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Call Reluctance - a growing business problem

Most people in the developed world communicate these days using texts, messaging, ‘walls’, and of course email. We choose to use these methods of communication because they are cheap, fast, easy (once you’ve mastered a keyboard using varying numbers of fingers), and most importantly, none of them put us on the spot. We can compose what we want to say, in our own time. We also aren’t being judged for our accent, hesitation, pronunciation or, much to the disgust of English teachers throughout the world, spelling and grammar. Unfortunately, by avoiding being put-on-the-spot, we are not practicing the skills required to converse in real-time. We are increasingly losing confidence to either initiate conversations, or to make ourselves available to respond to requests for conversations. And with respect to phone calls, we’re consequently becoming Call Reluctant. We don’t like making calls, and we don’t like answering them.

This is not only true for the general public, it is increasingly true for sales staff. It’s so much easier to respond to an enquiry by email rather than pick up the phone. But research shows that where an enquirer has provided both a valid email address and a phone number, the salesman is considerably more likely (research suggests up to 5 times more likely) to convert the enquiry if he responds by phone rather than email. It’s very easy to ignore an email from a salesman, even if you’re interested in buying something, but try ignoring a ringing phone. And when we answer it, a good salesman will turn at least 1 in 3 calls into an appointment.

It’s not just a matter of developing what marketers call a ‘relationship’. It’s about developing trust, and it’s about countering objections (every trained salesman knows how to do this), and it’s about ‘closing’! It’s so much harder to ‘close’ a sale, or at least to obtain a commitment from a prospect, if you don’t force a reply by pausing after a closing question. “So, if we can get you a blue car to test drive, can I make an appointment for you?”… pause for reply… If the same question is posed by email, the prospect can either ignore it, or type “I’ll think about it” if they’re prepared to reply out of courtesy. It’s easy to be abrupt by email. It’s very hard to do the same in a phone call.

Why do people make phone calls to businesses when it’s so much easier to email? In general, phone calls to businesses fall into three categories. To make or change an appointment, to ask a complicated question, or to complain. The latter two reasons are potentially stressful for the recipient of the call. Yet another reason for Call Reluctance. Calls are becoming fewer and those that are received by businesses are less easy to handle. As a result, people who answer phones need special training to help them better satisfy customers and to increase their own confidence levels. Recording conversations and then analysing them for product knowledge, sales skills and complaint handling procedures is therefore crucial to maximising customer trust, retention and sales.

So phone calls work far better to convert enquiries, but salesmen come from the digital age where they’re comfortable with texting, emailing and ‘walls’. Call Reluctance prevents salesmen initiating the call, and it discourages prospects from answering it – but overcome it, salesmen must. Research in Australia over the past 40 years has come up with the following insight (copied from the BSRP website):

·         Across industries, the sales people who sell the most are those who are most willing to get in front of prospective buyers on a consistent, daily basis. They sell more because regardless of their talent, experience, or knowledge, they always have new people to sell to.
·         80% of all sales people fail to complete their first year because of prospecting distress with their energy directed towards coping rather than prospecting strategies.
·         40% of experienced sales people report one or more episodes of Call Reluctance severe enough to threaten their career.
·         The hesitation to initiate first contact with prospective buyers on a consistent daily basis is responsible for the failure of more competent, motivated, capable, revenue generating sales people than any other single factor. Nothing else even comes close.
·         Despite content or quality, no training can earn back what it costs unless sales people initiate contact in sufficient numbers with new and existing clients.
·         Research indicates that a prospecting hesitant sales person can cost your company 15 new units of business per month.
·         Non-hesitant sales people are five times more productive than hesitant sales people.
·         The only significant predictor for success in sales is the number of contacts initiated with prospective buyers on a consistent basis!

The research went on to say:

The bad news is that call reluctant behaviours are highly contagious as they are learnt from being around other people who are Call Reluctant. It can take as little as 6 to 8 weeks to become contaminated.
At last count there are 12 Call Reluctant types that can keep people from prospecting effectively due to fear. Here are some of the marker behaviours from the more common types that may give you clues that you or some of your people may be suffering from Call Reluctance:

·         Over-reliance on information such as brochures and technical specs; over-invests energy in always getting ready; never enough information or feel adequately prepared; over-analyses and under acts
·         Nagging guilt and shame associated with being in a sales career generally based on negative stereotypes; may use 'deflected identities' to disguise the sales role; tries to be overly positive and instead comes across as insincere
·         Hesitates to prospect or close sales due to fear of appearing rude, pushy or intrusive; says 'yes' when should say 'no'; avoids confrontation and needs to feel liked; can gossip to remain 'in the loop'
·         Overly-concerned with professional image and credibility; may see prospecting as demeaning and unnecessary; doesn't listen; may talk over people; needs to be seen as better than average

At my company 10ACT, we recognised the growing tendency of Call Reluctance within car dealerships. Fewer and fewer leads were being responded to by phone. Sales conversions were reducing year by year, and marketing managers started blaming the internet - better informed consumers who could make many more enquires for every sale - instead of considering the fact that sales people were becoming increasingly reluctant to make those essential calls. So we invented TrackBack to discover whether calls were being made in response to enquiries (or other types of sales enquiries passed to dealers for fulfilment), how long prospects had to wait before they received a call, the result of each call (using our unique end-of-call-feedback) and by listening to the recordings, how well did the salesman perform. We can also distinguish between Call Attempts and Contact Made, so salesmen can also prove they’ve been trying to make contact. Persistence, or tenacity, is what successful selling is all about.

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