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Telemarketing and Stereotypes

We’ve already touched on the negative stereotype of sales as a profession. Pretty consistently, public opinion polls place salespeople and lawyers on the bottom two rungs of the ladder of honorable careers. At the very bottom of the bottom, we would guess, are telemarketers who interrupt your family at dinner to sell you stuff at home. In fact, some people get so upset about being disturbed by sales calls at home that they buy electronic “zappers” to identify and screen out computer-dialed calls. Most of us try to introduce telemarketers to Mr. Dial Tone as quickly as possible.

Understanding that they have to sink the hook as quickly as possible, telemarketers resort to one or more techniques that they’ve been taught to get your attention and keep you on the line. For example, they

  • Overuse (and frequently mispronounce) your name

  • Ask, “How are you today?”

  • Begin with, “I’m not trying to sell you anything”

  • Ask inane questions, such as, “How would you like to get a higher return on your money?”

  • Talk nonstop for the first 90 seconds (if you give them that long)

Since nothing we write will make telemarketers go away—and since you may be on the hook to be an effective telemarketer—let’s look at some sample dialogues, and think about what works and what doesn’t through the lens of Customer-Focused salesmanship. Imagine you are sitting in your den and the phone rings. You pick up the receiver, and you hear:

This is Tom Robinson with Acme Heating. How are you this evening? (brief pause) Acme takes pride in our outstanding reputation for customer service. We offer a complete line of furnaces and would welcome an opportunity to spend about 30 minutes discussing your requirements. We’ll be in your area Wednesday evening. Would 7:00 or 8:00 work better for you?

Not bad enough to set your teeth on edge—probably—but there are several things that prospects might find objectionable in this approach, all of which reduce the likelihood of the seller’s getting that appointment. For example:

  • The script contains an insincere personal question in the second sentence. They are calling to sell you something—do they really care how you are?

  • Next, a biased opinion regarding customer service is offered. Doesn’t every company say its service is outstanding?

  • The script mentions a specific product (a furnace). What are the chances that you were thinking about a new furnace—in other words, that you were already looking to change? Leading with product makes it likely that the buyer will ask about cost early in the conversation (assuming that there is a conversation). It would be virtually impossible for the seller to provide a meaningful response, given the variables of house size, insulation, oil versus gas, and so on. And as we’ve already seen in other contexts, without the potential value of an offering being established in advance, virtually any figure will seem high. Of course, the salesperson can simply be evasive about price, but this can be deadly, especially early in the call.

  • The script as written exerts pressure by asking, presumptuously, for an appointment at two specific times that are convenient to the seller—and does so without having generated potential interest.

The objective of this script is to get that appointment. We suggest, however, that the script could be far more effective if there were an initial attempt to gain mindshare. Yes, there’s a chance that someone is sitting out there shivering, and thinking about how their current heating unit needs to be replaced. But in almost every case, there is little upside in leading with product (the furnace). Let’s assume we make an attempt to improve our odds by doing some precall planning and research. By reviewing recent real estate transactions and stopping by Town Hall, we learn that a particular house has been purchased within the past 2 months, and was built in 1937. Here is a different script, which attempts to generate interest in 30 seconds or less:

This is Tom Robinson with Acme Heating. We’ve been working with homeowners in Park View Estates since 1979. A common concern of people buying older homes is the high cost of heating them. I’ve helped my customers reduce energy costs, and would welcome an opportunity to discuss some approaches with you.

Note that we’ve eliminated the personal question. The opinion about customer service has been replaced with a fact that helps the homeowner reach the conclusion that Acme is an established and reputable business. Rather than mentioning a furnace, we attempt to gain mindshare by referring to the “high cost of heating older homes.” This keeps the potential field of discussion broad in the prospect’s mind; it might have to do with insulation, water heater or burner maintenance, or other topics, all of which fall into the category of “energy costs.” The script heads off a premature discussion of price, and ends in a way that makes a yes/no response difficult.


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