Fret-Free Tele-Selling for the Reluctant Rep

Sep 28


Gen Wright

Gen Wright

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The phone is THE most cost-effective - most interactive - marketing tool there is.

You can use it to secure the audience for your seminar; make regular service and satisfaction calls; communicate timely offers; follow up mailings; set face-to-face sales appointments; undertake consumer surveys...

Or,Fret-Free Tele-Selling for the Reluctant Rep Articles of course you can use it just to SELL.

Ugh, that's a horrible word, isn't it? Chat to any number of people who use the phone for a living, and you'll hear them talk of tele-marketing - or maybe tele-canvassing. You'll seldom hear them mention the 's' word. Why is that?

We all use the phone daily, without the slightest hesitation. Many of us sell to clients - either through seminars, demonstrations, or presentations - with similar regularity. Again, nary a wobble. But combine the two - the phone and the selling - and... Woah; where'd he go?

Hence, I titled this article 'tele-selling'. Not because the suggestions contained here apply only to those who're using the phone to sell. They don't. No, I did it to deter those shrinking violets who'd prefer to hide behind words like 'marketing' - as if doing so eliminates the need for them to deliver quantifiable results from their efforts.

These diffident souls will be pleased to acknowledge the findings of a recent Marketing Week survey, which suggest the days of the cold call are numbered. According to that report, 75% of the sample would ask to opt out of companies' telemarketing lists - ensuring they never receive such calls again.

But for now tele-selling remains a marketing force to be reckoned with.


Tele-selling is one of the few promotional disciplines wherein acumen, expertise and the 'gift of the gab', won't win the day.

Indeed, the best tele-seller I ever worked with had (until she came to work for us) never pitched a client. She'd never used the phone in a commercial context. She wasn't particularly outgoing, nor did she have an unwonted level of confidence.

Instead, she had just four qualities that ensured her success: A pleasant attitude, a sound understanding of her subject, tenacity and... the ability to LISTEN.

At first, she was employed on a short term contract, to follow up a mass-mailing program. She was comfortable with that; the prospects had been contacted, so she wasn't 'going in cold'.

She did it well. So we did another.

Again, the program was a success: 23% prospects converted to appointments; 12% of those appointments converted to sales.

Then I tried an experiment: I took the mailing out of the mix.

And the conversion rate went up by 28% - proving that, while tele-selling can boost results from your traditional marketing efforts, tenfold, it can also stand alone. Consider what that means for your cashflow.

It means that if you're selling a product or service that doesn't require a demo or face-to-face contact (ad space springs to mind) it's possible to get paid, before you cover the cost of your promotional efforts (i.e.: your phone bill). Just take a credit card number, or fax an invoice, and your job's done. Now that's cost-effective.

Another example...

In a recent campaign, circumstances conspired to delay our preliminary mailing effort. Hence we went straight to the telesales stage - and created over 500 qualified leads, from 3000 calls (made by a specialist agency, over a period of five weeks). At a total cost of roughly £4.00 a call, it wasn't difficult to quantify the effectiveness of that campaign in real pound note terms.


Time, or the lack of it, is the prime motivator for adding tele-selling to your communications program.

After all, you can't drop by every prospects house to measure their reaction to your mailing. Similarly, you can't visit (or even identify) everyone who took time to watch your TV commercial, or visit your website. But you can talk to them.

Moreover, the phone cuts out wastage. Once you've sent out your 10,000 mailers, they're sent. That's it. There's nothing more you can do. Conversely, as you pitch on the phone, you immediately know if, when and where you're going wrong - and you can adapt accordingly.

In this sense, then, the phone's also the best ever consumer research tool, too.


There's a lot of noise out there - ads, mailers, net sites, infomercials - all competing for your customers' attentions. But when you phone those customers, there's only you. The phone enables you to make more pitches in an hour, than a good sales rep can make in a day. And your overheads are low: No printing, HTML coding, or media buying, required.

One face to face meeting can cost £100s. A prime contact phone call can cost less than a fiver - as the above example shows.

Similarly, tele-selling can cut through several stages of the sales process... Not for the tele-seller the 'phone, mail, phone, fulfil, phone, meet' approach of the professional marketer. Instead, the tele-seller gets right to the ultimate objective: a one on one dialogue with the target audience.

These are compelling reasons to introduce tele-selling to your communications mix. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's get back to that all-too-understandable, all-too-counter-productive reluctance to pick up the phone.

