Preparing Your Phone Reps for Selling Success

Mar 16, 2010 11:21 PM  By

In a catalog call center we visited recently, the phone reps were being asked to upsell one of the company’s new products at the end of the order-taking process. Rachel, one of the newest reps in the center, was regularly offering the product on every single call, and enjoying a pretty good conversion rate.

Alex, a more seasoned employee who was actually more skilled than Rachel, did not offer the product on a single call we observed. And Sarah, another fairly new employee made some attempts but without much success.

What’s wrong with this picture? Is it a matter of having the wrong people in the job? Not enough training? Insufficient compensation? Inconsistent policies and procedures? The wrong scripts?

It’s probably all of the above. With more focus on selling in today’s call centers, it’s important to polish sales skills. A successful telephone-selling program has three steps: identifying the right people, delivering targeting training and coaching, and measuring and rewarding. For now we’ll focus on the first step.

The most critical factor in successful selling is getting the right people for the job in the first place. So the first step in the process is a careful screening and profiling of candidates to see who is most likely to be successful and happy in a sales role.

Whether you’re hiring new employees, or simply identifying people in your existing call center to move into more of a sales role, making the match is critical. How do you do this?

According to Berta Banks of Banks and Dean, a company specializing in call center screening via psychometric testing, “The most critical attribute in predicting sales success on the job is whether a person has ‘enterprising’ or ‘initiating’ traits, as opposed to ‘responding’ traits which are predictors of customer service success. Potential sales reps must be willing and wanting to sell.”

One of the ways to determine candidates’ fit is to determine what motivates them. Are they motivated by money? A challenge? The satisfaction of helping someone or solving a problem?

Those motivated by money or a challenge will likely find sales a rewarding experience. On the other hand, the candidates whose test scores show they are adverse to risk probably won’t make good sellers, since hearing “no” is a frequent part of any sales process.

Any company wishing to increase its sales effectiveness should screen potential candidates and group them by strengths. Typically there will be three groups: ones with natural sales talent and attributes, those with “trainable” talent, and those with low potential for sales.

While the people in the latter group might make excellent service reps, investing in sales training for this group is likely to yield little return.

The other two groups, however, can benefit from a sales training process. Next time we’ll discuss what this sales training should entail.

Penny Reynolds is a cofounder/senior partner of The Call Center School, a company specializing in the professional development of call center personnel from frontline agents to call center executives.