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Cell Phone Etiquette for Salespeople: Remember, Professionalism Always Is Paramount

Categories: Workplace Etiquette

salesetiquetteWhat separates an outstanding salesperson from one who isn’t so good?

I’d have to say attention to detail, good customer service, a good bedside manner, and excellent business etiquette are some of the keys to success.

It really doesn't matter what you're selling -- cars, real estate, insurance, etc. -- following the rules of professionalism in every customer encounter is paramount.

Customers like to feel that you care, and provide personalized attention -- when they are with a sales representative, they have his or her undivided attention. And they want to feel that way even if they don’t give you their undivided attention! Unfair, but that’s life.

So, what does that mean, business etiquette-wise, about whether it's acceptable to take calls on your cell phone while with a client?

I’m going to give you an answer in the gray zone: Sometimes you can, sometimes you should, and sometimes you definitely shouldn’t.

Here are some examples:

Quandry: You are with new clients, but you are also expecting an important phone call, one that will have negative consequences should you miss it.

Best etiquette practice: Inform your customers ahead of time. Say something simple along the lines of, “I always like to give my clients my undivided attention. But today, I’m waiting for an important client call about a deal in progress. I hope you’ll excuse me when it comes in.” This is professional to the max!

Caveat: Only answer that truly vital call. If your clients hear you discussing whether or not to have the dog groomed or where to make dinner reservations, your credibility will be blown. In fact, when that important call comes in, excuse yourself and go outside or into another room.

Can’t bear to not take a call or turn off your cell? Try to remember the time when the world -- and you, if you're a Generation X-er or Baby Boomer -- managed to function just fine before the existence of cell phones.

Remember, tolerance of cell-phone use is definitely generational. A 20-something Millennial (Generation Y-er) might not think anything if you answer your cell during a meeting or while closing a sale, but their parents or grandparents might find you extremely rude.

Even though these 20-somethings also might be on their phones the entire time, they will certainly notice if you turn yours off to give them your undivided attention. That kind of attention is getting increasingly rare in our world, and it is something everyone notices and appreciates.

But that leads us into our next business etiquette quandary. What if the proverbial shoe is on the other foot ...

Quandry: Your clients can’t seem to get off the phone long enough to keep a conversation on track or get anything done. Your time is frittering away, and your patience along with it. This is even trickier than the previous scenario, because you can control and change your own behavior. But what can you do about your clients?

Best Etiquette Practice: Again, prepare your clients up front, saying something like, “If you aren’t expecting any important calls, I’ve found this process works best if we both stay off our cells for the duration. That way, we can really focus and no important details will slip through the cracks.”

Caveat: Be prepared for resistance, pushback, and flat out non-compliance. I’d suggest practicing how you say this one -- be very careful to make sure you don’t come off sounding like a parent, or someone demanding, condescending, impatient or holier-than-thou. You might never get a single client to actually turn off a device, but perhaps he or she will be somewhat more conscious about their behavior in the future.

More business etiquette questions? I discuss these types of manners mishaps and more in an article appearing in the July issue of Texas Realtor called "Excel with Etiquette." I'd be happy to answer any workplace etiquette questions you may have here, too -- just post your scenario, and I'll respond.

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