When conducting lead generation and appointment setting activities, your primary objective is to get in direct contact with the relevant decision-maker, deliver your pitch, convert the prospect as a lead, or secure a time to meet and discuss your offerings in further detail.
There are a range of factors that can impede on your ability to do this. Some of which are out of your control such as the decision-maker being out of the office, being too busy to take your call or coming across a gatekeeper that just won’t budge. Others you have a bit more control with, such as your pitch, calling times, and telephone manner.
In this article, we’ve covered nine tips that you can use to increase your chances of reaching the decision-maker and to improve the quality of your interactions with your prospects.
1. Don’t Overcomplicate Your Introduction.
Your call introduction or ‘opener’ is your opening statement that you make when you get through to the gatekeeper.
Getting your opener just right can take a little bit of work, and what some people tend to do is overcomplicate the opening statement, and provide more information than necessary.
Below is an example of an over-complicated call introduction and the effect it can have on your chances of reaching the decision-maker.
What has happened here, is that the caller has given far too much information to the gatekeeper in just the opening statement. By delivering your pitch to the gatekeeper in your opening statement, you will set off alarm bells for even the most persuadable of gatekeepers, as it tells them this is a sales call. This can greatly reduce your chances of getting through to the decision-maker, and have an impact on your campaign overall.
The gatekeeper is unlikely to have buying authority for the business, and will therefore be unaware of some of the business’ product/service needs. Pitching your offering to the gatekeeper could result in the gatekeeper turning you away believing that it will be of little interest to the decision-maker, when in fact, it’s exactly what they’re looking for.
Only give the gatekeeper the information necessary for your call to be put through, which typically includes: your name, where you are calling from, and who you wish to speak to. If you are asked to give more information on what your call is about, then, of course, it’s fine to give the gatekeeper a quick rundown. If you are met with questions or objections, only provide enough information to handle the objections sufficiently or keep them on the phone.
Take the following as an example of a simple call introduction that you could use:
Caller:“Hi there, could you put me through to David, please?”
Gatekeeper:“Can I ask who’s calling?”
Caller:“Certainly, this is John from 123 Ltd.”
Gatekeeper: “Can I ask what the call is in regards to?”
Caller: “I’m looking to have a quick chat with David about ___.”
Of course, no opener will have 100% effectiveness, but this should give you a better chance of getting through to the prospect, due to the absence of typical sales-related phrases and the ‘salesy’ opening style.
Also, try to avoid including any overused industry buzz words in your opening statement that gatekeepers will be familiar with, as this can also have an impact on your chances of getting through to the decision-maker. Typical ‘salesy’ words and phrases to avoid include:
Just to name a few.
Try putting yourself in the gatekeeper’s or the prospect’s shoes. If you received a call with the same or a similar opening statement, would you be hesitant to take the call? What would your first impressions be?
2. Be Polite & Courteous.
Some telemarketers see the gatekeeper as the enemy and fail to realise that actually, it's far better to treat them as your friend. Remember that the gatekeeper is simply carrying out their job the same as you are, and being rude or unprofessional is likely to get you nowhere.
When interacting with a gatekeeper for the first time, focus on being polite and building a rapport with them. They are far more likely to put you through to the decision-maker if they like you because you have had a good and friendly conversation which is not pushy or overly blunt.
Of course, not every gatekeeper or decision-maker will reciprocate the same polite demeanour that you display, and sometimes it can be hard to keep your cool in these situations. Just remember that you are representing your entire organisation when making outbound calls and that any unprofessional acts can affect the business’ image. This is something that some telemarketers can forget.
By remaining respectful, well-mannered, and calm, you are helping to uphold the values of your organisation, promoting a professional business image, and are more likely to be successful in speaking with your desired target.
3. Adjust Your Calling Times.
There will be certain days of the week, and times of day where the decision-maker will more than likely be unavailable and getting past the gatekeeper will be far more difficult.
A good example is 9:00 am on a Monday morning. This is, for most businesses, one of the busiest times of the week. Businesses are just starting back up for the week and can be far too busy to take an unscheduled call.
Another example of a less than optimal time to call is late on a Friday afternoon. Many businesses ‘close up shop’ early on Fridays, which makes getting through to decision-makers a lot more challenging.
On the contrary, some decision-makers stay late after the gatekeeper has gone home for the weekend, and this can be the perfect opportunity to avoid the gatekeeper and get through to the decision-maker straight away.
Optimal calling times can vary between different businesses and industries and can be affected by a range of factors.
Take the summer holidays for example. If you target the education sector and you are contacting pre-schools, primary and secondary education, colleges, and universities, it’s quite likely that a good portion of their staff are also off for the summer. If the decision-maker you are trying to reach is one of these people, then you will find it rather difficult to reach them until September rolls around.
