Outbound telephone sales – getting it wrong

Stuck in the middle of a global pandemic as we are, with customers (potential and actual) confined, locked-down and quarantined, the chances are more (most?) of your sales right now are online or done by phone. Online we can leave to your fantastic, user-friendly website design (!?) but it’s a good time to think about telephone sales, and especially the dreaded cold-calling…

A heightened state of anxiety

Your potential customers and buyers are living in strange, unprecedented times. Regardless of the stage of lockdown (easing? tightening? who knows!) most people are experiencing feelings of uncertainty constraint, reduced liberty, and the sense that they can’t have or do the things they normally like to do. A recent Ipsos MORI poll found almost 60% of people in the UK are finding it more difficult to stay positive about the future. Hardly surprising given widespread uncertainty about work, finances, our social lives, and the likelihood of a vaccine.

For the telephone salesperson, that prompts two thoughts:

  • Customers may well be open to the prospect of compensation or distraction (whether that’s retail therapy, tackling practical matters that they’ve been putting off in busier times, or just happy to talk to another human being, depending on how isolated they’re feeling!)

And on the other hand…

  • …people answering unsolicited (or even solicited) phone calls are quite likely to have a shorter fuse than normal; generally speaking, patience is definitely in shorter supply.

Not that there are any specific pandemic-specific sales tips or tricks. It’s a case of being even more important to do the usual (understand how telephone communcation is different, create good first impression on the call, use effective questioning to understand the customer’s needs, show that understanding and build rapport, listen to the customer, anticipate and address objections, close the sale ethically)  and do it well because the whole situation is more tightly wound (for everyone).

Good (or bad?) timing

Now for an example of how NOT to conduct an outbound sales call. Whether it was synchronicity or coincidence, as I was sketching out the structure of this blog post, the phone rang, showing an unknown UK number (I live in Catalonia) and it turned out to be a fairly ineffectual attempt to set up a further call with a pensions advisor (they failed). It’s not that the call was terribly bad, more that it was typically bad. So, from a customer perspective, what did they do wrong?

  • When I answered, I had to say, “Hello…?” twice and wait a few seconds before the caller spoke. We haven’t even started and I’m mildly annoyed – You’re calling me, why should I have to get your attention?
  • The caller’s voice was very low volume. Bad headset or poor connection? It may be nobody’s fault but in the moment it was another mild irritation.
  • I was asked for my name/identity before the caller introduced themselves and who they were calling on behalf of. My feeling was very much, why should I tell you my name when I don’t know who you are or what you want?
  • When the introduction was made, it was just a first name and the company name, nothing to indicate what that company does or the purpose of the call. Plus, it was fast and garbled (and low volume, remember). I’ve no intention of naming and shaming here but even if I did, I couldn’t.
  • I was then asked to confirm where I lived. At this point, I still don’t know who they are or what they want but they think I should share/confirm personal information?
  • Before I ran out of patience completely, I asked, “What are you selling?” Blunt, yes. But if the call had gone differently so far, I wouldn’t have needed to ask. The response was a second or two of silence, leaving me feeling that I’d cut across a script and the caller wasn’t sure how to respond.
  • When the response came, I deduced (i.e. it still wasn’t clearly explained) that they wanted me to agree to a call with a specialist advisor to transferring any UK pensions that I might to a QROPS fund.
  • Throughout the short call, the caller spoke rapidly, indistinctly, and seemed nervous – hardly confidence-inspiring.
  • The best bit was after I’d politely said no, thank you and would they remove my number from their list. I got a calm and pleasant, of course and they wished me a nice day. The impression at my end was that they were relieved the call was over (I promise you, I may not have been the ideal ‘scripted’ call recipient but I didn’t raise my voice, swear or  behave impatiently).

Yes, I may be being unfair to the poor caller here, but the intention isn’t to analyse their performance from a sales technique perspective. Regardless of technique, good or bad, this was my honest reaction and feelings as the recipient of a cold call on a Friday morning. Maybe I’m an especially grumpy old so-and-so but I don’t think so. Perhaps a more professional or skilled caller still wouldn’t have got that agreement to a future appointment from me but I do have a UK pension, I am in the QROPS age bracket, and I can’t honestly say I have 100% confidence in my future financial security. Done differently, they could have engaged my interest and who knows…?


If your outbound sales people are cold-calling and you want your potential customers to have a better experience than I did, check out our website to see how we can assist. Or give us a call on 01582 463463, we’re here to help.

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