Written by Max Altschuler
Just like sports, the use of science to develop elite performers also applies in sales. In both fields, trainers adopt two key scientific elements — metrics and method — to drive practitioners into breaking records and setting new milestones in their game.
In sports, much of the science focuses on the athlete: genetics, biomechanics (movement techniques, training regimen), nutrition, and psychology (for mental toughness, behavioral modifications, and positive visualizations). On the other hand, the use of science in sales focuses on two areas: the seller and the buyer.
Like top athletes, sales superstars also adopt:
- A sales methodology to systematize their gameplay
- Proactive sales psychology to prepare for the toughest buyer objections ahead of time by establishing the right mental and emotional state.
But because selling is a two-way interaction, the science behind sales also covers the other party in the engagement: prospects, leads, or customers, depending on the stage in the sales process at which they are being engaged.
In this post, I’ve gathered my best key takeaways and tactics for running successful sales calls, based on my 10+ years of sales experience. As the field moves closer to a customer-centric paradigm, you’ll find that most of the tactics I have included are buyer-focused.
15 Expert Phone Sales Tips
1. Start all sales calls with a bang
Always start your sales calls in style. One study tried to figure out how to increase room service tips for waiters in hotels. Much to the researchers’ surprise, all the waiters had to do was start with a positive comment. When hotel guests opened their door, waiters said “good morning” and gave a positive weather forecast for the day.
How does this help you? Never start your sales calls or meetings by talking about bad weather, traffic, or being busy. Always begin with a positive comment or anecdote. Think great weather, fun weekend plans, or a favorite sports team winning a game. That kicks most sales calls off on the right foot.
2. Don’t bad-mouth competitors during sales calls
The biggest self-sabotaging mistake during a sales call is to speak ill of a competitor. Due to a psychological quirk called spontaneous trait transference, research has shown that whenever you say bad things about someone else, your audience puts those same traits on you.
If you say your competitor is low quality and unreliable, your potential client can’t help but associate those traits with you, even if they know logically that you are talking about a third party. So no matter what, when it comes to gossip about competitors, always say, “No comment.”
3. Use awesome labels
Assigning a positive label or trait (like having high intelligence or being a good person) to people generally compels them to live up to the label. In one study about fundraising, the researchers told average donors that they were in fact among the highest donors.
Can you guess what happened? Those donors proceeded to donate an above average amount. We tend to live up to positive labels ascribed to us by people we interact with.
When you are with a client or potential customer, give them good labels. Be sure though that the labels are sensible and genuine. Never attempt anything that will push people into thinking that you are inauthentic, fake, or manipulative.
For example, you can say, “You are one of our best customers” or “You’re such a pleasure to do business with.” Having received the compliment, the client will want to be one of your best customers or try even harder to be a pleasing business partner.
4. Set the agenda and stay in control
When I get on sales calls that I’ve set up from meeting requests, I always like to articulate clear agendas and ask the prospects if that's okay with them. This way, I can keep calls on track and accomplish what I want to achieve, while making customers feel that they are in control of the conversation.
For example, you might say, “Well, I’m glad we’re able to connect today. I’d love to go over XYZ and then would be happy to answer any questions you might have. How does that sound to you?”
5. Stand up
Allow your passion and excitement for the product to come through in your sales calls. Make it something the prospect can be infected by. In my experience, sales reps can achieve this by standing up and doing sales calls in a main common space, instead of hiding in a cubicle or a conference room.
As Mattermark CEO Danielle Morrill says, “Speak loud and proud!” I personally prefer to pace around while making sales calls.
6. Use emphasis wisely
Highlighting certain words or phrases is an effective communication tool that helps you convey your message better. Focus on your inflection, especially on voicemails. Bedrock Data CEO John Marcus describes this as “putting makeup” on your calls. By adding inflection to the right words, you sound more passionate and articulate and, in turn, more convincing.
7. Simplify options
Too many options can easily confuse buyers, making it harder for them to select, rationalize, and affirm a purchase decision. Unless you are a data analytics engine, information overload rarely delivers a benefit.
When describing your product, reduce the number of options and features you want the prospect to focus on. This way, they can arrive at a decision faster and feel more confident that they are not missing out on anything. Only when the likelihood of attrition/rejection becomes overwhelming should you present countermeasures (i.e., the next tier of options).
8. Adopt smart product positioning
The way you frame your product often spells the difference between a closed deal and a lost opportunity. Groundbreaking research in behavioral economics confirm that framing matters. For example, saving $10 feels oddly different across varied buying scenarios (purchasing a smartphone vs. buying a shirt, for example) even when the amount saved is exactly the same. In many cases, relative positioning beats pricing in making brands more appealing to consumers.
