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Technology Vs. Talking

Most people have smartphones. I’m amused by the fact that the word “phone” is part of what we call these things because we use them as “telephones” only 7% of the time. Mostly, we are texting, photographing, searching, reading, streaming and doing everything else EXCEPT talking on them. Our world is digital and technology has changed our lives for the better. Hopefully, you’ve changed your prospecting and phoning to adapt to these changes.

It’s easier and faster to text someone, “I’m running late,” than to make a call. Texts are like “banners.” Nothing is required by the reader – they glance at their screen and see what the other person had to say. Emails are perceived of as “old fashioned” next to texting. If a message is short and doesn’t require an answer, the brevity of the entire texting process is preferable to email.

And phoning is always last on the list.

Taking the time to make a phone call has its place in our world. I think there is nothing to compare to a real-time, human-to-human conversation. But many advisors resort to digital communication, almost exclusively. I understand why. With most people ignoring their calls, our overall contact rate hovering around 10-13% in urban areas, and voice mail boxes being “full” a lot of the time, it is impossible to dial your way to successful appointment setting. That wasn’t true just a few years ago.

But I’ll go out on a limb and say you can’t just dial and expect to set enough appointments. There isn’t enough time in your work week.

Let me give you an historical perspective: Once the selling world discovered that the telephone provided more client contact for less money, telemarketing exploded. There were many companies that “put their toe in” during the Eighties, but lower-cost-per-sale became so obvious that more jumped into the fray. It was during the Nineties that consumers really got bombarded and started realizing their dinnertime was frequently interrupted by strangers. I remember those years of getting accosted by folks after telling them that I taught sales people phone skills. They immediately said, in a thoroughly hostile tone of voice, “So YOU’RE the reason we can’t eat dinner in peace!” Of course, I begged off of that accusation and immediately changed the way I described my career.

The word “telemarketer” has become synonymous with “annoying, horrid stranger who calls my office-cell-house phone and interrupts my day.” This stream of calls coming at consumers on a constant basis created a few things we take for granted now.

Believe it or not, years ago there weren’t any “answering” systems in people’s houses. Phones were attached to the wall and if you didn’t pick it up, the persistent callers let it ring dozens of times. Then, someone invented the “answering machine,” which was a box you put on your desk and attached to your phone. With that invention came a new word in our vernacular – “screening” – as in screening one’s phone calls.

The next brilliant invention was Caller ID. That allowed you to check who it was before choosing to pick it up or let it go to the answering machine. A new version of screening.

It was during this era that telemarketing had its heyday. Once Congress got wind of everyone’s annoyance, they passed, and in 2003 enacted, the Do Not Call Law. This changed how we prospected if we were cold calling, but by this point, I was telling everyone in financial services to NOT cold call since most people don’t pick an advisor from a stranger dialing their number. And our results from cold calling were dropping like a stone.

Then we all got cell phones. The evolution of that simple, exquisite convenience has been revolutionized into the Smartphone, which we don’t use to call people too often, as I’ve already mentioned.

Looking at this arc of history and how we have arrived where we are, it’s not surprising that the newest invention – which I fondly refer to as Your Rectangle – is our favorite toy of all time. We use it to keep away annoying sales people, politicians, pollsters and charities that aren’t of interest to us.

But we also use it to not talk to people as much as we used to. Even people we used to talk to a lot; like prospects.

In light of the technological advances, my basic question is this: How have you adapted your marketing, phoning and language to improve your chances of getting an appointment with someone?

If you randomly dial when it’s convenient for you, you will probably get so frustrated that you’ll give up on using the phone. Therefore, I am recommending that you Set Phone Dates – i.e. request a time that is mutually convenient for you and the prospect to have a brief call. On that call, you will, in real time, ask them for the face-to-face appointment.

Phone Dates will increase your contact rate – to almost 100%. If a prospect agrees to a date and time to be available to talk, they are likely to pick up at that time. Having several phone dates a week will lower your actual time on the phone but increase your time talking to people. It’s quite likely that a successful week will be a total of 12 actual dials, 10 phone calls with 8 appointments set. I know… these numbers sound nutty. But this is the new normal, if you’re willing to adapt to it.

