Author Chat: Dirk Zeller on Telephone Sales

By Erica Christoffer

How are you on the telephone? Real estate professionals use the telephone practically every day to reach out to clients and prospects. Sales coach and author Dirk Zeller wrote a book, Telephone Sales for Dummies, on how you can improve your telephone skills (read a mini book review and get 5 tips to improve your phone presence). The Weekly Book Scan spoke with Zeller recently to get more insights.

What motivated you to write Telephone Sales for Dummies?

ZELLER: I saw a real need for skill building in the telephone sales arena. To me, if anybody is a sales person, they have to use the phone. The phone is still one of the most important mediums of communication in this world. Especially for sales people, because in selling you have to inject emotion, you have to inject energy, you have to inject enthusiasm, you have to inject assertiveness, confidence and conviction. That’s pretty hard to do in an e-mail. E-mail is a communication method that functionally doesn’t translate into selling very well. You’re basically using words on a page that communicate at 7 percent efficiency.

A number of studies have been done on what communication is and how communication is broken down. Seven percent of communication is the words, 38 percent of communication is the tonality, 55 percent is body language. You don’t have tonality or body language engaged in words on a printed page.

But do you think electronic communication – e-mail, text messaging, etc. – has overtaken the telephone in many workplaces?

ZELLER: I think it’s a more universally used method of communication – e-mail and text, but it is not as effective in selling.

What would you say are three bad habits real estate agents do while prospecting on the telephone?

ZELLER: I think the biggest mistake real estate agents make in terms of calling a prospect or a potential prospect is winging it. They haven’t planned out what they’re going to say. They don’t have good quality scripts and dialogues to deliver from. They haven’t practiced those scripts and dialogues. They don’t have a great opening statement that is compelling and draws the prospect in. I got a sales call last night whose opening statement—which in my view is the worst in the history of the planet—was “How are you today?”

You say in your book a sales person has 7 seconds to grab the attention of their prospect on the phone. What advice would you give a sales person to when formulating an introduction?

ZELLER: What’s important to the client? That’s the first and foremost element they have to start. Who is this prospect and what would be important to them? You have to get across a powerful, compelling message that fundamentally says, “This is why you should listen to me any longer.”

For example, if you’re calling an expired, you have to have an opening that connects with that expired, that solves a problem that they have or gives them the impression that you can solve an inherent problem, which is, “The marketplace is challenging; I didn’t get my home sold.” You have to get across to them that there is a better way and there is a solution. Just because their home didn’t sell, doesn’t mean their home won’t sell. Or, if it’s a buyer, you have to get across to them that now is a tremendous time to buy.

You mention the importance of research. What sort of research would you recommend real estate pros do before they get on the phone and reach out to both buyers and sellers?

ZELLER: They have to have a greater understanding of the current and emerging market trends. What’s the inventory of available homes? What’s the absorption rate in terms of the marketplace? What’s the competition level? What’s the average list price? They have to know the different price points of the marketplace. They have to have a greater understanding. Let me give NAR a plug. They have to read, study, and understand some of the reports [NAR] produces.
You won’t get face-to-face if you’re not good on the phone. The first point of contact is generally over the phone, or at least the first point of actual sales contact where you can create a sales relationship or book an appointment.

What can veteran salespeople take away from the book?

ZELLER: It will give them a structure and a strategy to use and a system they could put in place. Even if they are skillful, I would contend that most of them do not have a system. They’ve learned through osmosis. And now the marketplace has changed and what they did before is probably not as effective. But they don’t know why it’s not working as well as it did before. Some of it is marketplace influence; some of it is system influence.

What is your personal system when you make sales calls?

ZELLER: My approach is obviously different today because I’m approaching brokers, large companies, and executives. My sale today is a business-to-business sale as opposed to a business-to-consumer sale. But if I were an Agent today, one of the things I would be focused on in any phone call is, “What is the objective of the call?” What’s the action that I’m trying to get this prospect to do? For me, the objective is you’re trying to book an appointment. You have more control in your office, so the objective is trying to get them to come into your office. If you can’t get face-to-face in your office, the secondary objective is trying to get face-to-face at a neutral site. I’m trying to get the prospect to take action.

If I can’t get face-to-face at a neutral site, my third objective is to get face-to-face at a home. If you can’t get face-to-face at the office, at a neutral site or at their home, then I finally will go for a face-to-face at the subject property that they called about or are interested in. But most agents go straight to No. 4. They’re so thrilled that they got someone that they’re talking to, that they’re willing to go to a lower-level quality to secure that prospect. Then they’re being like every other agent.

How can real estate practitioners improve their listening skills on the phone?

ZELLER: Listening is a natural outcome to asking questions. So if agents have better formulated questions or a series of questions that they use on a strategic basis, they’re going to be automatically better at listening. They’re functionally punting the dialogue to the prospect. To me, that’s the greatest opportunity to enhance listening, is to have well-formulated questions in advance.

When I was selling real estate, I had all my questions tacked on the wall. I stood there, headset on, computer screen in front of me, calling. I had a track, or a series of questions, that I was constantly asking based on the type of prospecting I was doing.

In the book, you also dedicated a chapter to conquering sales call aversion. Have you ever been overcome by this and can it be avoided?

ZELLER: Everybody gets sales call aversion at some point in time. Even very successful people get sales call aversion. Because it’s emotionally connected and it’s fear based. The more you run from it, the worse it gets. I’ve had sales call aversion and I used the system I laid out in the book: Taking stock and looking at my skills and abilities. I looked at what I was doing and my goals. I couldn’t market my way completely to the revenue and net profit I wanted. There is a fallacy in the real estate industry that you can market your way to the top of this business. I’m not anti-marketing, I’m saying there’s a balance and a blending that needs to be happening between marketing and prospecting.

What would your case be for the success people could find in telephone prospecting today?

ZELLER: At a minimum, they have to telephone prospect their past clients and sphere. They can’t just rely on direct mail pieces to create the relationships they need and the referrals they’re hoping to generate from past clients and sphere. Beyond the past clients and sphere, I think Agents have to have a broader breadth of their business in today’s marketplace. The Agents who are relying 100 percent of past clients and sphere to generate their business are seeing a drop in their business. There are fewer referrals than before. Fewer people are moving. Real estate is no longer the No. 1 discussion at every cocktail party across the country, or at business networking events.

So the question is: What are you going to do? Last year 43 percent of the business was referral, 11 percent of the business was repeat, which means 46 percent was up for grabs. Can you run an effective business and not access 46 percent of the potential customers? Too many agents think it won’t work. But if you follow what I laid out in the book, it will.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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  1. Hey, ok, I get it, I guess – but does this really work?