Business Operations

Olsen on Sales: They Won’t Come to the Phone!

How we communicate/sell is changing and we must change with it.

The number one complaint I hear from inside salespeople is they can’t get their customers and potential customers to come to the phone. Today’s reality of email and texts added to the human and (even worse) electronic gate-keepers does make it a challenge to get people/buyers to talk to us.

Below are seven must-do strategies that will increase our contact with our customers:

A strong introductory call. We must know exactly how and what we want to tell our customers about us and what we do in a clear, easy to understand and inspirational way. We must be able to answer the question, “Why should I buy from you?” in a way that will make us stand out in our customers’ minds.

Example: “You should buy from me because we have millions of board feet rolling or on the ground in all markets. We have 40 traders and access to 100 sawmills. We are aggressive risk-takers and market makers, so you will always be under or ahead of the market when buying from me. I am a person you can trust to treat your needs as my own.”

We must communicate our unique difference from others. Differentiation is key. Our customers already have suppliers. What makes us different? More importantly, how are we going to make our customer’s life better or more profitable.

Use strong, positive, short phone messages. Every call we make sends another piece of information/inspiration to our customers. They may not be buying from us yet, but they are “judging the quality of our failure.” ALWAYS be positive and act like you are killing it when leaving phone messages. Important note: messages must be short.

Create a relationship with our gatekeepers.  Receptionists are often more powerful than they seem. Most sellers treat receptionists poorly or at best like furniture (or a gate). Receptionists feel it and resent it. Being in a hurry with the receptionist will not make us more money. Slowing down and being personable with receptionists pays. It also makes our day better and more pleasant.

We are persistent and consistent in our efforts. Most sellers don’t call their new customers persistently and consistently. “I only want to call her with a good deal,” they tell me. I tell rookie salespeople, “You don’t even know what a good deal is.” It is better for us to call consistently with competitive deals than to call once-in-a-while with a low number. This strategy makes us the “once-in-a-while” supplier. How do we show new customers that we will be a trusted partner they can count on? Most sellers work on having aggressive pricing.

“Cheap and charming” is not the most artistic but it does work. We must show that we are competitive. Competitive does not mean ALWAYS being the cheapest. We can be competitive with price, delivery, stock or specifications. Having products that are scarce and hard to find makes us competitive also.

Send email and texts on a consistent basis. Several of my students are getting orders by text. We need to ask for our new customer’s cell phone number early in the relationship—if we ask on the first call 60% will give it to us immediately. We engage our customers in “electric conversations.” We send offerings that are competitive and relevant to our customers business yes, but we always ask for feedback.

Get a LinkedIn and Facebook page. The first thing our new customers will do if we’ve had a good call with them is check us out online. We need to be findable. We also need to control our message. My suggestion is to keep these pages human, but avoid political/religious posts or pictures of you in party mode. We should also look for our customers online and friend-request them ASAP.

How we communicate/sell is changing and we must change with it. Smoke signals won’t get it done anymore. We need look no further than our own children to see that communicating in a pre-internet way leaves us out of the main stream of what “is happening” in society. Personally, we may want to be less connected, but less connected is not the luxury of the modern salesperson. Connection is our life’s blood.

– Reach James Olsen, Reality Sales Training, at


James Olsen is the founder of Reality Sales Training, Portland, Or. After 20 years in sales with Nike, North Pacific Lumber, and Forest City Trading, in 2001 James started his own sales training business, devoted to helping companies and individuals achieve rapid sales growth. Contact him at (503) 544-3572 or

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