Telephone tango: Get appointments in a no-answer culture
Gail B. Goodman
Let's start with some realities that we are all experiencing. Most people have a smartphone. I'm not sure why we call it a smartphone, since it's rarely used as a phone. Does anyone have a guess as to how much of your time spent on your device is as a telephone? The right answer is 7 percent, so calling it a phone anything is kind of silly.
Most people, despite walking around with a phone all the time, rarely pick it up when it rings. This reality has many of my advisors and managers ready to tear their hair out. Just to give you some statistics: In the early 1990s, when I started my consulting practice and most agencies spent a lot of time doing group dialing sessions, the contact rate across the United States was around 45 percent. Yes, I know, that's pretty unbelievable now.
In the mid-1990s, when phoning was at its peak, the contact rate was 32 percent. At the turn of the century, it dropped to 30 percent. Even with the 2003 Do-Not-Call Implementation Act, that 30 percent contact rate held for a number of years.
I have very few clients who continue to keep statistics. Doing hours and hours of just dialing makes everyone nutty. But some groups that do keep numbers are reporting a 10 to 15 percent contact rate. And in the past, urban areas were lower and rural areas were higher, but that's not true anymore. They're all very low.
Next, people ignore voice mails. Many people keep a full voice-mail box since they don't listen to voice mails if you leave them. Some or most people look at their phones, see a missed call, and just call you back. Then you have to repeat whatever you said on the voice mail, right?
Texting, email, and phoning are now all options for trying to reach a new prospect. Now, we have to make note early in the presentation of the FINRA rules for registered reps. FINRA has said no texting, but what I'm finding is two things. One, most managers will allow texting when it's about the logistics of the appointment. What I mean by that is "Gail, I'm running 10 minutes late" would be acceptable. But not the content of the conversation you would have with that prospect or client. Second, too many young advisors are using texting in place of a person-to-person, in-real-time voice conversation. Us older folks call that a "phone call."
Some people say emailing is dead, but your prospects may like emailing better. Their preference for texting or emailing is a key piece of information for you. Generations now communicate differently. That's also new.
When I was little, both my grandmother and I communicated the same—either we talked on a phone or we wrote a letter. That was it. Now we all have so many different options. And there can be generational divides among the members of the same family. My family represents the four generations. My mom, at 90, is a senior; my sister and I are baby boomers; my nephew and his wife are Gen Xers; and my niece, at 28, is a millennial. One can assume that my mom prefers the phone, my sister and I email and talk on the phone, and the other two like texting more.
Ironically, we all text! Yes, even my 90-year-old mom. Why? Because we all want to communicate with my niece, Elizabeth, who mostly likes to text. She's probably a more phone-oriented millennial than her peers, but that's probably because her mother is a speech therapist, and her aunt teaches phone skills. But we all text and phone in our family.
However, it's important in your practice to find out the preferred communication methods of your prospects and clients, keeping in mind the limitations of texting due to the FINRA rules.
So now that we have a platform for understanding the cultural realities, how do we get folks to pick up?
My first proposal is for you to consider what I call the digital, vocal, and personal mix. In your practice, you have to include technology, phoning, and more face-to-face marketing. Knowing what the proper mix is of the digital and personal is just as important as calling people, but I would tell you that random dialing (i.e., calling people when it's convenient for you or in your calendar) doesn't work anymore. Many of you may have started in your career doing group dialing clinics, and even now you may set aside blocks of time to call people. The challenge becomes the lack of a pick up, even by your own clients.
Let's look at each of these for a few minutes.
The idea of face-to-face marketing is at the bottom of the circle because it's really the foundation. It's ironic how everything old is new again. I started my business in the late 1980s, and most people were giving up canvassing—or business walk and talk—for dialing. It worked better and saved time. In the 1990s, telemarketing was so popular that it spawned the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act, which was enacted in 2003. But before that, we all used the phone and didn't even consider doing door-to-door visits. I would remind you that doing door-to-door marketing to households (verses business communities) may not be as successful as it had been for the Fuller Brush man in the 1950s. Many women work, and most households are empty during the day. For those women at home with young children, they may be appropriately concerned about a stranger knocking on their door in the middle of the day. But doing business canvassing is a good idea.
