Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A New Way of Life in the Call Center: From Service to Sales

We’ve just received another training request to “support a culture shift,” transitioning inbound customer service representatives to proactive, outbound sales professionals. The stated business goal is to deepen client relationships with a large number of targeted clients that may not get enough attention from outside sales people. We’ve also found that many of our clients are in various stages of transforming their Call Centers from cost to revenue centers by adding cross-sales goals to existing service goals. These changes represent a new way of life in the Call Center.

We know that it can be difficult for many Call Center employees to successfully make the transition from skills needed to handle routine customer requests, questions, and problems to proactive sales skills, the ability to quickly identify customer needs and offer differentiated product solutions. While some are adjusting to their new responsibilities, it’s been an unwelcome and frustrating change for many, with some employees unable to meet challenging sales goals.

The problem involves several factors, including recruitment, management, compensation and training, but the biggest pitfall we see is that many service reps have negative impressions of selling and are fearful of it because they don’t know how to do it. We hear comments such as:

“I enjoy helping people who call in, but I wasn’t hired to sell.”
“We’re just pushing products on the customers.”
“They haven’t taught us enough about the products to sell them.”

And then there’s the friend of mine who remarked: “So you teach people to how to be annoying and sell people things they don’t need or want.”

Few people, Call Center service reps and customers alike, are thrilled with the sales experience. In fact, because of negative reactions to the sales process, one of our clients has replaced the word “sales” with “solution” as a way to instill the impression in service reps that sales should be needs-based, not “pushy” and manipulative. On the customer side, I’ve heard customers try to pre-empt the sales process by immediately stating to the service rep: “Now don’t try to sell me anything today!”

We know that when you provide the right sales strategies and skills to increase confidence and comfort with selling, service reps will more likely embrace sales as a way of life in the Call Center. Whether being expected to cross-sell during a service call or make outbound calls to targeted prospects or clients, the right product and sales training can dramatically reduce negativity and frustrations in making a successful transition to selling.

We suggest the following five key sales strategies:

1. Check Confidence

How people feel about selling affects their desire to do it and ultimately their success. Lack of confidence is the most common contributor to problems with motivation and the ability to close business. A sales person’s voice presence including tone, inflection, volume, pace and energy often reveal his or her mindset and confidence level. Customers are tuned into voice presence more than any other element so it is worth a self-assessment.

2. Do Client Preparation

Reviewing available client information and records helps to build confidence and rapport. Clients expect us to have a client-centered context for a recommendation or call purpose; without a context they will most likely view the call as “pushy” or as an intrusion, not needs-based. Transition statements help link a product or service idea to the customer’s immediate situation and should include a brief link to information available or something the customer said.

3. Do Sales Preparation

Like face-to-face-sales people, telephone salespeople are more likely to achieve their sales goals if they establish specific achievable objectives and back-up objectives for the call. “Winging it” is not a sales objective or strategy. While it is critical to maintain a focus on the client, having a clear sales objective and action step be it closing, referring, or sending information, helps create sales momentum.

Preparation also involves the process of ensuring the sales dialogue is client-centered. Many sales people spend too much time preparing for what they want to say to a client versus preparing a strategy for achieving client dialogue and uncovering their needs and priorities. We recommend preparing questions around the central theme, “What do I want to learn from the client?”

4. Learn the Client’s Point of View

Clients have a point of view. Uncovering and selling to the client’s point of view is incredibly persuasive. Now keep in mind that a client’s point of view is often stated as an objection or implied in a question. That’s a good sign! Because objections provide an opportunity to ask deeper questions and listen, they can be the dialogue path to building relationships and increasing the salesperson’s ability to be persuasive.

5. Build Trust

Don’t assume that trust exists because you are speaking with an existing client. Trust is earned during every contact through your ability to demonstrate your needs-based intent. The unintended consequence of a goal-oriented sales focus is that too often it makes customers feel manipulated and used, resulting in shallow relationships and long-term distrust.

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