We asked our panel of experts for their advice on how to make telephone sales people more productive. We came up with a good number of tips.
It may be worth trying some of these in your contact centre.
Along with the obvious stuff around incentives, coaching and motivation, we’ve found that simple changes can have a huge impact on the results of sales campaigns. Here are a few:
1. Implement a phone call blueprint
A key approach for improving outbound telesales productivity is to implement a blueprint strategy. A call blueprint should not be confused with a script, where a script poses a set of questions and phrases for the agent to use during a call; this can affect conversation flow in the sense that it veers away from the customer’s needs to the agent introducing specific terms and phrases, which may not always be in context.
On the other hand, a blueprint provides a call structure with ‘check points’ along the route. As part of this approach a sales agent should first complete pre-call planning, ensuring that they have clear call objectives, understand what they are selling and why the customer would have a need for the proposition, and helping them to maintain a positive attitude!
Other ‘check points’ forming part of the blueprint approach include:
- Clear introduction – this must stimulate interest.
- Effective questioning – ask probing and leading questions to ensure the conversation goes in the direction you intend, for example, what are their key issues and challenges?
- Summarise – clarify that you have correctly understood the customer’s situation and needs.
- Present the solution – in a way which is clearly linked to the customer’s need, highlighting how your solution solves their problem.
- Handle objections – anticipate likely objections to the proposition and clearly articulate how the solution will work around those issues.
- Close – ask for the order if appropriate but always ensure that you summarise the next steps and who will do what by when.
Julie Kerman, Inside Sales Manager, Business Systems UK Ltd (www.businesssystemsuk.co.uk)
2. Tie everything that can be measured to an incentive
Some great incentives are shift preferences, vacation approvals or parties. Agents tend to be more motivated if something is on the line.
3. Sit down and go through your financials
Calculate how much a highly productive agent is worth, then provide monthly bonuses that are close to that number. Remember, 5–8 super agents can easily take the place of 10–12 average agents.
4. Contests are a GREAT way to get a quick productivity boost
Pit your teams in a head-to-head contest. One month it could be handle time, and the next month it could be up-sell opportunities. Encourage them to be proud of their stats and engage the other teams in playful banter. This really boosts a team’s morale, and the productivity boosts you get from them aggressively trying to attain their goals will never hurt.
5. Try an agent scorecard
If you don’t have an agent scorecard, you are behind the times and need to get one fast. Even if you are only measuring one goal at first, you absolutely have to give them something to shoot for. Otherwise, mediocrity will be accepted. Be careful, though…make sure that your goals aren’t counterproductive. Call centres that measure “calls handled” tend to suffer because the agents burn through the calls too quickly. Make sure you are measuring not only straight productivity statistics, but also quality scores and customer satisfaction. The scorecard has to be balanced. Then, you will know who your top agents are, and you can reward them accordingly (see tip #8).
Dave Hoekstra, partner manager at GMT Corporation (www.verint.com)
6. Moving around can help your sales people to sound energised
It is important to sound authoritative and energised about the product or service you are selling. Wireless headsets provide users with the ability to stand up and move around the office, which in turn helps the sales agents open up their lungs and project their voices more effectively, as well as getting the blood pumping to keep them feeling more awake when on the call.
Richard Kenny, EMEA Marketing Manager, Plantronics (www.plantronics.com/uk)
7. Buddy up
When agents are performing below expectations, buddy them up with a high performer. This way they can hear what is working and learn in the real world how to change their approach.
8. Break up the day with regular short breaks
We never have sales agents calling for more than a 75-minute stretch. This helps maintain energy levels and stop agents getting lethargic.
9. Regular short briefings
Have regular short briefs during the day, not just a ‘gee-up’ session at the start of the shift; share results and get people to talk about what is working for them.
10. Feedback and praise
Always provide people with feedback and praise. It’s very easy for management to focus their time on agents who are not achieving and neglect those who are doing well.
Stephen Jacobs, Managing Director, Call Britannia
11. Allow time out
It maybe counter-intuitive, but allowing call centre employees time out of the office and away from the phones can improve productivity. For example, automotive clients should consider offering test drives to their call centre employees so they can familiarise themselves with the features and benefits they are tasked with selling. This experience can bring sales calls to life with real enthusiasm for how a car handles, leading to better results; fewer calls and more sales.
12. Handle calls intelligently
For time saving, consider scripting standard situations. This will help employees use a tried and tested dialogue to quickly identify the likelihood of a sale and reduce wasted call time. However, you need to ensure employees don’t become too inflexible and unable to adapt to more complex situations. Customers don’t like to feel they are on a conveyor belt, preferring a personal approach. Allocating sales calls intelligently can also help improve results as people are more likely to listen to and trust peers – so mums talking to mums or employees with a Scottish accent targeting customers in Edinburgh.
13. Internal communication
Internal communication is key in a productive sales environment. Make sure teams and individuals have the latest updates on targets and deadlines, and information about deals, so everyone is focused on the same results. Do regular de-briefs and share information so employees continue to learn and improve.
Mark Brown, Managing Director, Contact Centres & Loyalty, arvato UK
14. Distribute rewards more frequently
To help staff become more productive, it is important to ensure that an opportunity is provided for as many people as possible to earn and receive rewards and the acclamation of their managers and colleagues, at regular intervals. A good way to achieve this is by increasing reward distribution frequency at weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual intervals for a range of different performance activities.
Adrian Duncan, Business Development Director at P&MM Motivation
15. Big prizes
To maintain momentum, a call centre manager needs to offer long-term prizes of large value such as a holiday or experience. These can be tailored around a theme or season to add extra interest and keep the incentive or reward programme timely.