How many times have you dithered, procrastinated, flicked through your contact database, read the paper, popped out for a sandwich, scanned the local Yellow Pages (under the guise of 'prospecting') only to put off the evil moment?

Well stop it! This reluctance - as any good psychologist will tell you - is all about fear of rejection.

Now that just doesn't add up.


You (or rather, your commercial offerings) are rejected all the time - through your traditional marketing efforts. But you don't know why.

The direct mail industry - for instance - is a wonderful thing: The only discipline known to man where a two percent success rate is not just acceptable - it's actually considered something to shout about.

Turn that equation on its head. It means you can get it 98% wrong, and go home happy. Stunning.

But the thing is, 'rejection by remote' is painless. One-to-one rejection smarts. But it's a good thing. It means you know - right away - where you've gone wrong. And it enables you to fix the problem - giving you the opportunity to quickly and effortlessly respond to, and overcome, the reasons behind those objections. What a wonderful marketing opportunity.

With tele-selling, there's only one way to guarantee you won't get 'the brush off' firsthand - and that's not to call. (And that way, you can be pretty confident you won't get a sale either.)


The prospect that says 'no' is rejecting your product or service (at least for now). They're not rejecting you as a person.

They're not saying 'You're a dreadful human being. Never darken my door - or my telephone receiver - again.' Instead they're saying 'For the moment I can't use what you have to offer.'

There can be all manner of reasons for that. Maybe the timing's not right. Maybe they've just commissioned a new supplier. Maybe a whole other set of issues is topping their current agenda.

So don't take their rejection as a personal affront. Instead try to understand why they are saying no. Say to them: "OK, you're not buying. Now we've established that, please tell me why not..."

Whatever the reasons for the declinature, very few people are blatantly rude. (And you wouldn't want to deal with those that are, anyway.) Most are actually pretty friendly. And for those that are less so, there are a few commonsense ways to get them 'on side'.

Start with a no-holds-barred look at your own attitude, approach and outlook.


Where tele-selling's concerned, whether you believe you'll succeed or you believe you'll fail, you'll be right. So your attitude should be that the sale is a foregone conclusion. All you have to overcome is the detail.

Keep positive, or don't do it. (Your negativity WILL come across.)

Force a smile to lift your mood. IT WORKS.

And position yourself as a business person of equal standing. Not a two-bit hustler desperate to earn a crust (even though you may feel that way early on). You're an insurance sales rep? OK; position yourself as a financial consultant. You run a mailing house? How about direct marketing and communications consultant? You get the idea.


People deal with people they like - and people that are like them (in their speech, opinion and demeanour). You should therefore note your prospect's mood, and respond in kind. (Unless he's hostile - in which case, don't).

And never pre-judge: Old miseries make orders, too. To my great surprise, I continue to do business with clients who - at first hearing - appeared more likely to shoot me on sight than give me an order. But that - as my old Mum was so fond of saying - 'is just their way'.

It goes without saying that you should never get into an argument with the prospect - however asinine her objections. (If you burn your bridges, you can't call back later. And tele-selling is not a one-shot deal.)

And you should never - never - adapt the hard sell persona of the archetypal double glazing sales rep. (So banish expressions like 'this offer ends today' from your repertoire. The modern consumer is way more sophisticated.)

For the rest: Just be natural, sincere, and honest. Sure, you'll be nervous the first few times. That's natural. But your nervousness won't come across. (You never sound as bad as you think you do.)


Before you take that first leap into the unknown, you'll need to create a plan with measurable goals. And to develop your own lead tracking system (software or paper-based, whatever works) to monitor and review your success.

But don't get bogged down in planning at the expense of action (as so many less than committed tele-sellers do). The math isn't difficult.

Let's take the example of a one-person enterprise - a 'consultant', say - and calculate what she needs to do, tele-selling wise, to achieve her goals. We'll keep it simple. But you can adapt the model to suit your purposes.

For the sake of this exercise, we'll say our not-so-humble consultant wants to achieve a pre-tax profit of £50,000 per annum. To do this, she needs to gross £120,000 per annum. And her average project value is £5,000. OK... Here's how it works:

Profit target £50,000

(per annum)

No. of project sales required to achieve target 24

(per annum) i.e.: £120,000/£5,000

Lead conversion rate 10%

based on experience of face-to-face presentation:conversion ratios

Required no. of face-to-face presentations 240

(per annum) i.e.: 10x annual unit sales tgt

Required number of calls 2400

Assumption: every ten calls generates one face-to-face meeting.

