Call me old fashioned if you will, but when someone I have never met phones me out of the blue and can’t think of anything less inane than “how are you” to start the conversation, I know one person on the call is an idiot. And, IMHO, it isn’t me.
In a business-to-business environment, that sort of false familiarity isn’t just cringeworthy, it’s downright impertinent, and a sure sign that the speaker that is utterly devoid of imagination or any detectable level of emotional intelligence.
Why on earth would I want to waste my time in continuing a conversation with anyone who has shown themselves to be such an utter wally? I’m already convinced that the conversation can only go downhill from there into a China Syndrome style meltdown.
But it’s not the only cringe-worthy question that either you or I are likely to be exposed to. There’s a whole family of inappropriate opening remarks ranging for the overly familiar at one end to the uncomfortably fawning at the other.
Yet, with just a little common sense, it’s perfectly possible to steer an appropriate middle ground – one that shows respect for the person you are calling, and which at the same time generates respect as an intelligent, well-informed peer. Or am I wrong to expect that people that earn their living on the phone show just a sliver of empathy?
I hope not, because properly used, the phone remains a tremendously powerful sales and marketing tool. If used in the right way, it can stimulate genuine dialogue and engagement in a way that few other alternatives can.
But it requires that the caller thinks and plans ahead, and has something genuinely interesting to say to the person they are about to ring. Investing in some basic research about the person and the organisation always pays dividends.
And then, if – against the odds – they manage to get through, then they need to avoid asking those irritating situational questions that could have been answered with a bit of judicious research on LinkedIn or on the web, or prematurely pitching the caller’s solution.
The most effective phone workers know that a good conversation leads towards their solution, not with it. They share valuable information and insights that make the listener want to learn more, and persuade them to invest a few more minutes of their time.
And, of course, all the time, the caller is listening to the prospect’s responses and tone of voice, and adapting what they say next to what they have just learned. And it never, ever sounds like they are reading from a script, despite the fact that the caller has a very clear plan.
So – you may hate being called by incompetent sales people, but when was the last time you listened to what your own phone-based sales and marketing people are actually saying to their prospects?
I hope that the answer doesn’t frustrate you – but if it does, at least you’ll know what to do and how to coach them. Just imagine what it would be like to be on the receiving end yourself.
Oh, and one last thing: even if they manage to avoid the “how are you?” trap, let’s hope that they then don’t ask the “what keeps you up at night?” question. Don’t get me started – that’s a whole article by itself.