Monday, February 02, 2009

Customers are talking: turning points in telephone sales calls

I'm working on a project to listen to telephone sales calls and help the client find patterns explaining why some calls end up in a sale and others don't. Each call is a story, complete with emotion, conflict, and turning points. Listening to dozens of these, pictures begin to emerge of how people buy, and how, even when they like the product and may want to buy, don't. And it has nothing to do with logic.

One turning point I've experienced is the moment when a call turns from being headed to a close, to not. On the calls, it's very subtle: a pause, a change of subject, perhaps an additional question from the prospect. But afterward, a call that seemed to be heading toward a sale instead is, at best, a promise to call back.

The best way to explain it is to relate a personal story.

I've been a customer of Verizon Wireless for more than five years. I got a telemarketing call from them today, offering inducements to renew my service contract early. I've been evaluating this for a while now (this is a subtext of my posts on the Blackberry Storm), and after discussing it at some length with my wife, we're headed toward renewal.

This call, then, could have been Verizon's way of closing the deal. I was pretty ready, although I was thinking of doing this in March. If the deal was good enough, perhaps I would pull the trigger today. The call went something like this:

"Mr. Caddell," the rep said, "we are offering some extras today if you want to renew your contract early. You might be able to get a discount on a new phone."

"When does my contract expire?"

"The end of July."

"I thought it was the end of March."

(turning point 1) "That's the time when you are eligible for an early equipment upgrade. Your contract expires in July."

"OK, what are you offering?"

(turning point 2) "100 extra minutes per month." (This wasn't attractive to me at all. We don't use the minutes we have now.)

"How much off the phone?"

(turning point 3) "Well, you'll be eligible for that at the end of March."

"Earlier you said I could get a discount off a phone." (I didn't tell her that Verizon had already sent me two mailings offering me phone discounts for renewing now.)

"I said you might be."

There was no way was I going to renew then. At each turning point, in fact, I became farther from renewing than I had been before the call. Instead of feeling happy, encouraged, eager to get a new phone, I felt frustrated, annoyed, and that I had wasted time even picking up the phone.

It wasn't the rep's fault. She was given a difficult product to sell (competing, in fact, with the company's own mailings). When I began to ask pointed questions, the pitch fell apart. There was probably no rep on earth who could have closed me with that offer.

Which is a significant learning from this project for me. Selecting and training reps is only a part of the formula for success in telesales. The product must be useful, and the offer must be made attractive. And that work happens far outside the call center.

blog comments powered by Disqus