Nine ways (not) to telemarket.

I’d never done telemarketing before last week. In fact, I’d actively avoided any position that listed telemarketing as a possible task. You can imagine the dread that settled in my stomach when I was informed that yes, my wonderful new job required me to put in a few hours each day calling through prospected clients.

I’m not a phone person. I can’t even order a pizza. I won’t call my own sister if a text message will do. And yet, here I was at my beautiful new desk, staring at the phone trying to summon the courage to dial the first number.

Now, I have a lot of support in the role. In just a week I’ve not only discovered that I can make those calls, I actually love it. The one downside to an office job as opposed to a retail position is not getting to talk to as many people, telemarketing fills that gap quite nicely.

So with all of a week’s experience under my belt, I answered the phone on Friday afternoon to a fellow telemarketer. I won’t say what she was pushing, only that I spent far too long trying to get off the phone and back to the meeting I was supposed to be in. That’s when it occurred to me that while the training I’d been given was certainly helping–almost everything I knew about telemarketing I’d learned from the other end.

Here are some of the more annoying mistakes and pitfalls I’ve found.

1. I am not your darling, your dear, or your sweetheart.

It doesn’t help that I sound like a twelve-year-old, but my childlike voice is not a licence to treat me as one. Speaking too familiarly with someone too soon will put them off. You’re not their friend. Laugh and joke as the conversation leads, and call me by my name if you have it available, but whatever you do—don’t call me baby.

2. Use my name—not someone else’s.

You might have just been talking to Maria, the name was still stuck in your mind. It just slipped out. It’s an honest mistake that we’ll all make at some point, just be aware that it will almost definitely cost you the call. One minute we’re happily chatting, the next I realise you’ve been chatting to some other ‘Maria’—and you’ve lost me. Sorry. This potential customer wants to feel special, not just another number on a list. Be extra careful with names. Say the name of the person you’re calling five times before you dial just to make sure it’s locked in your head.

3. Pronunciation matters.

I don’t think my name is hard to say, but you’d be amazed how many people make a mess of it. There are definitely worse names to try and say when you’ve only ever seen them written before. There’s a real skill to recovering when you’ve mis-pronounced someone’s name, so unless you’ve got that knack you’re going to need to think more strategically when faced with the next Stephen (is it pronounced Steven or Stefan this time?). Most people say their own name when they answer, so listen hard and mimic when you need to. The same applies with voice mail. If your CRM has a ‘pronunciation’ field, check that.

4. Youreallydoneedtotakeabreath.

I’m not going to hang up in the time it takes you to breathe. Telemarketing is a role where it’s especially important to be clear and precise in what you say. Slow your words down and let me hear your message before I decide to continue with the call or not. Rushing forward is a waste of time, you end up keeping people on the line who are truly not interested—they just can’t find a space to hang up. If you’re worried about keeping people on the line longer, ask questions. Engage in a two-way conversation that allows you to discuss what you’re offering properly.

5. And listen.

There’s no point asking me questions if you’re not going to take my answers into account. If I’ve just told you that I don’t have a dog, you shouldn’t be asking me what colour it is. The same goes for information I offer without prompting. My most recent experience with a telemarketer had her talking over top of my trying to explain that I had no control over decision making. In fact, she went as far as to insist that I did have that power and would be able to supply her the information she was asking for. I couldn’t get off the phone fast enough.

6. Now is not always a convenient time.

In that same conversation, I had to explain that the actual decision makers were in a meeting. It took a while to get through, but eventually I was able to ask if I could take her details and get someone more appropriate to call her back. My reward for that was being told that it “had to be now”. By this time she’d wasted nearly fifteen minutes of her time and mine. How many potential customers had she not called while she was on the phone with me? Accept that the people you need to speak to aren’t always there. Ask when would be a more convenient time and make a note to call back.

7. Grumpiness begets grumpiness.

It’s an age-old rule of customer service. However grumpy and bothered you are, never let it show. Customers can smell it over the phone. It poisons the call. You’re more likely to get happy conversations if you approach your calls with a positive attitude and a smile in your voice. My phone has a little sticker below that says ‘Smile when you Dial’ and silly as that small thing seems it helps a lot. Keep that smile going until you’ve hung up, no matter what happens. Once that phone is down you can do what you like. Run around screaming like a velociraptor if you must. If you want your calls to go smoothly and pleasantly, you need to be the one to set the tone.

8. Remember: you’re the voice.

While you’re on the phone you’re no longer you. You’re the voice of the company. What you say and how you say it directly impacts the impression the customer has of your company. If you have a script, stick as close to it as you can. Those words have been especially chosen to communicate the company’s intent. If you don’t have a script, discuss with your colleagues what language you use when calling. Consider what really represents the company’s core beliefs and stay true to those when speaking on the phone. Stay positive and professional.

9. Above all else, don’t lie.

Never make promises the company can’t keep for you, and never guess at information you don’t have. This goes double for anything involving money. If you say you can save someone a hundred dollars a week, they won’t be satisfied with $99.99. Make sure you can back up everything you say, and make sure you do everything you say. Again, as a point of contact for the company, your misdirection and false information will create a poor image of the company. Even if it gets you the sale, it’s not worth the disappointed and angry customer down the track. Offer to find the information, to investigate what can be done. Never, never, lie.

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