April 2014

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Sales 101 - The Art of Client Calls

In a world of texts and tweets, a phone call is still the best way to connect with clients.

Manny Mandrusiak

Manny Mandrusiak
Managing Creative Consultant,
4 Bravo Marketing

Contributing Editor

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Having just returned from two business development trips I can safely say that my smartphone is my lifeline for keeping in touch with my clients and new opportunities.  I can email, call, even text to keep in touch and cultivate sales.  Then I got to thinking about which were the most effective ways in maintaining a healthy client relationship, and which were not.

It also got me thinking about all the client calls that I have to make, and more importantly, all the cold calls. Cold calls are always a topic for discussion amongst sales reps. I try to always use the term “client calls” as cold calling always seems to produce the image of a room full of telemarketers making endless calls. The question that is raised in a lot of articles is: “ Are cold calls really as dead as many articles make them to be”, or are younger sales reps losing the art of cold calling because of societies’ growing dependence on email and text messages?   

I am a firm believer that being in front of a customer is the single best way to build a pipeline and close sales, and a client call ranks a firm number two.  Being in front of a client enables a salesperson to put all of their skills in play as they interact with their customers. When that simply is not possible then a phone call was the next best thing because it still allows for client interaction on many levels as they move through the sales cycle.

Next comes the argument of the time spent calling clients vs. the time spent emailing clients. Sales reps could very easily report that they could reach twice as many people with a message each week just by building an email list and hitting send.  A rep could report to a manager that they sent out 2000 emails this week, and by that rational contacted 2000 people. That would be true if everyone on that email list actually opened and read the email that was sent.  Anyone with an email account reading this article is instantly thinking about the number of emails that they receive every single day, not to mention all of the social media messages, instant messages, and texts. It is a tremendous amount of information that is being transferred around the web every day, and as a society we sometimes have a hard time processing it all.  Not just processing all the information, but making informed buying decisions. If a client receives six emails from six different companies regarding similar products then what is the differentiator between each company?  Which product is best for the client, and which company is going to offer the best level of customer service?  The client is left to do their own research and comparisons without the benefit of a salesperson’s product knowledge.  That can lead to a huge gap in customer satisfaction about the buying experience, and possibly deter a client from doing business with your company again as they could feel that the company you represent does not value their business enough to have an actual person speak with them. 

The argument continues with reps saying that they will call clients once they have emailed back and indicated that they are interested in a certain product.  At that point they are willing to call the client and engage in an actual conversation.  That gap between when the email was sent out to a perspective client and the actual time when the client requested more information is where a sales rep from another company (who took the time to make a phone call) will capture that client opportunity. They will provide that value added customer experience, where waiting will not.  People prefer to deal with people, and most people would prefer to pick up the phone and call their preferred vendor when they need something rather than email in with questions about a product.  If they can get the information from an actual person, and they can get it quickly, then they can get on with their day because their questions about a particular product have been answered.  They used minimal effort, got maximum results, and great customer service.

When you live in the world of sales the metrics that you live by are result driven. Number of sales, number of new clients, and number of clients called this week. If you ask any sales rep what the two most hated questions are that they get asked every week in the sales meeting they are:

  1. How much did you sell?
  1. How many calls did you make?

The sales reps that I have worked with recently have all cringed at question two.  The reason for the apprehensive cringing is that there are so many other processes and things that occupy a sales rep’s day that spending three hours on the phone calling customer’s means that they may not be able to get everything else accomplished.  “I’ll email the client” is the typical response, and that is a response based on the continued divergence from actual conversation in our society and greater acceptance of email and text forms of nonverbal communication.  Email is just so easy to use and many emails can be sent out every hour versus the ratio of calls that could be made per hour.

Getting on the phone with a client brings sales people back to the very basics of selling.  If you have sales people who refuse to make cold calls / client calls in favor of just using email to generate sales, then you need to look at getting new sales people. Email compliments a call in every way and should absolutely be used by sales people, but it should not replace the opportunity for a salesperson to establish a personal connection during a client call.  

When I have to make a client call I always try to look at my timetable for the week and identify “smart times” to make calls.  What I actually mean by finding “smart times” to call clients is to realize that they are extremely busy individuals who have the same time restrictions that I have.  They receive tons of emails and social media messages per day, just like I do, and have limited time in their schedules for flexibility.

