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High-Power Phone Skills

Each weeknight, John Desenberg's team of part-time cold callers dials nearly 700 numbers in the Houston area. On average, 150 prospects pick up the phone, 30 express interest in Desenberg's "Planning for the Future" retirement seminar, 15 commit to attend when called a second time, and five out of the initial 700 households dialed actually show up.Is Desenberg disappointed? Absolutely not. This Merrill

Each weeknight, John Desenberg's team of part-time cold callers dials nearly 700 numbers in the Houston area. On average, 150 prospects pick up the phone, 30 express interest in Desenberg's "Planning for the Future" retirement seminar, 15 commit to attend when called a second time, and five out of the initial 700 households dialed actually show up.

Is Desenberg disappointed? Absolutely not. This Merrill Lynch rep has used cold calling almost exclusively to grow his assets under management from §12 million to §100 million. He's now a million-dollar-plus producer.

With the advent of the Internet and other high-tech communication systems, telephone marketing may seem like an archaic strategy. It's not. Developing effective phone skills is still a powerful way to generate business.

The key for Desenberg was hiring a marketing manager and a dozen telemarketers that he pays §8 to §10 an hour, along with a §10 bonus for each household they contact that attends his seminar. He says the most important number, however, is not the 50 or so people who turn out to his biweekly seminars, but the more than 200 a month who commit to attend and become his prospecting base.

"It's nice if they show up, but I can't tell you how many great clients didn't come from the seminar," Desenberg says, adding that frequent contact via phone and mail eventually turns prospects into clients.

While not all reps hire and supervise their own telemarketing team, even top producers could increase their business 30% to 40% by making 25 to 40 meaningful calls a day, according to Betty Lee, a senior consultant with Top Producer in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Who Ya Gonna Call?The first step in devising any calling strategy is identifying the right prospects. Desenberg purchases lists from Customer Identification Services in New York (800/547-5478 or for §1,500 to §3,000 a year that help him reach people ages 45 to 70 with §250,000 in liquid net worth. "I originally tried to be cheap, but it's true--you get what you pay for."

Richard Sharrieff, an Everen Securities rep in Waterloo, Iowa, says the Polk Directory on CD-ROM called infoTYME (800/275-7655 or is effective for searching prospects by streets, and costs just a few hundred dollars.

Others find creative ways to develop lists, according to Linda Solway of Millennium Resources Corp. International in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. She recommends the Harper's Index (800/444-4653 or or American Demographics magazine (800/529-7502 or to help identify people with money who haven't been targeted to death. For instance, she says the average croquet player in the United States earns §200,000 a year.

"In every state there's a croquet club," Solway says. "In Florida, there are 50 of them. ... The trick is to look for leads in places other people don't look."

Check with local reference librarians to locate certain groups of people. They are good resources for finding anyone from successful business owners to BMW club members.

To gain referrals, reps should go through a process of identifying who they want to do business with while creating their list, according to Bill Cates of Referral Coach International in Silver Spring, Md.

"Every financial professional should have a prospecting profile, a person they feel they can serve best based on past experience," Cates says. He suggests to reps that the next time a client expresses gratitude for something, they say: "Great, I'm glad you're seeing the value. ... Maybe we could brainstorm about people you think might benefit from my services." Then, without expecting clients to know the ins and outs of other people's finances, explain the desired client profile, Cates says.

Making the PitchOnce a rep gets through to a prospect--either through cold calling or referral--it's important to make a crisp introduction. People often make up their minds in the first 15 to 20 seconds. Bill Good of Bill Good Marketing in South Jordan, Utah, trains reps to call while standing up to project more vitality. He also instructs them to lower their voice inflections at the end of sentences to demonstrate confidence.

What's the objective in that short time span? Unlike what some beginning brokers may think, it's not to sell anything, according to consultant Stan Selbst of The Selbst Group in White Plains, N.Y. It's simply to generate a spark of interest that will result in a few people giving a little bit of information, just so the rep can contact them again. The best way to do that is to follow a script emphasizing the benefits of the rep's products or services, and attempt to identify a prospect's needs.

