The Dreaded Outbound Phone Call

Aug 1, 2023 | Toolbox

By Rob Rainwater

Here we are in the “dog days” of selling 2023 – my personal nickname for this era of time. We had a nice run that was extended for a few years. Part prices have been rising, demand has been strong, and sales have never been better. Most, if not all, salespeople have established many new records along the way. A certain level of arrogance has taken place in our industry and now we are seeing things start to slide, to an extent. Inbound calls are not as plentiful as they were, OEM pricing matching is back in some areas, part prices are falling while my total sales are not as strong as they had been.

Cirba Solutions

What does it mean? It could mean nothing, or it could be the start of the new speed that we operate at. After all, we need to purchase, inventory, dismantle, sell, and deliver the same number of vehicles to have balance. This does not always happen, but over time, we need to have a certain amount of balance that requires the speed of our buying, processing, and sales in our business to match up closely. We seem to have more speed in purchasing and dismantling than in sales now. Is this an aberration or the start of a trend? Wouldn’t everyone like a peak at that crystal ball to see the future? All we really have is ourselves, so we need to work on doing the things that are required to make this sales slowdown temporary rather than a new speed of selling that is slower than it was.

We seem to have more speed in purchasing and dismantling than in sales now.

I have a mentor that always says that only you can make business great. While that can be a hard truth, it is still a fact that we have a tremendous amount of control over what we sell. When times are booming, we tend to sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Keep in mind that the phone is an all-encompassing term for me. As an old guy, the phone is how I always did business. I still prefer the phone as it gives me numbers to measure that are helpful, but in truth, I use the term “phone” to include all communication methods that you use. Email, text, IM, smoke signals, carrier pigeons and whatever way your customer wants to communicate counts. I believe the proper millennial term would be “customer touches.”

When we are busy, we take things for granted but there are always certain things that are always true in our business. Parts have issues that require additional contact with the customer. When we are busy, these things just happen, and we continue to conduct our day. When you start to slow down on the inbound side of things, the phone is not ringing, emails are caught up, etc. The time that has been created needs to be filled with something. That “something” needs to be some form of outbound communication with your customer – namely, that dreaded outbound phone call that everyone hates to hear about.

While not easy, the outbound phone call is a fundamental/foundational piece of selling. We all start off doing it and work hard to get to the point of having a customer base that will sustain us without having to dial for dollars. We lose track of the fact that we are always making outbound calls. We do not feel the pressure when you are talking to people who you talk to all the time but when dealing with strangers, it becomes different. How do I change the dynamics of those calls?

The first thing is to break them into the five categories of outbound calls.

1. Follow up on invoices

2. Follow up on quotes

3. Follow up on credits

4. Calling back customers at risk

5. Cold calling new customers

All of our customer touches should fall into one of these categories. There is a large percentage of our invoices that are a large enough dollar amount to a customer with continued needs and they warrant a call back to check on the part and make sure they are happy. When you look at your daily invoice count, how many calls should that equal?

Not every part that you price gets ordered at the time you price it. When they don’t order, you need to pursue them until they do. It is taking longer for customers to save the money for the repair so that means more calls to check on them. Is the part still available? Has the price changed? These potential sales need to be pursued and that means outbound calls. How many calls should you be making checking on your quotes every day? 

When we issue credit to a customer, everyone is losing. Something did not happen the way it was anticipated. Sometimes that is my fault and sometimes things just happen. Either way, I hold myself accountable. That is part of how I build relationships with my customers, knowing I take this seriously. When we write a credit, we should call and say we are sorry. Show that we care and feel bad about it. That commitment to the customer always pays off.

A warm call is a customer who has bought in the past but not lately. Part of the reason you are calling is to find out why. Are they mad? Did we screw up? We can’t fix what we do not know is wrong and these are hard calls sometimes, but we need to repair relationships that get strained.

A cold call introducing myself and what we do is the hardest call, but constantly growing more customers to expand our business or replace lost customers is a key to long-term success. We must make a certain number of these calls. Referrals from existing customers are my favorite cold calls. At least I have a reference name to drop that gives me some credibility with them.

When I add up the average number of calls that should be made in each of these categories, I continually find that we do not make enough outbound customer touches to accomplish the consistent building of relationships with people. If we want to maintain and grow our sales, we must do the work required to build the base. Make those outbound calls and push to grow.

I also know that there is a sixth way of making outbound calls that will get my boss off my back but they do not really work. That is when I call my buddies and tell everybody I am doing the work but that is not what we are saying. You are cheating the company out of effort but you are really cheating yourself out of sales commissions and that seems silly to me.

Stay busy and always be selling yourself and your relationship that you have with your customers. People like doing business with people they like and can count on. Are you doing what it takes to be one of those people?

With 30 years in automotive recycling, Rob Rainwater is a Strategic Business Consultant with the Profit Team Consulting. His talent lies in transforming industry businesses into multi-million-dollar companies. His focus is in the development of strong leaders, teams, and automatic profit centers. Reach Rob at 518-257-0663 or email rainwaterrobert@gmail.com

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