Conference Calls With Your Sales Team

Many moons ago, I worked in direct sales. While it wasn't my favorite job in the world, I learned some valuable skills. The company liked to keep us up to date on new approaches with monthly conference calls, and they were very helpful. When it’s time to set up your next conference call with team members, here are some sales conference topics that you can use.

Success Stories

Each month, invite the “top seller” to make a brief presentation to new hires or those who wish to participate. You can open up for a straight Q&A session to let your new people or the ones that need a little extra motivation find out about what strategies make someone successful in the sales business. A lot of times it helps to simply hear what works for someone else and try to incorporate that into your own approaches.

Skill Refreshers

Once a quarter, set up a conference call with departments or teams that would not usually have direct contact with each other. Use these opportunities to role play situations with a large group and then allow for questions at the end. Ask your employees what was great, what could have gone better, or what needs a little bit of improvement. It’s a great chance to hear new thoughts and approaches from those you wouldn't usually have contact with.

Brainstorm a Better Pitch

The sales persons pitch is the greatest device they have when it comes to closing a deal. If the pitch doesn't resonate, then you've lost your potential client before you even have a chance to start talking about benefits to your product or service. Get your team together on a conference call and start collaborating on a pitch that can be delivered in a clear manner with the same messages delivered across the board. Host a follow up call after a couple of months and find out some of the feedback on the pitch. If it’s still not working – you can attack the pitch again and continue doing so until you find one that works.

Before you start any conference call with your sales team, it’s important to break the ice and start opening up the lines of communication. A good ice breaker planned into the meeting agenda will get people talking and feeling comfortable with each other.

Motivating a sales team doesn't have to be all about money and success. Giving them an open door to get new ideas, stay current, and keep things going helps just as much.

17 (+4) Tips For More Productive Conference Calls

Conference calls have become an important part of corporate business life and yet they are not always used to their best advantage. The world of telecommunications has traveled light years since the old days of the traditional party line, but the modern conference call is really just an expansion of that retro concept. Today, most companies use a specialized service provider for conference calls and they are being used more and more in conjunction with web conferences. These service providers maintain the conference bridge and provide the phone numbers used to access the meeting or conference call.

How can your business better utilize this service? First, let us define exactly what service we are talking about. What is meant by the term, conference call? This is a telephone call in which the caller wishes to have more than one party listen in to the audio portion. Calls may also be designed so that the called party can participate during the call or so that the called party merely listens in and cannot speak. A conference call is also sometimes referred to as an ATC (Audio Tele-Conference).

In a book called "Death By Meeting" author, Patrick Lenzioni, argues that conference calls really should be more fun. He says: "If I didn't have to go to meetings, I'd like my job a lot more." According to Merlin Mann and his fascinating, irreverent and very witty family of websites dealing with personal productivity known collectively as 43 Folders, the following ideas have helped to make his life in general and conference calls in particular, easier and more productive. Also check out this interview with Al Pittampalli, the author of the Modern Meeting Standard. Consider them the next time you schedule a conference call. Read on and hold that call, please!

  1. Circulate an Agenda.  Don't do a conference call without first circulating an agenda to all involved parties. An agenda helps to structure the conference and helps members to prepare by providing in advance the type of information they will need in order to effectively participate in the discussion.
     
  2. Get familiar with each other. Have everyone in attendance introduce him or herself up front. In fact, make that the first thing on your agenda. It is important for people who don't know each other's voices especially well to become familiar as quickly as possible.
     
  3. Give the conference a theme. Don't meander, for the road is costly and time-consuming and leads ultimately nowhere! Use the agenda to amplify the theme in question by explaining how it will be covered or explored in each section of the meeting.
     
  4. Have conference calls only when you need to. Many are unnecessary and could be avoided with either a one-on-one call or a focused e-mail exchange. Group calls should only be made when either in-depth dialogue or brainstorming is required.
     
  5. Establish meeting timing. This includes when the meeting will begin, break and end ahead of time. Provide a time structure, which all participants must adhere to and matters will flow smoothly.
     
