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Knowing over-the-phone sales tactics can help you weed out helpful calls from time-wasters

Knowing over-the-phone sales tactics can help you weed out helpful calls from time-wasters

Dr. Peter Whitcomb's feet were aching. He was leaning against the countertrying to write up a history for a Cocker Spaniel named "Buffy."

He was musing over the number of blond Cockers named Buffy in his practicewhen Crissy, his new staff member from the front desk, stood smiling andwaiting a few feet away.

"Dr. Pete, someone's on the phone wanting to talk to you on line1," she chimed.

He smiled and said, "Well, frankly they all do. Who is it?"

"They didn't say," she offered.

"Well, find out who it is and what they want and then come on back."

Pete resumed his scribbling and forgot about the phone call momentarilyas he marveled again about the Buffy enigma.

Soon Crissy was back and said that his name is Jim and he would liketo talk to the doctor about your selection for an award given by the AmericanAssociation of Concerned Philanthropists.

Pete's mind was piqued.

"I've worked in this community for a number of years. Finally someoneis taking notice," he thought. "Alright, I'll take this callin the office."

Pete quickly moved to the office and punched line 2.

"Hello," he chimed in a voice filled with poise.

"Oh, Dr. Whitcomb. This is Sally Johnson with Peaches. Can I talkto you about my mother's cockatiel?"

Pete groaned to himself. He had once again punched the wrong buttonon that blasted phone.

"Sorry, Ms. Johnson, I will have to call you back," Pete repliedsheepishly.

He now regretted that he had not listened more attentively to Crissy. Soon, he would be committed to another phone call he doesn't really havetime for. He draws a breath and pushes line 1.

"Hello, this is Dr. Whitcomb."

"Dr. Whitcomb, my name is Dandy Jefferson and I represent All StarCommunications. We are calling on behalf of the AACP. Are you familiarwith their program?"

"Vaguely," he offered with no small amount of confusion.

"Dr. Whitcomb, we would like for you to be a Life ParticipationPartner in the AACP which gives you full access to AACP's total program,including life insurance and an AACP credit card. There are huge savingsfor our members at participating stores nationwide."

Pete was still confused and innocently asked about an awards banquet.

"Dr. Whitcomb, as a life partner you will be sent a free subscriptionto the AACP monthly bulletin and for talking to us today we will send youan AACP coffee cup and an opportunity for a weekend in Florida courtesyof Acme Condos and Vacant Land, Inc."

"No banquet, no lifetime achievement award," Pete lamely pined.

"Your subscription to AACP is all the award you will ever need."

"How much to be a lifetime member?" he finally asked.

"Lifetime membership is a one-time donation of $5,000, payable inannual installments over the next five years for which you will be givena mounted certificate embossed in 14 carat gold that you can hang in yourreception area for all your clients to see," Dandy chortled.

Pete had heard enough. Pete's ego was now deflating to its more usualLilliputian size. He gradually (and with some difficulty) extracted himselffrom the conversation on line 1.

Tick tock, tick tock

Dr. Whitcomb was now 35 minutes behind. As he rose from his desk henoticed that his feet were once again complaining.

Crissy poked her head in the door and said that Mrs. Johnson was on thephone.

"She said you wanted to talk with her."

Pete nodded grimly and proceeded to listen to a tale that could onlybe described as coming from "banana land."

Whitcomb has succumbed to one of the oldest techniques available in sales-anappeal to vanity. Another ploy is the use of the first name. Most clientswill not use the first name of a veterinarian but sales people will. This,of course, is to convince staff that that caller is a longtime chum of theowner.

I have even had sales people call in ahead of time to ask staff for myfirst name. They then call later and ask for me on a first name basis withno remorse whatsoever.

Another appeal is to greed.

Entreaties of this nature run the gamut from the sale of gold futuresto buying selling techniques for the acquisition of real estate.

One must ask the obvious question: If the genius at the source of thesepromotions is already rich, why does he need to sell you a book on, "Howto Get Rich While Sleeping," for a mere $39.99 plus tax?

Business-directed promotions are usually tied with an appeal to the businessowner that whatever they are selling is good for the practice-i.e. in someway it is a form of advertising or a way for you to differentiate your businessfrom the competition. Obviously this is good; unfortunately none of thesepeople have a clue as to what is really good for your business. Only youdo.

Don't get me wrong. Sales are a legitimate part of our profession andthere are many highly regarded men and women who are true professionalsin their own right that serve our profession faithfully, often under stress.They need open access to our practices for us to thrive.

Unfortunately there are a number of people who view professional businesspeople as targets. These people need to be vigorously screened.

Promotional, solicitation calls

A cold caller's chances in a veterinary office are fairly good because:

* Salesmen are extensively trained to find ways to get throughthe barrier at the front desk.

* It is much easier to "get us" on the phone than anyof our human counterparts.

* Companies are endlessly looking for veterinarians or staff toconduct surveys or "research" on behalf of marketing companies.The fact that they offer money to our underpaid staff doesn't hurt.

* Companies or organizations adopt official sounding names thathide their true identities.

* Veterinarians do not offer staff training in this area.

Screening calls at the front desk

Ask for the caller's full name and the address of organizations thatthey represent.

Also ask for the phone number. Some callers are hesitant to give thisinformation out-this is a red flag.

Staff members need to ask the caller specifically what state they arecalling from. Most people are caught off guard by this question and willanswer truthfully. You would be surprised at the number of calls that comein from boiler rooms set up in states (or even countries) far removed fromthe parent organization. Note that people who purportedly represent a localorganization but live in another state are usually professional salespeopleor telemarketers.

You should strive to work only with local people or people who work exclusivelywith the veterinary community. These individuals who need to talk to theowner should be politely asked for their full name and organization.

With practice, staffers can tell that someone is reading from a script. Deny all calls that sound scripted.

Some callers imply that they are returning a call, etc. If so, ask ifthe caller is a current client of the practice and bring them up on thecomputer. If they are not a client, then take a written message and presentit to the doctor for further consideration. Nine out of 10 times the doctorwill not have ever heard of the person or company.

Local callers may want to make an appointment to talk to the doctor. Usually it is better to take a written message and ask for a return numberto call in the event that the doctor would agree to an appointment.

Too good to be true

If it sounds too good to be true, you have scored 100 percent on the"gut feeling" meter.

The usual instinct for all receptionists and staff is to please the customer.Telemarketers are not customers-you are their customers. There is no shamein refusing to connect anyone to the owner/principal of the business orto any veterinarian. Do not let them put a guilt trip on you.

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