Posted: 11th May 2015
One client of mine posts a leaflet and a covering letter on a regular basis to a carefully targeted list of prospects. She knows that if she follows up her mailing with a telephone call, she’ll get better results in terms of converting prospects to customers, but she’s always somewhat nervous of appearing too pushy or intrusive. Sound familiar?
This is a fairly classic scenario, but telephone follow-up also works in many other situations whether you’re dealing with private individuals (consumers) or other business people – for example, after you’ve met someone at an event (a workshop, a trade or craft fair, or a networking meeting), or after someone has called you to request a brochure. They’ve shown an interest in you, you already know a bit about them, you’ve already invested some time and effort in them, you think they’re a good prospect – what are you waiting for?! If handled appropriately, they’ll be impressed with your professionalism and really believe that you do want to do business with them.
And telephone follow-up is not just for prospective customers, but potential partners, suppliers, people who may refer you, media contacts, and so on.
I’m going to assume that whatever marketing activity leads into the telephone follow-up, you are doing that activity well – for instance, that you are making a genuine offer of interest to your target audience, to a named contact, in an appropriate and legal way.
OK, so here we go – top tips on how to do it with confidence, without the hard sell heebie-jeebies.
Individuals and businesses in the UK can register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) in order not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing telephone calls. You must therefore check your numbers against the TPS list, otherwise you risk a complaint and a £5000 fine. See “Snippets” below for sources that I use to check telephone numbers and generally keep up to date with legislation and best practice.
Make sure you know what you want to achieve with the call. My view is that there are generally three parts to this. First, you need to establish in your own mind if this person really is a true prospect – you need to “qualify” them a little more. Second, if the signs are right, you then want to steer them to your desired outcome. This may be to book a free consultation, invite them to an event, or send them a full brochure or proposal. The third part is to make sure you get their permission to stay in touch and get any contact details you don’t already have, such as their email address. This is especially important if they are a true prospect but just not in the market right now.
If you’ve posted a leaflet, end your covering letter by saying that you will call them next week to follow-up, see if you can arrange a meeting, or whatever. If at an event, seek out the person before you leave, shake hands, and say that you will call them and when. And make sure you do exactly what you say you are going to do!
OK, it’s the day you said you would call. Feeling nervous? Prepare your opening couple of lines, but try not to read it like a script. Then, start off by making a call to someone you know and like – a “keep in touch” call to an established client, a fellow business person, your best friend, your mum – anyone to get in the swing of talking naturally on the telephone. For added confidence, you may like to try standing up while you talk – and smile. Yes, it really does work. If you’re smiling while you talk, this warmth comes across to the other person and helps you feel good too. Try visualising the call – play it through in your mind, with you successfully steering the call through to your desired outcome. You can even role-play it with a friend.
So now you’re raring to go but, oh no, you get voicemail. I always say never leave a voice message if you don’t already have a relationship with the person you’re calling. Firstly, just try calling two or three times, but at different times of the day or week. If this doesn’t work for me and I’m calling a business person, I’ll try the switch board or ask to speak to their PA or someone else in their office. I then explain that I am trying to reach X, but keep getting his voicemail and ask what the best time is to reach him and if they can give me X’s email address so that I can drop him a short email. This approach also works if someone else answers the call.
Hurrah! You’ve got the person you want where you want them, on the other end of the telephone. Now, this isn’t going to be a monologue, because that will come across like a sales pitch. What you are aiming for is two-way communication – just like when you call your best friend for a chat. Aim for a short but clear introduction – say why you are calling and refer to what has gone before (the mailing you sent or when you met).
At this point, I always ask “Is it convenient for you to talk right now?”. However interested they are, they may be on their way out, having lunch, or just generally have their mind on other things. So the conversation may go something like this:
X, “Well, I do have a meeting starting in about 15 minutes.” Me, “OK, when would be good time for me to call you back?” X, sounding relieved, “Tomorrow’s looking OK, not too much in the diary.” Me, “Great, what time tomorrow would be best for you?” X, “Oh, first thing’s good for me, just after 9.00.” Me, “OK, I’ll call you tomorrow just after 9.00, on this number. Look forward to it and thanks for your time today.”
When you get talking, have a couple of open questions up your sleeve to bring them into the dialogue early on.
Now this conversation is probably going to be fairly short, but a) you can learn a lot and b) ideally you are trying to steer your prospect into opting in to whatever it is you are offering in this call – or agreeing an alternative satisfactory outcome. Therefore you need to listen carefully to what they are saying and how they are saying it – so that you can respond or ask the next question appropriately. This lets them know you are listening and that you are interested in them. You need to make sure that whatever outcome you reach by the end of the call, it is one that you are both buying into.
Now, the worst that can happen is that you find out that this person has no interest in or need for your offering. However, they have spent time with you. This means that what you have learnt should be valuable to you at some level – to further develop your product or service perhaps, or because you now know more about a certain competitor. And, most importantly, if you have come across well and impressed them, they may well refer someone else to you.
If you have established that this is a relationship that you both want to continue and they have now given you their email address, drop them a quick line later the same day to confirm the outcome of the call – or do it the old fashioned way and send a short letter, perhaps with a copy of your business card. Make it personal and refer to a couple of points from the conversation. Again, it will underline your professionalism and it will make sure that they really do have your contact details. And, need I say, if you have promised to do something – send them a web site link, introduce them to someone else, or send a proposal – make sure you do it and do it before too much time goes by.
Now there’s quite a lot here, so try picking out just two or three things that you could do differently to start with – and don’t forget to let me know how it goes!
Jane Heaton is a freelance marketing consultant who works with large and small companies, in the private and public sector, in both business and consumer marketplaces.
The Direct Marketing Association’s Preference Services enable businesses to register their wish to opt out of receiving unsolicited telephone calls, and consumers to register their wish to opt out of receiving unsolicited messages by mail, telephone, fax or email. Find out more at www.dma.org.uk.
In order to check telephone numbers for Telephone Preference Service registration, I use www.marketingfile.com. Here, you can check numbers one at a time for free. However, if you need to check a lot of numbers this is a bit time consuming, so you can purchase bulk credits for a small fee. It works out at 1p per number and you also get a handy Microsoft Excel plug-in that makes the whole process quick and easy.
www.icompli.co.uk is a good source of information about all things to do with data, electronic communications, and complying with legislation – including a free “opt-in, opt-out” flowchart so that you can check your own processes. Take a look at the “Marketing” section under “Your Focus”.
Top tips on how to make follow-up phone calls with confidence