Perfecting Telephone Inquiry Calls

When I follow up with students of my Selling Techniques seminars, I often find that those who did well in applying basics they learned there in face-to-face situations with customers had some difficulty applying them to telephone inquiries.

Many years ago, one of my clients had a telephone shopping service call 30 people who had attended my most recent seminar and was a little disappointed with the results. After my own analysis of the 30 tapes, I had to agree with him.

That prompted me to explain in subsequent seminars that many of the same principles, where we used a personal call at a prospect's office as an ongoing example, apply whether the call is a personal one at a prospect's office, a guided tour of the hotel, outgoing or incoming telephone inquiry call, or a fax/e-mail request for information.

Here are my most frequent criticisms of the way people handle telephone inquiries:

  • Many gave the impression they considered the call “order taking” rather than “selling”

  • Callers didn't feel sales people took control of the situation

  • The impression was no sense of urgency or great desire for business

  • Sales people didn't get name of person, organization, e-mail address, and telephone number so they could call back if cut off. Many never got this information at any time during the call, so the prospect couldn't be called later

  • Didn't ask enough questions to not only get the facts but also to determine the prospect's “hot buttons”

  • Many presented piecemeal, blending the questioning and presenting steps of the call, instead of questioning and presenting as separate steps

  • In other cases, sales person simply checked dates after getting minimal information and didn't present at all

  • Didn't suggestive-sell additional functions or upgrades

  • Didn't trial-close at appropriate times during presentation to get reaction. Examples: “How does that sound? Do you think your people would enjoy that? What do you think so far?”

  • Many quoted rates during questioning step of call or early in presentation instead of at end

  • Gave in on price immediately when prospect indicated it was too high instead of trying to overcome objection by selling value or, where budget truly was a problem, offering lower rates in exchange for lower occupancy dates or other concessions on buyer's part

  • Hardly anyone attempted to close verbally on the phone. Many simply said they would send contract or just said okay when told, “I'll get back to you”

  • In cases where the hotel couldn't accommodate the business, few offered other dates, attempted to clear space on preferred date(s) or asked if caller had other future business potential (for later follow-up).

Many of the problems could be solved by applying three principles:

The call is broken into seven distinct steps:

  • Introduction

  • Warmup

  • Opening statement

  • Grabs the interest of the prospect right away. Example: “You've called the right place. Meetings are our specialty. Before I tell you about our meeting package, let me get a picture of your needs.”

  • Questioning

  • Presenting

  • Closing

  • Ending the call.

The call always follows the same order. When you use the same order every time, you never get confused about where you are or where you are going.

The call always includes all of the steps, with the rare exception.

Selling becomes much easier when you follow these principles consistently.

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at or 703-931-0757.

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