  6. Focus on the conference. Limit "electronic grazing" to during the conference call. Set it up like they did in the old frontier days at the saloon with all who enter checking their guns at the door!! The equipment is different; phones and laptops to be exact, but the attitude is the same. No multi tasking while the meeting is in session. This means no email, no phone calls and this means you! Attending the meeting is like being pregnant; one either is or one isn't present at the meeting. If an emergency occurs and a call needs to be made, then the person should leave the room to make the call and not tie up the meeting.
     
  7. Schedule guests and make the best use of everyone's time. Use your agenda to indicate when people will be needed to present their arguments and avoid the traffic jam of having thirty people in a room for three hours, twenty of whom will have nothing at all to do or say until the last 15 minutes of the meeting. Tick off items on the agenda as they are covered.
     
  8. Delegate roles. Don't wear too many hats at your own meeting. Employ someone to keep track of the time so that you as the leader are free to focus on the matters presented in the agenda and keep the meeting rolling along at an even pace.
     
  9. Stay focused on your time element and subject matter. Not all issues require the same amount of time to settle and any issue that can be resolved offline or does not require the input of the majority of the group should be dismissed as quickly as possible and ticked off the mighty agenda.
     
  10. Welcome late arrivals. If you join into a conference call after it has already begun, make sure that other people know you are there. If you are the organizer of the conference call and this happens, seek an opportunity to introduce that person and then quickly review any key decisions that have been made. (If the person being late is you the organizer, you probably should find someone else to head the conference call in the first place.)
     
  11. Meetings won't run themselves. Be aware of which tips work best for you and remain consistent in their use. Meetings have never been able to run themselves, and you as the leader, must always think things out thoroughly so that people attending do not feel they are wasting their time. After all, that is the one commodity that we never seem to have enough of and that waits for no one, as the old saying goes.
     
  12. Stick to the point. Keep conference calls short and very sweet. This way, each participant knows what to expect, more or less, in terms of why they are there and what they are supposed to do. There is nothing more boring than a rambling speaker and nothing that will lose a listening audience more quickly, except maybe a sudden office fire.
     
  13. Get through the agenda first. Consider dealing with any matters that are not  on the agenda last even if they are brought up at the beginning of the conference. This prevents sidetracking and losing precious time in covering the more pertinent issues at hand.
     
  14. Invite only the people that need to be on the conference. Don't call bosses and technical experts to attend the conference unless you know in advance that their advice will be needed. Regardless of the outcome of the conference, they will definitely owe you one and be eternally grateful.
     
  15. Limit the Chaos. Limit the number of people on the conference call to four or at most five. Chaos is sure to follow if there are too many opinions circulating at the same time. Problems are likely to occur because the more opinions, the harder it becomes to keep track of who is speaking and a common reaction is to go on automatic pilot and "leave the meeting in your mind."
     
  16. Wait your turn to speak. Try not to interrupt when others are speaking and wait for the appropriate moment to jump in. One has to listen and concentrate much more acutely over the phone than is necessary in person.
     
  17. Summarize and follow up on meeting proceedings. This can either be done by you or by a project manager, if one has been so assigned. Take a few minutes at the end of the conference to review any major new projects that were generated in the meeting and email the list of resolutions to all participants. Also, take a minute to identify those issues or questions that must be explored further. Don't forget to thank everyone for his or her participation and say goodbye.
     
  18. Practice makes perfect. Familiarize yourself with the conference call service before you use it.  You're going to want to know how to use the conference call service so that you can use your mute functions and any of the moderator controls.  You should be able to call the conference company and get a quick overview of the different commands that you can use. 
     
  19. Start the conference on time.  You've sent out a lot of invitations that have a specific date and time provided to the other participants.  Start at the right time so that the conference will begin for those who showed up at the right time. Participants who are late will just have to miss the introduction. 
     
  20. Pay attention. As a participant you should take good notes. This will help you retain information and it will encourage you to pay attention, rather be distracted by your cell phone, email, or social networking. 
     
  21. Use visuals on conference calls that require them.  Not every conference is going to require them, so use them only in situations that call for the visual representations. 

The mercurial business world of today demands quick decisions based on as many facts as possible. Aided by the cold hand of technology, telecommunications has made the transfer of information an instantaneous and ubiquitous affair. Take advantage of this process. Wasting time hurts business and morale on many levels and it is something that can be avoided by planning ahead all the details for your next conference call. Follow these tips and you are sure to have more productive conference calls. Perhaps not all of these ideas will work for you, but many of them will.

