For decades, teenagers used to spend their weekday evenings doing two things: listening to the radio and talking on the telephone. I distinctly remember being in my room, chatting with friends on the landline, and listening to the Hot Nine at 9 on my favorite station. As technology has changed, so has the way young people communicate with friends and family. You’ll hear many people in my generation and older complain that younger people “are always texting and on social media…they never talk face-to-face anymore.” As an SDR Manager, however, I’m more concerned about the form of conversation dying even faster among young people: the telephone.
I not only manage inside sales professionals, but I am still cold-calling and selling on the phone myself every day. The reps I manage are every bit as engaging and articulate as I am…maybe even more so. The area I notice the biggest gap, however, is specifically speaking on the phone. And this makes complete sense; these guys didn’t grow up on the phones like myself and those older than I did. With that in mind, I’ve put together some tips to help SDR’s communicate more effectively on the phone. I hope you find them helpful (or at least enjoy jamming out to the radio hits of the past associated with each tip below).
There are so many elements of communication that get lost in the fog of the phone. The person on the other end can’t see you. It’s amazing how body language and facial expressions help others understand us better and we lose these things on a standard phone call. Without visual supplements, it’s just more difficult for people to understand what we are saying. For this reason, it is crucial we slow down our speed of speech when on the phone. Until you become great at slowing down, be very intentional about it. This practice will feel strange at first. Your neighbors sitting near you might even ask “why are you talking like that on the phone”. But the person on the other end likely has no idea how you speak when face-to-face, so speaking slower is a relative change they’d never know anyway. The point of communication is to be understood, so let’s help the other party understand us.
Even if our English is great, it is possible people are misunderstanding our tone and mood on the phone. So how do we help people see how we’re feeling if they can’t see us? Even as an old-school sales leader, the phrase “smile and dial” makes me cringe because of what some bad sales leaders typically mean by that phrase. In this case, my advice to smile has nothing to do with being mindless about our phone calls. It’s crazy how much people drop their guard when we smile at them. Try it face-to-face all day today if you don’t believe me. The great thing about smiling for inside salespeople: it’s the one facial expression that does transfer to the phones. Studies have shown folks can tell when we are smiling by how it changes our voices. The other party subsequently associates that with a positive feeling. Everything comes in moderation though. I try not to be a grinning fool when someone is delivering bad or somber news to me on the phone. I do find, however, that smiling while challenging someone’s status quo helps the receptiveness. The next time you have to tell a person “you shouldn’t continue to do things the same way just because you always have”, do so with a slight smile to smooth the edge.
It can be easy to rob another person of their opportunities to contribute to a phone conversation. When we talk to people face-to-face, we can tell they are trying to jump in and speak. They may lean forward in their chair, raise their eyebrows, open their mouths, or raise their hands even slightly. We notice these things when having an in-person conversation, so we end our sentence and let others speak. All of the subtle actions of our peers get lost to us when on the phones because, again, we can’t see each other. There are two things we can do to help here. First, speak in shorter bursts. Even if trying to explain something lengthy and complicated, chop it into smaller chunks that allow ample opportunity for the other party to interact with you. It’s ok if our statement or answer was incomplete because we needed to shorten it; we’ll have the chance to expand. And, if we’re lucky, maybe the other person will even ask us to further explain so the convo turns into a back-and-forth. The second way to give the other party the opportunity to speak: take longer pauses when either party has stopped speaking. I asked one of my reps the other day, “How many times per day do you find yourself talking at the same time as the other person on the phone”. He’s honest and self-aware and admitted it was happening often. I then asked, “On the other hand, when is the last time you were silent for so long that the other person asked, ‘Are you still there?” He conceded it had been weeks or months since that happened. As I explained to him, the balance between those two scenarios is a pretty good measure of how effectively we are pausing.
These tips above are simple enough that anyone can start using them in their sales conversations tomorrow. To really take your phone skills to the next level, however, I encourage you to find more opportunities to speak on the phone outside of work. It’s a unique skill that is best improved by making it a bigger part of your personal life. Call your momma, call your roommate, call your significant other. Maybe even turn the radio down on the drive home every day and connect with those friends from high school (hands-free if you’re driving, of course). Hopefully, you find all this helpful. I’d love to hear how it’s working out for you. Give me a call sometime and tell me about it!
Adam Chambliss is the Director of Sales Operations and Development here at Urjanet. We are a high-growth tech company in Atlanta with a very talented Sales team. I have been training and leading Sales teams (both inside and field sales) for 9 years. I am passionate about Sales, learning, teaching, and communication.