When my first book Sales on the Line came out in 1993, it was the 26th book published that focused on using the telephone in sales. Obviously that number has increased dramatically since then. But resistance to using the phone to develop trustworthy connections continues. And frankly, I don’t know why: it’s an excellent tool to develop rapport, facilitate decision making, and create win/win communication. We’ve just never been taught how.
And physiologically, the ear has more receptors than eyes and takes in information more quickly, albeit differently. But for some reason, there are fewer people who prefer auditory over visual as their main information gathering sense.
LISTENING VS SEEING
Personally, I get more information of what’s really being said through my ears; my visual seems to draw my attention haphazardly, restricts what I notice to whatever catches my eye, and interpret the bits I notice with bias. As a result I miss important cues that are obvious to me when I’m just listening. For me, the phone is my go-to professional tool where I’m able to
- get into rapport quickly and invite my communication partner into rapport with me,
- hear patterns of deciding, beliefs, habits I can’t notice with my eyes,
- build relationships through voice rapport and matched beliefs,
- facilitate discovery, decision making and change.
I’ve successfully taught large numbers of sales and coaching clients to use the phone as an efficient tool for prospecting, negotiating, change management, collaborative decision making, and relationship building.
Back in the 1980s when launching my tech start up in London I made hundreds of calls weekly around Europe (no internet, no email, no zoom); flying to a sales call was a huge time waster unless the prospect had already decided to be a buyer.
I became so good visualizing my communication partner on the phone that I was ‘one’ with it, even able to mentally visualize the colors and patterns on a man’s tie! True story: My US investor heard of my ‘skill’ and bought a bunch of new ties to trick me, so I couldn’t guess from the ones I’d seen him in. He called regularly for a few weeks, wearing a different tie each time, asking: “What color is my tie?” I always got it right. He’d then hang up on me, frustrated because he couldn’t figure out how I did that (My mental images are quite sharp, obviously.). I adore the phone. But I digress.
NOW IS THE TIME FOR USING THE PHONE
In these times of social distancing and working from home, sellers, healthcare providers and consultants, usually reliant on face-to-face contact, are using skype, zoom, and the telephone to connect. But their history of eschewing the phone has created two main problems. 1. the fields themselves have myths and assumptions about the necessity of in-person contact; 2. people haven’t been taught good skills to make phone use effective. I’d like to help make it easier. I’ll start with sales.
Sales has two major problems.
- It still follows the precept of Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1937) that in-person meetings with prospects is essential. In those days, meeting in person was the only option, unless sellers wanted to be on a party line with the whole neighborhood listening in. But let’s be honest here: what else do you use from 1937? Obviously times have changed. And just maybe the phone can be a viable tool to help you do your job.
- The model only targets the low handing fruit, only those ready to buy. Because it’s limited to being a solution placement tool, it enters late in the buying decision path and overlooks the vast number of potential buyers who will buy once they get their ducks in a row (and don’t heed information or marketing because they’re not buyers yet). I successfully use the telephone with my Buying Facilitation® process to find and facilitate these folks through their Pre-Sales change management stages that precede their decision to purchase. I find it a dynamic tool that efficiently creates trust and rapport.
Healthcare and consulting are also done largely in person. And yes, I understand that docs and consultants need to be face-to-face with folks to get a full understanding of their concerns. But these fields also have their problems. Too often, professionals enter with agendas and assumptions that unwittingly challenge people’s unconscious beliefs and end up causing resistance, not to mention miss important data. But now, with in-visit meetings less frequent, the phone is a good option to gather information, create rapport, and facilitate win/win collaborative dialogues that enable buy-in and action.
A DIFFERENT VALUE PROPOSITION CREATES WIN/WIN.
Using a win/win value system, the phone can begin and enrich relationships, as well as enable Others to discover their own excellence (even sick people must ‘do it’ their own way). For those of you now needing to connect with folks you used to meet up with in person, here are some tips.
Rapport. Rapport building is vital for trust-building. But it’s done differently using the phone: you must use your voice and empathy to build rapport. Here are best practices that signal care and collaboration:
- It’s vital to get into voice rapport immediately. That means tone, tempo, pitch, and volume; your normal speaking voice will feel comfortable only to those who speak like you do. Think about it: your close friends have voice volume and pace similar to yours, and it’s quite uncomfortable speaking with folks who speak a lot slower/faster, or louder/softer. Being out of voice rapport is one of the reasons telesales and robo calls feel so invasive – their products are usually fine.