For example, Selbst recommends this: "Many of our clients are focusing heavily on retirement issues. I'm calling to talk to you about any interest you might have in knowing how you can live a better life in retirement for a longer period of time."

Everen rep Steve Seiler in Kansas City, Mo., asks prospects, "Do you have a problem if I give you a ring in the future with an investment idea?" If granted permission, he follows up immediately with a mailer and calls them back in a week to learn more about their interests and financial needs.

Sending out a mailer before making a call is wise. "You can use that as a little bit of leverage to get through an assistant," Seiler says. "It may sound more like you've been in touch with them before."

The golden key to instant rapport with a referral prospect is to tell them what someone else admires about them. "When someone gives you a referral, find out what that person likes or admires about the prospect and use it in your conversation with that prospect," Cates says. "When you leave a voice mail, say who you were referred by and say, 'She's a real admirer of yours. When we talk, I'll tell you what she said.' It's a great strategy to use that demonstrates your relationship with your referral source."

Jeff Waranch, a 35-year veteran Salomon Smith Barney rep in Lutherville, Md., says one objective when calling referrals is to get people to remember his name. He uses a folksy technique he picked up from Referral Coach. "This is Jeff Waranch--that's W-A-Ranch."

Above all, reps say to respect people's wishes if they're not interested. "High-pressure cold-calling doesn't work," Sharrieff says. "I'm going for the quality of a prospect, not so much the quantity. If I try to sell them right then and there, they may not be here five months from now. ... I want the relationship."

Betty Lee, a senior consultant with Top Producer in Santa Rosa, Calif., teaches reps to stick to the phones faithfully from 7:30 a.m. until noon each day. Bill Good of Bill Good Marketing in South Jordan, Utah, says the best times to call offices or homes are from 8 to 9 a.m. or 4 to 5:30 p.m. That's when you'll bypass gatekeepers at businesses and catch most active retirees at home.

Rookie Everen Securities rep Steve Seiler in Kansas City, Mo., makes 200 to 300 dials a day, and asks prospects what time they usually eat dinner, to avoid interrupting them on call-backs.

John Desenberg of Merrill Lynch in Houston calls exclusively from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday (and until 8:30 p.m. during daylight-saving time). He avoids all telemarketing after Nov. 15, finding that people rarely commit to anything during the holidays.

Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm should be obvious in your tone of voice and your words. Let clients know you are delighted to be working with them. Use words such as "great, outstanding" and "terrific." Enthusiasm is infectious and builds customer confidence.

Rapport. A basic way to build rapport is to use the prospect's name properly. Some clients like to be on a first-name basis. Many older clients prefer Mr. or Mrs. until they invite you to use their first name. Rapport builds quickly when you remember personal details. Keep track of data such as a spouse's name, children, hobbies, vacations and so on.

Professionalism. Relationships with your clients and prospects are about doing business together. Harry Truman said: "A client is not your friend. If you want a friend, buy a dog." Clients want to know that you are applying the highest standards available to the management of their accounts. Call when you say you will. Repeat and confirm all transactions. Thank your customers. Professionals do not take business for granted.

Control. Don't dominate the conversation, but control its direction for efficiency. Ask questions, restate the action items and reaffirm to the person that you can fulfill her wishes. Thank the individual and then move on.

Active Listening. Concentrate on what the client or prospect is saying, take notes and ask questions. This is especially important if a client is frustrated or angry. At the end of the conversation, bring closure by saying what actions you are going to take.

Follow-Through. Don't just solve a problem and consider it finished. Call to confirm the repair. By following up, you create an opportunity to develop the next business transaction.

Urgency. Every client believes you will drop what you are doing to take care of his or her business. That is not always possible, but you can let them know you are interested and concerned. Using statements such as, "I'll get right on this when I return" or "I'll bring this to the attention of my manager right away" conveys a sense of urgency.

Logbooks. Make notes of conversations and have your staff take written messages. In a world increasingly dominated by voice mail, messages can be lost, deleted or allowed to stack up in the system. A written logbook enables you to review your notes at the end of the day and make sure calls have been returned. A logbook can also be used to update your staff in meetings.

Jim Dillahunty is president of San Diego-based Fixed Income Securities, a bond market trading service.

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