I Don't Have Time For Telephone Tag!

by Lucy Blomfield

You know how it goes. You have set a day's goal to phone 60 prospects to whom you have sent catalogs. The first three potential customers are in, and you're able to talk with each one. Progress is being made. Then the inefficiency begins.

I Don't Have Time For This

Telemarketer: "May I speak with John?"

John's Assistant: "John is not in."

Telemarketer: "Will he be in later today?"

John's Assistant: "He's in and out. We really never know when he will be in our store."

The Assistant offers to take your number, but John never returns your call. Alternatively, she asks you if you would like John's Voice Mail. You record your message, but John never answers. Worse yet, you try to phone John two more times during the day, but never reach him. Your goal is sixty calls, but sixty connecting calls which move you closer in a definite way to your objective: a phone sale.

Ways to Avoid Telephone Tag

The above experience is a classic example of telephone tag. To avoid it, you need to ask questions that elicit definite answers. The following questions could help: "What is the best day to reach John?" After learning the best day, you could ask, "What would be the best time to phone him on that day?" It may be you have someone on the line who cannot answer these questions, but there is another person who knows the answers. "Does John have an Assistant Buyer who could help me?" is another possible question to move this situation along.

Possibly John will return your call or answer your message. How disappointing it would be if he were to call and miss you! Scheduling times for call-backs is therefore useful. "I will be here in my office from 2 to 4 this afternoon should John wish to return my call," would be an appropriate statement to make to the Sales Assistant.

Voice Mail and the Big Fish

Have you ever asked your best customers how many prospecting phone calls they receive each day, or how many such calls are in their Voice Mails? It is staggering! Even though many of us hate having to put a message onto voice mail, it can be an effective means of doing business. But for the top buyers? You are one of 50 voices on a machine. Probably persistence is best here - in other words, you keep calling until you speak to the buyer personally. Other associates of the buyer may help, however. An example: a phone marketer called several times to reach the buyer of a large catalog company. He always would get the buyer's Voice Mail - which the buyer never answered. The phone marketer called the main number, and asked if the buyer was in that day. The receptionist paged the buyer who was in the building, and the personal call was made.

The Fax Machine is my Friend, and E-Mail is my Pal

Fax machines are great. Use one to supplement your telemarketing. In the "John the mystery man" example, another question to the Sales Assistant might be, "Does John have a fax machine?" If he does, why not send John a short, easily answerable fax? You could say in your fax, "Did you receive our company's catalog?" and "What time could I call you about our products?" John may find time to return a yes-or-no fax more readily than he would return your call or a Voice Mail message. And what about E-Mail?

It may be true that more people are talking about the Internet than are actually using it, but things are changing. E-mails are easy, quick and efficient. You might be one of 10 messages in John's Voice Mail, but you are his only E-mail for the evening - so he answers you!

All the Time in the World

It is fun to try to figure out ways to avoid telephone tag, to be efficient, to talk personally to the right person who will actually buy; but are there times to put these strategies aside? It seems there are. To illustrate: you call a prospect who has requested your catalog, but you speak to her Father instead. You learn from him when and how his daughter can be reached, and she has a fax too - so why not end the conversation right then, and fax her? But there is something in the tone of the voice of the Father that makes you hesitate to end the conversation with him. You ask him his name, and something about his business. He tells you that he has owned the store for 37 years, and that he is considering giving it to his daughter next year. As you listen, it is possible to hear something of what the Father is trying to say. It is that his heart is in this business, and that he knows so much about it, and it is difficult to let it go. This is a quiet conversation, but an important one - a time to learn from someone who understands his profession. It seems there is less and less time to listen and really hear in business today, but isn't this the best (and most profitable) way we have to spend our time?

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