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

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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.

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John TabitaJohn Tabita
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Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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