Calls per day 10

(assuming five working days per week, 48 weeks per annum) i.e.: (2,400/48)/5

So, as you can see, it's a numbers game. Our consultant makes 10 calls a day - and she's assured her £50,000 per annum. At least, that's the theory.

In practice of course, reaching the point where you know that 24,000 calls=240 leads=24 conversions=£120,000 turnover =£50,000 pre-tax... Well that's the tricky bit. You'll only reach such conclusions as you monitor and review your results - which you should do daily, weekly, and monthly.

Moreover ten calls a day is no easy task - especially if our consultant wants to take time to do the work somewhere there. But the beauty of tele-selling is you can quickly and inexpensively determine if it's a cost-effective approach for you. And if not... You try - or supplement your efforts with - something else (PR, online, seminar selling or whatever).

Businesses for which tele-selling represents a good fit are in a glorious position. Put simply: The more calls they make, the more leads they generate and the more sales result. The harder they work, the luckier they get.

That means the power is in their hands to increase their profits. If ten calls earn them £100, then 20 calls will make them £200.00. And so on. Oh, would that it were that simple...

Unfortunately, you can't be sure that every tenth call will result in a cheque. There will be feast, and there will be famine. But the famine - the sales drought - always breaks. Sometimes you'll need to make more calls, some days you'll need to make less. But on the average, the rules will hold.


Having decided how many prime contact calls you'll make every day (that's: prime contact calls - not brief chats with a receptionist)... You need to make them. Religiously. Each and every day.

Even if you have a great day one day, it doesn't mean you can put your feet up for the next - regardless of whether you've too much business right now. You've heard it said: Dig your well before you're thirsty.

So stick to the plan; don't be distracted. Keep stats - five bar gate style - independent of your computer system. And stick them to the wall, as a quick and easy reminder of your target, and how close you are to achieving it:

Calls out Prime contacts Appointments/

Sales Value






I add just one caveat: For your sanity's sake, don't keep going for more than two hours at a time - four hours a day max. But make that time, productive time.

It's easy to delude yourself that a chat with one of your pals could yield profitable returns in the longer term. But the numbers - those five bar gates - tell the real story.

Hence, I shamelessly reiterate: We're talking here about real calls. Calls that result in conversations with a prospect. Not the battles you're sure to have with the secretary, PA or voice mail system.

Of course, such hurdles will beset your every move. They've to be overcome if you're to succeed. So maybe now's a good time to consider a few tricks to help you get through the client's door (metaphorically speaking).


Lesson 1: Treat all members of the prospect's support team with respect.

Secretaries in particular invariably have considerably more influence than their diminutive titles may suggest - not necessarily in getting the decision-maker to say 'yes', but certainly in getting them to say 'no'. So build a rapport with them. Get a first name, if you can. And database the information so you can make an instant 'connection' next time you're in touch.

Lesson 2: Use the Answer:Ask technique.

For example, when the secretary asks 'Who's calling?' reply 'Could you please tell her it's Tony Johnson?' When he asks ' What's your call regarding?' reply 'Could you tell her it's in regard to her investment portfolio.' How many times can he keep responding with further questions, till he finally caves in?

Lesson 3: Call early or late (when the secretary's out).

The days of the 9-5 M.D. are long gone. Senior decision makers - the people to whom you should be talking - are now forced to toil into the small hours to justify their salaries. So chances are you'll catch them - unprotected and vulnerable - early in the morning or later in the evening.

The automated guard dog, the voice mail system, is a bit trickier - but it's still possible to get around the obstacle (though your approach must be a trifle more Machiavellian).

For starters, try a teaser: your name, number and a cryptic message - along the lines of "Please call Terry Badou; it's about your car..." (or home, or investment portfolio, or whatever).

If that fails, be really sneaky. Try a partial message (suggesting the voice mail system may be defective), like "... and resolve the problem. That's Alan Davies - 555 23 23 23. Look forward to hearing from you."


Sometimes you'll find yourself wishing for prospects who'll come right out and say 'NO'. The reason? The alternative is often countless call backs, only to hear - once again - those timeless words every tele-seller dreads: 'He's in a meeting; can I take a message?'

Unfortunately, people don't call back. It's a sign of the times. But it doesn't mean they're not interested in what you have to say or offer. Persevere for as long as viable - then take remedial action:

First, make an appointment with the secretary to call back at a particular time - and confirm that appointment via e-mail or fax.

