The S.A.L.E.S. framework will remind your sales team of the basics (and can be used to teach the newbies) plus it will transform your traditional sales process into a profitable powerhouse for the age of the empowered buyer.
How to handle inbound sales calls - The S.A.L.E.S Framework:
Sales teams need to change how they handle inbound sales calls. Why? Because the internet has empowered each caller to do a great deal of research before they pick up the phone. Your inbound caller may well be aware of your competitor's offerings, if your competitor has an effective digital marketing strategy. This means that your inbound caller doesn't need a "sales person" to “sell to them” anymore, they need to consult with someone who understands their challenges and has the expertise to discuss reasonable options.
Follow the steps in the S.A.L.E.S. Framework (below) to transform your sales reps into trusted advisors for each of your new prospects.
Smile and the world smiles with you. Frown and you frown alone.
Think about your experience - do you prefer to buy from someone who greets you with a smile or someone who greets you with a frown? Even if they’re having a grim day the best sales people smile even before they pick up that incoming call.
There’s good evidence that smiling puts you in a better mood to kick off that incoming sales call. Perhaps more importantly though, smiling as you take the call is the best way to begin to build rapport with the caller. This is because, if you smile widely, it changes the way you talk and the incoming caller, who can usually hear your smile, and will often smile along with you. Emotional mirroring theory proposes “an instinct for facial mimicry allows us to empathise with and even experience other people's feelings” which means that as well as brightening someone’s day, you and the caller might understand each other better, quicker. Even when you can’t see the caller, this holds true.
Of course, this also works for outbound sales calls - as my old telesales boss used to shout across the sales room “Smile as you dial, team! Smile as you dial!”. Cheesy but we made lots of money with our delighted customers.
Selling isn’t telling, it’s asking questions.
Underperforming sales reps attempt to “sell” by railroading the conversation and using high pressure sales tactics, underpinned by the horrible sales motto “he who speaks controls”. In the age of the empowered buyer thankfully, these high pressure tactics are even less effective than they used to be.
On an inbound sales call your job is to gather information to see if it’s worth progressing with the caller to the next stage in the sales process. Ideally, keep this initial incoming call brief and stick to essential information gathering questions that help you qualify the caller in or out of your sales process.
People love talking about themselves so from a psychological perspective asking questions on incoming sales calls is the super power behind all the best sales people. They uncover the caller’s challenges and problems and asking questions helps them to understand the motives behind the caller’s actions.
Great salespeople ask the right questions, getting to the crux of each caller’s issues quickly. They are able to move callers for whom they don’t have a solution out of the pipeline and spend more time with legitimate buyers.
Asking the right questions also helps your sales reps become trusted confidants of your buyer which, particularly in a competitive market, is essential to make your company stand out from the also-rans.
When picking up an incoming enquiry, I always start the call with the same format: Smile and then I ask my favourite open question: How can I help you?
You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio.
Listening is easy if you’ve been asking open ended questions to explore the caller’s problems and challenges. But top performing salespeople go further, they use active listening.
Active listening is quite a skill on the phone. Most of us actively listen when in the room with someone and we don’t even notice we’re doing it. We smile and nod when we understand something and raise our eyebrows in surprise, but the caller can’t see that on a phone call.
This means sales reps must learn the skill of audibly nodding without interrupting the caller’s flow. Using wordless prompts to show you understand “Uh huh?”, “Mmm” and the like, really work here. It’s essential that these wordless prompts are supported by brief verbal encouragement for the caller. For example, “Really? Wow!”, “Oh, that sounds tough!” are all phrases that you probably already use in telephone conversations with your friends, right? It’s time to add them to your active listening tool kit.
Great sales reps are adept in deploying active listening while capturing all the relevant detail by making detailed notes on the call. Amazing salespeople have built the habit of making notes about every inbound sales call they handle directly into their CRM. Why? Because, 1, in my experience, those call notes on paper rarely get transferred into the CRM. 2 if it's in a CRM they don’t have to remember the details and 3, measuring everything enables them to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
Really lucky sales teams use something like Gong to have their calls recorded while AI listens out for relevant phrases and then adds the transcript of the call to their CRM and highlights useful information within. I don’t have any association with Gong, I’m just really nerdy about sales tech and I’m hoping that if I write about it enough, I’ll be able to justify the cost of a subscription.
The key thing about making notes and sharing them somewhere useful is that the sales rep doesn't have to interrupt caller - who can keep talking while the salesperson can highlight in their notes anything that they need to drill into later on the call, in a future meeting or that needs sharing with your team (hence the CRM - more difficult to get your CX team properly involved if all the notes are on a post-it, even a nice pink one).
Depending on the perceived value of the product or service you’re selling, you have a couple of options around the educate phase.
If this inbound sales call is for a product or service which requires little thought before buying, you can go straight on to how your product or service has helped people just like the caller in the past. Then line up the challenges your caller described in the ask and listen sections of this framework and educate them on which bits of your offering will overcome each one.
By contrast, many Inbound Case Studies are for products or services that are a considered purchase, with sales cycles on average lasting from 2 weeks to 2 years. In these cases, the educate phase is all about laying out the next steps in your sales process.
Once again you educate your caller on how you have helped people in similar situations and the outcomes your previous customers experienced. Then you educate the caller on the next steps in your sales process (if you don’t have a sales process, use this sales pipeline example to get you started). Most inbound callers will be pleased to be educated on the process you follow, particularly if it’s well structured and focussed on the caller.
Empowered customers appreciate being taken through a structured process laid out by a prospective supplier, as long as that process is designed to ensure they consider all the pros and cons before moving forward with your company or another supplier.
In either case, use storytelling to be more persuasive, educate the caller on how you’ve helped buyers with similar problems in the past and then educate them on the next steps in your process.
You’ve outlined the next steps in the process - now you can start to ask more closed questions for example; “Do the steps I’ve outlined work for you?”
For small purchases - now is the time to begin to close the deal, use your objection handling framework and get the contract signed or take payment.
For considered purchases your sales job is to tie down the meeting date and outline the agenda. When you were listening earlier, you should have heard names or job titles of people who are involved in the buying decision and, as big buying decisions are rarely made in isolation (particularly post-pandemic), it’s a good idea to begin to involve other key people in the process early.
Gain agreement on:
Who should be included in the process from your side and the caller’s side
When the next meeting will take place
What the agenda will be
Where it will be held
And that’s it. The SALES framework is complete. Now make sure you’ve updated all the contact, company and incoming call details on your CRM!
Sales people hate to update CRMs (me included). That’s why Noisy Little Monkey helps sales teams with HubSpot for Sales. We’ve enabled dozens of sales teams like yours to use automation and AI to record calls, make notes, arrange meetings, send contracts and ultimately - mixing this with a bit of my good old fashioned sales know-how - to smash sales targets.