How Top Business Leaders Run Successful Conference Calls
Tips for Sales, Client, Stakeholder and Team Collaboration Calls
Every day, crucial business is conducted over conference calls. These are sales calls to pitch new business to potential customers, status meetings to discuss projects with clients, internal financial updates, brainstorms with team members, collaborative meetings and more. Just like in-person meetings, there are best practices and tips to follow to ensure you have your best call. Here are tips from business leaders on how they prepare and execute 4 types of conference calls.
The Sales Call
Are you calling potential clients to pitch your product or service? If so, you have a very short window of opportunity to hook them in before they can lose interest. Here’s how the experts recommend kicking off sales calls.
Before the Sales Call
It’s vital to do your research in advance so you can tailor your sales pitch to your audience’s needs. When Joanna Moretti was Senior VP and Sales Enablement at Jabil she advised that the sales call kick-off needs to start long before you even reach for the phone “If I get a call and a salesperson tells me that they have the best marketing tool on the planet, I hang up. But if a salesperson calls and says they understand that ‘Jabil is looking to improve share of wallet, and that we can help you transform an organization from a reactive organization to proactively positioning value propositions to improve share of wallet,’ then they have my full attention.”
Your next step in the process is to warm up your lead before you make the call. If you’re reaching out to a prospect that you haven’t met before, reach out through email or social media before you try to initiate that first call. As Dean Moothart, Director of Client Solutions at LeadG2 suggests, you can add even more value by using that initial touchpoint to share valuable content with your prospect. “Don’t send a generic email. Use the information you uncovered…and include links to relevant thought leadership content. Who doesn’t want to talk to an expert who has experience solving their business problems?”
Once you’ve done your research, and reached out via email, start preparing your sales pitch. Make yourself an outline of your pitch and stick to it. Use notes if you are prone to rambling, going off track, or losing your train of thought. As leadership expert Gordon Tredgold advises, “You need to have a script, you don’t always need to follow it 100%, but it does help you to be prepared and give you a fallback.”
During the Sales Call
Now that you’re finally ready to get your prospect on the phone, it’s time to start the introduction off right. Make sure to explain who you are and why you’re calling, then acknowledge the importance of the caller’s time. “Acknowledge that you know your prospect gets a lot of calls — this will immediately help you establish a connection because you will be saying exactly what they’re thinking and feeling.” Mike Brooks, Mr. Inside Sales
Be brief but informative so you don’t lose people’s attention. Let them know what to expect during the course of the call, including how much of their time you’re asking for. Eric Quanstrom, CMO, Cience, warns us not to waste valuable time trying to kick off the call with idle chit chat.“Never ask how people’s day is. Instead, always ask for a minute to talk. The goal is to create a mini-invitation that can be granted.”
According to Scott Leese, CEO of Scott Leese Consulting, once you have your prospect on the phone, and they agree to give you a few minutes of their day, your driving goal is to get them to admit they have a problem. “Ask questions that drive toward the answer you want, which is “I don’t know how to do that,” or “I’ve never done that before.” If the prospect doesn’t admit it, they won’t believe it. The openness to change only happens when they come to their own realization.”
As you know, landing a client is only the beginning of a relationship. Whether you’re following up to make sure they’re happy or pitching a new or complementary offer, it’s important to kick every call off right. Use the following tips to extend your relationship with customers and retain their loyalty.
Before the Client Call
First, it’s important not to be unexpected. Instead, send a meeting request through your calendar integration asking for your client’s time and then schedule the call into their calendar. Once a meeting is set, Jim Domanski, President of Teleconcepts Consulting recommends always following-up prior to the call, with a reminder and an agenda. “The day before your follow up call, send an e-mail to your prospect to remind them of your appointment. In the subject line enter the words: ‘Telephone appointment for August 16th and article of interest.’ Your e-mail should confirm the date and time of the appointment and then briefly list your agenda.”
