Before a sales team can effectively connect with a prospective customer and pitch a company’s products or services, someone must establish an appointment for both the sales representative and the customer (or the customer’s buyer) for that sales call to take place. The sales call is usually scheduled by someone at the selling company who telephones the prospect or lead and makes arrangements for the sales representative to call on the lead on a specific date and time and at the lead’s preferred location. While appointment setting sounds rather easy and simplistic, the truth can be far more complex. Appointment setters or appointment schedulers deploy strong communications, interpersonal and persuasive skills in identifying qualified leads and convincing them to agree to listen to the company’s sales pitch.
An appointment setter is a member of the sales function of a business whose primary responsibility is to contact leads, prequalify them and persuade them to agree to appointments with sales representatives to discuss the company's products.
An appointment setter, or appointment scheduler, is a member of the sales team at least in function, if not literally part of the sales department according to the firm’s organizational chart.
These individuals use contact data they’re given, usually as either a spreadsheet or printed document of some sort, that comprise a list of potential prospects or leads for the company. The document may be sorted by area code, ZIP code or some other metric. The appointment setter then begins to contact each lead in order of whatever prioritization parameters have been assigned, with twin goals. First, the appointment setter tries to identify the likeliest purchasers among the list of leads. This is a process known as “qualification,” and its sole aim is to weed out people or businesses that are not quite yet ready to make a purchase from those who are ready to buy. Second, the appointment setter wants to get those qualified leads to agree to a specific appointment for a sales call.
In other words, with only a few minutes of conversation the appointment setter must be able to gauge a prospective customer’s true level of interest, the ability to buy and the readiness to make a purchase.
These twin goals mean that appointment setters are more than mere clerical workers. They must be familiar enough with the company to explain the items or services for sale. They must also be persuasive enough to convince an otherwise-qualified lead to take a chance on the company and allow one of its sales representatives to take up time and attention during business hours.
Although there are certain similarities between appointment setters and telemarketers, there is one crucial difference between the two. Telemarketers place calls (cold calls, typically) to prospects in order to sell products or services directly to the prospects. Appointment setters call prospects in order to confirm meetings at which sales representatives will demonstrate, explain and attempt to sell the company’s products or services to the prospect, but they do not engage directly in sales themselves.
Another key difference between a telemarketer and an appointment setter is that the appointment setter works with qualified prospects and may be directly engaged in prequalification activities during the telephone call. This helps the sales professionals who ultimately are responsible for closing the sale by ensuring they spend the majority of their time and effort on prospects who are actually interested in the product or service in question.
Although the above definition may seem fairly straightforward, the question still remains: What does an appointment scheduler do?
To better understand the job duties of an appointment setter, it helps to understand where the appointment setter position fits in to the company’s overall relationship with any prospect or lead. Although individual companies and industries adjust and refine the sales funnel process to suit their own needs and contextual differences may require a different approach altogether, in general terms, a company uncovers or captures a lead (i.e., the prospective customer and all of the customer’s relevant contact and other information) through marketing.
The marketing department then collates information and data on all of its leads and passes that data to the appointment setter, who then follows up with the lead and seeks to qualify him or weed him out. Once the appointment setter secures a qualified lead’s consent to a sales call (or the equivalent thereof), the lead is passed on to the sales team. Leads who were not deemed qualified during the appointment setter’s call may be returned to marketing to be nurtured and developed further. Finally, when a lead becomes a paying customer, he is passed along to account management and customer service.
Within this chain of events, the appointment setter plays a crucial role. The primary job function is to place outgoing telephone calls to the listed leads, qualify or weed them out and secure an appointment for a sales call. During this important call, the appointment setter will also be expected to be able to answer important questions leads may have about the company’s product or service.
To help appointment setters successfully perform their job functions, companies usually give them a prepared script to use as a framework for each call. However, successful appointment setters never rely solely on those scripts. Instead, they use the scripts as backup and support while remaining alert and engaged enough to respond authentically yet professionally to new questions and concerns raised by the prospects.
