Written by Ken Baker, Training and Business Development Director


When I started my sales career in the early ’80s my role was new business sales. I had a designated geographical area in Birmingham. I was tasked to generate my own prospects via cold calling.

I would photocopy a map of a certain postcode. I would drive there, park my car (Keeping the car park ticket so I could prove to my boss I had been where I said I had !!), pull on a waterproof coat if it was raining, and then methodically follow my map. On foot, knocking on every business door to hopefully build my pipeline.

I hated the rejection from receptionists who were generally fed up of handing out compliment slips to salespeople asking them for their company information. Who was their MD? How long had they had their telephone system? Do they own it? Is it on a Lease etc? We were then encouraged to ask if the decision maker (MAN= Money, Authority, Need) was available because I had a compelling cost saving proposition. If I managed to see the MD it was always a buying signal if I was offered a cup of coffee. I had the time it takes to drink it to generate interest and tap into the decision makers WIFM factor (What’s in it for me!). I was selling 14 years Rental Agreements on telephone systems that one could buy for the equivalent of 3 years rental!!! The market had only just liberalised, so most companies were used to just dealing with BT (nobody got sacked for selecting BT).

Always develop your personal sales skills!

Anyway, the crux of this post is to look at what skills I used in these face to face meetings to generate business in a difficult market. Empathy was a big one. Getting the receptionist to talk to me and allow me to see the MD. Confident, smiling, enthusiastic Ken, but at the same time trying to relate to the surroundings. Looking at the pictures on the walls. Looking for evidence of the company culture, spending on technology, furniture etc. Any company statements or news. One can gain a really good insight by tuning into the surroundings. I was knocking on about 100 doors a day. Generally, then the compliment slips would be posted into the office. Our secretary would then generate labels from the details and letters would be sent out introducing our company and advising that I would be calling them Friday (Self Generation Day) to make appointments to see them. WOW

Face to face meetings generated in this way generally would require me to wear a good suit and tie. Turning up in a clean car having done some preparation for the company. Bear in mind this was pre-internet days. No google or web sites. I would then open the appointment with an IBS (Initial Benefit statement), generate interest and use my 7 Steps to Sales Success process. Very similar to good old SPIN skills. I would look to close deals within one or two meetings which were the sales cycle applicable to our target market.

Phone vs Face to Face – When, and Why?

So, this is the early environment that shaped my sales career. My experience of using the telephone was all around generating appointments from my door knocking. I was taught to “sell the appointment”. Never to discuss products or services. That why I needed the appointment. To properly discuss my compelling proposition. The main strapline was to close on an appointment as I could genuinely save the company money. This is what my telephone system did. It provided a “better way” reducing costs.

So, I have had limited experience in Telephone Sales. Closing business over the phone. No real eye contact. No ability to actually tune into the prospect’s physical environment. Obviously the colder the call, the colder the reaction in my experience. Early coaching was “smile as you dial”. Standing up whilst calling flattens the diaphragm and helps voice projection. Treat each call as the first one with no legacy of any negativity from a previous difficult call. All that stuff. Calls generally being made from a basic landline telephone.

Do your homework!

Obviously, we are now in far more sophisticated days. Mobile phones; the internet; social media; Skype for Business; Teams; Face Time, Email, Instant Messaging, Call Diallers, CRM systems: Omni Channel Contact Centres and so much more.

One can thoroughly research a prospect. Prospects do their own research. Buying Cycles don’t require face to face meetings. Electronic trading is replacing our traditional high streets. We all know the score.
All of this makes closing deals over the phone much easier and far more productive for sales professionals and customers. Ease, convenience, lower cost.

However, if voice interaction is required, I think the basics are still really important. Differentiating oneself by being polite, professional and being tuned into the customer. Demonstrating real listening skills and empathy. Walking a mile in the prospect’s shoes. Making the telephone experience a great one!!

I rang my Bank recently. They answered by just saying hello. Not what I wanted. I wanted the person to introduce themselves and tell me their role etc. I wanted a good, professional experience.

So, one has to put as much effort or more into a successful telephone sale as my old face to face selling days. Its all part of being a professional consultative salesperson. With the technology that is available, it is a sales sin to lose the sale by not having the right attitude or customer service skills