Episode 89: Tactics for Effective Phone Sales – Art Sobczak

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 89: Tactics for Effective Phone Sales - Art Sobczak
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The telephone is a vital instrument for us to use when having sales conversations. Telephone sales expert Art Sobczak is here today to share some of his amazing telephone sales knowledge. I consider Art Sobczak a mentor. I have been following him since 1985. He is the president of Business by Phone and the author of books like Smart Calling, Sell More in Less Time, and Telephone Tips that Sell. He is an expert in utilizing the phone for sales conversations.

Art shares how selling is the greatest profession in the world, and how he wakes up everyday knowing that there are people out there that he can serve in this profession. A lot has changed over the years, but people still buy from people, and aside from face-to-face, voice-to-voice is the best way to sell to those people. This is a great conversation, and Art shares tips and selling knowledge from his 35 years of selling experience.

Episode Highlights:

  • Art wakes up everyday knowing that there are people out there waiting to be served.
  • Making a difference through the greatest profession in the world which is sales.
  • How a lot has changed over the years, but people still buy from humans and the most effective way to sell is by speaking with people.
  • Other than face to face, the best way to sell is voice to voice.
  • How sales enablement tools can be distracting if not used correctly or effectively.
  • The importance of examining what your sales process looks like and who you are selling to.
  • How using the phone is a permission based tool that can cut through a lot of the clutter.
  • How fear of the phone stems from a lack of knowledge.
  • The importance of having relevant and targeted messaging.
  • Different calls require varying degrees of preparation and research.
  • The problems of disguising call avoidance as research.
  • When you get voicemail, your purpose is to leave a question in that person’s mind.
  • The importance of call quality and investing in good equipment.  



Marylou: Hey everybody! It’s Marylou Tyler. This week’s guest is a gentleman who I consider my mentor. I have been following Art since probably 1985. Art Sobczak is our guest today. He is the president of Business by Phone and I’m sure many of you have seen his books. In Amazon, he is the guy that wrote Smart Calling, Sell More in Less Time. Oh gosh, Telephone Tips that Sell, he is the expert in utilizing the phone for sales conversations.

Art, welcome to the podcast today!

Art: Marylou, thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor and pleasure to be here.

Marylou: You know I am a gigantic fan. I think it was 1985 when I first stumbled upon your work. I know that I had followed you even in your move from the Midwest to Arizona, where you are now, and have all of your books. I am enrolled in your courses, and the reason for this is because I believe the telephone is a vital instrument for us to use in having sales conversations. I just wanted to give the audience an idea of who you are and what you’ve accomplished. I did some research, I know that you have 29 years or so of doing a telephone prospecting in selling newsletter, 13 years of your weekly sales tips, you’ve done over 1500 customized workshops, training sessions. It’s incredible, the work that you’ve done.

My first natural question is what keeps you going after 35 year plus of doing this? What is it that keeps you passionately involved in this industry?

Art: I guess it’s the only thing that I know and the only thing I could do. That’s an interesting question, and as I sit here and think about it, every day I wake up, thinking that there are people out there who are waiting to be served, who can make a difference in the world through the greatest profession in the world, which is sales. I’m a lifelong learner myself and I’m constantly looking for new ideas and tips and techniques and I still get no greater thrill, actually a couple great thrills. One is still selling myself, which I still do all the time. But then also, seeing other people succeed, saying and doing the right things in the sales process.

                       You mentioned the phone, of course, that’s all I’ve done over the past 34 years now. Granted a lot of the things have changed over the years, technology has certainly changed, our ability to get information has changed, sales enablement has changed, other things that you teach using email in the sales process, but bottomline, what hasn’t changed is that people still buy from humans, and the most effective way to sell is when two humans actually speak with each other. Aside from face to face conversation, the best way to do that is voice to voice, whether it be over the telephone or conversation through voice over IP, or the computer lines like we’re doing right now. I guess that was a long answer to a short question.

Marylou: No! When I think about it, you’ve been in business as long as some of my CEO’s are old. Think about that. That’s amazing.

Art: Thanks for making me feel good.

