Jill Konrath


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[Video] Don't Ruin a Prospect Callback by Doing This!


Getting a prospect to return your phone calls these days is a real achievement. When that happens, you need to be at the top of your game, ready to quickly engage them in a relevant conversation.

But what happens when you have no idea who's calling?

VIDEO TEXT: After making a bunch of prospecting calls, have you ever had someone call you back and say, "Hi. This is Mike & I'm returning your call."

And you think, Mike? Mike? Mike who? Your mind goes totally blank. You fumble for words and before you know it, you start sounding like a babbling idiot.

It's happened to me too. That's why I had to figure out a way to deal with it. So what I suggest you do.

The minute you feel that panic button hit, say this, "Mike. Thanks so much for calling me. I'm in the middle of a project right now. I'll be done in about 10 minutes. Can you quick give me your phone number and I'll call you right back?"

In virtually all cases, you'll get the number. Then, you go dig through your files and find all the Mikes you called -- and which one has this particular phone number. At this point, you might want to pop over to his company's website so you can refresh your memory here too.

Then, take a few minutes to figure out what you'll say when you get back on the phone. Remember, you want to be prepared. It's the only way you can be seen as the credible resource that you are. So remember, just say, "Mike. Thanks for calling. I'm in the middle of a project right now. Can I get your number & I'll call you back in 10." Got it? Don't Ruin a Prospect Callback by Doing This!

YOUR TURN: How do you handle callbacks from unknown prospects?  Share your story!

Jill KonrathJill Konrath is an internationally recognized sales strategist. As author of two bestselling books, SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies, she's a frequent speaker at sales meetings and conferences. For more fresh ideas, download her free Prospecting Toolkit.


