Opportunity is Calling, Who is Answering?

Training your staff how to handle calls is the first step to generating more sales for your advertising dollar

After spending so much on yellow pages and advertising to get the phone to ring, many dealers spend little or no time making sure those calls are converted to appointments and sales. Let’s take a look at some important aspects of answering the phone.

The first and perhaps obvious thing to realize is that the ringing of the phone is not an interruption, it is what we invest thousands to make happen. Many stores let the phone ring incessantly and then treat the customer like they are interrupting or causing trouble by calling. Remember that the customer signs our pay checks and our businesses would close down if we don’t sell, so be happy that they called.

I am always amused and surprised about what some personnel say on the phone. I called a dealer last week and was told, “he spilled something on his pants and went home to change.” Train your staff not to reveal things that are not part of a business conversation and have no direct effect on the customer. A customer doesn’t need to know the person they are calling is in the washroom, getting a haircut or delivering salt.

Untrained Personnel

Watch who you allow to answer the phone and never let untrained staff answer. Many stores have service personnel or other untrained staff answer calls—especially on Saturday—a prime selling time. Why spend money and effort to get the phone to ring only to burn those opportunities by letting untrained personnel answer?

I recently spoke with a dealer who bought an unprofitable competitor who sold out because advertising just was not bringing enough business. The new owner specifically trained people how to answer the phone and immediately made the operation profitable by making that one change alone. When you think your advertisement efforts have failed you should make sure that your staff hasn’t dropped the ball in turning the generated calls into appointments and sales.

Many top dealers will not let their sales staff take calls. This is for two reasons. First, it is generally impossible to measure advertising success and results as your sales staff may not want you to know how many calls came in and how many were actually turned into appointments.

Some salespeople over qualify. “You will both be there? Good. I will need two or three hours of your time. How’s your credit? You are home owners, right?” This is too many questions to ask before an appointment. Most good dealers agree that it is far better to have a fully trained non-salesperson answer the phones. At many stores, the sales manager actually takes all calls.

Set Goals and Keep Track

We often say, “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Set goals and measure results. What percentage of calls result in appointments? Do different staff members produce different results? What days are the heaviest for calls? Are certain ads bringing in a lot of calls? How much does it cost for each phone call and each appointment? Do different staff members have different rates of cancellations and “no shows?” These and many other areas must be monitored constantly in order to get the sales you have paid for.


Appointments don’t just happen. Your staff must be trained on exactly what to say to make them a reality.

What are you selling? The first step to success is to make your staff and the callers understand that you are selling appointments when they call. Train your team not to say too much. If we give callers the price and specifications, why would they need to see you? They wouldn’t, and nothing kills appointments like giving too much information to callers.

Ten minutes of their time. Another appointment killer is “we need two hours of your time.” At this stage they are not interested enough to make a commitment. Try saying, “We just need 10 minutes of your time.” Now I know you can’t do a full demo in 10 minutes, but the phrase will get you into a lot more homes. Then, your job is to make them so interested in the first 10 minutes that they would want to see the rest of the demo.

Promote the company. In several studies done for our clients we found that although many staff members say something good about the product, very few say anything good about the company. Teach your staff to promote the company. Remember that an average caller will get in touch with four companies, so mentioning your 24-hour service, licensed plumbers or award-winning service is a good thing. You may wonder how dealers get their staff to follow a plan for all calls. We suggest you write out the steps you want them to follow and place a copy of it on everyone’s desk, so they can follow the steps when on the phone with a customer.

Special deals. Some clever dealers ask where the caller lives. If they are in a community, the dealer says that the caller qualified for a special program available to residents in his or her community. This undisclosed special is often the inducement the caller needs to make an appointment.

Price. Train your team never to disclose the price because it is a function of the demo. If asked directly, train them to say, “Sir, we have products from $39.95 to 9,995 depending on what’s in your water. What’s your TDS? Do you have ferric or ferrous iron?” When the customer says they don’t know, offer to send a ‘technician’ out for a free test. By the way, this test is very valuable. Labs charge $120 in my town to test water and even Sears and Home Depot now charge $35 for an in-home estimate, so make sure your team knows the value of the test you are offering at no charge is far from zero.

Call for action. Train your team to call for action. They might say, “We have ‘technicians’ in your area two evenings this week, when would be a good time for them to stop by and give you a free test?” Get your staff to ask for the appointment and not wait for the caller to ask.

Objections and fallbacks. Train your callers what to say if an appointment doesn’t happen. No training will mean no appointment. Teach them reactions to common objections and also set out fallbacks. You might offer to mail a coupon for a free test in the future and a free DVD or brochure on your company and services for example.

Monitor Calls

If you are really serious about getting all the appointments you deserve, we suggest recording calls regularly and using what you hear to help staff members improve. Failing to do this is throwing money away. What kind of a business would pay a lot of money to generate calls and then never check on how they are answered? Role playing and training is good but nothing replaces hearing what the customer hears. That is why so many banks and successful companies tell you they tape all calls for training purposes. Wouldn’t you like to see your company as your customer sees it? Monitoring calls and reviewing to them could be the answer.

Final Thoughts

It is bad when the phone doesn’t ring, but it is a real shame when you pay thousands to make it ring and then turn less calls into appointments than you could. Valuing calls and making your trained staff account for how they handle calls is the first step to generating more sales for your advertising dollar.


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About the author

Carl Davidson is president of Sales & Management Solutions, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in sales and management video training and live seminars exclusively for the water equipment industry. He has authored several books including Financial Secrets of the Water Improvement Industry and numerous articles. Send comments to [email protected]. For a free demonstration video, newsletter and list of products, contact Carl at 800.941.0068, or by e-mail at [email protected]; www.carldavidson.com.