Packaging the product as a solution instead of just a commodity or service also increases the likelihood of conversion. At the end of the day, you perform better by solving problems than by selling products.
9. Get emotional
The key finding of behavioral economics is that people rarely hinge their purchase decisions on solidly rational grounds. In the vast majority of cases, people buy stuff largely because of emotional triggers and other hyper-personal, sometimes illogical factors.
Nostalgia, brand loyalty, associative/sentimental attachments to a product, and other intangible benefits can serve as persuasion levers as much as a product’s technical features.
When engaging prospects, probe for the emotional button that can sway their purchase decision. Articulate a product’s value through the use of relevant and powerful storytelling. In some instances, adopting the pleasure-pain dichotomy may work. Depending on the situation, people’s aversion to pain or their deep anticipation of pleasure can be leveraged as powerful selling tools.
Lastly, personal trust — however misplaced — also works in selling, as social media recommendations prove. People will believe an idea or buy a product if these are endorsed by family, friends, or influencers they trust. As a seller, you can pull this powerful string through referrals, testimonials, and influencer marketing.
10. Clarify the product’s value
Make it easier for prospects to assess a product’s subjective (emotion-based) and objective (fact-based) benefits. Use storytelling and framing techniques to set your product apart from other options available in the market. Whenever possible, have an ROI calculator/formula at hand to help prospects quantify the benefits of the product when emotional triggers are inadequate to push them towards a firm decision. In either case, clearly demonstrate that the value customers receive more than justifies the price.
11. Empower customers
People enjoy discovering stuff that makes them feel good or solutions that address their pesky problems. But they resent being forced, wrangled, goaded, or tricked into a purchase decision.
Because business is leaning more towards a subscription-based paradigm, brands aim to build long-term relationships with customers. If people perceive that you are force-feeding terms or tricking them into buying, you’ll lose not just customers but a revenue stream. Hence, give customers enough space, freedom, and power to make purchase decisions they will not regret.
You can achieve this by closely involving customers in developing the solutions they need. Get their feedback and give them a semblance of control in the problem-solving process. But always direct the conversation towards your value proposition.
12. There’s a time for everything
In life as in sales, timing matters. Depending on your industry and the specific prospect you are engaging, the proper timing for making calls, doing presentations, sending emails, scheduling meetings, and attempting a close exist. There are a number of studies that pinpoint the specific times within a day best suited for reaching out to your target consumers. Find one for your niche and implement accordingly.
13. Serve hot not cold
Practically speaking, cold calling is becoming a relic of the past. With business intelligence software, social media, and other digital resources, approaching a prospect without any clue about who they are and what they need has become a grossly desperate if not an outright stupid move to make.
Plan and prepare for each call. Use business intelligence tools, corporate databases, and search engines to profile a company. Probe their social media accounts to discover pain points and other opportunities.
Participate in their conversations and identify the values, thought leaders, and brands they associate with. Know as much as you can about a prospect to make them feel they are important, that you have done your homework, and that you care about their success.
14. Observe, record, and predict
Much of science involves the careful observation of nature, recording your findings, and making predictions based on your observations. Sales follows a similar framework.
The key is to limit your talk time and listen to what your prospects are saying. When prospects talk extensively about their situation, you have already pulled the right strings. Keep them talking. Observe their behavior. Discern their needs based on their statements. Design and propose a solution that squarely addresses their problems.
Ask the right questions. Probe for relevant answers. And truly listen. That is what top-notch selling is all about.
15. But it’s also about you
Selling is a two-way street. Even if you take care of customers but neglect honing your skills and attitude as a sales practitioner, you won’t go as high as you could.
Customers warm up to and trust business contacts who are masters at their craft. Train to be the very best at what you do so customers will see that your solutions are peerless and they will lose significant value when they move to another vendor.
Think big and set higher goals to challenge yourself and your team. As behavioral economists suggest, organize your goals into several mini objectives that incrementally increase in difficulty. Perform the easy ones first to establish a string of successes that will give you the momentum, confidence, and motivation you need to beat more challenging goals later on.
Selling is a science
Long considered as the art of persuasion, sales has also become a science-driven profession. Business intelligence, data analytics, behavioral modification, and key performance indicators are just some of the elements that systematize the seller side of the dynamic. On the other hand, neuroscience, consumer psychology, and behavioral economics now pervade how smart practitioners approach the buyer side.
Science clearly has a central role in exponentially improving sales performance. With machine learning and artificial intelligence on the rise, the influence of science on the world of sales can only go deeper. The key for tomorrow’s sales professionals is to embrace science-backed selling tactics to transform their gameplay and win.
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the new book Hacking Sales: The Playbook for Building a High Velocity Sales Machine. It was originally published in May 2015 with permission and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
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