Another time that can be difficult, is towards the end of the financial year. Say for example you offer business finance solutions; the most relevant decision-maker that you will want to speak to will most likely be the Finance Director. If you run a campaign towards the end of March and beginning of April targeting Finance Directors, you will likely see a drop in your engagement rate. These decision-makers will be busy overseeing things like the annual accounts or company tax returns etc.
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the optimal calling times for the industries that you target and adjust your activities accordingly so that you are making the most of your investment in both time and money on your campaign.
4. Be Honest.
Honesty is something that can get you a long way when talking to gatekeepers and decision-makers. As the saying goes: ‘lying won’t get you anywhere’, and this is especially true in telemarketing.
Some telemarketers believe that the occasional lie can get them through to a decision-maker faster, and therefore will get them results they are looking for, faster. Although this can be true, when you stop to consider the damage that these lies can cause after the fact to both your relationship with the prospect and your professional reputation, is it really worth it?
One example of a fairly common lie is telling the gatekeeper that the decision-maker is expecting your call, when in fact, this is the first time you are interacting with them.
When using this lie, you may be put through to a decision-maker faster, it’s true; but once the lie is uncovered, which let’s face it, won’t be hard to do, you could have just ruined an otherwise solid business opportunity. Who wants to do business with someone who comes across as dishonest and deceptive?
Being honest sets the example that your business is built on honesty and integrity and helps to maintain your professional reputation and image.
Honesty is also something that is valued in the long-term as well. Sometimes you may contact a prospect who expresses interest in your offering, but after looking closely at their business and their needs, you realise that they simply wouldn’t receive the full benefits of your offering. If you carried on regardless of this fact and pushed for the sale, you could be damaging your business later down the line, after the customer realises that what you are offering doesn’t work for them.
Being honest and telling them from the start that it wouldn’t work for them in their current position, you are once again displaying that your business truly believes in upholding trust and honesty. And who knows, later down the road, they may be in a place where the offering is perfect for them, and they will be far more likely to remember your business and your honesty at this stage.
5. Vocabulary & Wording.
The vocabulary that you use when conducting your telemarketing activities, can have a big influence on the direction and success of the call. By avoiding business jargon and words that can come across as ‘salesy’, you can increase your chances of getting through to the decision-maker tremendously and can help to make interactions with said decision-maker far more effective.
Remember that gatekeepers receive dozens of telemarketing and sales calls each day, and can easily recognise these calls through just the vocabulary alone. The words and phrases to be avoided when carrying out your calls will vary depending on what it is you are calling about, however, there are some that should be avoided no matter what industry you are in, and it’s a good idea to take the time to familiarise yourself with these words and phrases.
Some of these words and phrases include:
“How are you?”
If this is your first interaction with the prospect, this question isn’t exactly appropriate. You don’t know them; they don’t know you. The likely response to this question will be “Fine.”. This question is more suitable for when you have had previous interactions with the prospect and have built a solid foundation and rapport that can support a more casual conversation. But try to avoid this question on all initial interactions.
“I don’t know.”
This phrase can be an immediate turn-off for interested prospects, but the wording can be adapted to retain interest and show your determination for customer satisfaction. From time to time, a prospect may ask a question that you simply do not have the answer to, that’s fine, you can’t know everything. Whether this question is about your offering’s features, pricing, specifications, your company’s history, experience etc., if you don’t know the answer, you don’t know the answer.
Using the phrase “I don’t know” displays a lack of knowledge and experience with the company and offering that you are trying to promote. Alternative responses could be “I’m not entirely sure about that.”, “I will find out for you.”, “I will look into that and get back to you”.
“Is this a good time to talk?”
Asking the prospect this question gives them the opportunity to object to your call before it has even started. An alternative question to this could be: “Have I caught you at a bad time?”. When receiving cold calls, people often stick to one word: “No”. This is their way of keeping their guard up, so asking questions like “Is this a good time to talk?”, will more often than not get a reply of “No”, or “Not really”. By altering the wording of your questions, you could have a better chance of keeping the prospect on the phone, giving you more time to gain their interest.
6. Research Your Targets.
Depending on your business and your approach to telemarketing, you may be targeting a variety of business types and sizes with the same strategy. This means that one business that you are calling may be completely different from the last.
Depending on how copious your data is, you may not be aware of the differences between your prospect’s businesses. Most data lists simply include the company name, industry, and of course, the contact’s name and details.
By conducting a quick bit of research you can learn a considerable amount about who you are calling, what it is they do, and how you might need to alter your pitch slightly to maximise your chances of generating interest with the decision-maker and securing that appointment.
This ‘research’ can really be as simple as taking a few seconds to look at their web site's homepage or ‘about us’ page, just to gain a quick overview of the business.
The decision-maker will often be the target of irrelevant cold calls from telemarketers that know nothing about who they are or what they do – which means they will also be unaware of their needs and potential issues that they face.
Coming across a telemarketer that has taken to the time to familiarise themselves with their business and think about their pain points and how to solve them, will likely be a refreshing change of pace for the prospect.
