45 sales pros share their go-to prospecting call questions for starting a conversation, uncovering pain points, and making sure a partnership is a good fit.
Sales | Apr 23
Kiera Abbamonte on April 29, 2019 • 13 minute read
Often times, it’s easier said than done.
Despite shifts in our preferred channels for communication, more than 41% of sales reps still consider the phone to be their most effective sales tool—so learning to be even more effective on those sales calls is a good way to move more conversations to closed won.
But there’s seemingly are a vast ocean of tactics a salesperson can implement in order to do so. Where do you begin?
To figure out how sales reps can improve their sales calls, we asked 35 sales and marketing pros for their advice and their answers proved really insightful. Here’s what they had to say.
*Editor’s note: Want an easy way to track and visualize the success of your sales calls? Download this free CallRail template and see if you’re hitting your monthly call volume, which sources drive the most inbound calls, and more.
Your first call with a new prospect represents an opportunity to get to know their unique needs and situation better. But don’t be fooled—according to Jonathan Aufray of a Growth Hackers, a sales call isn’t a discovery call. “In order to make a sales call as effective as possible,” Aufray said, “You need to gather as much information as possible beforehand.”
That’s a sentiment many other salespeople who responded to our survey shared. Ross Simmonds of Foundation Marketing shared, “A lot of salespeople make the mistake of winging their first call instead of coming prepared to ask specific questions about a prospect’s specific needs.”
“The more you know before the call, the more relevant the conversation will be for the buyer,” Nicole Mertes of Weidert Group said. “It speeds up the process of gaining trust and credibility.”
Not only does pre-call research help inform your call, but prospects can tell when sales reps aren’t prepared to address their needs and concerns—and that’s the fastest way to lose a customer before you even hang up the phone.
“If they feel that you’re knowledgeable about their company and you know what you’re doing, you’ll gain their trust, and they’ll listen,” Caroline Ursos of CIENCE shared. And Alex Meade of Beacons Point, Inc. offered similar advice: “Research and define your audience. Number one way to be more effective is to know who you are calling before calling.”
Pre-call preparation breaks down into two categories:
There’s no faster way to ruin a sales call than by talking to the wrong person from the start. Whether they don’t have budget or aren’t the final decision maker, that call isn’t going anywhere.
That’s why Ollie Smith of ExpertSure recommends avoiding that pitfall at all costs, “By doing my research and identifying those in authority before making my calls,” Smith said, “I make better use of my time on calls as well as ensuring I have much more effective and successful calls than I otherwise would.”
Once you’re on the phone with the right person, your pre-call research should focus on getting to know that person and their needs. It isn’t about selling—it’s about anticipating and solving customer problems.
According to Ethan Giffin of Groove Commerce, “Successful sales calls happen when you truly understand the challenges a business faces and can help to architect solutions. Customers are looking for strategic partners.”
Jake Fisher of Bridges Strategies & Digital Marketing advises, “For inbound calls, have qualification questions ready to go at all times, so you can quickly disqualify or escalate to the next step. For outbound connect calls, have your positioning statements and pivot points ready-to-go.”
It’s about more than just knowing what you want to say, too. David Bourque of TSI Consultants notes that you also have to anticipate the information a prospect may be looking for. “Preparing for a sales call not only involves planning on what you want to cover on the call, but also anticipating what questions or objections your prospect may have,” Bourque said.
Once you get on the phone, a successful sales call starts with setting the right expectations, so everyone’s on the same page.
“Prospects know what they want to get out of a call, the SDR knows what they want to get out of the call,” said AJ Alonzo of demandDrive, “but they don’t know what each other want to get out of the call. When everyone is on the same page from the start,” Alonzo added, “it leads to a much more productive conversation on both ends.”
To achieve that before even picking up the phone, Linus Isaksson of Avidly sends out an agenda. “I always set an agenda and give the customer the chance to change it if necessary.” Isaksson said. “It’s not rocket science but it is essential.”
“Get the person you’re speaking to on the call in the right frame of mind from the outset,” advises Kraig Martin of Storage Vault. “That means thinking carefully about the purpose of your call and what you want to achieve in it.”
Sounds like a good exercise in clarifying your thoughts and goals to me.
So you’ve made your pitch, intro’d the product, and then… the prospect brings up objection after objection. They have tons of excuses for why they absolutely can’t buy what you’re selling.
Objections are a part of sales, but Mike Schiemer of Bootstrap Business recommends tackling them head-on—at the beginning of the conversation. “The most effective way that I’ve found to close sales is to address any reservations, questions, or obstacles to the sale early on. If you can address these issues, then the prospect runs out of excuses as to why they aren’t able to make the purchase.”
It’s no secret that salespeople get a bad wrap. That reputation is widely undeserved, but there are small mindset and framing changes you can make to be doubly sure your sales calls aren’t perpetuating it.
“Don’t try to sell like a car salesman,” said Parvind Dutta of Maple Sage. “Try adding value to your customers by giving them solutions to their problems.”
Oz Chowdhury of Power Phrase echoed that, emphasizing the relationship-building aspect of sales: “Don’t come off sales-y. Come off as wanting to build a relationship with the person or company.”
“Focus on offering genuine value to customers and let them come to their own decisions,” adds Lightbulb Media‘s Lewis Kemp. “Generational behaviors are shifting and people now completely switch off the second they sense a sales pitch coming.”
Patrick Rafferty of Online Optimism recommends trying to learn something from every prospect you get on the phone with—even if it doesn’t end with a sale. “Even if you’re an expert in their industry,” Rafferty said, “you want to remain humble and open to learning more from your potential clients during calls.”
When you get on the phone, you’re searching for a close. That’s what leads too many SDRs to present their case a little too aggressively, and that can really put prospects off.
