A good start matters so why not do it? - 2nd February 2017

Telesales is not just about starting well. But if you don’t do that well, you don’t have the chance to do the rest of what is needed (ask questions to understand client before matching their needs with the services you offer).

In my many years of working with salespeople, I’ve spotted an anomaly in how they often start sales calls. The weird thing is this:

• The introduction is the shortest part of the conversation (15-20 seconds);
• It’s the part you do most often if you’re in sales;
• It’s the part for which you can prepare the most. If someone answers the phone, they’ll say “Hello” or something similar and then it’s your turn to speak. Very little else can happen so you don’t need to practise lots of different options;
• It is, therefore, the part of the conversation you can practise the most exactly – they answer and I have 15 seconds or so to gain their agreement to speak to me;
• Yet – and, yes, this is the weird bit – it remains probably the part of the conversation that salespeople find the hardest day in day out. Now that is strange, isn’t it?

Why is this so? Any ideas? I think there are 3 main reasons.

First, there’s the fact that too many salespeople are not trained how to do it properly. Not only does this give them less chance of doing it well, it also means that they feel less confident when starting calls.

Second, we come back to the cultural issue around sales being a dirty word. If you don’t feel good about the fact that you’re selling something, you probably feel apologetic about making calls to people. This leads people to start with “Sorry to disturb you, I know you’re busy and the last thing you want to do right now is to talk to me..”. It might make you sound like an empathetic person but it will rarely earn you the air time you need to make a good first impression.

Third, as human beings, we have an insatiable desire for variety. “Variety is the spice of life” and all that. Well, it might be the spice of life but I don’t think it’s the secret of success. I’m yet to hear many successful sportspeople, musicians or entrepreneurs extol the virtues of their life’s variety. Far more often, I hear them talking about doing the same thing again and again; I hear them talking about routines; about tenaciously sticking to a plan; about forming good habits that dictate the activities that lead to their success etc etc.

Salespeople sometimes like to ‘mix it up’ at the beginning of the call so that they maintain some variety. This misses the point, I think.

When I’m selling, I want to find out if the person I’m talking to has a problem that my company might be able to solve or a need that we could service. If they do, then it’s my job to show them how we can help. If I fail to find their need, I can’t even begin to sell my product or service. The point of the opening to my calls, therefore, is not to deliver variety to my day but to allow me to have fruitful conversations with people I can help. The best chance I have to do that is by starting my calls clearly, confidently and consistently. I’m more likely to be able to do that if I follow the same structure and do it again and again and again.

As I do it time and time again, I become more confident and this makes me better. The more I vary it, the less reliable my opening is likely to be.

Arthur Ashe, former Wimbledon tennis champion, put it beautifully and simply:

“The key to success is self-confidence. The key to self-confidence is preparation.”