New Business Skill: Convert More Calls to Meetings

Role practice will dramatically improve your results
by Todd Knutson

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Listen to a gifted proactive new business person: their ability to engage a prospect on the phone and move the conversation forward will appear effortless. What you won't see are the hours and hours of frustration, mistakes, trial and error that made them successful.

If you are an ad agency or marketing services new business person whose job it is to set up prospect meetings by phone, and you want to improve your skills, this post can help you improve your telephone skills. You can't eliminate the hours of frustration you'll experience, but you can reduce them.

One of my favorite sayings is,

It's better to practice with a co-worker than make mistakes on the phone with a prospect.

The key to improvement is practice, and the easiest way to do it is "role practice". The idea is that you practice the skill - daily - the same way an athlete does drills over and over again to master a particular technique.

Role practice is easy, it just requires two people who are interested in improving their skills. If you can't find another person inside your agency, you might ask a colleague at a non-competitive firm.

Here's how to conduct telephone role practice:

  • Set up a 20-minute meeting 3-5 days a week.
  • Conduct the practice session over the phone or in person. If you do it in person, I strongly encourage you not to face each other. You want to simulate an actual telephone conversation. Learning to "see" the other person through the phone is an important skill; sitting face-to-face eliminates that learning opportunity.
  • During each role practice session, the participants trade roles as the new business person and prospective client.
  • As the new business person, identify scenarios that are tough for you - for example, engaging the prospect when they first answer the phone, or talking about your firm's social media capability, or trying to get a toe-hold in a new category. You want your telephone partner to play those tough roles so you can practice.
  • As the prospective client, identify who you are (e.g. brand manager for Tide detergent), and then play the role that's been assigned to you. Be sure to vary your degree of "toughness". For example, sometimes be nice and let your practice-partner easily engage you; other times, make it much more difficult.
  • Initiate each call - I like to kick it off with "ring, ring" to represent the phone ringing, and then the "client" answers and the call begins.
  • Each person should practice for 10 minutes and then switch roles (new business person becomes the marketer and vice versa).
  • After each 10-minute role practice, the person in the new business role should critique their own performance, and then the person playing the prospective client should critique the new business person. Focus on both what the new business person did well (e.g. specific questions they asked to create rapport), or where they slipped up (e.g. not listening carefully enough to a potential pain that the marketer revealed, and not asking more questions about it).

Every person I've seen who has practiced this way, who does it with a desire to improve, has shown a dramatic increase in their telephone skills.

If you have questions as you do your own role practice please reach out to me. If you have another way that you practice that has worked for you, I'd love to hear about it.

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