Here's an easy way to look at canvassing. Instead of planning to do hours and hours of canvassing in one neighborhood, consider adding some visits to nearby businesses when you complete your appointments. For example, you come to visit me at my dress store, which is in a strip mall. If every time you come to visit me, you go to visit the other retailers in that strip (all of whom I guarantee I will know and can give you intel on), you will start to create relationships with them every time you have your appointments with me.
The other way you can canvass would be to assign a particular morning or afternoon every week for that activity. Plot out where you will go, and plan to visit no less than 20 businesses before you go back to your other work. I know people who have done this successfully, but they were always in pairs. It's very hard to canvass alone. One jerk who speaks to you in an unkind way, and you'll probably give up if you're alone. With another advisor, the two of you will be more likely to shrug it off.
There are a lot of other face-to-face marketing ideas you can consider. I'll get to a lot more of them as we move along.
For technology, you have to use it wisely and not exclusively. It's fine to use emails as needed, but asking for the appointment through emails is not a good idea. When you're asking for an appointment, you need to be speaking to the other person in real time. This is really important. People are getting so dependent on digital communication that they forget the importance of the sound of the human voice. Have you ever experienced a serious communication boo-boo because something you wrote digitally got misinterpreted? We all have! It's even worse with texting, since people tend to text shorter and shorter sentences. This is an easy way to get misunderstood and in trouble with a client or prospect.
For phoning, you have to think in a new way. In the past, we were successful by planning X number of hours per week for our appointment setting, and we stuck with that idea for decades. Unfortunately, I'm here to tell you that our ability to dial enough, and only dial, to get our appointments is not true anymore. Even experienced advisors who only want two to four new appointments a week are finding it frustrating and difficult. The contact rate is just too low to rely on your ability to even talk to enough people if you randomly dial a couple of hours a week.
So what can you do instead? Here's an important concept I want you to adopt. Set phone dates instead of random dialing. This is a big behavioral change for most of the experienced people I talk to. We all grew up knowing how many hours we needed to dial in order to fill our calendars, but that was also when people picked up. Now you need to set it up so that the other person (whether it's a referral, prospect, or your own existing client) is expecting your call because it's in their calendar.
Let me give you an example. If I'm a client, I am going to assume that you have my phone number (or numbers) and email address, and I have the same for you. You also know that as a baby boomer, I like and respond to emails. Instead of trying to reach me by phone when it works for you, I'm suggesting you email me a request for a phone date by asking me when I'm available in the next two weeks for a brief call. Do not email the content of your call; just email a two-line request to speak to me.
But what if I'm a new prospect? In that case, you also have to first become a contact in my phone so that whenever you call me, I'll pick up. Remember (and this is super important), most people do not respond to calls that are just a phone number. There also has to be a name attached. When our phones ring, we all look at them, and most of us (though salespeople tend to be different around this) will not pick it up if it's just a phone number without a name, which means that you must be in their phone before you try to call them.
You're probably thinking, How do I get into the phone of a person I don't know? Good question. There are a few ways that can happen.
Let me give you an important example. Most of you built your practice through referrals. Those are a critical way that people like you and me build a business that is dependent on people believing in our abilities to help them. In your case, the client needs to have a lot of confidence in your competence. A referral is another person's endorsement of your abilities, and that's important.
So let me walk you through the steps of getting into the phone of the new referral. Let's say John meets with me as my advisor and then asks to be referred to my sister, Ellen. Whatever system you use to get a referral, I don't care. What I do care about is that you get an appointment with that new person.
Just getting the name and phone number of the new person isn't enough. Trying to email them when they don't know who you are is tricky. Many of us delete emails from people we don't know as a matter of course. What John needs to do in order to get Ellen to take his call is to ask me, as his client, to text his contact information to my sister.
Let me ask you, are you a contact in your own phone? If not, you have to create your own professional contact.
Here are some suggestions on how to do this in your phone. In the first three lines, put your first name and last name but not your company unless it has the word financial in it. If your company name doesn't have that word, then put your profession description in line three so you become searchable in someone's phone.
Let me give you an example. When I moved to Nashville, my realtor texted me a bunch of vendors that I needed. When it was time to call the septic guy, I didn't know his name since I had never used him or met him. But I was able to search him in my phone because she sends these types of vendors with their profession as the third line.
