Even the best sales reps can get flustered on the phone with new prospects.  The awkward dance at the beginning of these conversations can make or break whether you get to continue the discussion and earn the prospect’s business.  But with a few simple steps (most of which can be done well before the call and will impact almost every call moving forward), you can help your reps sound and feel more natural on the phone with their prospects.

Done right, and these steps will also help your reps minimize or eliminate call reluctance and increase their phone time each day as well.

1. Know why you’re calling, why now, and what’s in it for them
You might be cold calling, or following up on a white paper download, or catching up with a prospect after seeing them at a trade show.  Before you just pick up the phone and dial, know what your objective is, but more importantly why the prospect will want to hear from you.  Why are you calling today?  What’s in it for the prospect to take time to listen to you?  What do you have to offer (beyond what you want to sell)?  Having this plan in place will give your reps confidence that they know what they’re doing, and why the prospect will want to listen.

2. Map out the conversation you want to have
Don’t just visualize a successful call.  Map it out.  What’s your introduction?  Do you need a few seconds of small talk or transition?  What’s your primary offer or value proposition, especially for this specific interaction?  What’s the ideal outcome both for you and the prospect?  Map this out, even just with a few bullet points, to help you know what a good call looks like.

3. Write a script (but don’t use it when you call)
Once you have a high-level map of a successful call, write a script (at least for those first 1-2 minutes when you’re establishing rapport and interest).  I don’t recommend using scripts when on the phone live, but if you’re satisfied with the flow of the script and memorize it’s basic tenets, you’re more likely to use it and follow it in natural conversation on the phone later.

4. Practice
Have your reps practice their calls with each other, or with a sales manager.  Make sure the preparation you’ve done translates into smooth delivery and execution well before putting that approach to work with actual prospects.

5. Research each target before you dial
In addition to the common approach you’ve developed, spend a couple minutes researching the specific prospect.  Who are they, what is their role, what do they care about right now.  You can generally do this in less than a minute via online tools like LinkedIn and Gist.

6. Assume they will NOT buy
This might be the best tip I’ve heard and given on the topic. Most sales conversations are awkward and tense because there’s an assumption on both sides that something needs to happen, someone needs to buy, to make the conversation successful. If you’re behind on quota and need some prospects to buy today, you’re likely going to be nervous on the call, anxious that it goes well, and the prospect will hear that on their end.

Instead, go into each call assuming they won’t buy. Assume you have something of value for them but don’t need their business. Wouldn’t that take the pressure off? Wouldn’t that help put your reps more at ease, so they can use their natural sales skills as well as the preparation you’ve given them to complete a better and more successful call?

Curious to hear what other tips you may have, and best practices you’ve tried to help reps feel more at ease and natural on their calls.