Marylou: I’m going to say but you are. I am casually involved with sales process for about as long as 35, but around 30. I know how it is to wake up in the morning thinking who can I help today? I hear from people all over the world still stuck in certain areas. I’m happy to be able to help.

With your particular area of expertise, there’s just a lot of this ability to feel comfortable that you’re not going to blow it when you have that first conversation. Could you tell us, where does the phone fit now? Another way to ask that is do you recommend or do you still see people utilizing the phone for the initial conversation and follow up? Or do we start using different types of leverage now that we have more tools at our disposal? What are you seeing out there now?

Art: I see a mix of everything. Some of it is effective, some of is not, and it all depends on the skill and the ability and the knowledge of the person who’s doing it. There is no doubt that social and email and everything else that you want to put in those categories, this whole thing called sales enablement, all of these are tools that can help us facilitate a more informed, more relevant, more value-filled connection with an individual that we want to speak with. On the other hand, all those things can also be distractions, and like a tool that is placed in the hands of somebody who has no idea how to use it, it can be destructive, and I put myself in that category because I’m not very mechanically inclined.

For example, using LinkedIn. LinkedIn is obviously one of the greatest things that’s ever come around for sales people but every day, you probably experience this, there were people who were abusing it because they’re using it to spam people just because they get somebody to accept the connection, they think they now have the right to pitch somebody as opposed to using it to gather some information about a prospect that they want to speak with to figure out how their proposition may be relevant and of value to the person at the other end of the line, and using that information to tailor an initial connection, whether it be through InMail, email, maybe interacting with them on a post in something that they put on their profile, or maybe just picking up the phone and having an initial conversation using that information to tailor that call so that they can stand apart from all the noise out there.

People can use it in a variety of different ways. There are people out there that we know who are leaders in our business, in the sales training business, who are big on go out there and pound the phone and make a bunch of calls, you don’t have to do that much research. There were people on the other side that say, “We can really warm this thing up by engaging in a lot of social in advance.” To me, I guess I smile at the whole notion of social selling because what is social selling? Isn’t all selling social if you’re doing it the right way?

In my mind, what I recommend is you really need to examine what does your sales process looks like? Because somebody who is doing more of a transactional sales isn’t going to be investing as much time in doing all the things that somebody who’s more of an enterprise sales rep, who has a very complex sales process, who might be selling to a committee, is going to be investing more time in the pre-approach and be a little bit more creative than the person who might just do a quick Google search, LinkedIn search, come up with a couple points of commonality and then place that call. Both those people can be extremely successful.

Again, I don’t see a one size fits all. I see a whole menu of things out there for sales people that can take advantage of. My gosh, you remember back when we first started in sales, we had the phone and we had a phonebook and we can go to the library and look in some directories and get some intelligence and maybe work from a list. And today, with a couple keystrokes and mouse clicks, we can get a tremendous amount of information that can really position us as somebody who’s done their research and put together a very relevant message that’ll cause somebody to sit up straight, lean forward, and say, “Huh? It sounds like that person’s really got it going on. I wonder what they have and how they can do that.”

Marylou: I’ve heard a couple things. One is that, for those listening, complex versus transactional, we talk about that a lot. There’s also the relative position in the pipeline. Whether you’re doing an introductory phone call, if your goal is to get to a discovery call, where you’re going to be qualifying that person more. The phone I think is a very viable tool for just cutting through all that clutter, and getting down to the nit of the matter. But as you said, it’s a permission based tool, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be spamming on the phone and just trying to dial up the dollars as they stay. You’re really looking to take the tools that you have at your fingertips now and craft this compelling sales argument or sales conversations so that when you do talk and you do get through to the decision maker or the influencers, you’ll have something of value to share with that person, so that they do lean and they do want you to tell them more.

The phone, I think, is a great tool for that. We used to say back in the dark ages that we used to do mail and phone. We would do the mail, and we would chase the mail to see who responded or who got the mail. A lot of times, we prepared even for those phone calls to be able to have a conversation that opened up into a more curiosity based or inquisitive based or something that allowed the person to grab hold to the fact that these people really are thinking about my needs, my wishes, my desires, my anxieties, my nuisances, whatever it is, and suggesting that next step to get to know them, the product, the service better. I like that, I like that a lot.

