Tips for Productive Sales Calls

Whether you are a seasoned sales pro or getting started in your first job as an inside sales rep, several tried and true practices increase productivity and increase your chance for successful calls.

From a high level, the name of the sales game is numbers. Do what it takes to fill each section of your sales funnel, right? Nurture your prospects and move them down the funnel towards closing. Of course markets and the people that make them up are unique, so there are a variety of methods for filling the funnel. For some consumer goods markets and even some B2B product/software markets, content marketing and inbound strategies may work well. For other markets however, direct sales (phone work and face to face meetings) still net the most fish.

But let’s set aside theory and the macro view and consider sales from the seller’s perspective.

A recent software launch I worked on required me to make a high number of cold calls in a short period of time. I spent almost two weeks going through product and industry training with the company. I familiarized myself with all of the features and benefits and how to position the software (and company) in front of prospects. Then I turned my attention to readying myself to call strangers and try to convince them give me enough time on the phone to take them through a software demo.

Now, let me say I’ve been on the receiving end of more sales calls than I care to remember. For the past five years, I was a B2B software provider’s prime suspect. I’ve heard probably hundreds of fast-pitch phone introductions, power voicemails, and “FOMO” (fear of missing out) pitches. For many of them, I either politely declined to take anything past the intro call, passed the caller to a colleague (guilty!) or in very few cases where a caller was too persistent or pushy, offered a curt “No!” and hung up. Thinking back on those calls – the unsuccessful and successful ones – has been a helpful form of self-advice. What was it about the ones that got past the first few breaths and pregnant pauses and caused me to say, “Sure, I’ll listen.”

I’ve learned for me there are a few key ingredients to getting in the right mindset and kicking a day of calls off on the right foot:

  1. Develop and maintain a mental and physical edge. To be a peak performer, you need energy. For me, this means finding time each day for exercise and also for thinking/meditation time.
  2. Write an honest script. By honest I mean one devoid of slick sales pitches. Just figure out the quickest way to explain in plain terms why it is you’re calling.
  3. Smile when you dial. This is an old and often used phrase and for good reason. It works. If you don’t believe me, read Smile by Ron Gutman.
  4. Be positive! Think positive thoughts but not at the expense of ignoring reality. There is definitely a point of diminishing returns.
  5. Adopt a consistent approach. Have the conviction to make the next call even when the last one really sucked. Be persistent.
  6. Listen more than you speak. This quote from the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus is great advice – “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” You’ll learn a lot about your pitch just by listening to how prospects respond.
  7. Throw out the script! Once you know the material, you shouldn’t need one anymore.
  8. Practice! Role-play and rehearse your pitch with someone. Ask for their critical feedback. This also helps you develop key phrases to overcome common objections.
  9. Tweak your speak! Revise and optimize your pitch as you make calls. By listening, you’ll pick up what phrases and cadence works and what doesn’t.
  10. Have fun with people. It’s ok to joke and be jovial with prospects but don’t ever make them feel like you are wasting their time. Get to the point quickly but do it with a smile.

Books that have helped inspire and motivate me recently include the following:

Software that helps me stay productive and organized:

  • Trello
  • Google Docs
  • Pocket – For bookmarking articles and sites I need to read.
  • Skype – For keeping in touch with team members and making calls.
  • TeamViewer – for desktop sharing and presenting demos.

What helps you stay productive?

Agile Daily Scrum for Non-developers

Photo Credit: Bruce Cowan
Photo Credit: Bruce Cowan

Years ago I approached a senior developer at work and asked him what he thought of Agile development methodologies. With a slight smile (Or was it a smirk? We were a Waterfall shop.), he responded that Agile was only useful for Agile consultants and authors. At the time, Agile was still relatively new when compared to waterfall based methods but the number of books, groups and consultants starting to materialize signaled its rapid growth. While the pros and cons of Agile methods may still be debatable today, Agile’s popularity over the past 15 years point to its efficacy for software development.

Without going into too much detail, Agile methodologies (as laid out in the Agile Manifesto) espouse four core values and twelve principles for better developing software. The Manifesto (shorter than implied by its title) is definitely worth a read – even for non-developers – as the values and principles provide sound advice applicable to other business areas.

Recently, marketing and project management teams have adopted certain Agile processes for their use. A burgeoning Agile Marketing LinkedIn Group exists and another group recently published the “Agile Marketing Manifesto”, a take off of the original Agile Manifesto. 

Personally, I’ve used Agile Scrum in both development/product management environments and in customer service/operations teams. I haven’t explicitly used Agile with marketing campaigns (yet), but some of the best practices I’ve utilized (like test, launch, measure, review, revise) overlap with Agile values and principles. 

As director of operations for a digital signage network operator, I latched onto one of the Agile Scrum processes – the daily scrum meeting (aka stand-ups) – as a great tool to make sure our customer service team stayed focused on improving our KPIs. We met each morning at the same time and quickly answered our own variation on Agile Daily Scrum’s three easy questions:

  1. What did I do yesterday to contribute toward our goal?
  2. What am I doing today to contribute towards our goal?
  3. And what do I need help with/what obstacles do I foresee?

While the daily scrums typically focus on supporting a development sprint, non-development teams still garner benefits from the daily scrum format. 

Setting aside time each day for a scrum allows team members to stay focused during the rest of day on individual tasks and provides a disciplined approach to sharing information. Interrupting a colleague during the day to ask a quick question often seems innocuous. But consider recent research findings that it takes the average adult 25 minutes to return to the original task after interruption and you see how dangerous interruptions really are to business success (see Brain, Interrupted, New York Times, 2013).

If you follow the rules of the daily scrum, you start at the same time everyday – no matter if a team member is absent. Many scrums are held standing up, to prevent folks from getting too comfortable and digressing into a meeting. You quickly go around the room and each team member answers the three scrum questions (or some variation of, as mentioned above). If a team member hears something pertinent to their sphere of influence or a team member has a problem you can help them with, you might quickly mention it but generally save it for discussion after the scrum. Again, you don’t want the scrum to turn into a full fledged meeting.

Daily scrums also build trust amongst team members and managers by providing transparency into team member’s work progress. Since team members come each day reporting what they accomplished the day before and what they’re going to work on that day, shirkers can’t hide. You do what you say and say what you do, essentially, so clock watchers and lazy team members aren’t tolerated.

The flip side of the daily scrum is that a daily meeting – even a quick one – can sometimes be too frequent for some projects. I’ve read comments on some developer blogs that point out the daily scrum takes too much time away from busy developers. But I’ve also been part of development scrums with as many as twenty people that took no more than four or five minutes to complete. For operational teams tasked with delivering the same service each day, daily scrums may also be inconvenient for an entire team to attend.  In these cases, I suggest trying every other day or at an interval that provides enough transparency without burdening the team.