If that fails, get the secretary to go to work for you. Ask him straight out: 'Could you please find out if Mrs Prospect wants to hear what I have to say? If she does, I'll happily persevere. If not maybe you could let me know. I'll call back tomorrow to get your response.'

And if that fails... Try the path of last resort. Mail or fax a simple tick box checklist, with two options:

? No, I don't need what you're offering right now.

? Yes, I'm interested. Call me on - at -.

If that doesn't elicit a response - one way or the other - it's safe to assume you're on to a loser.


OK - congratulations; you got through. Now the easy bit.

The first thing to remember is, you're interrupting your prospect's day. Nowhere in her busy corporate agenda did it say 'Listen to an unknown tele-seller extolling the virtues of his many and varied product range'. So the first thing to do is ask 'Is this a good time to talk?' or 'Could you spare me five minutes, right now?' If the answer's yes, you can proceed to your 'script', with a clear conscience.

Note: Many 'professional' tele-sales people will tell you never to ask whether this is a good time. They'd have you believe that the question gives your prospect the chance to say 'Well actually no'. Ignore their advice. If you are interrupting your prospect, you won't get the outcome you want. He'll have just one objective throughout the call - and that's to get you off the phone, as quickly as possible. So, if he is busy when you call, arrange to call back at a more convenient time. In my opinion, it's a matter of simple courtesy.

Similarly, if - by happy chance - they can free up a little time for you right away, reassure them by reiterating exactly how long the call will take. And stick to that timeframe.

Now go to it (and remember: the clock's ticking).


Earlier, I used the term 'script'. I shouldn't have. I don't like scripts. They've an alarming tendency to make you sound rather like an automaton. Worse still, if the prospect diverts the discussion away from your carefully-prepared conversational flowchart, you'll find yourself in trouble. You'll start to flounder.

So as an alternative, I recommend a checklist of key points - the issues you wish to raise - backed up by the confidence that comes only with solid product knowledge. But I add a caveat.

You do need a starting point for your call. During the first 30 seconds, you'll have to deliver an uninterrupted monologue. In that time you need to qualify the prospect (confirm they are in charge of procuring whatever service you happen to be offering) then to explain:

• Who you are,

• the name of your company,

• and the reason for your call.

And the reason for your call is... To solve their problem.

But what is the prospect's problem, you ask. And well you might. For, of course, you don't necessarily know until she starts talking. So once the preliminary - pre-scripted - niceties are out of the way, you should turn your attention quickly to need qualification; to determining what the prospect's needs are, in order that you may tailor your pitch to meet them.


Depending on your particular offering, it's usually possible to tailor a package of benefits to meet the needs of the target customer. But if you can't... Don't try. You should never attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole. If there's no way you can meet their needs, terminate the call... Politely. (But record the outcome in your database. Things change.)

Where need qualification is concerned, the trick is to ask 'open questions' - questions that require more than just monosyllabic yes/no answers - to get them talking. This takes you out of the seller-buyer situation, and into the realm of two business people talking together. For example...

"I guess, like all of us, you're keen to ensure you're getting very best price:performance out of your existing kit. Can I ask, where do you perceive the weak areas to be in your current hardware/software ensemble?"

"I see from recent press reports you're now managing projects in the US. That can't be an easy task, bearing in mind your IT centre is in Holland. How are you handling the logistics...?"

In light of their response, you move on.

"That's the experience of many of my clients, Mrs Prospect. So, if I could show you how they've used our product to solve that problem..."

"I see that turnaround time is real priority. Fortunately, with the new digital presses, we're able to maintain, and even enhance, our clients' quality standards, while guaranteeing 48 hour turnaround - from artwork to delivery. How does this compare...?"

Once the real discussion starts, you'll find yourself thinking like the expert you are - rather than the pedlar you earlier perceived yourself to be.


Use a pad to note prospects' buying signals and objections. This allows you to let them talk, but ensures you won't forget to go back and address key points. It also proves you're listening - allowing you to paraphrase and repeat the prospect's comments to underscore your understanding.

Keeping good records - paper-based or otherwise - is also particularly important for call-backs and follow-ups. You can't hope to remember the running order of every call you make. With an up to date database record, you can start where you left off. "Nice to talk to you again, Mrs Prospect, But before we get down to business, how did your son get on in those county try-outs?"