And by the way, hold that call, will you? I have to go. There's a conference call I have to attend ...


Looking for ways to improve your speaking abilities? Here are four more resources:

Announcement: Operator Answered Call Reporting Graph

When you have an operator answered conference call, you will get a line chart that shows you the progression of your attendees at various times.

This data is a compilation of the information that you can collect from the CSV file found on your account after each conference. What we do is plot it along a line graph so that you can see your average call time and your maximum number of users. Charts are much more fun to look at than Excel spreadsheet files.

We want to make sure that you can see how your conference calls work and how your participants are responding. Maybe you are unnecessarily overbooking for your conferences or this data might show you how you can break up your calls and maintain your participant count.

If you receive one of these graphs and have some feedback, we'd love to hear what you think. Is something missing? Maybe we can add data that you would like to see to it. Give us a call at 800.989.9239 to discuss the graph or if you have any other questions.

International Conference Call Options

Not too long ago one of my favorite customers sent me an email inquiring about international conference calls. If you need to provide a way for participants outside of the United States or Canada to join your conference call we have three different options for international dialing.

Option One: Participant Pays Long Distance / International Fees. This option requires no changes on how you use or are billed for your services. Anywhere in the world, a participant can call into a direct access number and be joined to the conference. You’re billed whatever is standard for your account and they are billed on their phone bill what their provider will charge. This option is best for those who rarely have a need for international conferences or are one of our flat rate customers.

Option Two: International Toll Free. From Argentina to Venezuela on this list of rates these countries can be provided their own toll free access into our conference bridges. You rates for domestic callers (US / Canada) stay the same and the rate for international depends on the country that connects. There is usually no charge to participants in these countries and requires a new conference line on your account.

Option Three: Most countries can be dialed to from within in our system and brought into the conference line without any additional charges to them. For many of the countries there is little to no change in your per minute per person rate. Some countries are not available for outdial and we can either add a new conference line or activate this option on a conference existing on your account.

Depending on what option you choose or how your account is set up, we might ask for you for an additional form to be sent back to us. International can be activated for specific users of your account in order to limit cost and availability for the services. If you need international conferencing added to your account or have any questions about how it works or the pricing for outdial rates, just give us a call and we can help.

Transcription Services

Transcription services may be at an extra cost but there are unique benefits to using them that you might not think about. Usually, we think about transcriptions we think about them for medical purposes or legal documentations of conversations and while these are great uses of a transcription there are many more reasons that adding this service to your conferencing routine can benefit your business in a number of ways.

Here’s a couple of other ways that AccuConference customers are making transcriptions a part of their usual conference calls routine.

  1. Any conversation that is “on the record” should be transcribed so that there is no deviation from what was said. Recording your conference calls is one way to get extra posterity for conversations, but a transcription can be sent out to those who want to keep written documentation.
  2. For videos not only are you making the content within in the video able to be crawled by search engines, you’re also providing an easy way to mark sections for editing. If you’re reviewing a video and need to send a few more notes over to the editor, you can transcribe the text with a timestamp feature and highlight the times that require additional review. This makes it easier for the editor to go into your video and make quick changes. The process speeds up when the editor doesn’t have to go searching for phrases and gestures to remove.
  3. Under Regulation Fair Disclosure mandated by the SEC in 2000, requires that any information released to investors or analysis must be made public. The purpose of the regulation was to even the playing field between all kinds of stock holders and prevent the large investment companies from getting a “heads up” on information that could affect stock prices. Regulation FD requires broad dissemination to the public of stock information and is usually done by conference call playback or by a transcription.
  4. News stories are optimized for mobile devices when you include the transcription of the video together. I check my news applications constantly and I am more likely to “read” a story than to stop and watch the accompanying video on my phone. It will also make your news stories accessible to people who do not have the latest smartphone technology or have access to cool tablet computers.
  5. Did I mention that the content of your conference call suddenly becomes searchable? Imagine that you get an opportunity to host an incredible interview with someone and you upload it to your website and hope that people are able to find it. If you can post the text on your website somewhere your interview content can be returned as a result in Google search.

What useful things can you think of for having conversations transcribed?

