May 21, 2002

Cold or Gold?

Opportunity is Calling, But Who is Answering?

It’s one of life’s ironies that some of us spend
so much to get the phone to ring and so little to turn those calls into


What’s the problem? Many dealerships have a
receptionist or bookkeeper who answers the phone. This person rarely is trained
on turning calls into appointments. He does his best to answer the
customers’ questions and the call often goes like this.


“Thanks for calling ... Yes, we sell them ... Yup, we
can fix that ... The cost? It’s $2,995 for a softener and $1,200 for an
RO. OK, thanks for calling. If you are interested, call us back and we will
send one of our consultants out to see you.”


What’s wrong with that call? It broke a cardinal rule
of selling. Never tell the customer the price until you make them fall in love
with the product, and you are in a position to close. The way the sample call
was handled, the customer will keep calling companies in the directory until he
finds either the lowest price possible or a good salesperson who sells him into
an appointment.


A more efficient way to answer the call would be to say
something such as this.


“Thanks for calling Acme Water, how can I assist you?
... Yes, we have that type of product. What is troubling you about your water?
... How long has that been happening? ... What is the most important thing for
you to solve? ... It’s good you called for two reasons. First, we have
exactly the equipment that will solve the problems you have outlined and can do

so at a very low cost. Best of all, at Acme, we just
received our 10th award in a row for service excellence. We’ve been in
business here for almost 10 years and have made many people in your area happy
customers.... The price? I can’t

tell you exactly what it would cost without testing your
water and seeing your current equipment. What I can do is send one of our
technicians out to do a free house call. Once we know what you need to improve
in your water, we will work out exactly which equipment will do the job. All
our work is fully guaranteed, and I know you will be happy ... The cost? Well,
we have water solutions from $19.95 to $4,500. It all depends on what is in
your water and how you want to handle it. Since the test is free, when would
you like our technician to come out for your free house call?”


There are a lot of improvements packed into the sample
script. Allow me to highlight a few.



The first stage of any sale is asking enough questions to
know how to present the product. Train whoever answers the phone to ask enough
questions that he knows what the customers really want solved and what their
motivations are.


Selling the Company

If a customer called you, chances are they have a directory
or newspaper out and will call others. Oddly, very few people say anything good
about their company in sales calls. Make sure you tell them why you are a great
company to work with and why they will be happy.


Softer Nomenclature

Always refer to the test as a “free house call”
and the salesperson as a “technician.” These are softer, nonscary
names. It’s easier  for the
customer to want this than a “sales call” by a “sales
rep” or “consultant.” Is it just me or when someone says they
are sending a consultant, you know it’s going to be very expensive. Go
over your script and soften your terms.


Using a Range

If you have to quote a price, use a huge range. Notice in
the example, I quote from a counter top carbon filter to a large equipment
package. This way, they cannot compare your price on the phone but it sounds
very good without tying you to a specific price.


Expecting an Appointment

The goal of every sales inquiry is to get an appointment.
Whoever answers should be fully trained on how to get an appointment.


Who Should Answer Incoming Calls?

Not an administrative staff member. Remember that to administrative staff, that
customer call is not an opportunity, it’s an interruption. You have two hours
left today, and you have to get the payroll completed and some customer calls.
You are not going to give the customer the time it can take to get an
appointment. Also, If admin staff was good at selling, they would probably be
in sales. They are usually friendly and helpful but they are not salespeople by
nature. For all these reasons, we do not recommend that you allow admin staff
to answer incoming calls ... not even overflow.


Definitely not a service person. Some companies allow service people to answer the
phone. Technical people know too much to be patient with customers and lack the
sales skills necessary to get appointments. They tend to answer questions, not
stimulate interest. I recommend that you never allow service staff to answer
incoming calls.


Not a salesperson.
Here is a controversial position. I suggest you never let a salesperson answer
incoming calls. If you have territories and the caller is out of the
salesperson’s territory, they tend to be abrupt. Also, salespeople tend
to prequalify. If they think the customer is too old, too poor, etc., they tend
to get rid of them. Salesmen shine in the home but  usually are not really great on the phone. See for yourself.
Call your store and several of your competitors and see how incoming calls are


So Who Do I Recommend?

I suggest that the owner/manager answer incoming calls. I
know you are thinking, “What are you nuts? I have more important things
to do.” But, are you sure about that? If you get 10 calls per day and
could turn five of them into appointments but your receptionist answers and
turns one into an appointment, you are losing four appointments per day. If
your sales team could close half of those appointments, you could sell an extra
two systems per day or 40 per month. That should mean an extra $60,000 per
month in gross profit or $720,000 per year. That is the power of squeezing out
as many appointments as you deserve.


Answering all incoming calls also keeps you aware of what
advertising is working and what is happening in the marketplace.


You also could hire a special person and train them to get
appointments. At many dealerships, this person takes all incoming calls and schedules
appointments. This is a very important area to think about. I recently came
across a person who sold his water equipment business because business was bad
and advertising wasn’t working. The new owners started answering all
phone calls and the company had its biggest month in history just from making
this one change.


Remember that opportunity is calling your company every day.
Take a moment to ask who is answering and are they turning those calls into
cold or gold?       

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