Everyone knows the first line of an inbound call script: “How can I help you today?” It’s what comes next that may trip up many Canadian small and medium-sized businesses.

Here’s the problem: large organizations may have huge call centres staffed with expert agents who have been thoroughly trained to manage all manner of inquiries, routing them to the right sales rep or at least getting them to the next stage of the purchase process. SMBs, on the other hand, may employ no dedicated agents but rely on many different members of their team to handle inbound sales calls. That can lead to an inconsistent approach and, at least potentially, highly inconsistent results from a deal perspective.

While outbound call scripts can have a fairly standard template, it’s important to recognize that inbound calls may be a discovery process for prospects. In other words, they have an agenda of their own which may end at simply getting some additional information rather than moving directly to a buying decision. Those taking such calls need to let prospects lead the conversation to some extent, while being prepared with the information that will capture them as an active opportunity in the pipeline.

Once the caller has identified the reason for reaching out – ideally to learn more about a particular product or service – consider the next words carefully:

“Great, I can help with that. First, can I just get a little more information from you?”

Just like outbound sales tactics that make strategic use of CRM to build an effective profile of a customer’s interests, buying behaviours and other data, inbound calls are the fastest and best way to quickly gather intelligence. Names, titles, company names – all this and more can be (and should be) immediately searched for any existing information that may have been used to prompt the call.

Even details that might seem generic, such as industry, can offer whoever’s taking the call to immediately arm themselves with whatever analytics might be available about that particular vertical segment, the latest products or features aimed at it or special promotions and discounts that might be available.

“In case we get disconnected, what’s the best way to reach you?”

For SMBs, tackling inbound calls may not be a matter of sitting at a desk with a PC in front of them. In fact, one of the secret weapons to stay competitive with larger enterprises are apps that let firms of any size manage their business via a smartphone. That said, a sudden signal loss or other mishap while using a mobile device could mean an abrupt end to a conversation with a prospect.

Notice, however, that this question isn’t focused on getting another phone number, which is how inbound scripts would have been written even a few years ago. Instead, aim to capture obvious touchpoints, such as email, and even some less-obvious ones, such as social media accounts on Twitter or LinkedIn. This accomplishes two things: A way to tap into much more data about the prospect following the call, and a way of conveying to the caller that you’re less interested in rushing the off the phone but want to build a real relationship.

“What prompted you to call us today?”

For SMBs with scarce marketing resources, this is the point where it would be a good time to test and see whether or not their investments in advertising were paying off. As a result the question would be traditionally phrased as “How did you hear about us?” In the case of a B2B firm, you really want to establish a link, if possible, between the inbound marketing activities the company has under way. Some of what you’ll want to hear includes:

  • “I downloaded that research report you guys did.” This is gold, because it means it’s a prospect already armed with data you’ve developed. As they discuss their needs, ensure you use the same research to remind them of important reasons to move forward with a purchase.

  • “You sent out an e-mail blast.” As anyone in B2B marketing knows, getting a high open rate is hard, getting a click-through is even harder, and getting the recipient to call in is nearly impossible. This may be a very solid lead that deserves scrupulous qualification. Try to ascertain the tipping point that made the call take this step and advance the selling process accordingly.

  • “I saw what you posted on social media.” It may sound unlikely, but more companies than ever before are starting to see direct conversions from social media content, if it’s compelling enough and properly targeted. In some cases a caller like this may have reached out on social media first, so establish what, if anything, they’ve been told already before taking any next steps.

“Okay, I have an idea for you.”

Once you’ve thoroughly assessed the call, qualified the prospect and have a clear grasp of the opportunity in front of you, establish what will happen after the call – even if you’ll be on the line for several minutes more explaining something or answering more questions:

  • In-person meeting: This is what most sales teams crave, but establish whether there are other members of the caller’s team which might need to be in the room, and establish what’s necessary to get them all on the same invite.

  • Virtual meeting: The beauty of cloud-based technology is that we can buy – and also sell – from anywhere. If an in-person meeting scares the prospect off, discuss options around a video-based call or online demo that could get them further into the funnel.

  • Content follow-up: Although an inbound call could lead to a sale right away, there may be additional education required before someone can make a decision. However inbound marketing can be greatly improved when those taking a call and select and send forward an asset that seems tailor-made for them. Look for the best white papers, sales sheet, on-demand webinar or even a helpful blog post to ensure they make contact again.

Of course, you’ll end each conversation with a thank you, but if all goes well, the best inbound calls will wind up with a new customer who’s eventually thanking you.

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