Really successful telephone selling involves much more than an autodialer and a well-written script. Chuck Surack, whose company sells its audio equipment largely by phone, has been polishing the art of telephone selling since he started Sweetwater Sound, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife in 1979. "We constantly work to perfect the art of controlled conversation," says Surack.

To rehearse their act, Sweetwater Sound's 40 phone salespeople attend thrice-weekly training classes led by the president and vice-president of sales, as well as top sales reps. Newcomers attend for eight hours; more experienced reps go for four. Surack says the program not only educates the sales staff and improves its rap, but also helps prevent burnout on the job. The company's turnover rate is less than 2%.

Half the teaching time is devoted to role-playing. The other half is spent fine-tuning the dialogue and other selling basics, as well as reviewing new products. "Employees contribute botched sales calls to the class to use as examples," Surack says. "Role-playing really helps people remember what is being taught. Besides, everybody gets a chuckle out of it." Sessions are videotaped so that employees can make up the ones they miss and show recruits on their first anniversary how much they've improved since their first days at work.

Surack doesn't regret any sales lost because employees were attending training sessions. The company's emphasis on training is a key to its success: Selling highly technical equipment that costs thousands of dollars, Sweetwater Sound chalked up more than $31 million in sales last year--with no face-to-face meetings.

Copyright 1998 G+J USA Publishing