When it’s time to make the call, make sure to remove yourself from all distractions and give 100% of your focus to your client. Don’t jump on a call while you’re doing something else. As Sophie Miles Cayman, Vice President, QuotesAdvisor.com can attest, empathic listening is the key to building strong client relationships. “In medicine, there’s something called the ‘Golden Hour.’ It is the first hour after the occurrence of a traumatic injury and it’s considered the most critical for successful emergency treatment. We have taken that concept and adapted it to our business. The result is what we called: The Golden 10 Minutes. It’s the first and most important part of a phone or face-to-face conversation. Our vendors are trained to pick up the phone, and go into an “empathic listening mode” for 10 minutes, no less. Listening with respect, interest and understanding our clients’ concerns. This is a way to inspire a level of commitment in clients and the feeling of membership. It also helps us to give better service as the idea is: what they say matters to our company.”
During the Client Call
Once you’re on the line, you should kick off the call by taking a moment to remind your client of your business relationship and to show them that you value and understand them as a person. You don’t want your client to feel like this is a routine, scripted call that you make to everyone. “Ask your client how they or their family are faring. This shows you care about your client not just as a business asset, but also as a human being. Whenever clients feel I show personal concern for them, I find they go the extra mile on their end to help me succeed.” – Jeff Baum, Director of Services at Hanapin Marketing.
Focus on an authentic conversation in which you are truly engaged and interested in hearing your customer’s needs and providing them with value. “People want to work with people they like. Be authentic about who you are as a team and as individuals. Genuinely show interest in who they are, what they do and things they like.” – Andrea Keirn, Black Rhino Marketing Group.
“Showing you’re listening is more than straining your ears and bobbing your head— especially since the customers can’t see you. Rather, you should show you’re listening by keeping the conversation going and asking questions. Instead of saying ‘let us know if you have any further questions’, ask if your solution solved their problem.” – Mathilde Collin, CEO & Co-founder at Front.
Finally, don’t take up too much of your client’s time. Make sure you always start the call on time, keep the call brief, and end the conference when or before you scheduled it to finish. “Remember to keep your word and to deliver without fail. Keeping your word can be as small but equally important as never canceling an appointment or going over the allotted time for a meeting.” – Paul G. Krasnow, author of The Success Code: A Guide For Achieving Your Personal Best In Business And Life.
Stakeholder Update Calls
Customers aren’t the only ones you have to keep happy and in the loop. Whether the conference call is with an executive team, investors or board members, providing internal updates is another important type of conference call, one with its own unique format and challenges. Here’s how to kick it off the right way.
Before the Stakeholder Call
Art Petty, a coach, speaker, author and workshop presenter recommends always doing your homework before the call to discover as much as you can about the attendees. “Know your audience. Ideally, seek out others who have presented to this group in the recent past and ask about the experience. Armed with the advance knowledge, I am able to tailor my message as needed, or simply be prepared for the questions and interactions.”
If you have control over the meeting attendee list, make sure you invite only the people who truly need to be there. This will make the meeting more productive and efficient. “It’s just like cc’ing people on email. The facilitator needs to think hard about who needs to be there.” – Paul A. Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication, Tuck School of Business.
As Karin Hurt, leadership speaker, consultant, and MBA professor shares, it’s critical to prepare well for your presentation. This includes not only being well researched but also being mentally prepared for what can be a stressful conference: “Keep your cool. The execs will only buy your message if they believe you know what you’re doing. It’s vital to show up confident and strong. One exec I know stayed up late every night the week before her presentation to the senior team, doing deep research and getting the presentation just right. No one in the room knew a tenth as much as she did on the subject. But when one exec made a snarky remark, she lost it and burst into tears – tragic credibility buster. Exhaustion and too much caffeine prevented her from responding calmly and redirecting the conversation.”