Reliable Controls Here are some tips for keeping motivated and successful with client calls:

  1. Know the calendar - If your company is dealing across borders then every sales rep needs to know what the major holidays are for every region that they are making calls to.  It sounds like a very trivial thing, but it is actually an error that is made more often than not. A good example is the difference in the date of Thanksgiving between Canada and the US.  Two separate days occurring in two separate months where people are on holidays, or thinking about being with family on a holiday. Knowing your calendar, and the calendar of your clients/prospects means that calls can be scheduled where they will not occur when the client is not there, or when the client’s mind is focused on being somewhere else entirely. That means that the there is a greater probability of a positive response from the client to accept the call, and that increases the motivation of the sales rep to make more of them.
  1. Know the best days of the week for client calls - Monday morning is no one’s friend when it comes to making unscheduled client calls.  This is the day where everyone is trudging through their inbox’s and most reps have sales meetings to set goals for the week.  In my experience I have found that Monday morning is perfect for a quick email to set a call with a client for later in the week.  Give them the option of when to slot some dedicated time in their calendar to speak with you.  I always respect that option when people give it to me.  What is the best day of the week to make unscheduled client calls?  From my own experience I would have to say Wednesday afternoon and Thursday. When Wednesday rolls around most people have tackled the lion’s share of tough projects for the week, and are just hitting their stride at work.  It is a great time to catch them with a call because in general they are feeling good about their week getting close to the weekend.
  1. What are the best times for unscheduled calls? - I work on the rule of letting everyone that I need to call get at least one cup of coffee under their belt before hearing from me.  That means I will look at start making unscheduled client calls between 8:15 am - 9:00 am.  I have found that most meetings will start around 9:30 am and if you get too close to 10:00 am then you run into coffee break. The other timeframe that I like is between the hours of 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm.  I find that if I am calling building automation clients and private industry then this timeframe works well.  If I am calling government or public sector clients then my window of opportunity is generally from 1:30 pm – 2:30 pm.  There is always a mandatory coffee break around 2:30 pm and with all the flex schedules and job sharing most people start to leave work for the day around 3:30 pm.
  1. Plan unscheduled calls around corporate marketing campaigns - When I was running the MartrikonOPC marketing department I always used to provide a schedule of what major email campaigns and webcasts I had going on each month to sales.  The top sales reps there would schedule times to call clients around when my email marketing campaigns went out so that they not only had an express purpose to contact clients, but also so that they could discuss the email newsletter.  The purpose of reaching out to a client three hours after the email newsletter goes out is because it is still very recent in their inboxes.  To call and ask someone what they thought about the email article regarding the latest OPC Server for MOSCAD is naturally going to make the client pull up that email and look at it while on the phone.  This puts that article right in front of the client with the sales rep on the phone and utilizes both audio and visual stimulation about the product.  I always liked this sales strategy because it constantly pushes sales people to be up-to-date with the latest products and positioning while polishing their phone skills.
  1. Embrace the calls! - Time to get on my soapbox and say that no matter what argument is brought forward about email being better than calling the simple truth is that calling clients pays!  Calling clients is a critical way for salespeople to discover new, previously unidentified opportunities, and people who are dissatisfied with their current products / services and are willing to listen of a better offer. In the end people want to deal and talk with people.  Email is a tool that is important in the sales process, but when the rubber meets the road there is no greater sales tool than the salesperson themselves.

Let’s face it, making cold calls/ client calls, is not an easy thing.  Anyone who has ever worked in a sales capacity knows that it is a necessary evil because it gets results.  Sure there are negatives to making unsolicited calls to clients, but I try to look at it as practicing my craft.  Making calls means that I have to know my company’s products and services. I have to keep up-to-date, and most importantly I have to practice my elevator speech. To me that is still one of the most useful weapons in a salespersons arsenal because you never know when you will unexpectedly meet your next new client at the coffee shop and only have those precious 30 seconds to make a lasting first impression.  That is something that I find just does not translate well in an email or a text.  Reading the words on a screen just does not have the same impact and personal connection that an actual conversation does with a sales rep.  I use texts and emails as tools like everyone else, but my phone is still my preferred medium for contacting clients and closing sales.


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