How to Better Manage Your Mandatory Meetings

Can you believe it’s almost September? Where has this month gone? Here in Texas, we’re looking forward to getting rid of the heat and bringing in the best season ever - fall. As exciting as the fall season is, one thing that is also on the way is your beginning and end of the month responsibilities. It could be something as simple as updating spreadsheets or it’s time for your monthly conference calls again.

Consider a registration page for your weekly and monthly status meetings. Registration pages do a lot more than simply creating a link for signing up. If you’ve found that your weekly or monthly meetings have been a bit out of control from people not attending or unwanted participants, a registration page adds the security and tracking abilities for your mandatory meetings.

Check attendance for those calls that can’t be missed. When company policy changes, it often requires a company-wide sign off and understanding from the employees affected by the changes, and using a registration page is a great way to keep track of compliance. When someone registers for a call, the host will be able to keep track of registrants along the way and be able to go back and see who dialed into the conference, and who didn’t.

Send reminders to your participants. Human beings are naturally forgetful and when it comes to important can’t be missed meetings you can set up registration pages to automatically send participants reminders to attend these compliance calls. This way even if they forget to put a call reminder on their own calendar, our system will send them an email up to one hour before the start of the call to remind them to attend.

Manually approve or deny registrations. In our March newsletter, we talked to the author of the Modern Meeting Standard and one of the suggestions in the book is to make sure that you are only inviting the people who have to attend the meeting. If there is no need for the CEO / VP / Marketing Manager to be on the call, then they shouldn’t attend and with a manual process you can deny their participation. It will also help to make sure that only employees are able to attend your conference and keep press or competitors off conferences with sensitive information.

Conference code security options. When using a registration page to boost security and check attendance, our recommendation is that you set up the conferences codes to fall under what’s called “one code at a time” so that the conference codes cannot be handed out to others to use. The first person to call into the conference will be the one that can use the code. While it’s not a perfect system of being able to validate who the person is when they join, it will help the conference from having lots of unexpected guests dialing in on one conference code.

These are just some things that can be done to increase security and hold participants accountable when it comes to attending mandatory meetings.

NBC Olympics Coverage Inspires Thoughts on Customer Service

Image Credit to Dave Catchpole

On a fateful summer evening in 1996, my mom and I were cuddled up on the couch, eating popcorn, and alternating between crying and screaming in joy at the TV as the United States Women won Olympic team gold in gymnastics. For those of you who remember that moment, let us all close our eyes and remember the power of “You can do it, Kerri!” and the one-legged flamingo landing that was just epic. (For those of you too young to remember this moment, I’m so sorry – Go watch it on YouTube, immediately.)

Here we are in 2012 and the world has changed drastically. Technology has improved giving us the power to have news feeds and up to date information. There was a lot of talk on Twitter and other networks about the failures of NBC in providing the kind of Olympic coverage that people want. The general response from the folks at NBC has been (in paraphrase) “deal with it”. However, for the Olympic audience it’s not that simple and some lessons can be learned from this attitude.

It’s about giving your customers what they want and not what you think “matters”.

For the next two days, people who want to watch the events of the gymnastics finals will have to avoid the Internet in its totality, and for some, that’s a really difficult thing to do. While you can stream the coverage live on NBC websites, there are a couple of problems with that option – which are not limited to the fact that events are interrupted every three minutes with commercials.

When a customer contacts your company, you have to think about what you are doing for them and not just for yourself. Especially in the case like NBC, where they are the only people broadcasting the Olympic coverage, there seems to be an attitude of “we will show you what you want when you want it”. While NBC will probably win because they don’t have any competition, I don’t know how many of us will continue tuning into NBC when the Olympics are all said and done.

Create an experience.

Okay, picture this – there’s one event left in the team final and there’s a tenth of a point separating gold and silver. You know you have to go to sleep soon because it’s getting late, but you’ve got time to stay up and see who wins gold. Cut to Bob Costas announcing that they are going to switch over to swimming coverage and “will return to the gym shortly”.

You want a customer to feel involved and like the voice they have in your company matters. The parallel to draw here is that the folks over at NBC are you going to make you watch the events they think you should watch, when they think you should watch them. Could you imagine if we modeled our businesses like that and shaped customer service around the ideas that “we will do what we think you need”?

It’s really in NBC’s best interests.