“People will respond better if it’s a positive conversation that feels personal and authentic, rather than a formal call that feels staged and insincere.” shared McCall Robison of Best Company.
One way Dario Sipos of DWR uses o make sales calls feel more like a conversation between friends is to speak the prospect’s language. Don’t use your own vernacular—use theirs.
If your company has voice of customer data, that can really come in handy here. You can also learn about your customers’ voices by listening in on support calls and reading how they talk about your product in reviews, testimonials, and on social media.
Editor’s note: Want to see how well your website speaks to your target customers? Download the free Marketing Overview (HubSpot & Google Analytics) template and learn how effectively your site turns visitors into prospects.
Listening and asking relevant questions tell prospects that you’re interested in getting it right—not just pitching them into submission.
“Sales reps tend to spend a large portion of the time talking as opposed to listening and creating engagement,” observed Zamir Javer of Jumpfactor. “As a rule of thumb it’s best to ensure you’re speaking no more than 50% of the time during a sales conversation.”
During all that non-speaking time, it’s important to actively listen to the concerns and questions prospects have for you. That’s one way you can start to ask the right questions and better tailor your pitch.
David Zeff of Exceed.ai recommends listening to learn “Why is the conversation happening now? What prompted this discussion? Who does this problem effect? What would solve it?”
Weidert Group‘s Greg Linnemanstons tries to think like a prosecutor. “Ask the questions that lead them to the recommendations you’re going to make.”
At the end of the day, today’s customers are savvy. When you’re just trying to hard-sell a product or solution that doesn’t fit for them, they can see right through. That’s why taking on the mindset of helping the customer—regardless of whether that leads to a sale or not—can make your sales calls more authentic and conversational.
“Show the prospect you’re there to help regardless of whether you end up doing business together or not,” said Kevin D’Arcy of ThinkFuel Marketing. “Doing that at the beginning of the call develops trust and credibility which leads to a much more open and honest discussion, fast-tracking your ability to qualify and move the opportunity forward.”
Not every sales call will lead to a closed sale. Trying to force it when your product isn’t a great fit for a prospect (or vice versa) only damages the potential for a future relationship. Not to mention, continuing on when both parties know it’s not a fit wastes everyone’s time.
“The easiest way to improve the effectiveness of your sales calls is to disqualify bad fit prospects as early on in the process as possible.” shared Maddy Osman of Cirrus Insight.
That’s why Sauce Marketing‘s Kim Garmon Hummel gives prospects permission to say ‘no.’
“This lessens the chances that your prospect is going to ghost you later and lets them know your number one priority is their best interest, not closing a sale.”
“Never leave a call without having the next touch point set,” recommends Matt King of The 20.
When you don’t capitalize on the progress of your sales call right away, you risk losing the prospect to doubt or second guessing.
“Think of it as an iterative loop, where the message is honed with each conversation or email,” added King. “Consistent Cadence + Demonstrated Value = New Customer.”
At some point in your sales career, you’ve probably been handed a call script. “Nothing is more disingenuous than a salesperson who’s clearly reading off a stale script,” said Stephanie Tran of Revenue River.
But “call script” can be an imprecise term because the complexity and quality varies so much from one company to another. Jenna Bos of Revenue River recommends scrapping it altogether.
“Use a dynamic sales playbook software. The playbook should encapsulate the general desired flow of a conversation with a prospect, as well as the points of divergence where responses, questions, or objections from a prospect might steer the conversation to different terrains.”
Damian Thompson from Salesability offered a similar thought, advising sales reps not to use scripts. “Instead have ‘talking points’ that remind you of key questions and ideas you want to discuss.
“They’ll lead to a more natural conversation,” Thompson added.
It’s no secret that sales calls emanating from different sources lead to wildly different results. Every sales team has their favorite lead source, and our survey indicates referrals and organic search lead the way here.
We asked salespeople which sources drive the most phone calls for your business, and they overwhelmingly ranked referrals as the most effective.
We also asked those respondents which type of lead source led to the highest close rates. It’s no surprise that nearly 73% said inbound calls result in a better close rate.
That’s why several of the salespeople we spoke with recommended optimizing the web pages and content that send inbound calls your way.
“If your website hasn’t been optimized with CTAs (call to action) you could be missing out on so many sales calls,” warns Charlie Worrall of Imaginaire Digital.
Henri Pallonen of Avidly advises focusing on providing something helpful or valuable to prospects before that initial phone call. “That way, you’ve already earned their trust and the call is something totally different,” Pallonen added.
“If you can create a piece of content that draws leads with intent into your ecosystem,” said Daniel Lynch of Empathy First Media Digital Marketing, “then you should be the one answering calls, not the other way around.”
Editor’s note: Want more insight into how different sources generate leads and ultimately close? Download this free HubSpot Leads by Source template to see how qualified your leads from each source are.
In a similar vein, moving prospects forward is all about demonstrating your value, and that can look like a few different things.
Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing offers value up-front, through free consultations and other demonstrations of their services.
“Your client has no reason to buy if you can’t demonstrate your value up front,” McLoughlin said. “The best sales calls will leave your prospective client, at the very least, convinced of the real value of what you’re offering.”
For Perry Nalevka of Penguin Strategies, it’s all about showing prospects what their world will look like if they work with you. “The better you paint that picture,” added Nalevka, “the faster you can qualify the opportunity.”
What if the most effective sales call isn’t actually a phone call at all? That’s the question Sven Montanus of Svensson & Friends asked. It led him to personalized video messages.
“Video messages are less intrusive than a phone call, yet very personal,” Montanus observed. “And because it takes a little bit of an effort to create a video, it requires your sales team to think the message through more carefully.”
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