Calling all telemarketers: Here’s what you should be doing

Calling all telemarketers: Here’s what you should be doing


Two things have been annoying me recently, flies and telemarketers. 

I can’t do much to influence the behaviour of flies, but as a service to the community I would like to offer some suggestions to telemarketers about how they can better influence their customers while annoying them less.


How telemarketers make life hard for themselves


The challenge for telemarketers is that they inadvertently create resistance by;

  • Unexpectedly interrupting someone – the call comes out of the blue
  • Requiring their customer to think about something they hadn’t been
  • Asking for them to commit to a decision based on a verbal discussion


When people are in a defensive mode they are prone to deferring to status quo, and that means shutting down the conversation and leaving things as they are. (And, if you are like me, being pretty grumpy about it).

Don’t do this

  • Assume the person you are calling has time to listen, think and decide. You need to ask them whether it is a convenient time.
  • Ask them how they are before introducing yourself. Asking any personal questions is a trigger for barriers to go up.
  • Use technical language or jargon. Making your customer feel ignorant creates anxiety and will reduce their likelihood of being ready to commit to your solution.
  • Overload with options. The customer is using only one sense (auditory) and will struggle to wrap their heads more than a couple of options. Over the phone a single or binary choice is best.


How telemarketers can overcome resistance


When telemarketers get it right, customers can see receiving a telemarketing call as a service rather than imposition.  Let’s imagine you are a telemarketer who is calling existing customers to upsell or cross-sell.

“Hi Bri. This is Sam from (company). Just a quick call to take you through some information about your account. Do you have two minutes now?”

By asking “do you have two minutes now” (or alternatively “is now a good time?”) you are inviting the customer to either assent (in which case they now have to listen) or reschedule (in which case you gain permission to call them back).

We’re also referring to their existing account, making it clear that the discussion pertains to something in which they are already invested.

Likely responses to the introductory question? “I guess so. What is it Sam?” or “No, not really. What’s this about?” In both cases you can proceed with a brief explanation.

“We’ve noticed that (insert topic or context) and that you don’t currently have xyz. Other customers I’ve spoken with were surprised when I told them they were missing out, so I wanted to run it past you?”

At this stage you want to remind the customer what they currently have as this won’t be top of mind and shows that you are a credible authority on the account.

You also want to create a sense of tension about why the status quo is unsatisfactory without undermining their confidence in making the decision in the first place. Telling them about what’s changed since they made their decision is a good way to go.

Referring to others is a way to normalise the tension you are creating, and “running it past” them is a way of inviting agreement.

Likely responses? “What is it?” or “No, I’m not interested”.

If your customer says they are not interested, wrap up the conversation in a pleasant way that still leaves them with a feeling of tension.

“OK, that’s fine Bri. So I’ll just make a note that you are comfortable staying on the lesser package. Is that right?”

Here they will either agree, in which case you can ask them if they would be open to you getting in contact again in a few months (most will say yes because they will feel bad about turning you down), or they will recant and now ask for more information.

Notice I’m suggesting language like “lesser package”? This is a deliberate provocation to make them feel a bit unsettled about what they currently have, but does carry the risk of denigrating your own products so should be used with caution.

For those interested in hearing more, at this stage you need to minimise the gravity of the change so it doesn’t feel like a big decision. Phrases like “It means we only need to…”, “I can simply…”, “I’ll make a small…”, “I can adjust…” can help diminish the perceived importance of what is being decided.

It also means you are taking your existing customer through what feels like an incremental change, building on what they’ve already decided rather than making them feel like it’s an entirely new decision.

In finalising the conversation, be sure to minimise the effort at the customer’s end, tell them what happens next and give them confidence that you have their interests taken care of.

Phrases like “it’s easy for me to arrange this for you” and “I can take care of that for you right now” will make it seem like you are doing them a favour and increase the sense of reciprocity – if you do something for me I will be more likely to do something for you.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.



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