That's where I got the idea. So if you are not yet known to someone, you want to use that third line for your professional description. At the bottom, where the address has several lines, you put your company name and address and skip the suite number if there isn't room. If you have a good photo of yourself in your phone, add that as well. Put in your office and cell numbers and your email address.
Back to our referral/introduction example: In order for Gail to text her sister Ellen all of John's information, John has to be in Gail's phone too. Now you have to make sure all of your clients have you in their phones in this way.
So you tell Gail to text her sister Ellen and to write something nice about you. Here's my suggestion: "I'm extremely happy with my financial advisor, ___________. I've attached her contact information. Make sure you save it in your phone. I told her to call you. Take her call. It will be worth 10 minutes of your time." Notice I include "save it in your phone" because if Ellen doesn't save your information, you're not going to get her to pick up.
Here's an interesting thought: The new Do-Not-Call list for everyone is anyone not in his or her own phones. If you're not in my phone, no matter how many contacts I have, you are part of my Do-Not-Call list. The federal government's list is now irrelevant. Everyone's got their own!
To get around this new cultural phenomenon, you have to be texted by your clients to the referrals in order to get them to pick up.
So what if Gail and her sister don't text? Then you use a similar idea with email. You have Gail send an email to her sister, with a cc to you, and she does an introduction. Remember, in an email when you ask Ellen to take John's call and include his phone number, you have to hope she puts it in her phone.
However, with emailing, your next move is to email Ellen on your own and ask her for a phone date. Then she should pick up when you call since you asked her to pick a time that works for her.
Here are the two emails:
From Gail to her sister Ellen with John on a cc:
"I'm writing to tell you about John Smith, who has been helping me for about __________, and he's done some great financial work for me. I've given John your phone number and have asked him to give you a call. I think you should take his call and chat with him for a few minutes. He's creative, ethical, and knows his stuff. His number is 555-555-5555. Put it in your phone and remember to let me know how it goes."
From John to Ellen:
"I'm looking forward to speaking with you. Send me some times you are available for a brief call in the next two weeks."
And that is how you create a phone date with a referral.
In our world, there are now four different ways you might create an initial appointment with a new person.
- You can set an appointment in a face-to-face situation, thereby not needing either the phone or texting or emailing. Let's say I meet John at a party. We are talking for a long time and obviously have rapport. At some point, if John sees me as a person he wants to know better, it would be a good idea to say, "Hey, I'd like to continue this conversation, and we should probably get back to the party. What is a good day for us to meet for coffee?" Now you pull out your smartphone calendar, exchange contact information, and you have an appointment. If you don't know how to handle an initial get-to-know-you coffee appointment, that's a different seminar.
- You can set an appointment via email. We just used referrals as an example. Here's another one. This story happened to me last year. I went to a Lead Exchange meeting at my local chamber of commerce, which is terrific by the way. And there was an IT company that was able to provide a service I needed. So I emailed the woman who had been at the meeting, asking for a phone call. We talked, and I shared with her what I needed them to do with my videos online. As we continued to speak by phone, Hope realized that my primary market was the financial services industry. It turned out that she had been the recruiter for my local Mass Mutual agency. She made an email introduction (just like we talked about), and I followed up with a quick email to the GA asking if we could just visit and bypass the phone since we were so close. And that's how I got my first appointment with that new client.
- You can be texted to another person just as I described the referral process. Let me just give you a slightly scary story. About a year ago, I got a phone call from an advisor I had trained in his agency about six months before. He was very upset and told me right at the beginning of the call that he was on the verge of quitting. He had acquired 30 referrals and had been calling and calling them, and he had gotten no appointments. He was totally despondent and couldn't figure out how he had messed up. Here he was with a list of 30 great referrals and could not get a single one of them on the phone. So I calmed him down and suggested that he go back to the top five people who gave him those referrals and ask them to text his contact information so that his call would be picked up. My main problem with this story is that his manager did not know how to cure the problem. He probably was stumped as well, since this young advisor had done exactly what his manager did to create his practice. But what they both forgot from my seminar was that a list of names and numbers is not the way to go. You must get into the phones of the people you are calling, or they will perceive you as a telemarketer and not pick up.