I definitely could have used this video yesterday when a prospect called me back and caught me off guard. Thanks for the video Jill! I'm excited to implement this tactic moving forward.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 6:03 AM by Lindsey
Yes, it append to me sometimes and it was very unpleasant. Now I have a way to deal with it. Thanks Jill for this excellent tip.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 6:06 AM by Ricardo
As always, great advice, but most people today (especially in high paced environments) will freak out by telling people they will call back. At a minimum, salespeople should know why they were calling the Top 10-20 accounts on their target list so they can respond with something relevant and not have to call back. Hope this is helpful.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 6:41 AM by Jonathan London
Why didn't I think of this? It's so simple, and does the job. Haven't head many unknown prospects, usually either I'll remember who they are or caller ID helps do a quick search if CRM is open. 
Great tip Jill, thanks a lot.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 6:56 AM by Viktor Nagornyy
Hmm I am not sure about this. As you say its difficult enough to get people to respond to cold calls, so if someone has taken the time out of their busy schedule to call you, make the most of it. It could be literally weeks before you get through to them again. As sales people all we have to do is be ready to pitch, quickly engage people, ask questions etc. I would start talking and either check my notes, database or memory(!) and carry on. I don't think there is a problem with asking the person where he has called from, but I guess it depends on how many products or services your company offers and how varied your customer base. In summary though, I would grasp the moment, it might not be the only chance you get to speak to that person buts its got to be one of the best.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:05 AM by jill
Hi Jill, 
That is a great suggestion. I've been in that situation where I'm fumbling through Salesforce trying to remember my last call, etc. However, my concern with your tactic is that it kind of begs the question "why are you answering your phone in the middle of a project?". It makes you look like one of those people who are always having to put people off because they answered the phone at the wrong time. I may rather admit that I make a ton of calls during the day and I need help remembering our previous conversation or my last message. People always will rescue you if you let them!
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:11 AM by Scott Smeester
You have reached the "PLEASE DEPT" please tell me your name and phone number and I will be pleased to tell you all about us.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:14 AM by Bob Reiss
Nice suggestion, however I have to disagree that calling someone back is the best tactic. Prospects have busy schedules and 5 minutes from now may be too late. So I always seize the opportunity while I have them on the phone. Who knows, the next call on their list could be your competitor and the risk of losing them is there. The other issue is you may have their office line on file but not their cell (or other cell number). So the number they give you may still not be enough to find them - and then you look really bad calling back and still not knowing who they are. Chances are you could find them in that 5 minutes, but then you run the risk of not catching them again or be out of luck depending on how many people you deal with.  
Most of us these days are using a CRM system. When the prospect calls greet them and do the usual "how ya doing" discussion. Then follow that with "Mike, let me pull up your account real quick". You can then follow it up with "How do you spell your last name again Mike?" or "how do you spell your company name?". The only time this may backfire is if their last name is easy (ie Smith, Jones) or their company name is very simple. In that case, you can always say "oh, there you are - that was strange. I have your account now".  
If you take the call you should be prepared to talk - you have them while they are thinking of you.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:43 AM by Jeff O
Normally, Jill, I find your suggestions right on point. But not this one. This sounds like "that's interesting" when your little kid hands you a fingerpainting he did just for you. 
Return calls are too rare to let them off the line. I would suggest just asking "Sorry I didn't get your last name" or "What company are you calling from"? That should give you enough time to make 10-15 seconds of idle chat while you pull the account up in your CRM. 
Then, you can proceed. Prospects get a zillion calls a day, so you must have left something in your voicemail that was of interest for this one to call you back. They also understand you make a zillion calls a day and cannot remember everyone off the top of your head.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:44 AM by Mike Maisel
Great points everyone. Thanks for the additional suggestions.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:50 AM by Lindsey
Great tip for anyone who does cold calling and has had this kind of thing happen to them. This is 'real world' stuff, so glad to see you tackle this subject. Thanks. 
Bud Boughton 
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 7:55 AM by Bud Boughton
I do about 15-20 good qualify calls a day, so I make a excel spread sheet and keep the following info;  
Full name, company and why I was calling. The excel is always open/minimize in my toolbar, easy and quick to access 
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 8:03 AM by Mike Charbonneau
Thanks for all your thoughts, everyone! Looks like I've finally hit something controversial. I appreciate all your suggestions.  
Most of all, I think it's imperative to have a strategy in place that you can easily move into the moment it happens to you -- because it invariable will.  
Flopping around and looking like a bumbling idiot will kill any opportunity you might have had.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 8:21 AM by Jill Konrath
Another way you can put it, because a lot of sales people use just that phrase, and your prospect might figure out that you forgot him, is this: 
"Mike. Thanks so much for calling me. I was just heading out of my office for a scheduled conference call. I'll be done in about 10 minutes. Can you quick give me your phone number and I'll call you right back?"  
In that way it doesn't sound like your project is more important then the prospect. A scheduled conference is something you have no control over. Everyone is familiar with office conference calls, and it makes you seem like your a very busy guy. 