- There’s a very specific format to entering a call with a stranger (i.e. a prospecting call, or call with a new patient) to create rapport and avoid annoyance. First, introduce yourself with a very brief description of your goal, and ask if it’s a good time to speak. So:
Hi. This is Sharon-Drew Morgen. I go by Sharon-Drew. And this is a sales call. I’m selling a new type of change management program for sales. Is this a good time to speak?
Then, immediately upon hearing them speak, change your voice to your best approximation of their voice for instant rapport. I once had this series of exchanges with the training director at IBM, on a cold call:
SDM: [using her same rushed tone] You sound busy! When should I call back?
Nancy: TOMORROW AT 2:00
And we both hung up.
Nancy: [Next day, 2:00] HELLO!!!!!!!
SDM: [using same rushed tone.] Wow. You’re still busy. When should I call back?
Nancy: THURSDAY AT 5:00.
And we both hung up. I called back again Thursday.
SDM: You still sound busy.
Nancy: Who ARE you? And why are you calling?
SDM: Sharon-Drew Morgen. And this is a sales call. I can call back.
Nancy: What are you selling?
SDM: A new sales paradigm that facilitates decision making. But I can call back.
Nancy: Can you teach my people how to do what you do?
SDM: What did I do?
Nancy: You respected my time, never pushed your own agenda, and created rapport. I trust you already.
And I trained large numbers of IBM sales people nationally for years afterwards. With no pitch, no presentation, no face-to-face visit, no money discussion. Just rapport, respect, and voice matching.
- The next step is to make sure you’re using their correct name: say,
Can you please tell me how you refer to yourself so I can call you by the name you prefer?
Even if you see a name written in front of you, you have no way of knowing if it’s how they refer to themselves. My name, for example, is Sharon-Drew Morgen. Folks who don’t know me mistakenly refer to me as ‘Sharon’ and I must admit it really annoys me. With just a little bit of homework on Google, or looking at my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or reading any of my articles or profile, it’s easy to spot that I refer to myself as Sharon-Drew. Calling me by the wrong name automatically puts callers out of rapport with me, and then they have to claw their way back. So unless you know the person, don’t assume you know the name they call themselves. Ask.
- Given the time demands we all have these days, say upfront how much time you’ve got so everyone is working with the same parameters. So after you get their correct name, say
Hi, Joe. Glad we’re speaking. I’ve got about 15 minutes. Does that work for you? Or would you rather do it at a different time when we could speak longer?
This sets up trust that you’ll be honest and respectful.
Now that you’ve got the initial set up, let’s turn to more tools for a collaborative communication.
WE Space. I coined this term decades ago to represent the HOW of rapport building, comfort, and trust building. It’s about very quickly creating a feeling of familiarity. I’ve heard people say it’s ‘smooth’.
Begin with a conversational tone. And certainly don’t begin with questions to ‘assess need’ or assumptions, or begin sharing information you think they need. Openings like these make people defensive or annoyed if offered before they are ready to hear you. Listening to another person talk about something outside their comfort zone will break rapport and regardless of a ‘need’, they won’t listen. So ixnay on the pitch or ‘illuminating’, regardless of how ‘important’ you think your message is: the conversation must be reciprocal or the listener won’t hear it.
Don’t forget, you’re out of control on the phone and have no idea what the other person is doing. Are they listening? Are they on mute and working on their computer? Are they having lunch? Did their dog just die? I once got a cold call that went like this:
CALLER: Hi. I’m James with XYZ corp. And how are YOU today!?
SD: I’m terrible. I just had to put my favorite dog down (This was true.) I’m so upset
And he hung up. He could have used that opportunity to create rapport, but his only agenda was to sell something. Being human wasn’t in the mix. This is a great example of why you should never, never say “How are you?” to someone on a cold call that you don’t know. It’s a piker move. Shows you don’t care, aren’t sincere, and merely trying to create a fake sense of relationship to get their own needs met. Don’t do it.
It’s vital to have a real exchange that embraces both parties (Sender->Receiver->Sender->). And without both parties on the same page wanting the same outcome, you won’t be heard. This is especially challenging for sales folks determined to discover a ‘need’ to sell into, and merely end up annoying folks who may not know why they’re being talked at; and for patients and clients who haven’t been respected enough to be brought on board to a mutual discovery process. This brings up the next item.
