‘Wing it!’ OR start well every time? - 3rd May 2019

In a recent blog, I debunked three myths about sales. The third – “You can’t train sales because every conversation is different” – causes more damage to the ability of salespeople to perform than any other. Why so?

If you accept that it is impossible to train for something unpredictable, then you probably also accept that it’s not worth practising for something unpredictable. How can you practise when you don’t know what will happen?! We are already in a dangerous position here.

When going into battle, generals don’t just say, “Listen lads, we’ve got no idea what the other lot are going to do so let’s just turn up and go for it. No plans. Just run out there and give it a go.”

That would be madness. They assess likely outcomes. They have a Plan A. Plan B. C. D and E. Within those plans, personnel must also retain the freedom to make on the spot decisions based on the evidence in front of them, of course. It’s a balance between preparation and flexibility. But it’s not turning up and seeing what happens. Just because you can’t prepare for everything doesn’t mean you should prepare for nothing.

So, what has all this got to do with making a good first impression in a sales call, an impression that gives you the best chance of standing out from the crowd?

It’s this: most salespeople, accepting the false presumption that you cannot prepare for phone calls because they’re all different, just pick up the phone and, when the client answers, they ‘wing it’. Having the speed of thought and ability to change tack in sales is, of course, important but that doesn’t mean you are at your best just ‘winging’ it all the time.

Every phone call is not that different, particularly the beginning. The prospective client picks up the phone. They say hello. They say their name and perhaps their company name. They stop talking. It’s now your turn. You have 15-20 seconds to interest them in what you have to say to make them think ‘This is worth a few minutes’. You can prepare for that, practise that and perfect that. I’m not talking about a script but a reliable, consistent structure.

Let’s put ourselves in the client’s shoes for a moment. Once they realise that it’s not their husband / girlfriend / boss on the phone, there is an internal groan and they’re thinking ‘Why should I speak to you? What’s in it for me?’

They probably have a stack of emails to answer, a pile of paperwork to read / file / bin, a day of meetings to prepare, a dinner party to organise and a holiday to book. Hearing a rambling, unprepared, unfocused opening to a call is unlikely to grab them, unlikely to earn you the right to speak to them today.

You may recall that I believe sales conversations must progress through four essential steps. The first one is ‘Earn the right to speak’. Your pitch will not be heard, your questions will not be answered, your ability to close will disintegrate if you don’t earn the right to speak to someone at the very beginning.

So, how do you open up sales conversations powerfully and consistently? I suspect many of you know the answer. Every experienced salesperson does. It’s so simple they all know it. However, less than 10% of salespeople do it (remember the first myth… “Knowledge is power.” No! The use of knowledge is power. Without use, it’s useless).

Here’s the structure for the first 15 seconds of sales calls: Name & company; Reason for call; Question. That’s it.

Short, sharp, clear, direct. All delivered in a confident, authoritative tone of voice like you expect they want to speak to you today (more about the proven persuasive power of authority in later article).

On cold calls, nothing else should be said. No ‘How’s your day today?’ (you don’t know me, you don’t care, you’re wasting my time). No ‘Any plans for the weekend?’ (ditto). No ‘I know you’re a terribly busy person and don’t have much time to speak…’ (If true, I’d rather you cut to the chase and tell me why you’re calling).

Here’s an example from my world: “Good morning John. This is Paul Owen from Sales Talent, specialists in the recruitment and training of salespeople. John, the specific reason for my call today is to find out how you get the best out of your sales team and, if relevant, to introduce you to the simple, effective ideas we use with our clients to improve sales performance. Are you the right person to talk to about this, John?”

Simple isn’t it? I said you’d know the answer. Yet 90% of you won’t be opening calls in this clear, simple manner. Your teams say ‘It’s just a quick call…’ or ‘I thought we could have bit of a chat today about…’ or ‘I wonder if you might like to find out about what we do… for our clients… are you still there, John?’

First impressions count. We all know that. If you or your sales teams are not making a good first impression, I promise you’re losing business, burning leads, wasting sales and killing your sales team’s motivation call by call by call.

Stop winging it. Prepare for the beginning of the call. Practise it. Deliver your opening simply, clearly and consistently.

First, EARN THE RIGHT TO SPEAK. Only then can we even think about selling.