My biggest thing with the phone is that I’ve got a bunch of people who don’t like to use it, I know my children don’t really use the phone, they prefer texting. What do you do in your rhythms, Art, to get people to embrace and start loving the telephone?

Art: For some people, they just never really have used the phone that much and I would put the younger people in that category not to indict an entire age group but I think that does tend to be true. But what I see in general, the fear of the phone stems from a lack of knowledge, and therefore confidence in what to say. And what to say does not operate in a vacuum, it needs to operate within a process. There are too many people out there looking for the easy button. I’ll get probably a few emails a week where somebody will say, “What can I say right at the beginning of the call that create interest?” My answer to that is say something interesting.

If somebody is going to ask me a general question, I’ll give a general answer. Now within that, there are a lot of best practices. There’s a lot of things that go into how to do that effectively. I know in your book you talked about that and how to identify where somebody possibly might be in a buying process, if at all, and then understanding who is this person, what’s going on in their world, what have they done in the past. Anything and everything that can help. There is so much information available to folks.

Again, to answer your question, I would say if somebody has hesitancy to use the phone, number one, you can’t argue with the fact that it is still being used effectively despite what some people might say out there that phone was dead, and phone calling is dead. What I have to say to them is you are trying to argue that electricity does work. If it is working right now, it therefore works. There is no doubt that it is more difficult than ever to actually to get through to people simply because people are being bombarded depending on which study you read by about 300-3000 sales messages a day, almost all of which we have to ignore.

Therefore, our messaging has to be more targeted and more relevant. And then we need to put it in a process and use some best practices and avoid the mistakes that people make that cause them to get shut down in their messaging. All of their messaging, whether it be email, InMail, voicemail, or if they actually get somebody live on the phone, because there are definitely things that will cause you to get deleted or hung up on versus the ones that will cause somebody to say, “Okay, that sounds like there might be something here.”

Marylou: Another objection I get all the time from my folks, because I’m a proponent also of what’s called the Call Planning Form, where it doesn’t take that long to fill it out, and once you get in the rhythm of it, this process becomes more intuitive. But when you’re first starting out, there are some objectives to think about for the plan a, if the call goes this way then I want to do this, plan b, if it doesn’t go the way I wanted, etc. The push back I get is, “We have so many people to talk to, we can’t possibly do a call planning form for everybody.”

Is there a shortcut way or do you teach your folks a way to synthesize the information that’s necessary to collect prior to placing the phone call? Or is it more that you’re looking at role specific needs, and then when you got Betty, who’s the IT list on the phone in that role, then you know what script to play in your head and what to say on the phone to Betty. What do you do with your folks to ready them for these types of conversations?

Art: Here’s the thing about preparation. Like we had touched on earlier, depending on the type of call you’re placing and what you’re selling, and what your whole process is, it’s going to require varying degrees of preparation and information collection. I had this discussion thousands of times with people because quite often I’ll hear, “I just don’t have time to do the preparation because I have to place x number of calls.” My answer to that is would you rather place an uninformed call and wing it or would you rather place fewer calls that are of quality and therefore have a greater chance at success? Because at the end of the day calling time period, what really matters, all that matters is the end result. Not how many times you dialled the phone but how many successes you received at achieving your primary or secondary objectives.

Here’s something else to keep in mind, if somebody is indeed prospecting or smart calling, you’re doing the bulk of your preparation prior to you first outreach. How many attempts does it take on average to reach someone? There’s all kinds of numbers out there ranging from 5-20, depending on who you listen to. Are you having to do all that preparation every time? No, you’re doing it once and then when you’re placing your follow up attempts to reach that person, you’re just reminding yourself, and you’re looking in your notes and your CRM whatever you had collected. You don’t have to do all that preparation every single time. Also, by the way, high calling activity and doing research in placing quality calls are not mutually exclusive. There are many people out there who disguise their research as call avoidance. That’s really the problem.