Maybe it’s just the child in me who remembers the feeling and thrill of watching the Magnificent Seven in 1996, but I want to see it live. If I know the US isn’t going to win gold the likelihood that I just DVR or watch the highlights increases. I want to feel every nail biting second. It’s in NBC’s best interests to show me the most popular events when they air instead of a patch work of events that they scatter over six hours.

When it comes to customers, doing what you can to give them what they really want always holds a benefit to your company. While you can’t make every little change that a customer requests, you have to listen to them in a collective fashion. It could be something that is genuinely broken on your site. Recently, we realized that we had a lot of information on our site and that it could be a bit overwhelming for customers trying to find us, so we cut it down and streamlined it.

Other Networks Should Help

While NBC doesn’t need the help with broadcasting, it would be nice to see other news networks (local and nationally) try to quell the information that is no doubt going to infiltrate you. Yesterday, before NBC aired the swimming finals, our local station spoiled that a local swimmer set a world record and took gold in the 100M butterfly.

If they want to run the story, I’m ok with that, but at least don’t put the result in the headline where I’m completely spoiled if I even open the application. It’s a matter of balancing what the customer wants and what you want to give them.

For the next two days, I will do my best to avoid the entirety of the internet so that I can watch my finals in the evenings, even if it will be spread out over a matter of six hours. What do you think about the overall feeling around NBC’s coverage of the Olympics? Are we overreacting or is there something to be said for the lack of live coverage?

Should I Switch to VoIP?

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a popular phone service that is currently implemented across businesses and homes. In 2011, the revenue for VoIP services was up 16% to $58 billion, and the growth is expected to continue. While VoIP is a cost effective means of phone communications, it might not always be the best choice when it comes to making a change.

Am I On VoIP?

Popular communication services like Vonage and MagicJack are some of the most obvious providers of VoIP services, but the migration and acceptance of VoIP providers has occurred across the board. If you’ve signed up for phone services through your cable company, you can tell if you have VoIP by looking at your modem and identifying a phone line plugged in. If you use a dialing pad on your computer or must be connected to an Internet connection to make your call, you have a VoIP service.

What’s a Packet?

Think of a packet like a tweet. You have a limited amount of space (140 characters) to send at a time, so with a longer message, you have to send multiple tweets. In order to adequately communicate, all of the tweets must be received / read in order. A VoIP package is a small piece of your message that is broken out from your communications.

Why Do Packets Matter?

The proper delivery of these packets is essential to communicating with VoIP. When the packets aren’t delivered correctly you get interference on your call like voices that cut in and out, or sound like they are under water. Some VoIP providers do a practice called “redundancy” where they create duplicates of the same package to safeguard against lost pieces of the message.

Internet Speeds Matter

Because your phone call is broken down into these packages and travel across the Internet transmission lines when the transmission speed is slow or clogged by other transmissions it can affect the quality of your call. Imagine you have opened ten YouTube videos and they are all loading at the same time, each new video that you are trying to load slows the time of the first one. It’s the same thing when your phone calls are traveling across data lines. As you try to do more on the web while trying to make a call over VoIP, the lower the quality will be. When making a call using a VoIP provider, limit your internet activity to ensure that your line is dedicated to transmitting your call.

Is VoIP Bad?

The answer to this question is not a clear cut yes or no. The best way to answer is to say that it really depends on what kind of VoIP system you are using. The major names in the phone industry (AT&T, Qwest) typically provide pretty reliable services, where the “plug in to your computer” devices may cause more problems than the money worth in what you’re saving. We’ve provided an in depth break down of what constitutes Good VoIP and Bad VoIP.

So should you switch to VoIP? The honest answer is that it really depends on who you are choosing as your service provider and what kind of speed you have with the Internet.

5 Myths that Make Meetings Unbearable

Were you told to set up a conference call today? Did you groan, roll your eyes, or curl up in the fetal position on the floor? That’s a shame – meetings aren’t bad, it is the way that we think they should be conducted that are.

Here are six myths about meetings that mean participants will be bored and as the presenter, you can’t wait for it to be over with a tip to bust the myth and get your participants engaged.

