By Andy Paul
It is essential to have all incoming phone calls to your sales and service teams answered by live persons rather than auto-attendants. Providing a personal sales experience for your customers is an important element in winning orders. This is especially true for small- to mid-sized firms competing against larger companies. Integrating a human touch into your sales and customer service processes directly affects how your prospects and customers perceive and engage with your company. And, in turn, has an impact on your sales and profits.
Doing something as simple as providing a potential customer with a live person to answer their questions is a key sales differentiator. As my mother, and countless other mothers throughout the years, have always stressed, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” However, it is not about the first impression, but the first perception you create in the mind of the customer. Impressions are fleeting but perceptions are reality and it is very difficult to change a prospect’s or customer’s perception of your company and offering once it has been formed.
Having your company’s phone answered by a voice recording is not the way to create that good perception. In fact, you are communicating just the opposite message to your prospect and customer: “Your phone call was not important enough for us to actually answer it.” This is even truer for SMBs. Customers expect big companies to be faceless, impersonal and slow. For the SMB, this initial contact with a prospect is a golden opportunity to differentiate you from the competition and create a positive perception in the mind of the customer about your responsiveness and follow-through.
(Even big companies are recognizing that providing the human touch in sales and service is beneficial. Check out applications such as FastCustomer that allow you to skip waiting on hold when you call a big company. Cool stuff.)
Only bad things happen when a live person does not answer calls to sales.
1. The odds of any lead ever being followed-up are slim.
If you force prospective customers to leave a voice mail for sales you are giving them a pretty reliable indicator of the likelihood of the call being returned. Industry research estimates that anywhere from 30-50% of sales leads are never followed up. Even if the number is only 30% that quantity of lost sales opportunities is astounding. Factor into that the odds of a salesperson returning a call to a lead that left a voicemail and the chances of that lead ever receiving a response from your company are pretty dismal.
2. The prospect has a negative perception of your responsiveness.
The key to sales differentiation today is responsiveness. A study cited in the Harvard Business Review estimated that you were 7 times more likely to convert a lead into a qualified prospect if you followed up within the first hour. Now think about what happens to prospect calls that get routed to voicemail. If the call is ever returned it will be hours, if not days, later. (See #3 below for what happens then.) Many SMBs have a sales voicemail box that gets checked about once a day. I had a client that checked their sales voicemail box only once per week. (That changed in a hurry.) Why would you knowingly put in place a sales process that is guaranteed to send a message to your prospect that you don’t share their sense of urgency?
3. You open the door to your competitors
What happens when prospects call your company with an inquiry and are forced to leave a voicemail? They dial the number of the next seller on their list. If they talk to a live salesperson that is responsive and able to provide answers to their questions in zero-time, then you are suddenly in staring at 2nd place in the competition. By the time your salesperson responds, the customer may have moved a substantial way down the road to buying from someone else.
I once came home from vacation to find a river of ants streaming across my white tile floor from one end of the house to the other. I searched for pest control online and chose the brand-name company on the top of the returns to call first. I got a voice mail in their sales department telling me that my call was so important to them that they had a company policy that guaranteed it would be returned within the first 24 hours! They were so proud of this. I thought was “Wow. Your fast is my slow. I’m calling the next guys.” The next guys answered their phone and had someone out the same day to escort the ants off the property.
4. The prospect doubts your commitment to support them.
Think about it this way. Do you really think you are providing the best sales service (or customer service) when you force customers to leave voice mails rather than talk to your salespeople? Is that what you prefer when you call a company for information about their products or services? Would you rather have to deal with an auto-attendant and hunt and peck through a dial by last name directory instead of talking to a live person? Of course not. You hate it. We all do. And yet, so many of you that hate it, continue to use it in your own business as the first line of communications with your prospects and customers.
Remember that every interaction with a prospect has a zero-sum outcome. It is either a winning interaction or a losing interaction. You either provided value to the prospect or you wasted their time. Every time you communicate with the prospect you are being evaluated and compared with your competition. Squander the first contact you have with a new prospect by not enabling them talk to a live sales person and see how long it takes for your competition to win that business.
Andy Paul is author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. A sought-after speaker and business coach, Andy conducts workshops and consults with sales teams of all sizes to teach them how to use responsiveness, speed and intelligent processes to increase sales. Enjoy what you just read? Sign up for our regular digest of valuable Zero-Time Selling sales tips and strategies, “Selling with Maximum Impact.”
© Andy Paul 2013