Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

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I’m pleased to turn over this week’s post to my colleague, WWP coach Shannyn Lee, who draws on her years of experience in doing outbound sales for multiple agencies to share what works, and what doesn’t, when selling your firm over the telephone.



“Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking,” I psychically screamed to my colleague while trying to sort out the most graceful way to make it happen.

I was dialed in from Seattle, my agency dialed in from the East Coast and our prospect literally stuck in the middle, both in Midwest time zone and a virtual phone nightmare. How was I going to get my agency lead to take a breath, stop talking and let the prospect ask a question?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is how to be your best when communicating via phone with a prospect or client. After a decade of working on the front lines of business development for numerous agencies, I’ve compiled my top tips for effective phone conversations, broken into five categories. These rules apply in any setting – initial prospecting calls, deeper conversations with prospects, clients and yes, maybe even your mom.

#1 For The Love of God, Please Shut Up

If I don’t already know you, I would have no problems placing a bet that you’re talking too much in these vital new business calls. I would make this bet because I’ve seen it – without exaggeration – hundreds of times. Agency people talk too much in a new business call and listen too little. It’s endemic.

The first rule is to be an active listener. Check in and know when to stop talking. If it’s an exploratory call early in the relationship, you’re using your limited time to ask questions and the client is taking the bulk of the time to answer them.

Closer to closing, the roles are reversed but even then you need to remember to stop talking from time to time, check in and make sure the client is keeping up and asking out loud the questions that they’re thinking. Pay attention to the questions they ask and the observations they make. Let them know you’re a good listener and a partner in this conversation.

Long pauses contain clues. Lean into them and ask what the client is thinking. On your end a long, thoughtful pause is okay but I’ve been on calls where it was clear the agency principal’s silence was rooted in a wavering attention span or in not knowing the subject matter. Ouch and ouch.

#2 Prepare Like a Face-to-Face Meeting

Treat a phone conversation just as you would an in-person meeting. If a team is required for a closing call, pull them together in advance and do the needed prep to make sure you’re all on the same page for the big call.

Define the outcome you want from the call. What is the goal?

Create an agenda and share it at the beginning of the call so everyone knows where things are headed.

Decide on the right people to have in the room or dialed in from remote office locations. Be ruthless in culling people who don’t need to be on the call.

Have someone in the room who serves as note taker so you can fully focus on the conversation. Assign someone the role of “call management” to make sure you stay on agenda, cover your points and leave room for discussion and next steps.

Please oh please, consider where, physically, everyone will be when you hold the actual call. For big calls, consider doing some testing with part of your team in another room while you dial in from the designated call room. Some rooms have really bad acoustics and some speakerphones are so poor it’s painful.

If you’re not 100% sure how you come across on the phone, consider recording yourself (if you’re okay navigating the ethics) and listening for areas where you can improve.

If at all possible, plan the call for a time of day when the team is at their best. And the prospect too. Avoid calls late in the day and on Friday afternoons. We’re all mush by that point, better to move right to happy hour.

#3 Know Your Technology Cold, Especially if You’re Touting Your Tech Prowess

If you’re sharing something visual like a deck or a case study beware the inevitable technology fail. Choose your technology and test it beforehand. Encourage those on the client side to do the same. Send along easy-to-use instructions. Confirm they have the software downloaded and offer your help ahead of the call to make things seamless for call time.

Always have a back up. A technology back-up like the good old fashioned idea of knowing everyone’s phone number and how to conference the group in when GoToMeeting crashes, and a content back-up for proceeding when the visual technology fails. (Did I mention it’s going to fail?)

And one little tip that can really save your bacon: have a back channel – a means of communicating with team members dialing in from other locations in case you need to get in touch privately during the call. Try texting or a chat feature. But make sure you’re not showing your screen while chatting… I’ve seen some bad things go down that way.

Technology fails from tech firms are particularly ironic. Again, the fail is going to happen – it’s really about how you respond to it.

#4 Shine, Baby Shine

Ok, now you’re ready for prime time. Let’s talk about what needs to happen during the actual call to be successful.

Remember, you’re in charge, you’re the expert. You and your firm are the prize to be won here. Sit up tall, project confidence and smile. It really does work to smile. You’re demonstrating what it will be like to work with you. Take the lead and remember this is a conversation and not a presentation.

Remove all distractions. If you’re prone to checking your phone or peeking at Facebook, leave your phone in a drawer. (I'm serious – I have horror stories here, too.)

Introduce everyone on the call. I always like to get prospects talking first. It’s a great chance to learn more about them, their role and areas of particular interest before jumping into the call.

Check in with the client on the technology. Is the sound quality clear? Can they see your screen if you’re showing work?

As it turns out, it’s not just teenagers who endlessly say “like” and “umm” every other word. This is an annoying habit and you may not even know you’re doing it. Recording yourself is a great way to find out or you might be lucky and have a brave team member who speaks up about this nasty little habit.

Watch the “inside baseball” chit chat. It may be you and your team in the room and the prospect is on the other end, alone in their office. It can really kill a mood if everyone starts joking and bantering and the prospect feels left out.

Before you hang up, recap what you covered. Make sure a next step is defined and assign follow up action items to people on both sides of the call.

Finally, keep the energy high and momentum strong. Remember, you’re in charge – be the expert that you are.

#5 Post-Call Action Items – You’re Not Done Yet

Once the call has come to a close, spend a few minutes together and recap how the call went before you move on to the next part of your day. Begin by discussing what went well and then talk about what you would do differently next time. Have everybody who was in on the call contribute something in each category. Debriefing like this will keep the feedback positive and help create a culture where it’s okay to share ideas for improvement.

Finally, recap who owns each next step and put this in writing for both the team and client.

When you’re emailing the client afterward don’t begin with any version of “Thank you” that puts you in a subservient position. Be polite and friendly – “Great talking to you” works – but you are the prize, so keep acting like the practitioner and don’t default to the needy vendor now.

While many of these tips may seem obvious, I’ve rarely seen them all put into place in one call. We all get busy and we get excited about the larger calls and we sometimes forget to slow down, but we’re at our best when we’re properly prepared.

Keep this list handy and take a bit of time to run through it before your next call. Then in that call, just be great. Be you.

Until next time.


Shannyn Lee
Shannyn Lee is Win Without Pitching Director of Coaching and an unstoppable force of human empowerment. Trained by Blair in 2006, Shannyn has over 10 years experience in doing new business the Win Without Pitching way. Since joining the team in 2015, Shannyn’s empathetic and encouraging coaching skills have helped our clients translate the lofty Win Without Pitching ideals into real behavioral change with lasting results.
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