Are you afraid to pick up the phone?

Recently VOICE Marketing tweeted a link to their blog with a post of the same title. The post was about the fear many people have of picking up the phone to make that all important call to a potential customer. However my initial reaction was that they were referring to picking up the phone when it rings!

I’ve no doubt that VOICE’s people are total professionals, but the main reason I am afraid to pick up the phone is that the majority of marketing calls are made by people who are very obviously not professional. It’s got to the stage here where I will not answer any calls on the domestic landline unless I’m expecting one or feeling bored or lucky.

Don’t get me wong – I’m not one of those paranoid miseries who think that any form of direct selling is a scam and that saying “no” to everything is the best way to stay in control of your life. I’ll buy from doorstep sellers, I’ll talk to in-store demonstrators and charity muggers, I’ll give money to buskers and beggars. You want to tell me about something, hey, I’ll listen.

So what are the kind of calls make someone like me afraid to pick up the phone?

There are two categories of call, the cold, and the warm. The cold is as you may know, a random one, made simply by going though a list of numbers. The warm is where calls are made to customers who are pre-qualified in some way, normally by being existing customers. Well those are MY definitions.

I am actually a fan of cold calling. Done right it can be one of the best ways to reach customers.

But done wrong…..

The grossest offenders are those who cannot communicate effectively on a personal level by which I mean they have trouble getting their words out or in the right order and seem not to have been trained or even given a script. I pity them, really. If their lives weren’t desperate enough in the first place they must be getting more desperate with every call. Admittedly they do try to built some kind of rapport, and even if they get my name wrong  they do generally ask how I am doing today. But it all goes downhill from there, though with a little help and guidance I can usually manage to coax out of them exactly what they are selling.

What are their employers thinking of?

The next worst are those who think that by making out you’re not selling something and concealing what exactly it is that you’re selling, you’re actually going to maximise your sales. Many of these play dangerous games with compliance claiming to be doing a government survey or simply lying outright about who they are actually calling from. Sadly they seem to have a script only, lack any real training and can quickly be thrown by the right questions. I am sure they must meet with some success but the failure rate must too be phenomenal.

However by far the most common cold-callers are those who have obviously been trained and more obviously have a script, but go straight into qualification, classically “Can I speak to the owner of the house” or “I want to speak to anyone who owns a car”. The abrupt, almost demanding nature of these calls, gets a straight answer from me – “no”. How many more “No”s do they get? Just a little rapport building and they might just have found out that the house owner is indeed present and there are two cars at the address.

So what of the warm callers? Are they any better?

Overall the answer is yes, if only because they are liable to be calling from, or on behalf of, companies I already do business with, and who have reputations to maintain. But they still have their faults and I would aim to avoid most of them.

Generally the warm calls that I (used) to get were trying to feed off my paranoia (in principle a good idea) by selling me some kind of add-on insurance that would protect my phone  from being cloned by international terrorists,  compensate me if  an online pet shop stole my hamster’s identity etc etc

Although these calls tend to be quite professionally delivered, I got the impression that the agent had been trained primarily in persistence and that on the wall of the contact centre in big letters was written THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A GENUINE OBJECTION. This can make for a difficult end to the call for the agent and the customer and much wasted time for both.

OK I am not the greatest salesman in the world but if,  for example, a potential customer tells me they are a small company on a tight budget and cannot even afford my fees, I believe them, I might even drop them some pro-bono advice. I would never prolong the call and get myself (and the potential customer) into a situation where the call ended in either an argument or an admission of defeat. I would judge that pro-bono advice as a win, if not financially then certainly in terms of reputation.

The other problem with warm calls is that often the agents aren’t experts in what they are selling, the assumption presumably, and perhaps justifiably,  being that customers are likely to ignorant. Some of us aren’t though and even when we are, we tend to ask  questions. There is no bigger sales killer than not being able to answer your potential customer’s queries but this happens all too often.

So what would make me more willing to pick up the phone? We already live in a climate where regulation and compliance are an increasing burden to honest businesses while being no barrier to crooks, so I’m not going to suggest that is the route. But I think somehow all those who make outbound calls need to work to the standards of the best for the benefit of all.

Because you know what?  IF the next time I picked up the phone,  just on a whim,  and found a friendly voice who was interested in me and honest about what they were selling, and who left me with something ,  (maybe just a good feeling!) even if the sale wasn’t right for me, I might just be tempted to pick up the phone more often.

So if you are in the game of phoning up customers either potential or existing, ask yourself two questions: first, “Am I recruiting and training people as carefully as possible?” Second “If I knew one of my people was going to phone ME up, would I be afraid to pick up the phone?”

If you answer NO and YES then I would suggest that you are not only peeing people off on a routine basis and a massive scale but are constantly moaning about staff performance and turnover while failing to grasp just how much business you are losing. You need to have a think about what you are doing and perhaps outsource your marketing or re-evaluate your whole recruitment and training thing.

If you can answer YES and NO then my guess is that you already have “got it” and not only will you be doing good business but you’ll also be doing a lot of frightened people a very big favour!

Anyone wishing to comment please call  0114 321 1861 and leave a voicemail.


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