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I can see you through the phone

Again and again, I hear that the telephone has become outdated as a contemporary acquisition tool, as there is a growing bouquet of other acquisition possibilities, such as social selling, video messages, email marketing, trade show visits, etc. First of all, the telephone does not claim to be the sole communication tool in acquisition. And yes, it is one of many ways to get in touch with decision-makers. And like any tool, it has its pitfalls and unique aspects that we need to understand in sales.

During an expert talk in 2022 with telemarketing specialist Udo Peilicke, we discussed the strengths of phone calls despite the absence of face-to-face interaction.

Udo Peilicke is a professional in the field of telephone marketing, who has been conducting successful sales training for telephone sales and complaint management since 1992 and has been extensively involved in communication with the “inner eye.”

In our interview, we focused on the following topics:

  • What vocal elements are used in communication during phone calls, and how do they compensate for the absence of body language?
  • What learning and practice techniques can we apply to use these elements as effective persuasive tools in sales conversations?

Question (McKenna): What vocal elements replace the missing body language on the phone that make the telephone salesperson “visible” to the customer?

Answer (Peilicke): In order to effectively use vocal elements [vocal communication refers to the non-verbal aspects of speech], the internal attitude is an essential prerequisite.

The customer hears how we are doing.

And if I also incorporate vocal elements such as speaking speed, intonation, rhythm, volume, accents, pauses, confirmation and favorite words into my customer conversation, then I become “visible” to my counterpart.

Question: Are there other significant differences between face-to-face and call-to-call?

Answer: Yes, as you mentioned in the question about vocal elements, a crucial part of communication is missing during call-to-call, namely facial expressions and gestures, so our attention is fully focused on the voice of our counterpart. I find it fascinating that there is a large group of salespeople who say, “Those salespeople who sit in front of the customer and can look them in the eye have a definite advantage. In telephone sales, we miss out on crucial signals.” And then there is the other faction, to which I also belong, that says, “Great, it’s fantastic that we only have to focus on the voice. That’s enough for us.” Then we focus on speech patterns and listen to how they talk, how they set pauses, and how they intonate. And through the voice alone, I have all the information about the conversation partner, just like in a face-to-face meeting, to establish the relationship with the customer. Of course, this also requires appropriate technical equipment. The keyword here is a two-ear headset. On the one hand, the salesperson has both hands free, and on the other hand, both hemispheres of the brain are equally stimulated, just like in a face-to-face conversation.

Question: What typical mistakes do salespeople make during phone calls?

Answer: There is only one mistake that cannot be corrected without external help, and that is a lack of the right attitude. Everything else can be taught to salespeople because those are techniques that are internalised through repetition and improve conversion rates. Making phone calls can be compared to building a house.

First, we have to lay the foundation.

The foundation of a phone call is the inner attitude and positive thinking. Only when these two factors are in place can one build upon them. It’s simply a matter of mindset, knowing that the worst outcome is a “no” from the customer and the best outcome is a “yes,” which ultimately increases one’s commission.

Next, let’s divide the house into rooms. The psychological background serves as the rooms during a phone conversation.

These rooms are also part of the basics. Only when we understand how people think and act, and especially why, can we optimise our communication. This also involves determining the personality of the person we’re talking to.

And then there’s the roof, the protection of the house. In the context of phone calls, it refers to various techniques.

Here, I mean the application of various communication models and techniques that align with our values. When it comes to techniques, question techniques and closing techniques are particularly important.

Thus, the techniques form the conclusion. In combination with the foundation and the rooms, they create a unity that ultimately leads to optimised communication over the phone.

Question: How can a salesperson motivate themselves when they are experiencing a streak of negativity and hear “no” ten times in a row without any progress?

Answer: On one hand, it’s about the inner attitude, and on the other hand, it’s about understanding the laws. The keyword here is the law of large numbers.

For example, if your ratio is 11 to 1, hearing “no” ten times in a row mathematically means that a “yes” must come now.

