Call me old school, some deals are best closed in person

Selling is so tough that you can build a real argument for pushing to the finish whenever you have the chance. If you’re making progress, why slow down? Our culture is replete with examples of deals closed during random encounters, sitting on planes, or even on vacation. I applaud them all.

What I don’t like is the telephone: land, cellular, you name it. Unless you’re calling your family. As one of my first sales managers used to say “Great things happen, face to face”. It sounded so cheesy at the time, but now I understand what a simple truth this was. When you are closing someone on a complex concept, nothing beats looking them in the face.

It’s not just because I started in the financial services business as a cold caller. These days, I’m on the receiving end of some pretty serious sales pitches and you know what? When they’re delivered by a voice over a handful of plastic and metal, I cringe.

In one day two very different and very serious professionals rang to sell me on complex financial concepts. Both pulled hard. I’ll rate myself as pretty sophisticated financially, but I lost the thread of their arguments. Or should I say, they lost me, and fast. Within two minutes I knew there was no way in hell they could reel me in.

I’ve been carrying my share of emotional stress over the last year, and for awhile I thought that was why I couldn’t handle these calls. But then I realized: They were pitching services that required a large buy and serious thinking about my future.

So I got emotional? Duh. All big financial decisions are fraught with emotions.

Which is why the phone is so often a loser as a sales medium. There are just too many important signals you miss when you don’t have your eyes trained on the prospect. Especially if you’re following a script and piling on when there’s no response.

Because in most cases, silence doesn’t mean you’re winning. You’ve probably succeeded in overwhelming the prospect with information and either they’re checking out or checking their blood pressure.

So better yet:

Never just keep talking. If the phone is unavoidable, keep your sentences short. If you must delve into specifics, break them up with regular check-ins. A question that puts the burden on your communication skills (‘am I making sense?’) is superior to emphasizing their comprehension (‘do you understand?’).

Stick to easy action. Focus on a few achievable steps and wait until another day to bring the prospect to the close of your sales funnel.

Don’t shy from screen time. It’s the future anyway. Skype, iChat, WebX et. al may still rate lower than an in-person meeting. But, at the least you can read facial expressions and the prospect knows that you aren’t losing at Solitaire or checking your facebook in the background.

Wait until you can meet in person. A professional setting is fine, so long as you’re sure the prospect can relax and feel secure. But wherever you choose, let it be somewhere the humanity of the situation can be respected. Please don’t ask me to discuss my personal finances in a Starbucks. Too close to the blogger at the next table, for my comfort, at least.

Spoken words convey only so much messaging, and often they’re unreliable. Face to face, you can study a prospect’s body language for clues that can tell you to explain more, or less, or just take a break to breathe.

The phone isn’t going away, even if landlines are. You’ll be using yours for awhile. Nothing better for following up on prospects and asking for appointments.

But remember that money evokes opportunity and risk; the combination brings out the best and worst in most of us. Whatever side of the sales game I’m playing, I like to see the whites of their eyes. And not in pixels, if possible.

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