What does it take to get someone on the phone?

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We dumped our home phone long ago. Our cell phones are our primary means of communicating; only we don’t usually talk to others as much as we text them. It is constant communication and constant awareness of activity and ideas within out circle of associates. When I do receive a call from someone I prioritize the call according to a new set of factors. First, does a name come up? If it does then it is in my contact list. These I answer immediately. If it is in an area code that corresponds to one of our clients, I answer it. If it comes from an area code I am not familiar with or from an 8XX number, I let it go to voice mail. I return the call at my choosing. It is tough to get me on the phone if we haven’t already talked or communicated in some other way.

I was speaking to a salesperson friend of mine the other day. He was lamenting how increasingly difficult it was to get people on the phone. People just did not want to talk to others on the phone anymore. I agreed. But how bad is it getting? How does the sales profession deal with the influence of technology on traditional methods of selling? In short, the answer is they don’t. If you are still selling like the old days you will be increasingly marginalized for your lack of efficient success.

Connectandsell.com has issued a series of findings about the amount of effort necessary to get someone on the phone. They found way back in 2002 that a salesperson could get the intended person on the phone 1 in 7 tries or 14% of the time. By 2008 the rate had fallen to 1 in 16 tries or 6.25%. In 2009 the rate drops even further to 1 in 19 tries or 5%. Last year, 2010, the rate ended at 1 in 22 or 4.5%. The trend is crystal clear and highly unlikely to get any better. However, it is not like people have stopped communicating.

“Sales calls” are no longer direct phone calls to people. They are instead a collection of activities that lead to easy, natural communication between interested customers and knowledgeable vendors. These activities include involvement in thought communities, contributing content to gatherings, meet-ups, academic circles and bringing collaborative solutions to those in need. Facilitator roles are more appropriate to the new breed of salespeople. Content experts with solid people skills are more likely to get the attention of buyers than people who “push” product. The only challenge is to understand the environment of selling using the new technology avenues.

Ask yourself if your company has a Knowledge Center on their website. Ask if your virtual capabilities interact with the on-line community of knowledge leaders. Do you have in your company the right kind of people who can write blogs, entries to thought leadership articles and build a mass of insight to a large audience? And then, and only then, can you ask if these same people have the skills and empathy to tease out needs and appropriately deliver solutions?

 It’s a new world of sales. The replacement of the fast talking, slight of mouth salesperson with consultative seller is happening all over; the consultative seller is morphing to the knowledge contributor who has a mastery of on-line communication vehicles and can translate that impact into drawing buyer awareness and interest.

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