The significance of ratios in sales is unknown to many salespeople. However, it’s essential to know the ratios of individual salespeople in the team when setting goals, such as the sales plan. Only when I know the ratios can I manage and improve them through techniques. If one salesperson has a closing ratio of 3:1 and others have a ratio of 2:1, it automatically raises the question of what the outperformers are doing differently and how to improve the ratio of the 3:1 salesperson.

Of course, there are also simple, proven techniques when things are really tough. At this point, I always recommend the anchoring technique from the field of NLP to my seminar participants. I advise participants to relive a photo of a fantastic vacation experience and place it on their desk. The reliving of the situation is done with closed eyes and engaging all the senses: the salty smell of the beach, seagull cries, the warmth of the sun. At the moment when the re-experience is particularly strong, they open their eyes and look at the picture. By repeating this regularly, they condition themselves like Pavlov’s dog. If they have a streak of negativity with many rejections, they look at the photo and re-experience that amazing situation. The positive feelings associated with that photo resurface, they feel great again, and can move on to the next phone call.

Question: In direct sales, the phone has disadvantages for the customer because they cannot calculate accurately and do not have any comparison offers. How can these disadvantages be overcome?

Answer: You can send the customer relevant documents in advance, which they can have during the conversation. This is beneficial for visual and kinesthetic individuals. Alternatively, you can refer them to relevant websites of your company during the call, where they can access further information parallel to the conversation.

Question: The mirroring technique is used in NLP for building relationships. How can this be applied during a phone conversation?

Answer: It’s great that you brought it up. The goal is indeed to establish a personal connection with the person you’re communicating with. To simplify this, one of the techniques available is mirroring.

This means adapting to the observable behavior of the person you’re communicating with.

Here are some possibilities over the phone, let me list them for you:

  1. Mirroring language

This is particularly effective and quick over the phone. Pay attention to the voice of the person on the other end and adapt your voice to match theirs, including all its nuances and differences.

Specifically, consider:

  • Tone: Is their voice high or low-pitched?
  • Tempo: Is their voice slow (long pauses between sentences) or fast (short sentences, short pauses)?
  • Volume: Is it soft or loud?
  • Rhythm: Is it steady, monotonous, or questioning?
  • Does the person use favorite expressions, slang, or technical terms?
  1. Mirroring mood

Every day, and even within different time periods, people have different moods. These range from exuberant joy to paralysing depression.

So what should we do? If the mood is positive, amplify it. If the mood is negative, briefly adapt to it, improve their mood, and guide them out of the negative state. Of course, only if you desire to do so.

  1. Mirroring breathing

Why breathing? Our breathing is directly linked to our mood. Consider how we breathe when we’re excited compared to when we feel completely relaxed. Through breathing, we can control our internal emotional state.

In the context of our phone conversation, we should pay attention to our inhalation and exhalation. For example, during speaking, exhale, and during pauses (thinking pauses), inhale.

  1. Mirroring statements

One of my areas of expertise in telephone training is collections calls, where employees of companies are trained to follow up on unpaid invoices. After the employees explain the purpose of their call, the recipients often provide reasons for not having paid yet. Let’s say the delinquent customer mentions that they are still waiting for a refund from the tax office. Now, the employee mirrors the conversation partner, picks up on their statement, and confirms it by saying, for example: “Mr. Customer, I completely understand you. We could write books about tax offices, couldn’t we? When tax offices demand money from us, it’s as if we can’t react quickly enough before being hit with penalty interest. On the other hand, when we are due a refund from the tax office, it takes weeks and months to see it in our account.”

With this exemplary confirmation of the statement, a positive loop is created. Subconsciously, the customer perceives that the employee is on their side and understands them. This builds the foundation of the relationship. It’s nothing more than listening and meeting the person where they are.

Udo Peilicke, thank you very much for this very interesting conversation about communication techniques over the phone.


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