Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

THE TELEPHONE can be effectively used to support a sale; but its effectiveness in conducting a “full sale” is debatable. If the product is a well-known brand, sold at a very low price, or the customer is simply ordering or reordering a consumable, it can save an enormous amount of time and energy, negating the need for a face-to-face sales meeting. In all other cases, the salesperson will have to discuss the product (or service) in detail and this will almost certainly entail a sales presentation or meeting.

Where the phone really comes into its own is in setting appointments and perhaps providing the briefest of introductions to self, company, and products. However, clients have the opportunity of rejecting a telephone call. With today’s cellular phones and networks, unsolicited calls will show up as “caller unknown”; when the caller is known, the customer can always decline the call. But, providing you have the right number, it has the advantage of contacting the customer directly without passing through a secretary or underling.

As I say, the phone is an ineffective tool when it comes to conducting the sale. But it does allow useful information to be gathered prior to a sales meeting. It allows for better preparation, the right sales collaterals to be brought to the meeting, and, perhaps most importantly, allows the sales executive to find out what his customer is interested in discussing.

To sell effectively, a salesperson relies on both verbal and nonverbal skills. When the telephone is used, expressions, gestures, diagrams, samples, and demonstrations cannot be used. The salesperson is also denied many of his client’s nonverbal cues which are normally used to determine selling strategy. In a face-to-face meeting, expressions and gestures will tell the salesman a great deal about the customer’s intentions, likes, and dislikes and appropriate behavior can be determined accordingly. On the telephone, the salesman has little more than responses to question and his customer’s tone of voice.

To put this in perspective, the results of research conducted in the US showed that salespeople who were proficient when meeting with customers often performed poorly when selling over the phone. Initially, the researchers believed that the verbal skills required in face-to-face selling were different from those used over the telephone. Subsequently, they established that the verbal skills (asking questions and determining needs) were exactly the same. They found that whereas a proficient salesperson would ask plenty of questions in a face-to-face meeting, he would tend to make statements and push his products over the phone.

Whether the sale is conducted at a sales meeting or over the phone, the salesperson should strive to uncover problems and needs. It is worth considering that an unsolicited call from a faceless salesperson will spark little, if any, interest or enthusiasm. However, customers are less likely to become bored and disinterested if they are actively involved in the conversation. A conversation, by definition, means that both parties converse. Hardly the case if the salesperson is enthusiastically gushing about his product!

One of the most common mistakes made on the phone is sounding pushy. Allowing his enthusiasm to get the better him, the salesperson ends up raving about his product without considering the application or use to which his client will put it. Rarely will the sale result in anything other than the client making polite platitudes and making every effort to curtail the call as soon as possible.

Just to put this in perspective, I am constantly being badgered by hotels and banks offering “membership clubs,” credit cards, and loans. I feel no obligation to be polite and, frankly, see no use for the proffered services or products. So I either curtail the call with “not interested” or just hang up the phone.

The phone is an important business tool and, provided it is used well, can save both you and your customers a lot of time. However, there is no substitute for getting out and meeting your clients. Use the telephone to set appointments, maintain contact, clear up minor issues, arrange the logistics of delivery and payment, and research your client. But remember, if you are going to use it to sell, don’t drop the important behaviors of asking questions and listening carefully to what the client says they want.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant and currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.