It’s a good idea to rehearse your presentation in advance and ensure you have more than enough time to cover all the material, including plenty of time for questions and interruptions. “Yes, you will get interrupted. If they give you 30 minutes, prepare 15 minutes of material and rehearse it well. If you’re not interrupted, you can use that extra time to open up the floor for questions. If they have no questions, you just gave them back 15 minutes of their day and guaranteed you’ll be invited back!” – Mark Duarte, Founder, Duarte
If there are important documents the stakeholders need to review, ensure that they are sent well before the conference date. Lucy P. Marcus, Founder, and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting, Ltd suggests sending them out at least a week ahead of the meeting. “I try to ensure board members get their papers at least a week in advance. If there’s a deadline, meet it with several days to spare in case there is feedback before it goes to the board. Please don’t ‘surprise’ us, as in ‘I didn’t provide the papers in advance because I wanted to keep you in suspense.’ This isn’t an Agatha Christie novel, it’s a board meeting. Give us the tools we need to make a decision.”
During the Stakeholder Call
Once the day of the meeting arrives, it’s important to kick off the conference with a review of expectations and meeting objectives. Outline any relevant ground rules or housekeeping at the start. And if there’s a web component to the presentation, include a housekeeping slide that explains the basic format of the web presentation and how to request any support if needed. “The objectives should be clearly articulated and should relate to but be more specific than the purpose statement. It is critical to do this, and early on in the process. The objectives represent the anchor to which the rest of the meeting will be tethered.” Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet.
Unless you’re a solopreneur, chances are you have a team that you collaborate with on a regular basis. And unless the entire team happens to work side-by-side in a dedicated space, you likely have regular conference calls to share progress updates, brainstorm and solve problems. The following tips can help you kick these calls off for maximum productivity and efficiency.
Before the Collaborative Call
Always have an agenda, even for weekly or daily team meetings. You can use a short, routine agenda for regular meetings, but some sort of planned structure is critical for meeting success. “Everything you will ever read about effective workplace meetings includes advice on preparing an agenda. Yet, we’ve all shown up to a meeting where there is no agenda to be found. The act of planning the agenda helps to focus and identify the priority topics for the meeting.” – Dan McCarthy, Executive Coach.
“When scheduling your team’s regular touch points, remember that meetings break up productivity and try to adopt a less is more attitude. We simply set a minimalist schedule of a Monday morning all-hands meeting with rotating topics throughout the month (e.g., financial metrics week one, marketing data week two, etc.).” – David Chait, Founder & CEO, Travefy.com
Paul Slezak, Cofounder, and CEO at RecruitLoop warns that you should never have a team meeting just for the sake of a team meeting. Each event should have a clear purpose. “The first thing is to have a purpose. Why is the meeting being held? Is it just because you always have one, or is there an actual reason for dragging everyone into a room or on to a call and putting the outside world on hold for an hour?”
During the Collaborative Call
It’s a great idea to allow some time during the kick off of a team meeting to break the ice and strengthen relationships. Keith Ferrazzi, CEO, Ferrazzi Greenlight, suggests that organizers take five minutes at the beginning of each call to share and bond. “Everyone should take turns and talk a little about what’s going on in their lives, either personally or professionally.”
You can also increase team meeting engagement by assigning tasks and responsibilities to team members. Julia Austin, Senior Lecturer, Harvard Business School, suggests that having team members take on leadership roles can improve call participation. “Ask one or two members of the team to take the lead on the hot topics in each meeting. They do not need to be subject matter experts, just the topic leader. This includes having them facilitate getting pre-reads to team members ahead of the meeting. The more they have ownership in a topic, the more engaged they’ll be.”
Finally, make sure to bring up any significant events that have occurred since the last meeting. This includes any bad news that the team needs to know about. It’s vital to clear the air before moving on to other topics of discussion. “Your team can tell if you’re hiding something. It makes them uncertain or suspicious, both of which you don’t want. Lay out the rules of the game as you see them with your team. Let the team know where they are; work on a plan to go forward. All this forces you to have and share your vision, which is what makes you a great leader in the first place.” – Tony Scherba, President and Founder of Yeti.