Sales call etiquette: How to keep your prospects engaged

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Content and SEO Strategist, Nutshell

Sales calls are tough, but making calls while your coworkers argue next to your cubicle? Forget about it.

Sales calls have been giving salespeople ulcers since the day they were invented. The idea that you’re about to hop on a phone with a total stranger, and by the end of it you’re going to be closer to paying your mortgage, is frightening.

What if the call goes badly? Or worse: What if all of your calls go badly?

Fear not, there are “conversation hacks” you can use to get your calls to go the way you want them to. We interrogated collaborated with our resident communication pro Kristen Gray and compiled a gigantic list of sales call dos and don’ts, as well as a bunch of successful strategies to help boost the quality of your sales calls for good.

Creating a positive sales call experience

Purchasing your product should be seamless and enjoyable for your prospects. You can be a great resource to them by answering their questions and truly hearing them when they speak to you about their issues. Naturally, this means that the conversation is going to cover more topics than just the details of your product.

Try to think of all the positive purchasing experiences you’ve had, and recreate some of the things that made that experience great for you.

During positive sales calls, the prospect usually:

  • Formed a genuine connection with the representative
  • Felt understood
  • Had questions that were answered clearly
  • Felt comfortable enough to share a bit of personal info
  • Felt respected and valued

When making sales calls, simple conversational points like this are easily overlooked, when in reality they should be the focus of the call.

Understand that 65% of buyers say a positive experience is more influential than advertising

Keep the conversation focused on positive outcomes

This doesn’t just mean focusing on closing the sale, but rather outwardly keeping the conversation on a positive note. If your prospect mentions a sore point, continue to laugh, smile, and stay on track.

“Oh my gosh, I’d be so frustrated if I was in your shoes too” can strengthen your empathetic bond, even through a negative lapse. If you can follow up with a mindful remedy, your prospect will appreciate it even more.

Questions to ask during sales calls.

Asking someone to recall something they’re excited about is a way to beckon them to borrow excitement from within their mind and bring it to the conversation.

Having enthusiasm and a sense of wonder will allow you to discover interesting things you would miss if you were sticking to a script.

By learning about your prospects and appreciating them as human beings, you’re laying a foundation of trust and respect, which is a great start to becoming an advisor rather than a seller

Analyze your most successful calls

What went well? What went poorly? What can you do to recreate the positive calling experiences? Carve out 10 minutes (at least) at the end of every week to do an introspective analysis.

Your analysis doesn’t have to be overly technical—just focus on what “felt good” and which situations were ideal. Try to search for creative strategies that can replicate these great conversations. And remember, it’s all trial and error.

Be comfortable with failure

Statistically it’s going to happen a lot, and it’s human nature to take rejections personally, even in a professional context.

It’s hard to maintain your positivity when you’re feeling wretched from being told off and hung up on. When this happens, talk to your teammates or sales manager about the calls, and explain exactly why you were rejected.

Ideally you’ll be able to learn from these failures and reduce the chances of this happening in the future. Even if there is no solution, and the prospects were just straight-up mean, it feels much better to talk to some about it. Don’t keep it bottled up!

Pro tip: Take a break. Go for a walk, grab a coffee, work on another project. Despite the pressure and deadlines, it’s not worth it to make calls when you’re not up to it.

Be conversationally flexible

The customer isn’t always right, but they’re always the customer. This means that they may want to lead the conversation, setting the pace of your call and essentially throwing your script out the window.

Don’t be discouraged—your goal isn’t to follow a script, but rather to help the customer as effectively as possible. If they’re taking charge and steering the conversation, you’re far better off engaging them on their terms than trying to force the conversation back on its default course.

Listen to recordings of your sales calls

This exercise can be truly embarrassing eye-opening. It’s not fun. Essentially you’re putting everything you say under a microscope. They say you’re your own worst critic, and after listening to recordings of yourself, you’ll understand why.

This practice does make your calls remarkably better though—you can use your insights to update your outlines and notes. Even though your manager may listen in and offer feedback, it’s easier to identify ways to improve when you’re your own critic.

smart gif

Tips for better sales calls

👍 Call someone you’re comfortable speaking to beforehand.

Call a friend, family member, or significant other and have a conversation about whatever you like. (Maybe even tell them you’ve got some cold calls coming up!) This will help you become comfortable expressing yourself over the phone, and will also help to warm up your vocal cords.

Once the stress is gone and your voice is spry (and you’ve had a good conversation 😊) immediately call your prospect. You’ll notice afterward that the call magically went more smoothly.

👍 Look in a mirror 

Phone calls are awkward because you can’t see the other person during the conversation, meaning all of the millions of years of body language and subconscious communication techniques that humans have evolved are for naught.

It’s possible that you don’t even know what this person looks like. Talking in front of a mirror during your call will help you be mindful of your own expressions which leads to a more natural, face-to-face-like conversation.

