When I first saw the marketing power of the telephone I was absolutely amazed.
We’d just started PMA and developed a direct mail program for independent insurance agencies that was generating a strong 3-5% response. Then one day a client told us they boosted their hit rate by 500% just by having one of their CSRs call the households that didn’t bother to return the Business Reply Card.
Flash forward thirty years, and the power of the telephone as a two-way medium of communication hasn’t diminished one bit.
Sure, voicemail makes it harder to reach people, and digital media have drastically expanded the way brands get the word out and relate, but the phone gives us a unique, real-time, and intimately person-to-person connection – one with enough bandwidth to read and communicate nuanced feelings and precise details that don’t come across through other channels.
Using email blasts, landing pages, and website forms, we’re able to reach a much broader group of sales prospects, but we can’t get as deep into their motivations, concerns, pain, and overall buying attitudes as we can in phone conversation.
In synchronous phone or face-to-face conversations, our natural empathy – sensing the feelings behind people’s verbal and vocal cues – helps us better understand their perspectives and opinions.
And conveying our own message with tone, tempo, inflection, and pauses brings more meaning and potency to the dialog. Compared to the written word, the telephone takes communication to a much deeper level.
Of course, like any marketing channel or communication medium, the power of the telephone depends entirely on how you use it.
Attunement is about being on the same wavelength with someone. Social science research shows us that people tend to like others who are more like them. We feel more at ease with, and receptive to, folks who sound like we do. More ease brings better rapport. We can leverage this principle by matching (but not mimicking) the tempo, style, and tone of the person we’re speaking with.
But the power of attunement in sales and life goes much further. We can show others that we really get what they’re telling us. If they’ve had an insurance claim and weren’t pleased with the outcome, we can show them we feel their disappointment or frustration. The same applies to positive information they might share.
Tuning in to the other person’s talk can also provide insights and perspective on power structures and relationships at their company. People may not always spell out who’s ultimately making buying decisions, but the way they talk about others often provides clues to the authority dynamics at work.
Set the right tone
The tone of your voice does a lot to instill confidence – in you, your company, and in what you’re selling – whether it’s a product, a service, or even an idea. You could say that your tone sets the tone of the discourse. Are you conveying a tone of authority or one of uncertainty? Listen carefully to yourself. Ask colleagues to listen to you, too, and tell you what qualities come across to them. Then adjust accordingly.
Paying attention to the other person’s tone brings insight and understanding. If their pitch goes up and they start talking louder and faster, they’re conveying some kind of concern or anxiety. Picking up on that, a little probing on your part could help you learn what’s going on behind their words. And when others sound uneasy, shifting to a gentler tone yourself helps to put them more at ease.
Watch your speed
Another key to effective speech is not to rush your words. Speaking rapidly conveys nervousness rather than confidence and research shows that people typically regard fast speakers as not caring.
I’ve heard phone prospectors say they talk fast to get their message out before the other person hangs up! Besides being bad form, rushing the message ironically produces the exact outcome they’re trying to avoid. If you slow your pace, people are more apt to hear what you’re saying.
One last note about verbal communication–varying the sound, rhythm, and inflection of your voice enlivens the conversation, and that sense of unpredictability helps keep people’s attention.
Improving your oral communication quotient begins with simply being aware of how you and others sound. Being mindful of your own speech patterns will increase your rapport with just about everyone. Paying attention to others’ patterns gives you a clearer sense of where they’re at.