• Reaching people by phone is always hard — and it’s even harder when they are working at home
  • Revenue development representatives must be especially sensitive during times of crisis; however, these best practices also apply in normal times
  • Listening for signs that a prospect is unable talk at the moment and being respectful will pay off in the long run

For most of my career, I have been campaigning to make the world a safer place for the people who make phone calls for a living in B2B as well as for the people who, whether wittingly or not, receive these calls.

This is not the first very difficult business cycle of my career, nor for most of us who have been working for a decade or longer. For many, life has been badly disrupted. For many others, it is business as usual, but that business is being conducted from home. Obey your organization’s guidance for calling in to certain industries and geographical locations. Where you can still be making calls, however, consider the following principles and best practices. 

First Principle

People who still take calls are less common than they used to be. Treasure them. Respect them. Treat them like the most important resource you have in your job — because they are.

Second Principle

This is true all the time, not just now: The person you are calling is in complete control of the situation. If they really don’t want to talk to you, you have no power to change that. Your ability to engage a prospect, therefore, must be earned. It cannot be forced. Attempting to force a conversation by disregarding objections is the surest way to lose a prospect. And when you lose a prospect in this way, you are hurting the ability of others in your profession to do their jobs as well. The best way to earn the right to have a conversation is to be relevant and respectful.

Third Principle

Many objections are not voiced, or are disguised as something else. Silence itself is often an objection. People are often uncomfortable with saying exactly what they mean or are unsure of how to best express their discomfort in the moment. As the person initiating the conversation, it is up to you to take responsibility for how it goes. That means, when you hear silence in response to your greeting, you cannot simply plow on — silence is a sure sign that the person you called is uncertain about what is about to happen. Your job is to clear up the uncertainty.

First Best Practice: How to Respond When Greeted With Immediate Silence

  • Explain why you called them, but don’t pitch. “I understand that you are the best person at your company to talk to about how your company deploys widgets.” If the person says no, apologize for getting your facts wrong, and ask for help finding the right person.
  • If they are the right person, acknowledge the silence. “I realize that I may not have caught you at a great time, so please let me know if that is the case, and we can talk another time.”
  • Explain what is in it for them to talk to you. “I’m with Widget Co., and we have helped companies like yours improve widget utilization up to 75%. We would love to talk to you about how we might do that for your company.”
  • Acknowledge that moving forward is entirely their decision. “Then, you can decide if you want to take the conversation further.” 
  • Before launching into the business of the conversation, be respectful. “I want to be sensitive. If you need to attend to something while we are talking, please let me know.”

Second Best Practice: How to Handle Disruptions and Mid-Conversation Silences

Everyone is working from home now, and that presents people with challenges they are not accustomed to — kids needing attention, pets making noise, doorbells ringing and the like. You will have already encouraged the person you are speaking with to interrupt the conversation if needed. Still, if you hear a disturbance, or if the person stops interacting, the conversation you hoped to have may already be in jeopardy, so you must pause yourself and address it. In the case of a silence, simply ask, “Do you need to attend to that?” or “I hope that I haven’t gone on too long” or similar if you sense disengagement.

The critical underlying concept is this: Listen. Listen for what is said and for what is not said. Don’t be afraid of giving the prospect permission to hang up. The key for callers to understand is that the person on the other end doesn’t actually need your permission to hang up, and they will if they need to. You need permission to continue, and when you hear disturbances or sense disengagement, you cannot assume that you have that permission. Stop and reaffirm it. If the permission is not reaffirmed, you had already lost it. If it is, you will have distinguished yourself as a thoughtful human being and that may earn you the right to talk at another time. Either way, your prospect will feel better, and you will have done your part in making the world just a little safer for telephone-based work.

In challenging times, err on the side of being more thoughtful and more considerate — and, it’s advice we can all benefit from — be better at listening.