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Pick Up The Phone
By John Barrows | October 12, 2016

The desktop office phone is going the way of older technologies like eight-tracks, VCR, tapes, CDs, and fax machines. It’s being replaced by smartphones and social media. Inside sales organizations are quiet ghost towns these days and the only background noise is the pitter patter of fingers typing away on keyboards. More and more executives are coming to me to express frustration about never hearing their reps on the phone. Regardless of the results of any team or how effectively they are applying “social selling” to produce successful outcomes, the lack of sound activity as managers walk through their offices is becoming a point of contention.

Most sales executives today grew up in the bullpen era where all we had was a phone, a printed spreadsheet, or sometimes — even better — just the Yellow Pages. You had to make more calls and be louder than your cube-mate to stand out and get ahead. (Think Boiler Room or Pursuit of Happiness.) So, these modern days of silence just don’t feel right sometimes.

The lack of calling is somewhat justified since it seems like most people rarely pick up the phone anymore. Response rates from voicemails average in the .02% range. The younger generation even admits they think an unannounced call is an interruption and is rude. This perception coupled with the low response makes the avoidance of the phone understandable, but it doesn’t make it right.

Professor Albert Mehrabian’s communications model helps us understand this modern phenomenon. His findings break down how people communicate: 7% words, 38% paralinguistic (the way that the words are said), and 55% facial expression or body language. Translating that into sales: 100% of the way we communicate is achieved through in-person meetings, 45% is achieved over the phone, and only 7% is e-mail.

These statistics help show why our sales efforts can be so much more effective if we can get someone on the phone, even for just a few minutes, instead of going back and forth over e-mail. We’re a rather sarcastic group here in Boston. Have you ever tried to put sarcasm into an e-mail? How’d that work out for you? Over the phone you can at least hear that sarcasm or recover from it if someone doesn’t get it. You can develop rapport and help build relationships over the phone. You’re a person and not just some text on a digital screen that can get deleted or dumped into a spam filter. You can qualify much more effectively and quickly over the phone versus over e-mail. And, by the way, like it or not, the decision makers in today’s world grew up before social media and e-mail.  I’m “only”40 and I can still remember going to college and having just a few computer rooms on campus. You had to wait in line to get in to use a dirt slow desktop computer with limited search functionality.

E-mail is obviously the number one way of communicating in business today but in my opinion it should really only be used for two reasons: 1) as part of a contact strategy to set up phone calls/meetings and 2) to follow up from phone calls/meeting. E-mail should not be used as a form of conversation or a qualification method. With that, our initial e-mails to prospects should be short and to the point (think: 2 scrolls on your smartphone), should add value, and should have a strong call to action. They should be coupled with effective phone calls as part of our overall contact strategy. Everything we do through e-mail should be to drive to calls or conversations.

Here are a few tips on how to make your calling more effective:

  • Stand up when making your calls – you’re more confident and your voice resonates far better.
  • Start every call off with this phrase: “The reason for my call today is…” and make sure you have reason for your call.
  • Remove “weak words” from your vocabulary.
  • Leave voice mails for yourself to hear what you sound like over the phone.
  • Leave voice mails for your colleagues and managers and ask for feedback.
  • Schedule “Power Hours” once or twice a week: grab 2-3 of your colleagues, your lead lists, a conference room and a speaker phone. Everyone stand up and make round-robin calls to see/hear/learn what works and what doesn’t in live situations.

Have fun with it. We’re not curing cancer here.

Make it happen.

P.S. if you want more tips on how to be effective on the phone, check out my Resource Library.

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