Just make sure that you aren’t spending all your time researching your prospects instead of calling them. There’s a fine balance to be achieved between prospect research, and prospect engagement.
7. Focus on the Problems That You Can Solve.
Once you have got in contact with the decision-maker you have got a limited time to capture their attention and interest. Don’t waste this time by waffling on about how great your company is and all the great things you have done for other businesses; focus on what problems the decision-maker faces with their business and all the great things you can do for them.
By focusing on the prospect’s pain points rather than yourself, you are showing that you have an understanding of their business and that your main focus is solving their problems rather than just securing another sale.
The pain points experienced by your different prospects can vary, and it may not always be clear what they are. It could be that they have issues with their finances, it could be to do with their operational processes, they may struggle with recruitment, they may be finding it hard to generate new business opportunities, or something else.
Finding out what pain points are commonplace for the types of business you are targeting, and developing your pitch to focus on how you can effectively resolve some of the issues, can help to generate interest with the decision-maker and create a hook that you can leverage to secure an appointment.
As mentioned in the last point, without conducting any research into the businesses you are targeting, you will more than likely be unaware of their needs and problems and will struggle to make your pitch relevant to the prospect. Be sure to conduct this research in two stages – general research about industry pain points when developing your pitch and strategy, and the brief individual prospect research mentioned previously.
8. Value Their Time.
High-level decision-makers are busy people. They are often inundated with a range of responsibilities and more often than not, will not have the time to take an unscheduled call.
When you get through to a decision-maker, you need to get in, deliver your message, qualify the prospect, arrange a more appropriate time to talk (ideally an appointment, but a call back is also good), and get out.
To show that you value the prospect’s time, communicate your understanding of their position. Using phrases such as “I understand that you must busy, so I’ll keep this brief” shows that you are being mindful of the prospect’s situation and that you understand that you are taking time out of their day.
Alternatively, you can ask the prospect: “Have I caught you at a bad time?”.
If they respond with “Yes you have.” then simply follow-up by saying:
“Not a problem, I’ll call back later on.” or agree on a suitable time to call back.
Try not to lead with the question: “Have I caught you at a bad time?” or use it on every call because you don’t want to offer your prospects a chance to get off the phone straight away. By doing so, you could see your number of scheduled call-backs skyrocket, it’s also a ‘sure-fire’ way to spend a lot of time making calls without getting any results.
In short, keep your pitch concise and to the point. Don’t waffle on for 20 minutes on every call you make, because this will not only annoy your prospects and show a lack of value for their time, but it’s also a big waste of your time.
9. Focus on Building Rapport.
Building rapport when making outbound calls is a highly useful and sometimes simple approach. Rapport is where two parties, in this case, yourself and the gatekeeper, or yourself and decision-maker; develop a close business relationship and are on the same page in certain ways.
There are two stages to this; the first is building rapport with the gatekeeper, the second, is building rapport with the decision-maker.
Building rapport with the gatekeeper can help you get through to the decision-maker faster, and once a good relationship has been developed, can be used to leverage a meeting or appointment.
You can build rapport with a gatekeeper in a number of ways.
A very simple, but surprisingly effective way of doing so is by making a note of and using their first name. By personalising your call, you can set yourself apart from the rest of the telemarketing calls that they receive and begin building rapport. Upon your second interaction with the gatekeeper, opening with “Hi Jennie, it’s John from Example Ltd.”, rather than “Hi there, it’s John again from Example Ltd.”, can have a considerable impact on your chances of getting through to the decision-maker.
Building rapport with the decision-maker is slightly different, mainly due to the potential business opportunity which is at risk. Building rapport is all about providing value to the prospect and finding common ground that you can use to your advantage. Your first step should be to identify their primary pain points and detail how you can help resolve these issues – this is your value.
Next, try to find some common ground; this could be based on knowledge, professional experience, a mutual understanding of a particular business topic; or something entirely unrelated. They may mention that they are off on holiday soon to somewhere that you have been before, maybe you used to live near where they are situated, maybe the prospect mentions their children and you start talking about your own.
These slight diversions from the purpose of the call can be one of the most effective ways to build rapport with your prospects and can be what they remember most about you and the phone call you had together. Just remember, don’t over-do it; make sure to get back on track and not feed more into a side discussion if it has been going on for a while. Wait to establish a connection with the prospect first or even wait to see if they engage in an off-topic conversation.
Remember, not every decision-maker will be particularly ‘chatty’ and may see off-topic conversations as a waste of their time. Some adept telemarketers are able to quickly establish what sort of prospect they are talking to and whether an off-topic discussion will be welcomed, or met with hostility; which helps when tailoring each call to the individual prospect.
When building rapport with any decision-maker, you should focus on providing value first, rather than just thinking about securing that appointment or getting the sale. Remember that not every prospect will have the same buyer’s journey, and you may have to put more legwork into some opportunities than others. Building rapport whilst doing said legwork can help the prospect reach a buying decision sooner, and therefore increase your sales efficiency.