With contributions from Andrew Dornon
Enable your sellers to improve their customer interactions by dialing back call volume and focusing on talk time using quick prep.
It’s 6:32 Monday morning. The lights in the call center are flickering on and soon the office will be abuzz with sales activity. A sales manager is settling in at her desk and begins to review the previous week’s numbers and call metrics. She wonders how she’s going to message her expectations to her team around their call efforts. What is she going to say different this week as compared to her last 10 emails? 125 dials per day is asking a lot and she knows this. At the same time, this is a key metric for the sales leadership team as they laid out the roadmap for success. Deep down inside, she doesn’t love this pray and spray telesales approach she must reinforce. She longs for something different for her sellers.
Call volume: The go-to metric
Numerous sales organizations all over the world rely on a sales force of phone-based reps to drive revenue for their business. The traditional thinking in these Volume and Velocity (V&V) sales environments is to keep it a numbers game focused on call volume. The higher the number of customer “touches,” the higher the probability of closing deals. It’s not unheard of for sellers to be accountable for [God help them] upwards of 200 calls a day. Just let that sink in for a moment.
On to the next
Telesales dictates that sellers quickly pivot from one call to the next and maintain this fast pace all day, every day. There isn’t much time to do anything else other than call and notate internal systems. Sellers who aren’t cutting it quickly identify themselves by their low call volume compared to their peers and ranking at or near the bottom of the sales leaderboard in the office. These individuals are eventually coached out and replaced by the next wave of new hires, their accounts are redistributed among the new reps, and the cycle – good or bad – repeats itself.
What could be
What if, as sales managers and sales leaders, we intentionally slowed the pace for our sellers for the purpose of elevating the quality of their calls and their customer interactions? What if we pushed back on this expectation of high call volume and aligned ourselves with talk time – a metric that is arguably more appropriate for sales success; what are the potential impacts? Are 20 three to four minute quality sales conversations more valuable to the business than 100 ring-no-answers (RNAs), voicemails, and hang-ups? This is a question worth asking.
A shift towards accelerator selling
Within the BTS Sales Practice, our group has designed and deployed countless sales training experiences for Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 clients. We are evangelists of sellers becoming Accelerator Sellers – that is moving beyond the traditional approach of matching products with needs or even solutions to customer problems, and instead, focusing on ways to help customers achieve their desired business results faster (Accelerator Selling). While there are many sales motions and behaviors that Accelerator Sellers must incorporate to operate at this level, one of those is quite simply call prep. Let’s explore two extremes of call prep.
Too much of a good thing
Clearly there isn’t a lot of time in a telesales environment, so call prep can’t be 20-30 minutes of deep Internet exploration. Yet, some sellers go down this rabbit hole. These individuals over-rotate on the call prep and become narrowly focused on gathering as much information and insight about the customer as possible – to the point of avoiding picking up the phone. There will always be something more they can learn and the actual sales conversation is deprioritized. We refer to this as analysis paralysis and it gets sellers into trouble.
Out of time
The other end of the spectrum is dismissing the value of call prep entirely. Granted, this may be your reality today – though not by choice. Your sales environment dictates that your sellers can’t spend any time prepping for calls – they just simply need to pick up the phone and dial. The challenge with this approach is that when a customer actually answers the phone, the seller is often unprepared to go any deeper than a canned opening and a few weak follow-up questions. This lack of preparation puts too much at risk and has the potential to backfire miserably for the rep and their company. We refer to this as just winging it and it also gets sellers into trouble. So what’s the right balance?
The happy medium
For V&V sales, and specifically telesales, BTS reinforces an approach we call quick prep. Quick prep is just what it sounds like: spending a short amount of time (5 minutes or less) to get smart enough on a customer’s business before engaging with them. It strikes a healthy balance between extensive prep and none at all. This simple approach allows the seller to gather the most-critical pieces of information before interacting with the customer so they can engage that customer more thoughtfully. Quick prep time will vary from one telesales environment to the next, but generally speaking, two to five minutes of prep before a call can make a big difference. It also has to be structured.
Let’s break it down
Suppose a seller had just three minutes to spend in-between calls preparing for the next conversation; how should they spend that time? Our best recommendation is to spend:
- 60 seconds browsing the customer's website,
- 60 seconds skimming a related news article,
- 30 seconds identifying a relevant business trend or challenge pertaining to the customer's business and then
- the last 30 seconds pulling up the contact’s LinkedIn page and having both that and the company’s website in front of them as they’re dialing.
So instead of a call opening devoid of any value to the customer such as “Hi John, this is Tara with XYZ Company and I’m calling to introduce myself and see what projects you have going on...” followed by painful silence, the seller can deliver an opening that might go something like this:
“Hi John, this is Tara with XYZ Company. [Industry trend or challenge] is a huge priority in the [customer’s industry]. You’ve been with [customer’s business] for four years and as you’re navigating [event you uncovered in Google News], I’m curious where does [industry trend or challenge] fall in terms of your list of priorities? We’ve got some ideas and recommendations on this and I’m happy to share more details if you’d like.”
We’ll cover sales call openings in a future post, but the point is quick prep has the power to distinguish serious sellers from those who are just winging it. Just a few minutes of prep before the call can easily equip a seller with valuable knowledge about the customer’s business and enable them to hold a credible conversation and build trust – two essentials to help sellers standout in a sea of sameness.
The call to be great
The standard approach to telesales has been to focus on high call volume. However, the best sales managers and sales leaders are starting to test that thinking. They recognize the value in slowing that call volume pace a bit in exchange for their sellers being able to conduct quick prep in between calls. When used effectively, quick prep time allows sellers to show up to sales calls prepared and knowledgeable about the customer’s business and the industry and lends itself to more meaningful sales conversations. By focusing on elevating the quality of seller talk time, this can increase close rate and contribute to customer retention.
If you’re interested in knowing more about our Sales Accelerator program or any of our other standard sales programs or customized solutions, we invite you to connect with us.
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BTS, an Advantage Performance Group thought leader partner, is a global professional services firm headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, with some 500 professionals in 33 offices located on six continents. We focus on the people side of strategy working with leaders at all levels to help them make better decisions, convert those decisions to actions and deliver results.