No IT Calls

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Making a phone callHere’s an question I received last week.

Hi Sean,

Firstly I would like to thank you on your weekly emails. They have been thought provoking and really helped with my conversion to a competent salesperson. I am always surprised by the variety of subjects that you cover and hope this request for help brings back many more ideas.

I sell products and services and are often hit with the brick wall that is reception. “No cold calls are taken by IT”. Whilst I can empathise with this view point it is not helping me sell more!! The way for these companies to look at new products/services is by sending post and then they reply if they are interested. I am interested in your thoughts on this as I rarely, if ever respond to what I would consider SPAM and am not sure why anyone else would. Should I just concentrate on the lower hanging fruit?

They have been saying that it is company policy but whether that is something that gatekeepers learn or not, I cannot tell. As I am sure you are aware there are a lot of people in the IT industry and if they put through all of the “sales calls” then the IT Manager would get nothing done. I understand why they do this but it should also be due diligence that different products / services are looked when decisions are made. My experience of when I have bypassed the reception (occasionally we have old contacts that facilitate this) then when I find the correct person they tend to be in the wrong frame of mind for selling to (i.e. annoyed that I got past reception). Not all receptionists do this and some are very helpful (which helps for motivation). Do you think postal SPAM is likely to work with these companies, or should I leave these for the instant wins?
I suppose the counter point is that they are likely to talk to less people and would be more reliable customers but they are likely to take a lot of time. Any ideas?

John Morris
ABC Computer Services (made up company name)

Here’s my ideas:

Ok, I think I understand exactly what the situation is, and I have some interesting thoughts for you, though they may not be what you were expecting. First, you are right, it is not time to give up the ship and turn to hoping and wishing that you get calls or responses to literature that you send in the post. You can more effectively get through to the people you are trying to reach by learning to deal with four challenges.

1. An M & M Infection
2. Projecting the right image
3. Empathic listening skills
4. Terminating a call

As you explained, it is obvious that somehow, almost before you have said anything, that the gatekeeper; (receptionists) has labeled you as “sales person” and that this is a “sales call.” Somehow you are projecting the image of the call that they are supposed to stop. This is M & M or Money Mouth. M & M is that sound, that voice or demeanor that acts like a warning beacon to prospective customers and GKs.
Here are a few steps to eliminate M & M.

First DO NOT SMILE and lose the enthusiasm. Don’t begin your call with a big enthusiastic smile on your face. It is true that people can “sense” if you are smiling and they can feel your enthusiasm over the phone; but that is the problem. If you think about it, you will see that there is no logical reason for you to be so hyped and excited to speak to a stranger, unless you wanted something. It is unnatural and usually projects the image of the stereotypical telemarketer.

To protect against this, make absolutely certain there is no hint of a smile on your face when you make that cold call. Do not be enthusiastic. You want to sound professional, but subdued and like an executive that is no one who has time to play games. This alone, will get you pass a lot more of those receptionists.

Another step in eliminating M & M and to begin to project a professional and trusting image, is: DO NOT BE PERFECT. In every normal, natural phone call and conversation (that is other than a sales call) there are stutters, mistakes and small broken chains of thought. However, in a sales call, the sales person is deliberately trying to sound professional and flawless and inadvertently removes all of the natural tendencies that are present in everyday speech. This creates an unnatural and abnormal “tone” to the call, in particularly in the very beginning of the call.

If you listen carefully, you will see that about 80% of every phone call that is natural, they begin with what I call a “fumble.” The caller has a brief hesitation, almost as if collecting their thoughts before they speak. Calls actually begin with, “Ah” or “Yes, uhm” or something like this. It is a split second, almost imperceptible fumble. But when that fumble is missing, because the sales person is rehearsed and has said the same words a thousand times; the person receiving the call, though they do not know exactly why, feels that there is something “not right” with the call. Add to that lack of a “natural” sound; the big smile and overly enthusiastic pep, and you begin to see why the red “sales person!” flag goes up almost after you said hello.
With the GK and the DM, lose the smile; kill the enthusiasm and add in a small fumble:

GK: ABC Technologies
You: Yes, uh, Steve Johnson, please
GK: Who may I say is calling?
You: Oh, I’m sorry. Uh, John Morris–ABC Computer Security—is he in today?

GK: Hold please

DM: Steve speaking

You: Yes, uh, Steve Johnson?

Also, do not say, “May I speak to…” or “Is the DM available…” Just state the name.

Now, there is something else I want to point out to you in that example and that is that you need to qualify the DM on two issues: Time and Attitude. As you mentioned, usually when you finally get to the DM, you find the timing is not right or the person does not have the right attitude or state of mind to talk to you.