The obvious downside to mirror-calling is that unless you like making sales calls from the bathroom, you’re not very likely to have a mirror that you can use. Luckily using your computer’s webcam works just as well.

👍 Practice active listening

People often try to have their response queued up before the speaker has even finished their sentence. Don’t ever do this! Wait for them to finish making their point and then determine what to say to them.

Not only is this common conversational courtesy, but you’ll get further with your prospect by being an engaged listener. Always having an answer ready is rude, not witty.

👍 Write your own cold call script and rehearse it until it’s natural

Even if you change it after every call, you at least have your talking points in front of you in case you get flustered or sidetracked or lose your place in the conversation for whatever other reason.

The purpose of rehearsing the script is to avoid ending up relying on it too heavily, and paying more attention to it than your prospect. Remember, you don’t want to read from the script, but rather use it as a guide.

Pro tip: Keep your script short and broken up into small sections to avoid turning the call into a monologue.

👍 Write down takeaways

Take notes in your CRM. Make sure you’re hearing what they have to say by capturing it in the form of notes. The fact that you’ve written down something like “Stacy has a dog” gives meaning to something which might’ve otherwise been banter.

As you record your chat logs and takeaways, you are building that relationship much faster than if you hadn’t. If you’re making several calls a day, this will help make sure you’re not starting over at square one each time you speak to this person.

👍 Take care of your voice 

Relax, stay hydrated, control your tone, don’t force it. Have you ever tried to speak after a few hours of silence and your voice sounds like a goblin? Yeah, warming up your vocal cords is very important—especially when you’re selling over the phone!

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy warming up his voice (not for sales calls)

👍 Understand your product

Ideally you’ll have enough product knowledge to give an impromptu demo if the need arises. Although the situation is unlikely, this knowledge will help you to confidently answer any questions about your product that may arise, without having to put your prospect on hold to ask someone who knows the product better. 

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Things to avoid during sales calls

❌ Don’t multi-task

This is a big no-no. People can tell when your attention isn’t with them, and if you’re making a sales call, your attention needs to be devoted to your prospect. Even if you regularly do it and no one notices, you’re missing out on the connection you should be forming with this prospect. 

❌ Don’t rush for an outcome

You’re going to talk to them again. There’s no need to read your entire script all in one conversation just because you’ve got someone on the phone right now. If you can have a good conversation with them today, they’ll be more receptive to your pitch down the road. 

Pro tip: If someone states “I only have x minutes…” just gather info during this call and figure out how to pitch to them at a later date.

"Mission failed, we'll get 'em next time" from the Call of Duty video game.

❌ Don’t write checks you can’t cash

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, or answer any questions you’re not 100% confident about.

Sometimes it’s tempting to say what people want to hear, especially under pressure, but your time spent on the phone with a prospect might end up being useless if your relationship is built on faulty info.

Related: The 4 types of promises you should never make to customers 

❌ Don’t eat while you’re on the phone

Face it, you can’t hide the fact that you’ve got a mouthful of granola bar from someone whose only connection to you is the audio device literally an inch away from your chompers.

This also falls under the category of multi-tasking, so you lose double points.

Cold calling should never be so urgent that you need to talk on the phone while devouring your lunch. If you feel that there’s “no choice” but to call through your lunch break, time out! There may be a number of barriers preventing you from being engaged, having a positive outlook, and giving it your all.

Reassess these issues and remove some of the workplace stress before getting on the phones.

❌ Don’t dominate the conversation

Let people be people, and more importantly, be a person yourself. You want your prospect to connect with you, and nobody wants to connect with an aggressive know-it-all.

Have the conversation at their pace, which means no cramming information down their throats. Even if your product is the most phenomenal thing that will ever happen to them, let them discover it naturally through conversation.

❌ Don’t call without doing prospect research

Don’t even think about picking up the phone before you learn about the prospect. Are they a good fit? How many people do they manage? What exactly is their function within the company—are they the right person to talk to? Trying to ascertain all these things over a cold-call is a great way to get hung up on.

“Hi, who am I talking to? OK cool, and what’s your position? Can you transfer me to whoever is in charge of your IT stuff? Oh, that’s also you. Hello, are you still there?”

❌ Don’t call without doing company research

How can you help a business succeed if you don’t know what they do or what their needs are? Spend a few minutes on their company website. Search Google News to see if they’ve recently won any awards or put out a press release. Take 60 seconds to go on LinkedIn and view the company’s employees. Match the target prospect’s stated location with the nearest headquarters to make sure you’re calling the right office.

Proving that you’ve done your research on the company during your first conversation will get you a lot farther than calling without a shred of information and asking to speak to “whoever makes IT decisions.” Don’t make the prospect do your job for you.

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Big thanks to Mike Meyers on Unsplash for the cover photo.

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