You Got the Phone Call. Now What?

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A coffee-stained napkin is not the best CRM system!

Leads are the starting point. Now you’ve got to help them become buyers. That initial phone call plays an important role in the process.

The phone rings! Congratulations, your marketing worked, and you’ve got a lead. But you can’t sell home performance on the phone. You need to turn that call into an appointment, and the appointment into the sale. Soon, a lot will hinge on that sale, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This phone call is the most important thing going on with that customer right now.

You’ve got several things to do:

  • Reinforce the company image and messaging.
  • Collect the pertinent customer information.
  • Find out how they found out about you so you can track and evaluate your marketing effectiveness.
  • Qualify the lead to make sure you can afford to run it.
  • Begin preparing the customer for the appointment and sale.

Marketing is everything you do.

How you answer that phone—or not answer that phone—is important. Most people seem to prefer a friendly, live voice as opposed to a grumpy greeting, voicemail, or phone tree. If you’ve got the volume to justify the resources, have someone answer the phone! If you have to use voicemail—as many small owner-operated companies do—return calls promptly. Practice how you answer the phone. Some companies use a branded phrase. Other opt for something more standard  “Hi. Welcome to Aardvark Cooling. This is Mike. How Can I Help You Today?” Warmly say hello, state who you, and ask your first open-ended question. Make sure everyone in the company who answers phones does it. Make them practice, and role-play the greeting in your company meetings, in the hallway, and listen in as people answer the phone.  And reinforce the need for energy and enthusiasm.  This may seem awkward at first, and if it does, that definitely means you need practice.

Capture the customer information for your database.

If you don’t get the customer’s name and phone number, it’s hard to call back! You need a standard way of collecting this. Electronic customer relationship management (CRM) systems make tracking things a lot easier. And CRM is quite affordable now. But even if you are using paper, capture the information systematically and in a way you can access it. Ask about the best way to contact them—and ask for an email address to send them information.

Right near the top of the list of questions you should be asking is “How did you find out about Aardvark Cooling?” First, you need that information from every single customer so that you can track and evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing. The information needs to stay with the customer information because you want to know not just whether an appointment was set, but also whether a sale was made, and for how much. This lets you tie revenue back to the lead source and what you’re investing in marketing so you can figure out what that marketing is worth.

Need, Ability, and Trust

You owe everyone who calls you a professional and courteous response. But you don’t necessarily owe them a visit to their home.

When things are slow, you may want to visit every person who calls. During busy times, you want to do some triage and try to determine how to prioritize. My friend Mike Gorman sums this up as determining, “Need, Ability, and Trust.”

Now, most of the year, you’re probably not overwhelmed with leads. (If you are, you need to hire another salesperson and increase capacity to answer the phones–you are missing opportunities if you can’t run appointments!) And as such, I don’t view “qualification” most as the time as a one-sided way to exclude leads. Rather, this is a chance to learn, to build a common understanding between you and the customer, and a chance to differentiate yourself even more from the competition.

So, yes, you want to start establishing need. Often, this will be expressed by the customer as a widget. “I need a new furnace” or “I want a quote for attic insulation.” That’s good, you’ve got a hint. But you really want to get below the surface by asking a few good questions.

The first question actually establishes permission. “To save you a little time and make sure we can figure out the right furnace for you, would it be okay if I asked you a few questions?” The questions then helps you understand what’s driving the customer.

  • Can you describe what’s going on….
  • What have you tried to…
  • [Before this happened] what sort of comfort problems where you having?
  • In your research so far …

You’ll also want to know things like “What are your plans for your home?” and “Are you interesting in financing options?” It’s good to know whether they have the interest and ability in getting good, permanent solutions, or whether they just want the cheapest band-aid so they can move on.

Earlier, you asked about how they heard about you. If this was from a radio ad, they might not know much about you. On the other hand, if they are a referral, “My neighbor Bob had you guys over last year and recommended you,” they might have a higher degree of trust in you and a better sense of what to expect. We also know that referrals tend to close at a higher rate than most other lead sources (and over time, you’ll determine what leads close best for you). So, if this were a busy time, and I had to choose, I’d take the referral lead today and try to push out the more general lead until I could run it (knowing that I might lose it to a competitor by delaying).

Begin Preparing the Customer for the Appointment

A home performance audit is beyond the experience of most customers. You want to spend a couple minutes preparing them for the appointment with a explanation of what the Advisor will be doing, how long it will take, and everything the customer should have ready. If you need their utility bills (and you do!) ask if they can have them available. If they need to avoid lighting a fire in the wood stove for 24 hours, let them know. Like with the gas pump pitch, this is something you’ll want to prepare and practice over and over.

And that really applies to the whole phone conversation. You should have regular role playing with staff who answer the phones so they feel confident and can provide accurate and useful information. Asking open-ended questions to tease out real motivators takes practice, so practice you must on a regular basis to build and maintain skills.

Too many contractors try to do all of this armed with nothing more than the coffee-stained napkin shown above. Please do better. Ideally, you’ll have a computerized system to both record and prompt you. Even that’s not the case, don’t let it stop you from capturing that lead the best way possible. Whether you need a paper form or whether you just want a few ideas to improve your computerized intake or scripting, check out this lead form put together by EPA several years ago. There are a few clunky parts to it, you’d definitely want to modify it to best meet your own needs and your own voice, and ultimately have it integrated in an electronic CRM system, but it’s a good starting point.

You just paid a lot of money to make the phone ring. Make the most of it!

Cheers,
Mike

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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+

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