If you believe in - and understand thoroughly - what you're doing, you should have all the ammunition you need to counter almost any objection. And those objections are to be encouraged.

You can bet your pension your prospect has all manner of objections. By getting him to raise them, you can counter them. But if he doesn't voice them, you'll never know why you failed to close him.

On those rare occasions you get an objection you can't counter, it's easy to become despondent, and believe that everyone you speak to shares the same concerns. They don't. But you should be ready to quickly dispatch the next one that does. So go back to the drawing board: Research the topic. Speak to colleagues, get the answers, and next time you'll be ready.

I'd further suggest you prepare yourself for the more common objections - the ones your prospects are duty-bound to expound at the first opportunity - with friends and colleagues. Their firsthand feedback will help you to get your responses down pat. Equally importantly, this sort of exercise will help you moderate your tone of voice - helping you to develop and adopt the relaxed and confident image you wish to convey.


Have you ever heard your voice mail message - and immediately and indignantly declared "I don't sound like THAT!" ? Well you do, I'm afraid.

Unfortunately, as individuals, we're worst placed to truly gauge the way we sound - and by extension the impression we give to others. When we're on the phone, our voice is all the prospect has to go on. The other non-verbal signals on which we depend for communication are of no value. That's why some beginning tele-sellers record their conversations for later review.

By all means try it. But the usual protocols should see you through. And most are matters of common sense.

You should never appear arrogant - even though you know your product's the best thing since the cat's eye. But don't be overly timid either. Instead, remind yourself: We're two business people, working together to resolve a problem. Obviously the deal is ultimately mine. But first we must tackle the minutiae.

And in dealing with those minutiae, never get defensive - even if your prospects objections transcend spurious. Instead, manipulate the conversation, deftly steering the prospect round to your way of thinking (that's allowed; you're paying for the call).

Bear in mind that people like to hear opinions that support their point of view - however 'off the wall' those points of view may be. So reassure them, with comments like 'Yes I take your point. And apropos of that, have you considered (something completely different)..."

Similarly, you should always have fallback options at your disposal - in terms of products and payment terms. If you've only one product to offer, and one way to pay, your prospect has to make a binary - yes/no - decision. So don't be surprised if he favours the latter.

Unfortunately, however assiduous you are in your preparation, there's one barrier that you'll almost invariably have to cross...


You'll hear it every day: Your price is too high; we don't have that sort of cash in the budget; Joe Bloe is bigger, better, faster... cheaper. It's a competitive world. Few folk nowadays will accept the first price they're offered without quibble.

And, indeed, there's a certain breed of consumer who buys only on price. Their credo 'never mind the quality Madam feel the width' - means there's only one way to their hearts: through their pocketbooks. But if the prospect's wavering - and price is the deciding factor - there are a few techniques you can use to tip them over. Here are just six:

• Sweeten the pill with easy payment terms.

• Offer finance options, via associate third party finance houses.

• Tailor your program to fit their budget; cutting corners where viable to accommodate their needs.

• Stress cost of ownership: Onsite warranties, reliability (less down time), and so on.

• Show how your product differs from your closest competitor. And stress the added value. (In this way, price ceases to be the determining factor.)

• Offer pre-payment discounts. This can save your accountant's time - and you'll be compensated with an extra month's interest at the bank.

Whatever you do, NEVER drop your price just because someone tells you it's too high. The tele-seller who hears that objection, and immediately shaves 20% off for no good reason, will never prosper.

Similarly, you should never give up just because your prospect is talking to your competitors - particularly if they're selling on price. If their charging structure is unrealistically aggressive, they may be out of business before the prospect finally signs on the dotted line.

So make a point of calling back to reiterate your case, just before the deal is scheduled to be done (there's many a slip, twixt cup and lip). And keep in touch, even if the prospect does choose someone else THIS TIME. Because who knows what they'll do next time? (The supplier could slip up, go bust, discontinue its service arrangements...)


High pressure sales folk get turned off by this. It's ingrained in their psyche: Never send a brochure; always go for the appointment or sale.

One publishing sales rep actually lost her cool with me, because I wanted to see a copy of her publication before I made a commitment. She felt I was giving her the run-around. Needless to say: 'No sale'.

I ask you... Who in their right minds, these days, buys without 'getting it in writing'; seeing the product, or at least something that reinforces the credibility of the offering?

I have a simple outlook on this. If someone asks for literature, they want to find out more; they're interested.