This ongoing approach needs to be interspersed with surprise short-term incentives and rewards taking place daily or weekly. These make an immediate positive impact on morale and make a big difference to the level of motivation and energy within a room.
Andy Philpott, Marketing Director at Edenred
16. Reduce the administrative burden, so they can focus on closing sales
In a sales-based call centre agents can typically spend 10–40% of their time managing lead data or trying to extract the information they need from various databases or applications all running on their desktop.
Automating sales management and bringing CRM into the contact-handling system as a single agent desktop allows the agent to focus on talking to the customer.
Data from front and back office systems can be aggregated in real time and presented to the agent with relevant cross-sell and up-sell data.
By integrating CRM and contact handling, the system can become self-learning and discover which agents are best at closing certain types of lead, and can route future leads, calls or emails accordingly.
This automation in a simple desktop can have a huge impact on the sales-based contact centre, as demonstrated at Babcock International where their success rate has increased by 30–40% as their agents can spend more time with customers.
Susannah Richardson, mplsystems (www.mplsystems.co.uk)
17. Put up caller information on the agent screen
First impressions count and presenting the caller ID as soon as a call comes through can help prepare staff to handle any incoming call effectively. Simple procedures, including automatic routing of calls to the correct department, can ensure that enquiries are resolved quickly – providing improved service and saving time for both the customer and the agent.
By going further and integrating a telephony system with other applications, such as Salesforce CRM, staff can use a single screen to manage all incoming and outgoing calls. This saves time as agents can access all customer information from one central source, rather than logging onto different systems.
Jonathan Gale, CEO of NewVoiceMedia (www.newvoicemedia.com)
18. Focus around resolving issues
Understand why you’re calling before you call: to the sales prospect it’s all about resolving their issues and gaining key benefits, NOT about your products and services. Work out what will provide value and offer them something useful with, if possible, a free sample, a no-strings-attached trial, etc. Put yourself in their shoes: what difference could your product/service make to their lives? And then put your message across enthusiastically and with energy – assuring the individual that you believe in what you’re selling.
Mark King, Senior VP, Europe and Africa, Aspect (www.aspect.com)
19. Rapid peaks in call volumes will have a negative impact on sales
It can also be responsible for low employee morale and, in the case of customer complaints, increase the time to complaint resolution, further damaging brand and reputation.
Most customers forced to complain feel vulnerable and agents feel the brunt of this. By having the means to be pro-active the agent can quickly calm the customer and start the resolution process.
By identifying complaint trends by using root-cause analysis, the management team has the knowledge needed to prepare agents and to put resolution strategies in place.
Staffing in line with predicted call peaks reduces call answer time and the ferocity of the caller. It will also help to drive sales!
Paul Elswood, Managing Director of CDC Software
20. Reward the right metrics
We believe that employee behaviour is undoubtedly linked to what you reward. It is therefore essential that companies think carefully about the metrics that they put in place so that they do not create unhelpful behaviours like agents dumping calls in order to meet targets.
If employees perceive that metrics are being used inappropriately to constrain their behaviour or that their behaviour is being overly managed, they are quite likely to put their energies and competencies into trying to beat the system.
The triggers for each sale need to be as customer focused as possible.
Philip Michell, Vertex
21. Provide down time
Our banked-hours scheme enables staff to enjoy sunny summer afternoons by banking hours. We can utilise these owed hours during our peak winter period. This has led to a saving on recruitment and training and enabled us to retain our experienced workforce.
We understand that call centre work can be challenging. Down time is encouraged following a difficult call, allowing the operator to feel positive and refreshed ahead of their next call, which also reduces days lost to sickness.
Neil Picton, Customer Help Centre Manager, Home Appliance Care (part of Glen Dimplex Home Appliances)
22. Focus on competencies
Call centres are all about hitting targets and ranking and making the staff feel good.
Competencies and company values should also be measured among staff, to help them develop competencies. Competencies and values in a call centre would be good to focus on, as they are great for staff development and for incentivising the staff and company.
With competencies, the manager can assess and give an expectation rating as well as a final rating, which will show how the person has developed. The manager can also use the option of staff self-assessment.
You can then differentiate call types to match competencies/skills.
Develop multiskilling and link it to a competencies and development plan. This will enhance agents’ ability to process different call types and thereby improve throughput.
23. Record training and support for compliance
Focus training on areas of weakness.
24. Develop a consistent code of best practice through a common appraisal system
Shirley Barnes, Client Relationship Director, Dinamiks Ltd
25. Let the sales team work from home
A 20% hike in contact centre productivity might be viewed as the stuff of dreams. However, this is a typical average for contact centre advisors who are based at home rather than in a centralised contact centre.
Traditional psychology says a job with high demand and low control will result in stress. This was one of the primary causes of churn in contact centres – a major issue impacting productivity.
Home-based advisors show what can be achieved if trust and control are placed with the individual – and that’s a lesson that any contact centre can learn.
Dr Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist, BT
Click here for our Top Tips for Selling Over the Phone
Some great ideas here and will be reviewing most with my team to see which ones we feel we want to implement.
Atmosphere is so important in a sales room. We always make an effort to enjoy ourselves and realise that it’s not all about the money.
Some excellent ideas here. Thank you
Tip 26: pay them fair wages.
All very interesting but the bottom line, missed by almost all call centres, is to pay people properly and have fair incentives. Hand in hand with this goes hiring eager beavers in the first place. Lack of personal experience in selling over the phone for managers is the main drawback in call centres.
It really works
A very insightful blog. All of them excellent solutions to the problem everyone in inside sales might have faced at one point or the other. I’m tempted to list out how my company can help but instead I shall just say..
good job 🙂