I have received call backs from prospects, which I might have called days ago. As far as those who think you can remember everyone you might call, I would like to meet that person. And as far as those who think a prospect is going to listen to your small talk while you try to look up his information, is in denial.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 8:33 AM by Jerry
I use a VOIP phone, headset and SFDC CRM - both always open - so incoming caller ID gets copied and pasted into a CRM search as I'm answering the call. Usually have their record displayed before the social niceties completed. It's also easier to "Tap-dance" when you are calling one vertical that day, or one job title, or pitching one offering - easier to 'fake it' while the search runs. 
Your point is well taken - no one wants to sound foolish, but I would never not talk to a call-back. They are rare enough. 
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 8:33 AM by Jim Weldy
For my money, Jill's suggestion is one of several good ways to handle the unexpected callback. And, as others have pointed out, sometimes it makes sense to "wing it," or even to admit we're caught off guard, while other times it doesn't. There are so many different markets, types of customers, personal styles, etc. it doesn't make sense to me to have a "one size fits all" answer. Let's stay mindful of our options, be considerate and appreciative of the person on the other end of the line, and do what we think is best in the moment. I like all the suggestions, and know that each of them will come in handy for me. Thanks everyone!
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 10:52 AM by Marcy Jenkins
Hi Jill! Love your stuff! My situation may be unique, but I never, ever, lie about anything to anyone. I'm in commercial real estate sales & I've never had a problem reaching the prospect when I return a call (I've been doing this since 1984). If I don't recognize them via caller ID, I let VM answer. No one has ever not left a message, and I've never had a problem reaching the person when I return the call.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:20 PM by Glenn Goryl
I couldn't disagree more. Nobody calls back and someone does and you ask to get back to them?? Then when you call back, you get voice-mail and you never get them live again.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 1:30 PM by Mike
I'm all for being prepared, and I've encountered this scenario a number of times. My issue is this: Jill's suggestion sounds dangerously close to not being honest. In a culture where salespeople are vilified as habitual liars, I find it valuable to be completely, over-the-top honest with prospect and customers alike. Either way, having a plan for such callbacks is a must.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 4:50 PM by Eric
If someone calls me back and the caller doesn't identify their company name or their caller ID doesn't show the company name, I always ask for their company name first before engaging them in a conversation since there could be any number of Mikes in the business. This would usually be enough to prompt me on what the caller would like to discuss and who he is. I agree with the other posts - I would not want to have to call them back for any reason after they took the time to return my call.
Posted @ Thursday, April 26, 2012 10:19 PM by Lorelei
Hi Jill 
Thanks for the great tip. These are common scenerios in a point where some prospects express total lack of interest during first visits.Living the sales person in a dilema. The tip should now help build srength given such occurence in future cases. Thanks
Posted @ Saturday, April 28, 2012 1:03 PM by osoma
I keep a list of all the vm's I've left in my outlook task category. That way when someone does call back I just open that category and click on the person and up pops all their info.
Posted @ Monday, April 30, 2012 2:32 PM by Todd
I start by saying, "Mike, what can I do for you?" If I still don't recognize the individual, I ask for his company so I can address him and his needs as accurately as possible. What's wrong with the truth? 
This reminds me of a classic Seinfeld episode. Jerry doesn’t know the name of the girl he is dating but he knows that it rhymes with a woman’s body part. Turns out the name is Dolores, rhyming with “clitoris,” which he remembers as she storms out of his apartment. 
Posted @ Monday, April 30, 2012 9:55 PM by Diana Schneidman
I have to agree with Diana, what is wrong with telling the truth! I would simply ask him what company he is with and proceed from there. If I were the caller, I would expect nothing less than honesty. Saying you will call back because you are in the middle of a project makes no sense at all. Especially if you have tried calling this person several times. They finally call back and you can't talk because you are in the middle of a project?! Sure, it's a plausible lie, but key word here being LIE. Good luck ever talking to this prospect again. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in the other persons shoes and think about how we would wish to be treated.  
Take the call, be honest about not remembering who "Mike" is, ask the question and start building the relationship based on honesty and trust!
Posted @ Thursday, May 03, 2012 9:27 AM by Barbara Oliver
The biggest problem I have with calling someone back in 10 minutes, is that you probably won't get them. If they are senior executives, they will have moved onto something else, so it's VERY important to engage them when you actually have them on the phone. 
I agree with the above comments. There is nothing wrong with the truth, something like this, "Mike, I made a lot of calls today, can you tell me your full name and your company again please?" 
There are a number of ways in which you can follow up from here, but it depends on your approach. Based on Jill's approach suggested, here might be something similar; "Give me just a moment, I want to make sure I am making best use of your time." Now you can look at their website or pull them up in your CRM to take a quick look at the company. 
Posted @ Thursday, May 10, 2012 7:24 AM by Trevor Hamilton
So, I should start out by lying to my prospect who I have on the phone? Not a good idea. Keep a list of who you have called, the reason you have called and use caller ID to notify you as to who you have calling on you. Really, how many Mike's do you call on in a week?
Posted @ Tuesday, July 17, 2012 8:12 AM by Rob Stenberg
Key take away from this: Have a plan to handle a call back that works for you. 
Your phone calls, emails, etc are work hard to create opportunities.  
If you reach out enough, this will happen to you and it is an excellent opportunity. Don't fumble it.
Posted @ Wednesday, July 24, 2013 2:00 PM by Scott
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