Confirming Phone Dates by email or text, whichever was your initial method of asking, increases the likelihood of the Phone Date sticking.
To schedule a Phone Date, you email or text the other person to find out a time that works for them. Do not to ask for the appointment through digital means. Only ask for the phone date. Use a real time phone call to request the appointment.

I am often asked to edit emails where advisors are asking prospects for an initial appointment. I don’t think that works. If you are introduced to someone and the referring party carries a lot of clout with the new prospect, your first communication may be able to suggest a visit. But in that case, I’d ask the question as an alternative – “We could either have a brief phone call, but since our offices are so close we can schedule a visit. Which is easier for you?” I’ve done this with my own referrals who are within 20 minutes of my office. One time, the person immediately offered an appointment time. The other time they offered a phone date.

The subject line of an email to a new person is VERY important. People delete emails when they don’t recognize the sender or the subject line doesn’t resonate with them. There are some easy rules about subject lines. For example: always use the name of the referring person in the subject line to a referral. Keep subject lines to 3 words (statistics show three words or less get more emails opened). Don’t use “Follow Up” as that gets put into junk mail frequently.

I’ve had people blatantly ask me if ANYONE is using the phone anymore. Well, yes, of course. And there are several good reasons to continue using the phone.

The sound of the human voice is very important in building relationships. Currently, it is being diminished by our technological world. As I said initially, there’s no faster way to send someone a quick note than a text. They are a fabulous invention and we all love using them. But everyone can cite situations when we resorted to a digital message that got completely misinterpreted. Without inflection, your words can get interpreted in a way you did not mean — and get you in trouble.

Most of us are familiar with the word exercise where you emphasize a different word each time and get a very different message. Try this sentence, emphasizing a different word each time: I didn’t say you stole my money.

This is why I continue to implore people to ask for the phone date digitally but use your voice to ask for the actual face-to-face appointment.
I conducted a study group with a local financial agency for three months. An advisor had asked a former colleague, who was about to move quite a few miles away, for an appointment before she was out of town. She had texted the appointment request and, during a break, showed me that text. I reminded her that texting – especially one as long as hers – was not the best idea. She realized the error of her ways and during the last few minute of our meeting, she got a response text. I knew what it was going to be, but I asked her to tell the group the whole story. And then I asked her to read the person’s response text to the group. (I, of course, predicted the answer. Been there, done that.)

The former colleague, in classic texting response, basically said “Thank you, but we have an advisor that we like.” And that was it. I could not suggest an answer to that. Texting doesn’t give you a chance to answer any kind of “no” as effectively as a real time phone call does.
Good lesson and I hope the whole group learned it as much as the advisor to whom it was a big blow. But, to my knowledge, she has not made that mistake again.

To create a relationship – and this business is ALL about relationships – you really need to talk to the other person. In real time. Using your voice. A conversation, with its natural back and forth, will outdo any digital communication when it comes to getting someone else to feel like they know you. With texting and emailing, just the gaps in time between comments can ruin the flow of your conversation. The lack of spontaneity in digital “writing” can hinder a feeling of connection.

In our brave new world, we may forget how humans start their early communication skills. Babies make eye contact with their parents, who coo and babble at their kids. There are too many studies to cite here, but parents who constantly talk to their children, while looking at them, have higher functioning kindergarteners. Language starts with facial expressions and inflection until a child learns how to use words. We forget the impact of this basic human biology because we are surrounded by amazing technology. But it never will replace us – human-to-human – when trying to create a relationship and make someone feel comfortable with you. The goal is to create a client that will stay with you, refer you and introduce you to their children, who are your next generation of possible clients.

Overall, you need a balance between using technology and continuing to speak to people. Favoring one over the other will not work. Straight dialing won’t get you enough pick-ups, and relying on the digital world completely will hamper your ability to create relationships.

Gail Goodman Gail Goodman is known as The Phone Teacher. Gail has developed the best structured analysis of the appointment setting phone call so that all direct sales people can master this critical skill. Gail’s training materials, on-site seminars, videos and newsletters zero in on the most effective way to understand this critical part of the sales cycle. For almost thirty years, Gail has continually updated her seminar and training materials to keep pace with the changes in our culture. Gail addresses the new “digital-personal-vocal mix” which all sales teams must learn to manage in our ever-changing society.

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