Appointment setters may also be expected to take incoming calls from leads who have questions or would like to learn more about the company’s products. This occurs most often in situations where the leads received marketing materials, either in print or perhaps online through a coupon or ad campaign. If the prospective customer takes the initiative of calling the company herself instead of waiting to be contacted for a sales call, her level of interest is usually deemed high enough to be qualified for a sales call appointment.
Companies also usually expect their appointment setters to do basic data entry into computer programs known as customer relationship management applications. These programs help a company’s sales and marketing employees monitor, track, contact and nurture leads throughout the company’s buying process in hopes of converting them into satisfied customers. Information pertaining to appointments set and the questions posed during the setter’s conversation with the lead may also be captured here.
Appointment setting is generally considered an entry-level position that is part of the sales function in the company and that serves as a proving ground for future representatives to demonstrate their sales skills and ability to represent the company in a positive way that helps grow the brand. As a result, the company considers both basic job skills – those skills that make an individual employable, for example – and potential as a sales representative.
The basic requirements for seeking a position as an appointment setter include a high school diploma or the equivalent, competence with basic computer programs (keyboarding, mouse usage, data entry, etc.) and excellent interpersonal and telephone skills. Since most of the work of an appointment setter takes place in two key contexts – speaking to prospects on the telephone while keying in specific data on the computer – employers highly prize an applicant’s competence and confidence in both contexts.
To maximize your chances of securing an appointment setter position, follow these tips:
- Research the company before your interview. Understand the role of the appointment setter, the company’s major product and service lines and a bit of the company’s history. To really excel here, know who the company’s key competitors are.
- On the day of your interview, dress professionally and arrive early. Be as friendly and outgoing as you can naturally be with everyone you meet. You’ll be evaluated long before and after the actual interview, so be precise and intentional in your demeanor and interactions with others in particular.
- After the interview, follow up with a personal thank-you note. Connect with individuals you met on LinkedIn, if possible. Find an interesting new article about something you discussed in your interview and email it along with your thank-you note.
The average salary for an appointment setter in the United States ranges from $18,000 to $33,000 annually. The median salary is approximately $21,000. For companies that compensate appointment setters on an hourly basis as opposed to an annual salary, the average hourly rate for new appointment setters is between $11 and $13 per hour.
Appointment setters may work directly for a company selling its own products and services or for an outsourcing company, contracted out to provide appointment setting services for many clients.
Most appointment setters seek the position as a stepping stone on the way to a sales position. In order to maximize your chances of obtaining that ultimate position, you’ll want to ensure you do the best job you possibly can, particularly with respect to your core function: successfully setting sales call appointments with prospective customers.
To do this, first and foremost you should refine your script to suit your personality and speech patterns while still retaining the essence of the company’s words, but always make sure you have permission before personalizing your script. Some companies may insist on a word-for-word delivery. The best scripts in this context will always sound relaxed and authentic and never rote or rehearsed.
Unless you’re instructed otherwise, try to deliver your script using a vocabulary and structure that are natural to you. This is the best way to ensure the conversation with the prospect goes well and keeps you in a frame of mind that lets you “go with the flow” and respond moment by moment to the prospect’s needs and questions. A verbatim recitation can sound forced and can make it more difficult for you to stay in the moment with the prospect.
Work on perfecting an enthusiastic vocal tone to make it seem that you’re excited about the product or service you represent. Changes in vocal inflection, tone, volume and stress make your voice more interesting to listen to and discourage hang ups.
Listen carefully to your prospect. Pay attention to the lead’s voice, tone, speed, pitch and other nonverbal cues that will help you intuit whether to qualify this lead or pass the lead back to marketing.
Respect the lead’s decision as well, whether the answer is a firm “no” or a “not right now” and respond accordingly. At the same time, it’s important to know how to respond to expressions of resistance or pushback. Have an answer prepared for the most common objections. If the lead says it’s not a good time to talk, ask to schedule a call at a more convenient time.
If the prospect turns you down flat, it’s wise to inquire in a polite manner for the prospect’s rationale. In the aggregate, this information helps you know when and how to change your pitch.