The 1st 7 Seconds Rule About Sales Phone Calls

by TedV

Getting the prospect on the phone to actually start an ongoing sales conversation is one of the biggest sales barriers to overcome.

Attention marketing professionals. Before you leave this article, thinking it doesn’t pertain to you since you don’t make sales phone calls, please realize the odds are that most in your sales staff are doing this incorrectly. Helping them make effective direct contact will mean more to the company bottom line than developing a new ad campaign.

Let’s look at a typical sales phone call, and then let’s run through several calls laced with Relevance Marketing.

How Almost Everyone Does the First Time Sales Phone Call – Wrong

“Good morning, Ms. Jones, I’m Fred Smith of the XYZ Company. We make the digital framacator with the patented shut off valve for reliability and safety. Everyone says it’s the best framacator made. We’ve been in business since 1924 so we know a thing or two about framacators. I’d like to come by at your convenience and talk to you about how we might help you with your framacator problems, maybe even set up a trial test installation of one of our digital framacators so you can see just how good they are. When would be a good day to come see you?”

I receive 8-10 or more calls like this a week, and I’m just a one man company. The best that rep Fred can hope for with that call is that prospect Ms. Jones forgets his name and company completely after hanging up before he wastes more than 7 seconds of her time.

I won’t go step by step telling you why each point makes Ms. Jones tune out, but just realize that your calls like that call above are all about you and your product not about your prospect – so your prospect doesn’t care and won’t listen.

The odds are this rep will be put in voice mail. There he makes this whole spiel and feels pretty good because he now knows Ms. Jones will hear everything he wants her to hear.


If Fred leaves that voice mail Ms. Jones will delete it around the 7 second mark. She’ll be so glad she didn’t pick up the receiver and have a conversation with him. Many in business now refuse to answer their phones and use voice mail as a filter. It’s cheaper than an assistant.

Should Ms. Jones pick up and not hang up during this self-serving regurgitation, she’ll probably tell Fred that her company is very happy with his competitor’s framacator, and they have a shut off valve, too.

Fred then tries to point out that his patented shut off valve is better than his competitor’s, so now Ms. Jones feels compelled to defend her buying choices. Fred has made her into an advocate for his competitor.

7 Examples of How Relevance Marketing Works in the First Time Sales Phone Call

1) Quote the Prospect“Good morning Ms. Jones. I read where you stated in Plant Engineering Magazine that the challenge in the future for companies like yours will be to maintain safety standards while increasing productivity. By the way, this is Fred Smith. Do you find that _______________?”

There is probably little more potent to get someone to listen further than quoting back their own words. However, if Fred then goes straight into his usual pitch after this start, his prospect will zone out after 20 to 30 seconds instead of 7.

Say something meaningful to Ms. Jones, not something about your product. Perhaps ask about another statement she made in the publication that brings you closer to understanding her concerns. Or, ask how she solves a different problem she most likely has that you might be able to help with.

Notice Fred did not introduce himself right after his greeting, and he didn’t give his company name. At this point, Ms. Jones doesn’t care who he is or who he’s with, but it would be too suspicious not to give his name somewhere fairly early. I’ve actually not given my company name until a prospect ask for it, or at the very end of the conversation, whichever comes first.

2) Discuss Something Specific about the Prospect’s Company“Good morning, Mr. Jackson. I read in your company’s annual report that your COO Ms. Parks wants to reduce operational costs by 10% this year. How has that affected your maintenance department?”

Even if the COO’s announcement didn’t affect Mr. Jackson, (and it did) he’d be glad to find out about ways to help Ms. Parks reach her goals. In the thinking of this imaginary framacator product, any time you can reduce unscheduled down time, the savings will usually go far beyond the maintenance costs alone. Explore the full impact of reducing a problem before bringing up how your product can do so.

3) Quote Someone Famous“Good morning Mr. Johnson. Jane Doe, the Chief Maintenance Officer for DuPont Co. stated recently that _________. This is Fred Smith by the way. I was wondering how you solve this problem with ____________ that Ms. Doe with DuPont discussed.”

DuPont is one of the leading innovators in manufacturing technology – that’s fame to an industrial maintenance supervisor. Ask this question only if it pertains to the quotation from your famous person, and if it is most likely that Mr. Johnson doesn’t have a fix for this – and you do. If Mr. Johnson doesn’t have a solution, DON’T go into your sales pitch; ask more questions about the troubles this causes him.

If your prospect does have a solution to such a question, ask how it works, and then ask another question where you know the answer will lead to how your product works better. There are a number of things you can say here, but do so with a plan and an interest in hearing what your prospect has to say.