By that token, I immediately fax or e-mail the information they need to make an informed decision. (I've nothing to hide, after all.) Simultaneously, I schedule a date and time for follow up.

Ask yourself: Are you really good enough to sell without a shred of written proof to support your claims? It's doubtful. And it costs next to nothing to fax over the salient points. (You can take the expensive eight-colour glossy brochure along to your first meeting.)


When you've exhausted your repertoire of benefits, and broken down every barrier to the sale, it's time to go for the order (or the appointment, test drive or whatever). Now, I never cease to marvel at the numbers of would-be tele-sellers who go to pieces at this crucial stage. Having done the hard work - delivered a truly great presentation, and countered every conceivable objection - they... Clam up. Why?

The 'close' is not something to be feared. It's simply a logical conclusion to any sales call. Picture this:

"We're agreed xxxxx ?"


"But you need xxxxx ?"

"Of course."

" xxxxx would fit the bill nicely?"


"So the PR257 that we talked about is the ideal solution?"


"And the price tag of £275 is within your budget?"


"OK, well, umm..."

Sounds unlikely? Believe me, it happens. In this example, the tele-seller has used an incremental close technique. He got the client saying 'yes'. What could be simpler, then, than to conclude with:

"Shall I arrange delivery for Thursday - or would Friday morning be better for you?"


"So would you prefer to go with the standard model - or will you need the extra xxxxx ?"

That, by the way, is known as the 'preference close'. It gives the prospect (now customer) two options - both favourable. And thereafter, aside from offering a few reassuring 'pay no money now' guarantees - to shift the risk from buyer to seller - your job's done.

Note: There's another school of thought on closing the tele-sales call, and that's asking the prospect her preferred next step - saying something like: "What do you want me to do for you next..." I don't hold with this, as I believe it's a good way to lose control of the conversation. But if you're comfortable with it, that's fine. (And of course if that next step's to 'put it in writing' - then do so. Within 24 hours.)


Remember that old adage, 'the show's not over till the fat lady sings'?

Financial advisers and timeshare sales people - to name but two - have the problem of a little thing called the cooling off period (also known as 'your right to change your mind'). That means the customer can cancel their cheque, standing order or whatever, at any time pre-delivery.

So having done the hard part... Do it again.

Always follow up - under some plausible, customer-centred prefix - to ensure there are no last minute wobbles. And to re-seal the deal if necessary.

In the same way, you should always go back to the customer a few months later, to confirm they're still happy with their purchase. The point then is not to try to sell them anything; it's to demonstrate your commitment to their ongoing satisfaction. Why this uncharacteristic display of altruism?

Simple. It's ten times easier - not to say cheaper - to resell to an existing satisfied customer, than it is to find and convert a new prospect. So do everything in your power to keep your client base happy. You'll be looking for repeat and upgrade sales, and new referrals, from them later on.


In any commercial situation, it's always better to under claim. Take this scenario:

The customer would like to see a seven-day turnaround. You're not certain you can oblige, so you compromise on ten.

In reality, you deliver in eight. Result? One delighted customer.

The alternative?

You agree the required seven days, but deliver in eight. In the customer's eyes, you've let him down - even though, in both cases, you managed to turn the project around in eight days. The lesson?

Never promise the earth. Be realistic. But do your best to exceed the client's expectation. Service may be the only thing that differentiates you from your closest competitor. Hence, it's the tool you must use to secure real customer loyalty for the longer term.


As a tele-seller, you won't win them all. But provided you handle yourself with dignity, and put your case convincingly, there's nothing to stop you going back to a prospect a few months later, just to keep in touch.

You should carry out reminder follow ups as a matter of course. Remember Jeffrey Lant's 'rule of seven'. To truly penetrate the mind of your prospect, it can be necessary to follow-up up to seven times over a period of 18 months or so.

Initially, try a reminder call once a quarter. But be attuned, and respond, to your prospect's attitude - maybe you're becoming a nuisance; maybe you're not making contact often enough - and adapt your schedule accordingly.

When following up, be sure to have all prospect-specific facts to hand - on your database. That way your follow-up becomes more than just another cold call. Instead, you've a genuine reason for calling - and the facts you need to make that call relevant to the recipient.


Comfort is key to creating an effective tele-selling environment.

Some tele-sellers like to wander round the office, as they speak. Some prefer to sit at a desk. Other, more evangelic sorts, like to stand on the desk. (If you're planning this approach for yourself, I'd strongly recommend you choose your furniture supplier with care.)

