Nailing the Sales Handoff: How to Ensure Sales Appointments Hold

HandoffI don’t know about you, but I can’t remember appointments to save my life.

Sadly, appointment ADD is an all-too-common affliction. XANT conducted a study and found that when sales appointments are scheduled for up to three days out, 38 percent of appointments don’t show up, and if the appointment is scheduled for four days out, that number grows to 63 percent.

We’ve tested a few different tactics to ensure appointments hold at a higher rate. Today, I’m happy to share lessons learned.

Live transfers

If you have to pick between listening to a song on the radio and hearing the same band at your favorite venue, you’ll choose the live performance every time. Companies don’t push and incent live transfers enough.

Sports organizations have it right as always. When the quarterback calls a play to send the running back up the middle, he doesn’t wait two days to hand him the football. He buries the ball in his gut right then and there, and the game continues.

On the sales floor, every day is game day. You just can’t afford to wait.

The power of now

A few years ago, I read Eckhart Tolle’s life-changing book, “The Power of Now,” and fell in love with this quotation: “Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”

I’ve decided to give that book to every sales manager I meet. Sales managers constantly face complaints about insufficient lead flow. So, they often opt for a lead-routing strategy that makes things fair and equal or is based on territories.

But if you want to increase your number of appointments held, you’ll want to test a lead-routing strategy that prioritizes skill and immediacy.

Your best sales reps are your best for a reason. They know what it takes to make sure people show up. And if you add immediacy to the equation, your leads will route to the best rep with immediate availability.

Practice plays

Elite athletes practice plays. Utah Jazz legends John Stockton and Karl Malone mastered the pick-and-roll because they constantly practiced it. Sales reps often feel they don’t need to practice, and surprisingly many companies let them get away with it.

Top sales teams and reps have and utilize playbooks. Think about a great quarterback and how he can call an audible at the line of scrimmage. What he is doing is reading the defense and changing his approach accordingly. Plays in sales are no different. When a prospect attacks you with an objection, comment, concern or question, which play are you going to run to respond?

Here are eight best practice plays to ensure appointments hold:

1. Overcoming the push-out

If your reps start complaining about prospects pushing out appointments, create a play for them to run in those situations. Here is a good example I’ve adapted from the Chet Holmes book, “The Ultimate Sales Machine”:

I’d be happy to schedule an appointment for five days out, sir/ma’am, but let me tell you about what happens to appointments scheduled that far out. According to our studies, 37 percent are impressed enough with the information they’ve heard so they show up for the appointment. Unfortunately, 63 percent are in such a reactive mode, reacting to their business, that they don’t show up to the appointment to dramatically improve their business, and they end up doing nothing. My question to you is: Are you the kind of person who would rather take action and learn how you can double your productivity? Or are you too busy reacting to your current business to take the time to learn the skills to improve it?

2. Scheduling an appointment

I’ve found the best way to ask for an appointment is to first go for the appointment now and then offer specific times rather than asking the prospect what times work for him or her.

Would you have time now? (Client responds with a no). I want to get you to one of our best account executives, and it looks like he is available at either 2 p.m. today or 8 a.m. tomorrow (earlier the better). Would either of those times work for you?

3. Accept the appointment now

Get your reps to have the prospect accept the meeting invitation while on the phone. Sometimes people miss appointments simply because the invitation gets lost in their email inbox. While on the phone, send the prospect an invitation and ask if they will accept it on the spot.

I’m sending you an Outlook invitation with the meeting information we agreed upon. If you wouldn’t mind accepting that while we’re still on the phone, it would be much appreciated.

4. LinkedIn

Ask the prospect if you can connect on LinkedIn. Endorse him or her one day prior to the appointment. Building your network is never a bad idea, but using LinkedIn to help your appointments hold is solid gold.

In addition to accepting the meeting invitation, I’d also like to add you on LinkedIn. Would that be OK?

5. Commit

Make sure your prospects know your time is important too. This one comes from “The Ultimate Sales Machine”:

We only have one condition for you attending our technical briefing. Our sales team is extremely busy that day. So once you commit, all we ask is the professional courtesy that you attend or at least give us 24 hours’ notice to fill that time slot if you can’t come. Does that seem fair?

6. Inclusion

When multiple people are joining a meeting, individuals feel more obligated to attend. It’s always a good idea to ask if any other decision makers need to be included in the meeting.

Besides yourself, are there other decision makers or influencers that should join this call?

7. Cell phone number

Ask for a cell phone number to be able to send a text-message reminder.

In addition to the invitation, may I have your cell phone number so I can text you a reminder for the meeting?

8. Invitation reminder

Emails get lost and calendars get flooded, so it’s never a bad idea to resend the invitation 15 to 30 minutes before the actual meeting.

Follow these tips to increase your number of appointments held, which ultimately leads to a bigger, faster pipeline and more sales.

See how XANT accelerates sales through science.

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Image credit: Jim Larrison

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