4) Quote Some Respected Organization“Good afternoon, Ms. Spaulding. The National Institute for Plant Safety just came out with a report on ___________ systems. They state that 34% of them fail prematurely because of __________. This is Fred Smith and I’m curious, in your plant is that 34% average about right, or is it lower? Why is that so?

This is a variation on the Quote Someone Famous scenario. Asking how they compare can be hazardous if they have major problems. That’s why you “assume” they’re doing better than the national average. If Ms. Spaulding gets mad at you, hang up as soon as you politely can, and give it a month before you call back with an entirely different approach. NEVER just hang up. You’ll do it with the one person who remembers your name and knows someone who mentioned you recently – your name will be mud in both accounts.

5) Quote Someone They Know Personally“Good Morning Ms. Foster. I spoke to your friend Bob Fields at PDQ Inc. the other day. He told me that he’s familiar with your operation and that you have ________. I’m Fred Smith by the way. How does _______ work for you regarding______?

Your questions don’t lead to talking about your product here. You ask about the manufacturing process or major component system where your framacators fit.

Referral Selling is “the only way to sell” for some, and perhaps I might have put this example first. But many readers check out when they see referral selling because they know about it already. Still, take the time to make the referral relevant to your prospect and please don’t say, “Hey, Bob’s a friend of mine, too. Can I come by?”

A Major Relevance Point – You build off of these relevant phone call starts with more pertinent questions and statements. Relevance Selling is a subset of Relevance Marketing. You go from relevant point about your prospect to an applicable question about your prospect and so on until you know how to talk about your product as a functioning part of your prospect’s system, improving the specific problems raised in your conversation.

6) Discuss a Universal Problem or Desire “Good morning Mr. Miller. I was wondering if you’re experiencing unscheduled _____________ Systems breakdowns like I’ve seen in most other chemical plants. Industry standards say these unscheduled breakdowns happen on average 34% of the time. My name is Fred Smith by the way. How have you been able to improve on that?”

If you know just about EVERYONE has a particular problem or has a specific desire you can talk about it. Just realize that all your competition knows about this problem/desire also. If all of them are talking about it as well, you could quickly join the “noise in the background” that no one pays attention to. Again, talk about your prospect, not your solution.

And please don’t use the word “solution” to describe your product or service. Unfortunately it has become cliché.

Caution – This universal problem/desire approach can be effective, but it’s too easy to slip into selling your offering too soon. Focus on an outcome prospects want, how they can get it, and the advantages accruing from it.

Additional Universal Problems/Desires Factors to Build a Sales Conversation Around

• Decreased cost of manufacturing, operations, downtime, etc.
• Faster repair times, sales closing rates, inventory turns, etc.
• Decreased labor turnover, man hour requirements, etc.
• Increased competitive advantages, process efficiencies, etc.
• Increased revenue, profits, productivity, etc.

Remember – You just can’t say, “increased productivity and decreased costs,” verbatim. EVERYONE says those things using those words, which are clichés. You must make it specific and dare I say “relevant” to your prospect.

“This factory decreased the cost of replacing framacators by 17.1%…”
“That manufacturer averaged saving 7.2 man hours per repair…”
“Company B saw a 3.6% revenue growth directly attributable to…”

7) Discuss Your Totally Exclusive Patented Cost Less Solution“Good morning, Ms. Hopkins. This is Fred Smith and I have the miracle solution to your major problem. It solves everything and cost less than what you’re paying now. When would you like me to come by?”

No, this product doesn’t exist. We don’t get to have a miracle that everyone will fall all over themselves to buy. So why do so many sales reps talk to prospects like that’s what’s in their sales bag?


Further on This Subject – I greatly enjoyed Jill Konrath’s Selling to Big Companies. I learned a good bit from her on this very subject, even though I’ve been pursuing this line of thought for decades before reading her work. I’m one of Jill’s biggest fans, and I recommended her book to all of you.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Klaus @ TechPatio January 22, 2010 at 11:52 am

I’m not in that line of business anymore where I have to call customers or potential customers, but if I did, I would sure try to give your suggestions a try :)

Ted Vinzani January 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Klaus, with little current sales activities, or no experience in sales at all, these ideas make sense to you – for good reason.

There is a logic to this even to those who don’t and never will sell. Few of us have escaped receiving sales phone calls of one type or another, and most of them have been like my poor first example.

We inherently dislike to have a sales pitch rushed at us over the phone.

We also innately feel that the suggestions I’ve made as to how to make an effective sales call should catch our attention and capture our interest if the product in question pertains to our life in any way.

Thanks for your comment,


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