Marylou: That’s interesting. The other push back I get is on this whole concept of voicemail. That voicemail is no longer a viable tool, and I am a fan of it’s because we’re not doing it correctly rather than it’s not a viable tool. What are your thoughts on voicemail? We’re not going to go into specific techniques on this call because people can research your information, I’ll put everything in the show notes. But what is your stand these days on voicemail and how do you use it effectively?

Art: My stand on voicemail is that you really have one purpose for voicemail, and that is to leave a question in somebody’s mind that they want the answer to. It’s not to give a pitch, it’s not to ask for a decision, it’s to simply make somebody curious and wonder, “Hm, I wonder what that is.” So that the result will be the next time you call, you’ll have a greater chance of actually having it be picked up because they might recognize the caller ID and go, “Oh, that was that Marylou who told me she had some ideas here that potentially might help us reach an audience at a lesser cost than what we’re doing right now.” I think I’ll pick that up or they might tell their assistant to put the call through, if we do happen to reach the assistant, which also one of my strategies.

Also, you already have prepared, because if you’ve done your job and your call preparation, and you created a good interest creating opening statement, the voicemail message is almost identical to that. The only difference there is the ending of it. If you have the opportunity to leave a brief message, why in the world wouldn’t you?

Marylou: Exactly, exactly. It’s funny, the other thing that I see now is when I go into client’s offices, they’re in these workflow rooms where there’s long tables, they’re sitting at their computer, and they’re using their cell phones a lot of the time for conversation. I remember when I started following you, one of the reasons that got me really interested is I was running a 250 seat call center at the time, and we are having major headset issues. I remember that you had a lot of good suggestions for that. Do you, even in cellphone era, what do people need to do now with headsets that are going to be making phone calls so that the quality and the clarity sounds really good?

Art: This is a pet peeve of mine. I would suggest that if your livelihood depends on your messaging and what you’re saying to people at the other end of the line, if you can help it at all, do not use a cellphone. Cellphones are great for almost everything but talking. I am just a huge believer in that, and matter of fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that a lot of voice over IP systems are still not as reliable as they should be. I’m a dinosaur here but I have a landline and I always will, because I will not trust my livelihood in speaking with someone else who is going to be making a decision on something that they’re going to be paying me some money, I want to make sure that my communication is coming through crystal clear.

Again, if you control this at all, this will probably apply more to business owners and solopreneurs, invest in good quality equipment. Number one would be the transmission, which would obviously be a landline. Number two, invest in a great quality headset. I happen to have a relationship and give a plug here for my friends at headsets.com and they have absolutely the best quality headsets. Don’t scrimp here. If you were going to go out and meet the CEO of a Fortune 100 Company and the results of your meeting, that face to face meeting, could potentially mean big business for you, you wouldn’t go in wearing your Saturday clothes and look like you just rolled out of bed. If somebody’s using a cellphone for a very important phone conversion, you might just be giving that impression. Granted, I’m not saying every cell phone call does not sound good but I’ve just had too many, not reliable calls getting dropped. Again, you can tell I’m passionate about this.

Marylou: And the quality like you said, especially it takes so much effort, and we all know this, to get somebody on the phone and to speak to them one to one, which is what we’re trying to get to. Don’t bundle that by having equipment that won’t let you continue that conversation.

Art, thank you so much for joining us on today’s phone call. I will put in the show notes all the locations and all your books, but for those listening, businessbyphone.com, that’s the mothership, correct Art? Where all of your great content is?

Art: That is. And the blog is smartcallingit.com. If you want to go direct to a lot of free tips, you can go there as well. But you can get there from the main site, either way.

Marylou: I do stress that Art’s work, 35 years plus now, is all about helping you guys say exactly the right things by phone. It doesn’t mean that you can’t utilize this information that you’re learning to put in your emails because we’re trying to make emails more conversationally oriented and less market being oriented. The conversation that Art teaches you for the phone, with voicemail, also will work in some of your persuasive emails that you’re writing when you’re trying to get your foot in the door.

Again, Art, thank you so much for your time today. I’d love to have you on the podcast.

Art: Marylou, thank you so much. Like I said, it’s an honor and let’s do it again.