If you are in business, you will at some point need to telemarket. We usually think of telemarketing as a person sitting in a room making hundreds of calls to sell siding or vacations in the Poconos. The reality, says Amanda Puppo, is that any time you contact a prospect by phone, you are telemarketing.

Puppo is the founder of five-year-old Hightstown-based MarketReach, a company that “makes the cold calls you don’t want to make.” Puppo discusses “Killer Benefit Statements and Engaging Questions: Getting to the Decision Maker,” on Wednesday, May 17, at 7:30 a.m. at the “Business Before Business” meeting sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Nassau Club. Call 609-924-1776.

“Just about every business owner and salesperson today must use the phone to bring in more business,” says Puppo. Voicemail can make getting to the right person even more difficult. To be successful in making sales calls you must “grab the person’s attention in the first 10 to 20 seconds,” she says.

This is much more difficult to do in a phone call than in person, she says, because the callers have only their voices to work with. The person on the other side of the telephone cannot see body language or facial expressions, a big part of human communication, which is immediately lost over the phone.

Whether the phone call to a prospect is “cold” or “warm,” to be successful the caller must quickly make it clear to the person at the other end of the phone exactly what sets him apart from his competitors. “What about you makes me want to listen to you as opposed to the 15 other phone callers I’ve had today?” asks Puppo. “What about you makes me want to put down my tuna sandwich or stop what I’m working on and listen to you?”

Most of us, she adds, “don’t have the immediate brand recognition of Merrill Lynch. So if you aren’t Merrill Lynch or Nike or McDonalds, why should someone listen?” The best strategy is to be succinct, to-the-point, interesting, and compelling. A tall order for most of us!

Useless insincerity. One of Puppo’s first rules of telemarketing is to “just get on with it. Don’t ask useless, insincere questions like, ‘How are you today?’ Instead, start by asking the right questions.”

Explain exactly why you are calling and what you can do for the person on the other end of the line. “I want to talk to you about lead generating opportunities,” is the example she uses from her own sales script.

Don’t let them say no. “Never ask if they have the time to talk,” is Puppo’s second telemarketing commandment. “Asking if they have time just gives them the opportunity to say no,” she explains. “Explain your business in 30 seconds or less. If after that time they are interested, but don’t have time to talk to you right then, they’ll let you know.” This, she adds, is actually a very good thing. You can now get permission to call back at a later date. And when you make the next call, it will be to a “warmer” lead.

Objections and rebuttals. Once you’ve passed the first few seconds and have begun to discuss your business with the prospect, you must be prepared to answer objections with your own rebuttals. Puppo actually welcomes objections, she says, because “they often bring you closer to making a sale or getting an appointment.”

Learning how to interpret the objections and handle them is a large part of learning to successfully telemarket.

“I’m too busy right now,” is one of the most common objections Puppo receives. “Ask when there is a better time to call. Would after a holiday be better?” Or suggest that taking “just 15 to 20 minutes” of their time for an appointment may help them in their business.

The second most common objection, Puppo says, is that the prospect states that he is happy with his current vendor. Don’t just let the conversation drop there, she warns. Ask a question. Try “that’s great. What is it about your vendor that you like?”

Now, she says, is the time to listen closely. “If they say, ‘Well the price is okay, or the service okay,’ you can tell that you’ve found a hot button.” A good follow-up is, “It sounds like there may be room for improvement.” Mention that you can meet the price or give better service, and again, ask if it worth just 15 or 20 minutes of their time to save money or get more for their dollar.

The key, she says, is to always handle an objection with a rebuttal, and then follow-up with another question. “Questions are a way of taking control of the conversation and distracting the person from their objections.”

Remember your goal. The goal of a call is always to either make a sale or get a personal appointment. Make sure that you ask specifically for that sale or appointment before ending the call.

Make yourself an expert. One of the biggest challenges in telemarketing, says Puppo, is targeting your market. “Not everyone or every business is your target market. When I ask a client who their market is a lot of times they say every business. That is just not so. You have to have a specific target so that your message is compelling enough that the person on the other end of the phone finds it immediately relevant.”

Finding your business niche will make it a lot easier for you to give a specific, targeted benefit statement, says Puppo. Web designers, for example, may specialize in designing for a specific industry. “There are a lot of web designers out there. If you make a call and say, ‘I’m a web designer,’ the person on the other end is going to ask why he should work with you.”

Puppo suggests targeting your call to your prospect’s business. For example, “I’m a web designer specializing in websites for accountants. I’d like to tell you about the benefits some of my accounting clients have received from my websites.” You have now “positioned yourself as an expert in websites for accountants,” she says.

Puppo did not originally plan a career in telemarketing. She majored in English at SUNY Albany and had thought about a career in law, but she put off law school for a few years and took a corporate position in New Jersey. After a few years in the corporate world she discovered several things: She didn’t want to go to law school, she didn’t like corporate America, and she had a specific talent.

She recognized that she was really good at something most people dreaded doing. She could easily “build rapport with people over the telephone.” She took this skill and started her company by making calls at her kitchen table. She then went to her first chamber of commerce meeting, walked away with her first client, and never looked back.

She now has seven employees whom she has trained in her method of cold calling. And while she spends most of her time developing her business, she “keeps her hand in” by making cold calls to generate new business for herself.

Telemarketing, says Puppo, is just one of a combination of techniques that any business owner or professional should use to gain new clients.

“Networking, public speaking, telemarketing, advertising, should all be part of the plan,” she says. “We can’t always network with our target niche. We may have to call them. And results from direct mail campaigns always go up when they are coupled with a phone call.”

E-mail, too, has its place in the business world, but only if it is combined with other ways of getting in front of people, she says. A follow-up E-mail outlining the phone conversation can be helpful. But E-mail, she says, is an unreliable way of contacting someone. “We get so many E-mails these days and so much spam. With spam filters you can’t know if your E-mail actually reaches the person or if it does, if they will open it.”

In the age of voice mails one of the biggest difficulties with telemarketing can be actually getting the person on the phone.

“Have a system of follow-up,” says Puppo. If your message is not returned in a few days, try again. If you still get no response, try again in a week. “You have to decide if the person is really busy or is just blowing you off,” she says. If you are particularly interested in contacting the prospect, you may want to put him on an “expanding rotation.” Two weeks later, one month after that, three months later.

The two most important rules of telemarketing, says Puppo, are not to take rejection personally, and to commit to spending a specific amount of time making calls each week. “Telemarketing takes time. There is no instant gratification,” she says. “If you are only going to make a few phone calls each week, don’t bother.” She suggests an “absolute minimum” of 30 phone calls per week.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t try telemarketing? “If you absolutely hate it, you will put it off and then feel guilty for not making the calls. It isn’t worth it. If you are going to feel guilty about not telemarketing, outsource it.”

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