In the first six to eight seconds of a cold call, you have to project a positive image, eliminate preconceived negative and stereo-typed images, and determine if the timing is convenient and if the prospect has the right attitude and an open mind to listen to you. Again, you have to do this within the first six to eight seconds and you have to do this almost non-verbally as with the fumble.

At MTD, I teach a method called “T.A.L.K.” While I can not get into the real detail of this training in this short letter, I think I can give you an overview of the first to steps; that is the T and the A.

TALK stands for Time, Attitude, Legitimize and Knead (& Need) in that in the first two steps in the process of a cold call, you must determine the time and the attitude. With the TALK method, you use pauses, fumbles and non-verbal questions along with intensely empathic listening to pull out responses from the prospect, to make the determination as to if the DM has the time and the correct attitude to talk to you.

You are going to reverse the thinking on this in that the prospect has to pass a series of tests to qualify for you to spend your time speaking to them. They must qualify by showing that they have the time and the mind for you to continue the call. If you feel that they do not have the time or if they do not have an open mind, then you will initiate the termination of the call.

So, first, listen intently to the way the DM answers the line, including how he or she actually lifts the receiver. Most sales people pay no attention to these first few seconds, but if you just listen you will see the DM gives you many clues as to time and state of mind just by the way they answer.

Listen carefully: did the DM yank the receiver of the hook? Are his words hurried, tense? Is she a little out of breath; speaking really fast; loud? Or is this DM calm and relaxed? Listen.

Then begin to ask questions (mostly non-verbal) to illicit responses from the DM and you listen and judge those responses as to the attitude of the prospect. To begin, start by using your introduction as a question. Simply raise the tone of your voice on the last word, ever so slightly, to make it into a question, and then pause.

You: Ah, yeah, Steve, John Morris, ABC Computer Security?

DM: Yeah

Now, usually the DM will respond with a quick, sort of nod-of-the-head, “Uhm-um” or “yeah” or “yeah what can I do for you?’’ basically saying “ok, what do want?” And frankly that is all you really want; the invitation to explain why you are calling. But again, your main thing in these first few seconds is to listen to determine time and attitude. Let’s look at this:

DM: This is Steve (First response: begin to judge the T & A)
You: Ah, yes, Steve Johnson? (First question)
DM: Yeah (second response—judge T & A)
You: Yeah, uh, Steve, John Morris, ABC Computer Security? (Second question) (***Also do not say, “This is John…”)

DM: Yeah, what can I do for you? (Third response)

Do you see what is happening here? This is extremely fast, but if you do this correctly and analyze the first few seconds, you will know when to continue or not. Let’s look at this another way:

DM: Steve! (with this answer, the DM speaks very fast and hurried and is almost yelling over noise in the background)
You: Ah, yes, Steve Johnson? (First question)
DM: Yeah!!! (Now you are almost certain this is a bad time, but you decide to confirm it)
You: Yeah, Steve, John Morris, ABC Computer Security? (Second question)

DM: Yeah! What is it?!

This DM did not pass the T & A qualifications and for you to continue, even if the DM does not stop you, would totally disrespect the DM and make you a stereotypical, old-school, smile & dial, telemarketer. Instead…

You: Steve, it sounds like you are swamped over there—(no pause)—listen, why don’t I get back to you when you have a moment to sit down—(no pause)—are the early mornings best for you, Steve—or do find late in the afternoon is when you might get a minute to come up for air?”

You see the difference? Now let’s say that the DM does ask for literature…

You: Steve, it sounds like you are swamped over there–why don’t I get back to you another day—is the beginning of the week better for you or is Thursday or Friday a little quieter?

DM: Well, why don’t you just send me something in the post?

You: Absolutely, Steve—but we have a ton of stuff, and I want to make sure to ONLY send you information relevant to your situation—that’s why I wanted to talk with you for just a moment—I can get back to you late today—or should I just wait until Monday?
You: Certainly, Steve, and thank you. I’ll get that out to you and follow up—is next week good, or should I get back to you around the first of the month?

Again, John, this is an extremely quick overview of these techniques, but I think you can get the idea. We have a lot of detailed material on these subjects including a lot of teaching on getting pass strong and sophisticated Gatekeeping screens.

But in the mean time, remember:
First eliminate the M & M: get rid of any hint of a smile in the beginning of the call, kill the enthusiasm and don’t be perfect. Then use a small raise in tone to begin asking those non-verbal questions to judge the DM’s Time and Attitude. Use pauses to pull out responses to judge state of mind. And terminate those calls that do not pass the T & A qualifications.

Happy Selling


Sean McPheat

MTD Sales Training | Sales Blog

450 sales questions free report

Originally published: 9 June, 2008