What’s a “Call-to-Action” and Why do I Need One?

John Tabita

In his book, Getting Things Done, productivity guru David Allen advises that, whenever you feel stuck on a project, ask yourself, “What is the very next physical action step required to move the situation forward?” Applying this principle helps in both personal productivity and selling your services, because recommending or suggesting the next step is what’s known as a “call to action.”

When marketing or selling your services, whether it be face-to-face, over the phone, online or in print, a call to action, or CTA, tells your prospect what you want him or her to do next. What that “next step” is depends on your marketing objective. For selling web design and marketing services, that could result in:

  • Closing a sale
  • Setting an appointment
  • Generating a lead
  • Bringing someone into your marketing funnel

Of course, the objective depends on the context. For an informational blog post, the objective might be to have the reader download a white paper or subscribe to your email list. When contacting someone through a cold-call or a referral, the goal is to schedule an appointment.

Marketers call this a “conversion,” meaning the visitor took the action you intended him or her to take.

CTAs Aren’t Just for Your Website

BusinessDictionary.com defines a call-to-action as:

Words that urge the reader, listener, or viewer of a sales promotion message to take an immediate action, such as “Write Now,” “Call Now,” or (on Internet) “Click Here.” A retail advertisement or commercial without a call-to-action is considered incomplete and ineffective.

The real world of face-to-face selling also requires a call-to-action. While I don’t recommend shoving a contract under your prospect’s nose and urging him to “sign here,” there are effective ways to move the sale forward.

The Worst Answer You Can Hear in a Sales Call

Most of us think “no” is the worst response a potential client can mutter. But “maybe” is far worse.

“Maybe” often disguises itself as “Let me think about it and get back to you” or “I need to talk this over with my wife/husband/business partner.” Asking the right questions beforehand will prevent you from getting blindsided by these types of responses. But if your goal is to avoid “no” at all costs, you’ll be indirect and wishy-washy instead of directly asking for the sale. Sometimes, the best conclusion is getting to “no” as quickly as possible.

The “ABCs” of Closing

In sales circles, the acronym ABC stands for “Always Be Closing.” While that may conjure up images of the overly aggressive and pushy salesperson, most of us are tuned into an entirely different station—NBC: “Never Be Closing.” Yet without some type of close, even the best salesperson will struggle to get sales.

Whether it’s online through the written word or face-to-face, the buying process is pretty straightforward. Your prospect reads or hears the sales presentation and learns what he needs to know to make a purchase decision. Once that happens, there’s a logical “next step” that ought to be suggested. In face-to-face selling, that could be you, the salesperson:

  • Directly asking for the business
  • Asking what the logical next step is
  • Explaining the next step in your process and asking if he’d like to move forward
  • Suggesting the next step

Keep in mind that you don’t want to add unnecessary steps, like writing a proposal when the prospect hasn’t asked for one. In other words, what’s the quickest route to closing this deal and what must you say to obtain it?

Moving from Theory to Practice

Mastering this isn’t rocket science. You just need to know where to start. Here’s your next action step:

Selling web development is complicated, so you want to gather just enough information about the project scope to quote a price. Imagine yourself sitting with a prospect, having just done that. Now, picture yourself summarizing what the prospect’s just told you (based on your conspicuous note-taking). After he confirms that your summarization is accurate, ask yourself: “What is the very next physical action step required to move this situation forward?”

Now break out pen and paper and write down each of the four bullet points above, leaving enough room below each to write out a script for each scenario. Planning out in advance what you’re going to say is a powerful tool to train yourself how to better sell your services. There are natural-born salespeople who think fast on their feet. Then there are those of us who are more comfortable behind a computer and need time to think before we speak.

Once you’ve developed some scripts, practice them out loud. Feel free to tweak them until they sound completely natural.

Next, join my new Google+ community and share what you’ve written to get some feedback from me and some colleagues. Growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Join today and get connected!

Now that’s a call-to-action.

Image credit

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • Stevie D

    With anything, it’s important to know when to let go, but hard to cut those emotional ties. You’ve invested time and energy into getting this far with the client, getting them interested, doing the groundwork … so obviously you want them to say “yes”. If they say “no”, that time and energy feels like it’s been wasted, it feels like you have failed to sell and so you want to undo that failure. (No matter that you might have learned something from the process about how to target your next pitch better, and no matter that any sensible sales strategy will allow for time spent going down dead ends and blind alleys). So if you can get them to avoid saying “no”, it feels like you haven’t wasted that time.

    Of course, what we know is that all you’re doing by pressing them for a “maybe” is havering, procrastinating, and wasting more time and energy chasing a lead that isn’t going anywhere. But it takes a lot of experience and a lot of detachment to realise that there comes a point when you’re better off cutting your losses and moving on.

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      I read recently that you should never enter into a pricing discussion that you’re not willing to walk away from. I’ve always held that sales is like dating. Wanting them less makes them want you more.

      • http://redgiantdesign.co.za Mark Atkinson

        By that analogy, I’m spot on with my latest post, entitled “Why You Won’t Be My Next SEO Client.” ;)

        Great article, John. CTAs have always, and will continue to be, crucial to the sales process.

  • http://locable.com Brian Ostrovsky

    Definitely a good article and quite timely. So often we forget that people like to take shortcuts and a call to action is a short cut – provided the person is interested.

    I just wrote a blog post last week about the importance of a call-to-action even in things like theater – it’s important to “pause for the applause” for instance.

    Online, offline, interpersonally, having a good understanding of what you want someone to do and them clearly communicating that is critical.

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      I agree 100% with the theater analogy. I once watched a live talk by Zig Ziglar. A number of times, he said comments that were downright hilarious, but he didn’t pause enough for it to sink in and get a laugh; he moved on too quickly. In both comedy and sales, timing is everything.