Telephone selling - Sales Management

Earlier in the text we looked at the typical costs of a field salesperson. Quite apart from cost factors there are situations where telemarketing or tele-selling can fulfil a very useful temporary or permanent role in linking the company to its customers. Companies have preferences as to the label attached to this activity, and there are variations in the functions a department might fulfil in the overall sales/marketing mix.

Some of the typical sales support situations where a telesales department can provide useful contact include:

  • cold call canvassing to identify and qualify prospects
  • emergency contact where a regular salesperson is unavailable to call
  • coverage of small accounts or geographically remote customers
  • tele-ordering where customers phone in to place regular repeat product orders
  • promotional thrusts focusing on special activity
  • customer satisfaction research
  • other customer-oriented marketing research.

Cold call canvassing

Suppliers of all types of products (industrial, consumer and business -to -business) have opportunities to develop telephone selling to make initial contact with potential customers, frequently for later follow -up for a direct selling call in person by a salesperson. For the sales manager supervising cold call canvassing telesales operations there are several points that typically need attention.

To avoid wasting time and money on telephone calls, it is important to structure contact according to simple framework:

  • State who is calling and provide credible reason for the contact
  • Mention a referral source if there is one(i.e. enquiry card, friend, neighbor,colleague, associate, etc.)
  • Ask relevant questions that help to clarify if the contact could be a prospective customer:
    • Focus on establishing a product need,and financial resources (if possible)
    • Clarify whether the contact matches any key customer profile parameters relevant to the product target market
  • Establish who is the main decision maker for contact
  • If interest is aroused agree the process and timings (appointments if appropriate)for follow-up contact
    • literature
    • further telephone contact
    • direct selling visit by salesperson or other needs surveyor
  • Seek other referrals (either within a\company, for industrial and commercial products or services, or within peer groups for consumer and other direct sales products).

Emergency contact with customers

Where a field sales force is in place, there are occasions when it is impossible to visit customers as scheduled. For major non-repeat products this may be less of a problem if a visit is delayed a few days, but where the products are for repeat consumption (consumer products or many commercial input supplies), it can be important not to lose the immediate sales volume. Also, failing to call to collect an order leaves an opening for competitors.

In this situation, either the territory salesperson could make telephone contact with customers personally, or a telesales department could fill the gap in coverage by placing call. A second call might be needed if a customer needs time to check stock levels prior to ordering.

Coverage of small accounts or geographically remote customers

Where business volume is too small to justify direct sales call or there is no other effective means of gaining and maintaining distribution(i.e. no satisfactory local wholesale distributive outlets), it might still be cost-effective to maintain direct distribution at the lower sales costs levels of the telephone sales department.

Tele-ordering for regular repeat product orders

If telesales contact is to be a regular feature of customer management, it is usually best to develop an approach to training and motivating the customer in a way that the customer sees as beneficial. For example, the telephone call can be placed at a regular time each week, so that the customer can expect it and prepare a stock count in advance.

Tee-sales can provide an excellent support to the occasional salesperson’s call, especially where the customer’s ordering frequency(possibly because of storage limitations or credit restrictions) is greater than a physical call could justify. When physical calls are made it then becomes important to:

  • check stock levels and rotation (if age is factor in the product design or formulation)
  • present promotions and new products
  • check for damaged stock (if the supplier accepts some responsibility for that)
  • present current marketing support(advertising and promotions)
  • note competitive activity and any new marketing intelligence
  • network amongst the buying team and other decision influencers
  • check for any technical issues that need to be addressed.

Promotional thrusts focusing on special activity

Tele-selling can have an important role in some product categories to alert customers to special offers. This may be as an alternative to a salesperson calling, or as a preliminary to establish if customers or prospects would accept a visit from a salesperson to promote the special offer.

Customer satisfaction research

Companies are now becoming increasingly sensitive to customer attitudes and reactions to their service and support. Telemarketing provide an excellent means of organizing post-sales surveys of customers to establish levels of satisfaction.

Other customer-oriented marketing research

Quite apart from customer satisfaction surveys,telesales or telemarketing (the one department may double in the functions it fulfils) can be developed as a source of market research, either in surveying existing customers or for contacting prospective customers for responses to structured surveys.


The telesales team need training to meet their special functional responsibilities and activities. Training needs are likely to be identied in the areas of:

  • making ‘cold calls’ to unknown contacts who are identified as prospects
  • identifying and accessing decision makers
  • techniques for penetrating beyond persons who act as sifters to reach direct to decision makers (whether that be family members for direct to consumer sales, or staff in a buyer’s team who are a blockage to accessing the buyer)
  • quickly and effectively relaxing the contact to create a receptive atmosphere, rather than an immediate rejection and disconnection
  • gaining the contact’s attention, and creating interest to enable the conversation to progress to a brief telephone presentation
  • use of questioning techniques to elicit interest or clarify or create potential needs or use opportunities
  • making effective telephone sales presentations
  • dealing with objections by telephone
  • closing the sale, or arousing interest to the point where contact can be followed up with literature or, preferably, a direct sales call by a representative
  • recording results in a systematic manner(using any appropriate database preferred).

Telephone salespersons are more likely to be received positively if they:

  • have voices that project warmth, maturity,friendliness, sincerity, and authority
  • are clear, concise and logical communicators
  • are good listeners, patient and able to lead the direction of the conversation
  • establish at the outset of each call if the contact is free to talk and, if he or she is not free, seek to arrange an alternative convenient time to place the call. Contact will be more receptive to a call if the tele-salesperson mentions a referral from another person at the beginning of a call.

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