You are the target!

You are the target!

Apr 01, 2003

Knowing over-the-phone sales tactics can help you weed out helpful calls from time-wasters

Dr. Peter Whitcomb's feet were aching. He was leaning against the counter trying to write up a history for a Cocker Spaniel named "Buffy."

He was musing over the number of blond Cockers named Buffy in his practice when Crissy, his new staff member from the front desk, stood smiling and waiting a few feet away.

"Dr. Pete, someone's on the phone wanting to talk to you on line 1," she chimed.

He smiled and said, "Well, frankly they all do. Who is it?"

"They didn't say," she offered.

"Well, find out who it is and what they want and then come on back."

Pete resumed his scribbling and forgot about the phone call momentarily as he marveled again about the Buffy enigma.

Soon Crissy was back and said that his name is Jim and he would like to talk to the doctor about your selection for an award given by the American Association of Concerned Philanthropists.

Pete's mind was piqued.

"I've worked in this community for a number of years. Finally someone is taking notice," he thought. "Alright, I'll take this call in the office."

Pete quickly moved to the office and punched line 2.

"Hello," he chimed in a voice filled with poise.

"Oh, Dr. Whitcomb. This is Sally Johnson with Peaches. Can I talk to you about my mother's cockatiel?"

Pete groaned to himself. He had once again punched the wrong button on that blasted phone.

"Sorry, Ms. Johnson, I will have to call you back," Pete replied sheepishly.

He now regretted that he had not listened more attentively to Crissy. Soon, he would be committed to another phone call he doesn't really have time for. He draws a breath and pushes line 1.

"Hello, this is Dr. Whitcomb."

"Dr. Whitcomb, my name is Dandy Jefferson and I represent All Star Communications. We are calling on behalf of the AACP. Are you familiar with their program?"

"Vaguely," he offered with no small amount of confusion.

"Dr. Whitcomb, we would like for you to be a Life Participation Partner in the AACP which gives you full access to AACP's total program, including life insurance and an AACP credit card. There are huge savings for our members at participating stores nationwide."

Pete was still confused and innocently asked about an awards banquet.

"Dr. Whitcomb, as a life partner you will be sent a free subscription to the AACP monthly bulletin and for talking to us today we will send you an AACP coffee cup and an opportunity for a weekend in Florida courtesy of Acme Condos and Vacant Land, Inc."

"No banquet, no lifetime achievement award," Pete lamely pined.

"Your subscription to AACP is all the award you will ever need."

"How much to be a lifetime member?" he finally asked.

"Lifetime membership is a one-time donation of $5,000, payable in annual installments over the next five years for which you will be given a mounted certificate embossed in 14 carat gold that you can hang in your reception area for all your clients to see," Dandy chortled.

Pete had heard enough. Pete's ego was now deflating to its more usual Lilliputian size. He gradually (and with some difficulty) extracted himself from the conversation on line 1.

Tick tock, tick tock

Dr. Whitcomb was now 35 minutes behind. As he rose from his desk he noticed that his feet were once again complaining.

Crissy poked her head in the door and said that Mrs. Johnson was on the phone.

"She said you wanted to talk with her."

Pete nodded grimly and proceeded to listen to a tale that could only be described as coming from "banana land."

Whitcomb has succumbed to one of the oldest techniques available in sales-an appeal to vanity. Another ploy is the use of the first name. Most clients will not use the first name of a veterinarian but sales people will. This, of course, is to convince staff that that caller is a longtime chum of the owner.

I have even had sales people call in ahead of time to ask staff for my first name. They then call later and ask for me on a first name basis with no remorse whatsoever.

Another appeal is to greed.

Entreaties of this nature run the gamut from the sale of gold futures to buying selling techniques for the acquisition of real estate.

One must ask the obvious question: If the genius at the source of these promotions is already rich, why does he need to sell you a book on, "How to Get Rich While Sleeping," for a mere $39.99 plus tax?

Business-directed promotions are usually tied with an appeal to the business owner that whatever they are selling is good for the practice-i.e. in some way it is a form of advertising or a way for you to differentiate your business from the competition. Obviously this is good; unfortunately none of these people have a clue as to what is really good for your business. Only you do.

Don't get me wrong. Sales are a legitimate part of our profession and there are many highly regarded men and women who are true professionals in their own right that serve our profession faithfully, often under stress. They need open access to our practices for us to thrive.

Unfortunately there are a number of people who view professional business people as targets. These people need to be vigorously screened.

Promotional, solicitation calls

A cold caller's chances in a veterinary office are fairly good because:

* Salesmen are extensively trained to find ways to get through the barrier at the front desk.

* It is much easier to "get us" on the phone than any of our human counterparts.

* Companies are endlessly looking for veterinarians or staff to conduct surveys or "research" on behalf of marketing companies. The fact that they offer money to our underpaid staff doesn't hurt.

* Companies or organizations adopt official sounding names that hide their true identities.

* Veterinarians do not offer staff training in this area.

Screening calls at the front desk

Ask for the caller's full name and the address of organizations that they represent.

Also ask for the phone number. Some callers are hesitant to give this information out-this is a red flag.

Staff members need to ask the caller specifically what state they are calling from. Most people are caught off guard by this question and will answer truthfully. You would be surprised at the number of calls that come in from boiler rooms set up in states (or even countries) far removed from the parent organization. Note that people who purportedly represent a local organization but live in another state are usually professional salespeople or telemarketers.

You should strive to work only with local people or people who work exclusively with the veterinary community. These individuals who need to talk to the owner should be politely asked for their full name and organization.

With practice, staffers can tell that someone is reading from a script. Deny all calls that sound scripted.

Some callers imply that they are returning a call, etc. If so, ask if the caller is a current client of the practice and bring them up on the computer. If they are not a client, then take a written message and present it to the doctor for further consideration. Nine out of 10 times the doctor will not have ever heard of the person or company.

Local callers may want to make an appointment to talk to the doctor. Usually it is better to take a written message and ask for a return number to call in the event that the doctor would agree to an appointment.

Too good to be true

If it sounds too good to be true, you have scored 100 percent on the "gut feeling" meter.

The usual instinct for all receptionists and staff is to please the customer. Telemarketers are not customers-you are their customers. There is no shame in refusing to connect anyone to the owner/principal of the business or to any veterinarian. Do not let them put a guilt trip on you.