Audrey Bodman, Outshine

The sectors I work with use the phone to contact employers to identify training and job opportunities for their customer base.

Many people share with me their concerns about the market being swamped by other organisations ringing the same employers they do. As a result, they experience a lot of difficulty and a lack of success in gaining interest – even if what they are offering is funded or in some cases free.

It is easy to blame other callers ringing, but the truth is, many employers are fed up of receiving the ‘sales call’ (which is what they perceive it to be). Whether your service is free or funded, you will in most cases be tarred with the same brush as all others making those calls. It’s even worse when those people are unprofessional, or doing a bad job of calling!

One consideration you have to take into account and which is often forgotten is that the decision maker you speak to is constantly being called by others who are selling different products and services. Take, for example, the role of an HR Manager, who might be responsible for recruitment. This person could be receiving calls from a commercial recruitment agency (which charges a fee), a non-profit making organisation (which may not charge a fee but which is focused on getting the unemployed back to work), a work-based learning company trying to place an apprentice, or a university or college trying to get a student a placement or internship. That’s four people trying to get the same HR Manager. Multiply this by just six organisations, and you have 24 calls in just one day. Is it any wonder they are abrupt when you speak to them and appear to be simply trying to get you off the phone?

So, standing out from the crowd is crucial.

Consider these two strategies

1. Find a success story.

You are expected to introduce yourself and where you are calling from. But many fail to expand on this and worse, don’t tailor their opening conversation to make it relevant to the person or the organisation they are talking to. A wise caller will personalise the call and make it more relevant to the recipient. Think of how it would be if you just replace your company’s name with one of your competitors, and say “We do XYZ”. The employer will think about the call they received 30 minutes ago and wonder what the difference is between your call and that one. So, they switch off and think “Here we go again…”

Instead do some homework and research which of your current employers are happy with the products or services you’ve provided. Consider the sector they operate in. When you have a sector and speak to similar employers, you then have a common ground.

Your knowledge of your current employer will give you a better understanding of the challenges they might have faced. This will enable you to highlight the benefits you can offer early on in the conversation. What it also does is help to build credibility and lessens the chance of the conversation being halted early on in the call.

Spend time tailoring your opening to ensure it’s relevant to the person to whom you are talking. If you are talking to someone with ‘finance’ in their job title, you might include words which target ‘reducing costs’ or similar in your opening. If you are talking to an HR person, you might find that it is best to discuss how you can help them ‘find reliable staff quickly’ might strike an instant accord. To ensure your opening approach isn’t too long stick to 29-32 words after introducing yourself and where you’re from.

So when you ‘open the call’ aim to use positive and descriptive words, words that create interest and curiosity. Words that paint pictures for the listener. For example “We’ve successfully placed an individual in an admin job in a care home very recently and have had great feedback about the difference Sarah has made” or “Having spent time working closing with organisations like yours I’m aware of how important it is to (insert here something that will prove your knowledge of their industry).”

2. Get them involved in the conversation within 10 seconds.

Ultimately when speaking to employers aim to ‘build relationships’. If you don’t manage to engage the employer relatively quickly, you will be faced with a closed door.

Assuming you’ve tailored your opening, aim within the first 10 seconds to engage them by asking a question. Avoid questions which ask for some form of commitment too soon, as these types of questions have a habit of turning decision makers off. What I mean by ‘commitment questions’ are ones like ‘Would you be interested’ or ‘Would this be of benefit’. How would they be interested in something about which they know nothing?

Instead, ask a question that a) isn’t too difficult to answer but helps identify a need, and b) gets them to respond with more than a ‘one-word answer’. Often, questions that start with ‘what, where, how, when, where’ will do the trick here. For example, ask “When tends to be your busiest time of year for recruitment?” or “How do you normally go about recruiting trainee or junior staff?”

Before asking the question use a ‘bridge’ to help the conversation sound less like an interrogation. A couple of examples of bridges are ‘Just out of interest’… ‘It would be good to know’… Then ask a couple of questions following this to help you engage the decision maker.

Because you’ve now got the employer talking, you stand a better chance of being remembered by them. Getting them to do most of the talking is a great strategy and one that will help you stand out from the crowd and also give you a better insight into how you can help them going forward. To employers, it will be refreshing to find someone who is ‘interested’ in them rather than set on talking them to death.

Audrey Bodman, Managing Director, Outshine Ltd

About Outshine Ltd: An established telephone training company specializing in telephone training in Employer Engagement, sales and service. Over 20 years experience within the Work Based Learning, Welfare to Work and FE sectors.

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