A recent “incident” on LinkedIn reminded me of the marketing power of the telephone. One of my new connections, Bruce Johnston, scheduled a phone call with me. I call it an incident because it was the first time in several years, perhaps ever, a new LinkedIn contact had immediately suggested a phone call (aside from a few obvious spammers.)
We soon completed our brief call but we made what I’m sure will be a long-term connection. No pitch was involved and we each learned about the other’s businesses. It was just like two strangers having coffee during a break at a small business networking event except we did it over the phone.
With my 1800+ connections on LinkedIn and several year’s active involvement on the site, you can see why the phone call instantly set him apart.
With it, he put himself at the top of my mind. Now I see his posts and I make a point of reading and commenting on them. If I need help with B2B work on LinkedIn, (his specialty) I’ll think of him first. (By the way, go here to connect with me on LinkedIn.)
It’s ironic that in a digital age in which we’re all more connected than ever on social media, the person-to-person connection has become superficial, more distant. We belong to business networking sites where people “talk” but connect less than ever.
This type of shallow, digital communication is widespread in business thanks to computers and the internet. According to the Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace it even has a name, computer mediated communication (CMC.) As with any new efficiency, there are new problems.
A Harvard Business Review article, Don't Send That Email. Pick Up the Phone, says most of our communication is in the form of email. Despite email’s efficiency, there are at least three problems with it.
- It’s a medium in which tone and context are easy to misread, which can lead to more misunderstanding. Think how hard it is to read humor, sarcasm, and other emotions in an email or text. On the phone, you can pick it up instantly.
- Due to its nature of immediacy, people feel compelled to react instantly to email rather than reflecting and responding.
- Email also prolongs debate or discussion because the two parties often go back and forth to clarify, question, and reply. Such extended email conversations could easily be resolved in one brief phone conversation.
As with all problems, there is opportunity. Nobody’s using the phone? Beautiful! There’s the opportunity.
- If you’re not using phone calls for lead generation and sales, should you start?
- If you’re making only outgoing calls, can you turn the tables and get more customers by having them call you?
- If you already rely on the phone for incoming and outgoing calls, can you do more to generate new leads and get more customers with the phone?
As you answer those questions, here’s one telephone marketing idea that can be used in any small business to accomplish all the above.
Create an Open Phone Event where prospects and clients can call you with questions. Do it like an open call-in on a TV or radio show.
Of course, it’s likely your prospects and clients can always call you with questions. But by creating an event, you make it special and add high perceived value. You elevate it to the level of a consultation.
Here are two brief examples.
1) Let’s say you run a B2B printing company. You could encourage your customers to call you with questions about How Printed Material Can Increase Small Business Sales. That’s your field of expertise so the answers should come readily.
Offer the caller a free bonus (printed of course) such as, 10 Proven Print Marketing Projects that Increased Our Client’s Sales by $100,000 or More. That way you collect their info and get to follow up with customized information and offers.
2) Let’s say you’re a restaurant that hosts special events like birthdays or business lunches. Offer a phone event such as Want to Host an Important Birthday Party?...Open Phone Call-In this Thursday—Your Questions Answered.
Or Your Questions Answered—Sponsoring a Successful, Profitable Business Lunch. You get the idea. Whatever form your event takes, offer an additional bonus as incentive for callers to pick up the phone.
Don’t try to close a deal while on the phone (unless of course, it’s just begging to be closed.) The purpose is to answer their questions and get their contact information. After the event, follow up to summarize your conversation and offer a product or service that can help them.
Get creative with your event. Here are a few variations on the Open Phone Event.
Work with an Expert
Bring in an expert to answer questions on a topic related to your business. For example, a local spa could bring in a dermatologist to answer questions about skin damage. Callers get a special package price of spa treatments.
Work with a Celebrity
The celebrity should somehow tie in to your business. For example, a sporting goods store could bring in a local hockey star to answer questions. When they call in they get a discount code for winter sports gear.
Do an Open Text Event
According to bitly.com,
“More than half of all American adults (68%) own smartphones.
And do you know what the most popular smartphone feature is? Texting. A staggering 97% of smartphone owners use their phone to text versus 75% who check social networks and 47% who play games.”
Encourage people to text you. You can even use the text event to start your SMS opt-in list, just as you would with email. Then you can communicate with them in the same way, with promotions and special offers, or other events.
The Logistics of an Open Phone Event
If you expect a lot of calls and don’t want to miss any, you could use a service like Calendly to schedule your calls. Use the app to schedule the available time blocks. As you promote your event, the caller sets his own appointment online at your app’s URL and leaves their phone number. You call at the appointed time during the event.
If you don’t want to schedule calls in such a fashion, make sure you have voicemail available or use an answering service. Reply promptly to voicemails left during your phone event. You might have to contend with a bit of phone tag.
If you’re a larger company with a few phone lines and plenty of staff, consider using a few people to answer calls. If you’re a small company or solopreneur, use a longer time-frame, perhaps a full day, for your event. This will space out the incoming calls a bit.
Promoting an Open Phone Event
As with any small business marketing event, you’ll have to promote it. If you currently have a prospect and customer list, it’s easy. Use email, direct mail, and social media for your outreach. There is no limit to the promotion you can do.
If you don’t yet have a sizable list, you may have to do a bit of paid advertising and promotion. Nevertheless, the phone event is a good opportunity to build your list. A phone event is also likely to get good local press coverage, maybe even an article or two.
For your first open phone event, it’s a good idea to test it on a smaller scale to see what kind of response rate you get. Then scale your promotion to generate the response you can comfortably handle.
Long before I was born, author Christopher Morley said,
"If we discovered that we had only five minutes left to say all that we wanted to say, every telephone booth would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they loved them."
I’d wager the same thing today in our cubicled CMC world. With only five minutes left, who wouldn’t reach for a phone? It’s a powerful connector.
If marketing is how we connect with clients, then shouldn't we include the phone?
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