- Lastly, you can try to dial when it works for your schedule. I obviously don't recommend doing a lot of this. Even clients have become hard to reach, but if you are already in the phones of your clients, they are more likely to pick up if you randomly call them at a time that works for you. However, I am obviously going to recommend that you email your clients and ask them when they have some time to talk to you instead of randomly dialing them. Your appointment book will be filled with lots of phone dates in addition to the appointments you are setting.
In my phone calendar, I have different colors for my phone dates versus my seminars versus my flights versus things I have planned at home. The color coordination makes it easier for me to see what my week is like.
So I'm often asked by this point, "How many phone dates do I need per week?" We used to calculate hours on the phone, even some managers would figure how many dials per week people needed. But all of those statistics are either discouraging or just plain off from the realities we are dealing with.
I would need to know how many new, opening appointments you want per week. Let's say John, as an experienced advisor, only wants three new appointments per week, but Allison needs seven. For John, he needs to schedule five phone dates a week because, even though a phone date means you get a pick up, it doesn't always mean you get an appointment. For Allison, she needs closer to nine or 10 phone dates a week.
Again, how do you get 10 phone dates a week? This would assume that Allison is not doing any kind of face-to-face marketing that would allow her to meet people and schedule that one-on-one appointment without using the phone. But maybe we should talk about how those no-phone-required appointments happen.
Let's look at 11 different face-to-face marketing ideas.
Small business breakfasts: Do small business breakfasts for eight people who have something in common. If you have a particular client you want to clone, this is a great idea that is easy and not expensive.
You invite four clients who have something in common. Let's say your favorite clients are architects. So you invite four architect clients and tell them you're having a small business breakfast meeting. Their price of admission is to bring a colleague who is an architect and someone you don't know. (Hopefully, they don't think of each other, but a new per person.) That means you get to meet four new people.
The speaker and topic is someone you either have as a center of influence (COI) or want to develop as one. Make sure that person is a good speaker and has a 20-minute presentation on something relevant to your group. A lawyer, tax advisor, PR expert, etc. would be good for this group. Any professional that has something of interest to this group of eight people is a candidate for being the speaker. You pay the bill, which is now breakfast for 10. Not expensive, and easy to set up.
This is what you get from doing this idea once a month: You reinforce your relationship with your favorite clients. You meet four more people like your favorite clients. You create or reinforce a relationship with a COI.
I suggest finding a breakfast buffet at a nice hotel in your town for this type of meeting. Try to pick a quiet day of the week. I'd rule out Mondays.
Instead of trying to cold call architects, this is a much more modern, 2017, type of idea.
Community groups (political, civic, volunteer): The best way to build or expand a practice is to get involved in your community. Rotary or any other community service group is a great place to start.
Trade shows/Fairs/Expos: Many advisors look at the opportunities to have a booth at trade shows or fairs. I would encourage you to, again, rethink how you do these activities. First, I would forget the idea of raffles. Raffles worked when we used to go home with all those names and be able to call them. That boat left the dock a long time ago. Now, you need to see these events as one-on-one meeting opportunities. Make your booth open by moving the tables to the side. Stand near the area where people walk so you can engage them in conversation. Talk to them one at a time and really find out who they are.
Planned events (client in-house events): Many agencies do events that are client appreciation parties. This gives all the advisors an opportunity to thank their clients. And, again, invite them to bring someone you don't know to your agency.
Hobbies: Many advisors are not good at talking to people they "play with" about their professional life. They spend incredible time with certain people whom they share a common interest with, but they're not able to transition from a social or playing relationship to a professional one. My script book is sold in the MDRT store, and the first script is one that answers this question. The person who wrote it was a 20-year veteran of this industry when he came to my class. His wife, who was his assistant, urged him to go to my seminar because he had never called the men who he horseback rode with every week. Now, I'm a rider too, and I know that you don't spend all your time galloping in the woods. There's plenty of time walking where the riders can talk. In his group, talking business was not allowed, which I understand. So his job was to call each of these friends at another time. And the script he came up with was fantastic and has some key words in it. I'm going to do it for you as if I was making the call, but I will emphasize the key phrases later.
