As I’ve covered in past articles, I’ve spent a lot of time cold-calling, which means I’ve spent lots and lots of time on the phone. When I first started, I spoke very fast, wasn’t confident, and just wanted to give my pitch, then get off the phone. Throughout my various jobs, I picked up 4 skills that led to me having phone calls where the prospects would literally tell me:
“When I call back, I want to speak to you. You’re very pleasant, and I like talking to you.”
Keep in mind, I’m not a real talker. When I go to the party, I’m the guy that likes to find a group I’m already comfortable with, and spend time with them. By implementing these skills, I’m confident that anyone can improve how they come across on the phone. I have these written down near my phone, as a nice reminder every single time I get ready to speak with someone.
Without further adieu...
1) Stop talking so much
Yeah, the first step to sounding good on the phone actually has nothing to do with speaking. In fact, I’d encourage every last salesman to talk less on their sales calls.
Too often people are focused on getting through their pitch, when the reality is, listening can be one of the most powerful tools you have. If you talk too much, you are in danger of over-selling, or pitching everything and hoping that something, anything sticks! Here is an example from Shark Tank of someone who does not listen and discuss, but rather can’t stop himself from “selling”: (Jump to 13:18)
If you just listen, chances are they will tell you key info like:
You can get this info from asking good questions, but I’ve been able to get quotes for people without having an interrogation that felt like I was running through a checklist. It created more of a relationship, rather than an order taker feel. Now let’s get on with some actual speaking tips.
*Personal Tip – After the prospect is done speaking, count to 2 to give them a chance to keep going. It’s not as awkward as you may think, and frequently gets the prospect talking even more. If they ask if you’re still there (which happens) just say, “you bet, I’m scribbling some notes”
2) Slow down
Sales reps can speak way too fast sometimes, like door-to-door salesmen that just need to get through a pitch. In insurance, you’re not pitching anything until you have a quote. On the first call, ask questions, and revert to Rule #1.
Slowing down helps the speaker seem way more confident and conversational.
*Personal tip – Pull out your phone and occasionally record your side of the conversation. I know… no one likes to listen to themselves, though this is a great way to gauge how fast you really speak.
Smiling literally influences the brain to be happier. People like to deal with other happy people (unless that person is a serious downer, in which case they may be a problem client), so this is a big deal.
This is particularly important when you’re having a rough day. Prospects can tell if you’re in a good or bad mood, and being happy leads to better relationships. Be happy, and if you’re feeling adventurous, let out a hearty laugh when your prospect says something even remotely funny. I call that the Jimmy Fallon rule – sure, his laughter sometimes is suspicious, but it leads to a more light-hearted and personal conversation. That is a great skill to have when people are talking about a boring subject like insurance.
4) No uh’s or um’s
iller words (uh, um, yeah, so, well, etc) allow the speaker to maintain control of the conversation while thinking of what to say. It also has the consequence of making the speaker out to be full of hot air.
The good news is if you explain a principle over and over (why rates are increasing, for example), you should have a script of sorts in your mind. From there, practice until you can deliver a response with no fillers. This will give the impression that you’re a pro, and can give confidence to your client/prospect that you know what you’re talking about.
Bonus: Falling intonation
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’ve worked at various call centers, and ran my own for a time. As I trained employees on how to call, I learned that this was the hardest skill to teach, since some people have a very hard time hearing it in themselves.
I’m not a linguist, but bear with me here.
When you finish a sentence or a question, people can choose to use a falling or a rising intonation. A rising intonation is used mainly for questions, while the falling intonation is used for commands and statements. The problem is that loads of people start to use rising intonations for some magical reason when they get on the phone. And a rising intonation on a statement makes that person appear very unsure of themselves.
Here are two examples from Scrubs: (For the first, jump to 44 seconds.)
Did you hear it? He said, “Deal with it?”
It’s meant to be a statement, but it sounds like a super nervous wreck. As you discuss rate increases, if you present like this, your clients will eat you alive. (Now jump to 1 min 17 seconds.)
Deal with it – Both of them say it with a falling intonation. The statement is better, and although still not close to perfect, it already sounds much more confident.
Do you hear the difference?
Finally, here is a great video from a TEDtalk that hits intonation, speed, as well as silence (part of Rule #1). Jump to 6 min 2 seconds.
As you put these principles into action, you will sound better on the phone, as well as in person!
IHT is a multi-state insurance agency with dozens of branches across the eastern and central United States.