Telephone Etiquette: a Couple of Tips

Well, here we are in 2011, a year that is sure to provide a host of partly analytically expected, partly exuberantly ignored, economic twists and turns. It is a year bound to keep us on our toes and may be a stomach churning, volatile roller coaster ride, excitingly full of bullishness for some organisations, timidity for others and anxious anticipation for all of us.

So it is probably high time I shoot a few more telemarketing thoughts into the public arena.

The public sector, as we all know, has ground to a halt, whilst all central government departments have had their budgets, not just cut, but completely taken away. The Cabinet Office and the appropriate Departmental Minister are now the only bodies able to authorize spend. Local Authorities, acting for the citizen, have had, as we know, around one quarter of their annual funding cut. It seems they are also being asked, with a baby boomer advertising echo of the 1960’s, to give “power to the people” in order to cover off various needs voluntarily, which, whilst no doubt supplies fertile ground for the ambitious to aspire to an MBE, seems rather like audience participation in a low budget theatre, where, for my money, you go to be entertained, not to do the entertaining yourself.

The Private Sector is expected to pick up the slack and, to some extent will do so. Not in the Business to Consumer arena but in the engine room of Business to Business. Many protagonists will start to play from a vastly reduced cost base, looking for quality and value. This they will treasure (hopefully) as oppose to looking for volume, with which they will neither be able to cope, nor, under a regime of strict accountability, be seen to squander. It is becoming apparent that some global corporations now have assets close on $1 trillion and, amidst some further consolidating activity such as share buy back, will now be looking for growth opportunities.

Board directors and senior managers will want to listen to intelligent propositions, so to determine whether those propositions enhance their agenda – or not. They will assume that the person calling them has done sufficient research to be as sure as they can be, without yet having had the keynote conversation, that the telephone time will contribute well to corporate strategy and profit.

Which brings me around to two absolutes in the telemarketing skill set.

Firstly, know the difference between a “suspect”, who you assume might benefit from your call, and a prospect who you know will gain considerable advantage. Both predetermined definitions depend on the amount of appropriate information you have been able to glean in your research. Never make the research part of the crucial call with the decision maker. You are not expected to waste a senior man’s time, nor are you likely to get a decision on whether your prospect should meet with your organisation, if you present, out of the blue, with too many unknowns. So, do as much work as you can beforehand to determine whether the proposition is right, the timing is right and the person you are talking to is right. Be prepared to take your time. The second hand car salesman does not have margin to think about anything else but commission and thinks in the short term. You are playing a longer game and will only distinguish yourself in a senior decision making capacity by having the depth, assurance and security to think first, not of yourself or your company, but entirely of the other person, their organisation, their timing and their needs. You must bear in mind that it can take up to three years to get your company in front of a prospect for a face to face presentation; but they are on your “A” list of potential clients for a good reason. Have the determination, persistence and belief to make sure that you are able to make profitable contact for both companies, yours and theirs, when all the cards begin to fall into place and the inhibitors fade away. The compensation comes with the coincidence of need and supply – and you may be lucky, sometimes that coincidence arrives with the first call.

Secondly, bearing in mind that you are likely to have just one to two minutes to pitch and two minutes after that to complete both the ensuing conversation and the administrative logistics (when and where to meet or when to call back), you have a maximum of two minutes, or possibly three with free flow, to establish whether there is a meeting opportunity. So, do not go down the “audience participation” route in order to manipulate appropriate responses from the person with whom you are talking. Don’t ask them “how they are” (what do you care, you don’t know them from Adam and yes, it’s true, they don’t care about you); don’t ask them questions to which you should already know the answer (how long they’ve been in the job, the spelling of their name, who their secretary is, how big their department is, what their responsibilities are); and don’t ask them how they currently operate unless it becomes useful in the post pitch discussion (your call is not a questionnaire). The ONLY tolerable question is when you double check, especially if your prospect sounds “pushed”, that it is a convenient time to talk (thus demonstrating your listening skills).