"Hello, this is _____________. As you know, I have been in financial services for more than _______ years, and in all that time, I've never called you on a professional basis, and I am rectifying that with this phone call. I would like to position myself as an additional financial resource to you, and I'm calling to set a time for us to get together so I can share with you the total scope of the work I do. That way, you will be better able to use my expertise any way that makes you feel the most comfortable. With that in mind, when would you like to meet, this week or next?"
What are the important phrases in this script? "I've never called you on a professional basis; I am rectifying that with this call; position myself as an additional financial resource; scope of the work that I do; use my expertise any way that makes you feel the most comfortable." The best way to call the people you've neglected is to use this script. It's not just Tom, but it's many experienced advisors I've met over the past two decades.
This is how you reach out to people that you have a nonprofessional relationship with, but you really need to get together with them—just for your own peace of mind —to let them know how to use you if they want to. There is no pressure in these words, and most advisors don't call the people they are closest to and like the best because they don't want to ruin an important relationship in their lives.
Networking: If you don't know how to network properly, you need to learn this skill. And fast! Because of everything I've been saying, it's important for you to be great at all face-to-face encounters. I have two friends who teach networking, and I can give you two critical tips. One, don't pounce. And two, make sure you get the other people to talk first. Ask them about what they do and let them talk so that when they finally ask you about your career, you phrase it in a way that matters to them because now you know what that is. I am not a fan of elevator speeches. In my opinion, you are just vomiting what you do onto unsuspecting people. Yes, I know what word I just used. It's important to learn about people one at a time, so you can make a real connection. And since I'm emphasizing meeting people instead of dialing for hours and hours, this is a critical skill for your practice going forward.
Canvassing: We talked about using all of your current appointments as a way of starting to meet new people every time you set an appointment.
Everyday situations: Again, if you learn to ask people about themselves, you can meet potential prospects standing in line at the grocery store.
Social situations (parties, events): Any networking skills you learn will be applicable to social situations. Again, if you don't pounce, then you will continue to be asked to come to events. If you're like a bull in a china shop, you'll never get invited to anything because prospecting at Thanksgiving is inappropriate. But asking people about themselves is good, and it gives you a reason to call them after the event. But you can't do that if you're not in their phones, so making connections and becoming a contact works in these situations.
Target markets: If you build your target market, it will reap a lot of reward over time. You will become known within a group of people that communicate regularly, and your prospecting will be easier.
Natural market: I gave you the example of Tom and his horseback riding friends. But sometimes you need to call people you know, and there isn't that common bond. I'll give you the five categories of your natural market, so you understand that your scripting language is based on your relationship to that person and not on what you think is happening in his or her life. I know this industry has grown by telling people to call prospects based on life events. Well, what if someone isn't having one? Now you're stuck. You have nothing to say. My approach is to focus on your relationships, which gives you a reason to call these people at any time.
Here are the five categories:
- It's me group
- Acquaintances and casual friends
- People you haven't seen for over a year
- Those who will not be clients but are great COIs and referral sources
- People you need to ask for their help with your presentation
In each of these categories, you approach the person based on the existing relationship you have. When you use the same script for everyone, then you don't call them. I'm going to ask you to be honest. Have you, even as an MDRT-level producer, called everyone in your natural market?
Is it possible that not knowing what to say is the reason? Think about organizing your Project 200. Now, it's probably different from when you started in the business. On an Excel spreadsheet, add a column for these five categories. Once you've categorized them, you can use the right script for each person. Again, my book in the MDRT store has all of this clearly outlined. Now, you don't have any more excuses not to call the people you care about.
It's important to remember that this truly is a life and death business. The last thing you want to have happen is for someone you love to get into a bad situation, and you could have helped. But because you were afraid to make the initial phone call and let them know what you do and how you do it, they may get financially hurt in a big way.
So let's summarize:
- The old rules have changed.
- Low contacts are not your fault.
- Become a contact.
- Set phone dates.
- Plan more face-to-face marketing.
- Redo your Project 200 with my five categories.
- Don't get too comfortable—it's all going to change again!
Gail B. Goodman, of College Grove, Tennessee, has been training financial professionals for almost 30 years and has developed the most up-to-date training for setting face-to-face appointments. Goodman has trained more than 40,000 financial services professionals and her strength as a trainer lies in her empathy with the salesperson’s challenges on the phone.