How to win business over the telephone

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Someone's discovered your website, they're impressed by what they see, and they're now taking the next step by picking up the telephone to enquire.

Your website has done its job. It's now all down to you to turn that enquiry into a client.

But if you're inexperienced in telephone communication, the pressure you might feel is only natural. Speaking to prospective customers over the phone is not something that everyone finds easy to do.

Rest assured, most people become better over time and develop a valuable skill that will help them to win people over just by the tone of their voice and the mastery of the conversation. If you're starting in business or you'd like to brush up on your telephone skills, then the following tips should point you in the right direction.

Be quick to answer

Always answer every phone call promptly – don't let it ring more than six times whenever possible. Answer the phone in a professional, consistent manner, and always start with your business name, for example: "Hello, Creative Boom, Katy speaking!" If calls go to an answer machine or voicemail, keep the greeting concise and friendly – avoid any lengthy messages.

Smile and smile some more

When you answer the phone, smile! It will instantly make you sound positive and happy. It's a very welcoming tone of voice and will make people feel instantly relaxed. Keep smiling throughout the phone call and enjoy speaking to the other person. If the other person hears boredom in your voice, it won't do you any favours. So smile and be genuinely pleased to be speaking to them.

Always establish the enquiry

Answer every single phone call as though it's a potential client. It doesn't matter if you discover it's another 'gas registration company' or recruitment firm – always be polite and patient with everyone. Your reputation is at stake, and you never know who people know. Besides, sometimes it's difficult to quickly establish whether a call is a prospective client or another spam call. If the call isn't relevant, say: "No, thank you but thanks for considering us!" and cut the conversation short without being rude.

Avoid multi-tasking

It might be tempting to continue tweeting or writing emails during a telephone conversation, but it won't do you any favours. Concentrate on the conversation and do nothing else. Otherwise, it will seem as though you are not engaging or listening. It isn't just rude; it could stop you from understanding the purpose of the enquiry – and the last thing you want to do is apologise and ask the potential client to repeat themselves. Drop everything, move away from your desk and focus on the phone conversation alone.

Take some helpful notes

Always have a pen and paper to hand so you can jot down any useful notes. If the caller identifies themselves, write down their name immediately so you can use their name during the conversation – something that they will appreciate as the sound of our names is the most magical sound of all! While chatting, take down bullet points so you can refer back later if you need to do any following up.

Ask questions

It's an excellent opportunity to show real enthusiasm to a potential client. It's also an excellent chance to find out how they tick and what their needs are. In which case, ask plenty of questions about their business and jot everything down. Use this unique chance to get to grips with how they operate and what they need. Don't be afraid to ask seemingly obvious questions – they will be over-the-moon that you care.

Be a chameleon

Every potential client is different. Some might be relaxed and friendly; others may be corporate and traditional. Try to find out the type of caller you're dealing with and adapt your language and tone to suit their personality. If in doubt, play it safe and stay professional yet friendly. Don't swear or say anything inappropriate, no matter how 'chilled out' or 'down-with-the-kids' you think the caller might be.

Slow down baby

Telephone communication relies solely on your voice. You can't back things up with facial expressions or friendly body language. We only have words to rely on. So change the pace of your conversation to suit the medium. Slow down and understand that we really can portray our feelings in our tone. Express yourself well by slowing down and emphasising any essential words or phrases. Remember to keep smiling – your smile will shine through.

Don't waffle

It's easy to get sidetracked and start waffling to the other caller, losing focus on the conversation. Try to keep things short and sweet. Don't be too abrupt. Take the time to get across whatever needs to be said. Just don't use five different ways to say the same thing. Make your point and move on.

Get excited

Nothing makes a prospect more excited than someone who loves their business as much as they do. If you want to win someone over, get enthusiastic about their work and start to come up with a few ideas on the spot, if you can. Get across how you like the look of their company and – if you're looking at their website while on the phone – mention something you find interesting about them.

Avoid the silent treatment

When you chat to someone over the phone, there can be times when you're doing something else – like writing something down or looking up a website they've asked you to look at. During this time, the conversation can stop entirely, and there'll be silence on both ends of the line. Try to avoid this from happening by talking the caller through what you're doing. It offers reassurance that you're still there and they'll feel looked after.

But if it's going to take you longer than a minute to do something, ask the caller if they mind 'holding' or ask if you can call them back – say something like: "I'd like to find what I need before helping and don't want to make you hang about. May I call back, so I don't leave you waiting? When is convenient?". Just be as considerate as possible – people will always appreciate the courtesy.

Sell yourself

During these early conversations with potential customers, they'll be on the cusp of deciding whether to hire you or not. It means you've got to make the most of selling yourself while you can. Don't go overboard – be confident, talk about your skills and experience if necessary, or name drop a few big clients you've worked with and some of the successful projects you've worked on. Another great tip is to share the wealth of expertise you have and offer friendly advice without giving too much away – this will demonstrate that you know what you're doing and are great at your job.

Finish on a high note

When the telephone conversation is coming to an end, stay upbeat and friendly. Say that you've enjoyed talking to the caller. Mention that you're always available to chat some more if they need to ask about anything else. Or – if the call has been an enormous success and a face-to-face meeting is arranged – say that you're very much looking forward to meeting in person. Whatever you do, always finish on a high note, so the prospect has a great overall impression of the conversation.