Similarly, some do it the sophisticated way - using state of the art databases and telecoms systems. Others, like me, favour the cheap and effective method: me, my prospect list, a traditional phone, and a notepad.

You could use a headset if you wanted to keep your hands free. Or if you're more peripatetic in your approach, use a portable. (But choose a good quality model, to avoid that irritating hum that's synonymous with cheaper alternatives. )

Indeed, there's only one prerequisite that all tele-sellers agree on: A quiet workplace, with no interruptions. No background noise; no dogs barking, no sirens wailing, no workmen digging up the road, no lawns being mown...

Make sure the light, temperature and layout's to your liking. And everything you need is to hand. Oh, and arrange to divert inbound calls to voice mail or a colleague (call waiting has annoying tendency to bleep, interrupting your train of thought).


If you're too busy doing, to spend time selling (what a nice problem to have) you'll need to draft in support for your tele-selling function. This is not a soft option.

Using an agency can be expensive and ineffective. And a full time resource - a member of staff, dedicated to the task - requires months of handholding. (I've worked with tele-sellers for up to six months before realising they couldn't cut the mustard. It really takes that long to give them a fair chance at success, and to review the first fruits of their labours - or otherwise.)

In both cases, success depends on selection and briefing. Never delegate either task. Do it yourself. And be ready to spend as long as it takes with the individual - or team - that's working on your project.

Recent surveys have flagged up a multiplicity of problems experienced by professional call centres. Unfortunately, many such organisations are fashioned around the concentration camp model - comprising rows of sound-proof cells, occupied by headset wearing automatons, and 'managed' by an autocratic Argus who gauges success purely on the basis of 'calls out'.

Unsurprisingly - from a morale point of view - this highly automated, volume driven approach brings its own problems.

Absenteeism, and high rates of staff turnover are commonplace. According to the 1997 Call Centre Benchmarking Report, of the 106 centres surveyed, 6 experienced year on year staff turnover equivalent to 100% of the existing personnel. And average absentee rates ranged dramatically - between 4% and 20%.

The problems, I believe, stem from the lack of career development opportunities, and decision-making autonomy, of the operators. Unless you're running a survey - or selling a low value product - you'll want to work with a more enlightened company. And a more sophisticated, better motivated - better remunerated - class of tele-seller.

Never forget: Those operators are your representatives. So you want - you need - the very best. And you, or the agency, should be prepared to reward them accordingly. Cost should never be the deciding factor when choosing an agency (or an employee, for that matter). The driving imperative is return on investment. I've worked with many agencies, and I can tell you: Cheap often means cheap - in every sense of the term.

You need a 'best fit' supplier - one that's worked on similar products or services in the past - with quantifiable success. (If they've worked with your competitors... So much the better.) So get references from satisfied customers.

There are inbound specialists and outbound specialists. My inclination is always to shy away from the former - unless dealing with a mass media campaign. If you're targeting your program, you're best placed and best qualified to convert the resultant leads. (That said, the importance of inbound call centres - or, at least, the inbound handling function - will increase, if cold calling falls victim to new EC legislation.)


Once you choose an agency, accept that they know their craft; listen to what they have to say.

If they've been around for a while - operating in your industry - they'll have invaluable insights to share with you. So heed their words - their thoughts on your data, script, lead management, delivery... They can add value and expertise.

To help them, your brief should be thorough and comprehensive, dealing with all eventualities. Set out the parameters - the results you're seeking, payment arrangements, review processes, etc. - and supply all the supporting information you can.

Needless to say, your data must be accurate, current and relevant. The more background information your operators have, the better qualified your leads, the more certain your success. (Deliver the best pitch in the world, to the wrong people, and you're sure to fail.)

Interview each operator in turn. Encourage feedback and queries. And be available to help, when and where needed. Idle guesswork on the part of the ill-informed operators will not help your business case. You should conduct regular reviews and appraisals. Discuss objections (encourage detailed record keeping) and results. That way you can quickly and easily identify and correct weak spots.

In short, under no circumstances walk away with the belief that outsourcing your tele-selling is a painless alternative. It's not. It's just a different kind of pain.

My preference? Wherever it's viable, keep your cash in your wallet. Tele-selling can actually be fun. It's certainly effective. At worst it's just laborious. But something to be feared? Hey, what's the worst that can happen?

To the reluctant reps I paraphrase a wise woman, who said: Feel the fear and do it anyway.

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