Ask don’t tell. Don’t enter a call assuming you have answers. I use Buying Facilitation® to help Others discover their own answers, their preferred behaviors, their assumptions and the beliefs they hold to maintain their status quo. Once they’ve figured out where they’re at, what’s missing, and what they need to change for excellence, I offer only data that matches.
- To help them discover their answers, I developed Facilitative Questions, which do NOT elicit data, but helps uncover unconscious decision criteria instead of conventional questions that are biased by the Asker and restrict the full range of responses. So:
What has stopped you until now from considering other options around X? What skill do you have that might help you shift Y that you’d be willing to begin using? What do you need from me to help you achieve Z if you’re having difficulty?
I am aware that the term ‘facilitative questions’ is being used by now by folks who don’t know the origination of the term, so here it is. Decades ago I realized that conventional questions are biased by the Asker – in words, context, intent, languaging, outcomes, assumptions – and set up resistance, or extract only partial, or incorrect, data.
After decades of trial, I figured out how brains make decisions and developed Facilitative Questions to employ brain function to retrieve data from the unconscious. They use specific words, in a specific order, with a different goal and outcome than conventional questions, i.e. they’re not based on any curiosity or need of the Questioner. I’ve written an article on them, and developed a learning tool to learn how to formulate them. It’s not a natural use of questions, nor a natural use of the brain, but quite powerful as a way to not only build trust, but to enable Others to use their natural ideas and assumptions. After all, at the end of the day, you want your telephone partner to walk away with their own best solutions.
Change your goal. Instead of entering a call to achieve what YOU think is important, enter the call to do what THEY will benefit from – and as an outsider, you have no way of knowing what that is. I suggest you listen for what they have interest in changing; what their brand of excellence is and how they want to get there. Make it your goal to enter as a Servant Leader. Use the phone to help THEM discover what THEY need, exploring and discovering together a shared goal. Remember: the connection is about WE, not about YOU.
And trust me on this: even if you’re a doctor or consultant with necessary data or wisdom YOU think they need doesn’t mean THEY will agree. Especially if what you suggest goes against their instincts (which you cannot know), or they’re already frightened and don’t know who or what to trust. Rapport building and WE Space will handle the psychological issues you don’t normally deal with before you address their concerns. So:
I’d like to discuss what you’d like to get from this call. If you tell me what’s going on, I’d like to hear how you’ve been trying to fix the problem yourself and how that’s working. If there is a way I can help you do it the most comfortable way for you, I’d like to try.
For sellers, your pitches and qualifying questions are based on your needs. Remember: you’ve got nothing to sell (or share) if they’ve got nothing to buy (or learn/change). Certainly your biased questions won’t help them discover what they need to address to make changes, and will only create resistance. You now seek out folks eager to make changes but haven’t figured out how. It’s only when folks are ready and willing to change that they become buyers, regardless of a ‘need’.
One more important factor for any influencer: when you offer information the listener isn’t seeking, they can’t hear it outside their own biases. I wrote a book on this (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?). Here’s why they can’t hear you: words enter brains as chemical and electrical signals that have no meaning. These signals seek out existing synapses and neural pathways that have a close match; where there is insufficient matching, the brain discards the difference – and doesn’t tell us what parts it discarded causing misunderstanding and misinterpretation. And because we think we heard what was said, we have no choice but to respond to what we think we heard. So you might say ABC and my brain hears ABL. It doesn’t tell me it deleted C, D, E, etc. Hence, we all suffer the downsides of miscommunication.
This is what happens when you pitch or offer information before your communication partner recognizes what they’re missing and need from you, and you’ve developed the rapport and trust necessary for them to invite you to serve them. Regardless of how important your message, it will not be received regardless of the efficacy of the idea.
What to listen for. When we listen for what we want to hear, we’re overlooking a vast array of underlying data. With your Servant Leader hat on during a phone call, you can hear what your patients, prospects, and clients have omitted, the beliefs that aren’t serving them, and the reasons behind the choices they’ve made. Listening is a highly biased process. Mitigate this by speaking only when the Other has determined exactly what they need from you, regardless of what you think they need. And the phone is a great tool for this.
One more thing. As your phone call progresses, ask yourself these questions:
- What am I forgetting to be curious about?
- Why is s/he telling me this instead of something I find more important?
- Am I hearing what’s being said or am I biasing my listening?
I hope I’ve shed some light on how to make the phone your friend during these troubling times. Should you have more questions, please let me know: email@example.com
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.