  1. The more people that attend the better your meeting will be.
  2. Wrong. If you’re putting a meeting together to follow up with a development project, you may not need to invite the sales department. The Modern Meeting Standard suggests asking if the presence of one person would dramatically shift a decision making vote. If yes, they need to attend, if no, then they can probably skip this one. (Al Pittampalli put together a great book and you can check out a more in depth interview with him in our April Newsletter)

  3. Everyone is paying attention.
  4. A lot of presenters think that once they send out the invitation and conference call information that their work is done. The truth is that it takes a lot of work to keep participants engaged during the conference call. Many participants just put their phone on mute so that the rest of the conference doesn’t hear them working or playing games on their phone. Things like Q&A sessions, polling, or even getting interactive on social networks during your presentation are great ways to keep participants engaged.

  5. Reading from slides is the same thing as “making a presentation”.
  6. No. The golden rule of presentation is never read from your slides. Slides are a guide to prevent the speaker from losing their place and to visually stimulate your participants along the way. Instead of filling slide after slide with bullet points, use images and short statements to clue the participants into the information, but if you give it away on the slides – they will tune you out.

  7. Your agenda is a script.
  8. Much like the slides in Myth #3, the use of an agenda is sometimes distorted into being used as a script for the meeting. The agenda should be more of a guide to let participants know how the conference call time is going to be spent. For example, an agenda might say that from 9:00 – 9:30 will be Introduction, 9:30 – 10:30 Speaker, 10:30-11:00 Q&A. A meeting agenda works best when used as a short check list of how presenters plan on the time being used.

  9. Meetings that are blocked out for an hour must fill the whole hour.
  10. Don't fill time for the sake of taking up the entire hour. If you wrap up early or get through questions quicker than anticipated, go ahead and close out the conference. People will appreciate your effectiveness and be glad they have some extra time where they can get some other things taken care of. Nothing kills a meeting faster than when your participants feel like you're wasting their time.

Part of the thing that makes meetings and conferences a bit of a drag is the way the meeting is viewed. If we start small, dispelling some myths, and move on from there we are guaranteed to have more productive meetings and happy co-workers.

Five People Who Don't Need an Invitation to Your Next Conference Call

It's not always your fault when you invite a good number of participants to your conferences and then don't get many attendees. When people don't want to join your conference calls it's usually because they feel like it's not worth their time to do so and there could be a couple of reasons for that. One of those reasons could be who you're inviting to your conferences. Some attendees can cause distractions on your conferences and makes the people who need to join the conference find something else to do.

The next time you send out conference call invitations you should consider keeping these distractions off the list.

The Boss

Sometimes, having the boss on a conference call can be more of a distraction than benefit. When the boss gets on the line, he or she may see the conference call as an opportunity to bring up topics that they feel are very important but do not have anything to do with the agenda for your meeting. The boss will seieze the opportunity of having everyone on the phone at the same time as a great moment to update on policy changes or ask questions. If you want to stick to your agenda or need to adhere to very specific time constraints, it might be better to email your boss the highlights of the conference call after it's over.

The Notetaker

When meetings happen there is a natural flow of conversation that seems to happen and it can happen at a quick pace. When someone is trying to jot down the information that is being discussed on the conference, they can easily miss something important or have to ask everyone to slow down so that they can get all of the information. When you have a conference call, be sure to take advantage of the recording option so that all of the information is stored, and there's no need to invite the notetaker.

Your Customer

We all love our customers but many times they just need to be briefly updated on what's going on. They don't always need to be a part of your teams conference call. In fact, they may not want to be and just feel obligated to attend because you've invited them. It's another good reason to record the conference call so you can provide it to the customer later, if they ask for it, or for you to use to keep track of what you're working on for them.

The Traveling Person

Unless the person who is traveling is imperative to the success or failure of a conference call topic, they do not need to attend the meeting. Dealing with the traveling employee is another great opportunity to use recording your conference calls to your advantage. More than likely, they will be relieved that they don't have to try to attend a conference call in the middle of an airport terminal, and you'll be thankful that you don't have to hear flight annoucements in the middle of your conference.

Having a conference is important to advancing your business and your plans with customers, especially when you're scattered all over like a lot of employees are. Having the conference isn't nearly as important as making sure it was worth everyone's time to attend. The first thing to do when it comes to having better conference is trim the fat and only invite the people who absolutely need to attend.