters or postcards, can add on another $39.50 in actual paid-for time and labor. Those face-to-face calls, cards and letters have to be precision’ targeted to very high-probability; prospects. The waste in time, motion and money of shotgun, cold-call selling can kill you.

So how can you, the sales trainer| help your sales force develop on target precision? By teaching the: the values, skills and knowledge the; need to effectively and efficiently “let their fingers do the walking.”

Source : Ron Zemke, Training Magazine

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