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Online Appointment Scheduling Tips for Networking and Sales

Updated on May 4, 2016
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.

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If you're in a consulting business, you no doubt have received these calls at some point:

Call Scenario #1: "Do you have a minute to talk?"

Call Scenario #2: "Email me some days and times that are good for you."

Call Scenario #3: "Call me anytime."

Ever get annoyed when you get these requests from clients or networking chums? I do. (Though I'll admit I've occasionally been guilty of making these requests, too.) They seem innocent enough. Those in consulting professions want to accommodate important clients and colleagues. But these non-specific, randomly received requests for your time can be devastating to your day and the sales dollars you bring in to your business.

What's so bad about them?

Call Scenario #1: The Hour-Long Minute
You know that these calls are never just "a minute." Sometimes those "quick" randomly received phone calls can steal up to 15, 30 or more minutes of your day. Plus, the risk of brain picking can be extremely high in these situations. Then there's recovery time to get back on track, mentally and emotionally, sometimes even physically. Click here if you're tired of getting brain picked.

Call Scenario #2: Scheduling Merry-Go-Round
This sounds accommodating to the other party. But what usually happens is that you'll send an email saying such-and-such days and times are good. Then the requester fires back that none of those work for him and that this-or-that time would be better. You look at your calendar and see that the alternate time doesn't work. "How about..." Welcome to the scheduling merry-go-round! An appointment request exchange could mean up to 3, 4, 5 or more emails to confirm.

Call Scenario #3: Anytime Tag
Like the scheduling merry-go-round, this looks like the appointment requester is being accommodating. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that you will likely reach the requester's voice mail, You leave a message. The appointment requester then tries to reach you when you're not available and gets your voice mail. Tag, you're it! Click here for tips on phone message etiquette.

This is why I now insist that my clients and colleagues schedule a phone or Skype appointment with me via my online appointment scheduling calendar.

Benefits of Using Online Appointment Scheduling

What can online appointment scheduling do for you?

  • Give Clients and Colleagues Choice (But You're the Bigger Winner!). Instead of you getting stuck in the scheduling merry-go-round or anytime tag game, online appointment scheduling puts the onus on clients and colleagues to go through the process of picking a time. Plus, they feel like they are in control of the situation, even though you gain even more by narrowing their field of choice to what works best for you. See why giving too many choices can kill sales.
  • Set a Standard of Service. Clients and networking pals can have unrealistic expectations when it comes to communication frequency, duration and availability. Sending these folks to book appointments online, instructing them to pick a specified time slot (with available time slots designated by YOU!), you let them know that you're expecting this interaction to occur at a certain time and for a certain time. Discover ways to avoid selling impossible levels of service.
  • Encourage Undivided Attention. Admit it. When you get an unexpected, lengthy phone call at an inconvenient time for you, you are usually paying half attention to the caller while you attend to what you were doing at the moment. This problem escalates if taking these calls while driving, increasing the risk of an accident, especially if the call has a strong emotional element. Better to schedule a time when both you and the caller can pay full attention to each other and the topic at hand.

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Tips for Effectively Using Online Appointment Scheduling

While online appointment scheduling has many advantages, there are some aspects that do need to be addressed when considering use of these systems.

  • Evaluate Your Sales Funnel and Process. How do you instruct your customers to contact you on your website, business cards and other marketing collateral? If you don't want them to initially contact you by phone, don't include your phone number! Make it crystal clear how you want people to engage with you. See why I don't include my phone number on my business cards or website... but why you might want to.
  • Keep in Sync. CAUTION! If you use online appointment booking for your customer-facing calendar AND a separate personal calendar (paper or electronic), make sure to update your personal calendar every time a new appointment request is received. On the flip side, remember to block out unavailable time in your online calendar every time book a commitment in your personal calendar.
  • Budget for Buffer and Break Time. Try as we might, sometimes phone or video chat calls don't always end on the exact minute booked. Plus, you might need some downtime to get ready for what's next on your calendar after that. Buffer time to the rescue! Be realistic about how much time you need to allow for appointments that run over, switching gears and recovery. Also, if you have standing commitments or activities during your business day which would not allow you to accept appointments, block out those periods as break time in the calendar so that it shows you as unavailable. And don't forget to block out weekends or other R&R time! See your online scheduling system's documentation to find out how to allow for buffer time and break time in your appointment calendar.
  • Virtual versus In-Person. Virtual phone and video chat appointments are easiest to manage with an online appointment scheduler. In-person appointments, especially those that require travel on your part, are not and may be impossible to manage with this type of system. Limiting online booking to just phone or video chat appointments is highly recommended. As noted above, just make sure that you update and sync your calendars for any in-person appointments you book outside your online scheduler. See why setting your sales territory is so important.
  • Set Business Hours. Online appointment scheduling systems often allow you to post your "business hours." This does not mean the actual hours you work! (Many small business owners seem to work 24/7!) Rather, these "business hours" are those when you will allow people to book appointments with you. Carefully evaluate what days and times are most convenient and effective for you and your market.
  • Set a Lead Time and Scheduling Window. Set a lead time for how much advance notice you need to receive prior to the requested appointment. A week? One day? A few hours? Also, you'll need to set a scheduling window limiting how far in advance will you allow people to request your time. Months? A year? Online calendar systems usually allow you to set these parameters to prevent impossible appointment requests.
  • Offer Easy Linking to Your Online Calendar. Online appointment scheduling systems may give you a link to your online calendar that you can share. Sadly, these links may be long strings of random characters that are unwieldy and impossible to remember. Offer a "click here" type text link for this long URL or create a custom short link (such as a customized bit.ly link) that is easy to remember for use in emails. Some online appointment systems may allow embedding a booking calendar on your website, but USE WITH CAUTION! For security purposes, you may NOT wish to make your calendar available to anyone online. Carefully consider the consequences of making your calendar publicly available before linking or embedding on your website.

Doctors typically require you to make appointments with them. They (and you!) realize their time and expertise are valuable. Requiring your clients and colleagues to make appointments makes a statement that you value your time and expertise... and theirs, too.

— Heidi Thorne

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne

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    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 11 months ago from USA

      I agree that setting a specific time to meet with colleagues and clients is an excellent idea. However, I often find that online scheduling leads to technology fails, misunderstandings, and general problems. A lot of these problems come from people using sites or apps that they're not completely familiar with, or they allow other people access to their calendar and sometimes double-book themselves. Backing up your online calendar with a paper calendar is a good Plan B, but can be a lot of work. I'm not sure there is a perfect way to handle online scheduling, but I appreciate your suggestions.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Great tips as always. This one, like so many others, is going in the Heidi File for later reference, since I can't seem to remember much these days. LOL Happy Hump Day my friend.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      Wow, billybuc, there's a Heidi file? I'm honored to have a place in your space. :) With all that you have going on, I'm surprised you even have time to remember stuff like this. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      Purl3agony, I agree, online scheduling can sometimes be more hassle than it's worth. I've seen the problems you've noted firsthand. You're right, it's likely due to not knowing how to use the calendar system. There is a learning curve for sure. I don't know if there's a perfect solution either... at least not yet. But I'll remain hopeful. Thanks so much for adding that additional insight to the conversation! Have a wonderful day!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This article contains some great advice that makes a lot of sense to me. It doesn't apply to my life at the moment, but it may one day. I think that I need to start a Heidi file, too!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi AliciaC! One day it certainly might apply. You never know! :) If you do start a "Heidi file," I'd be honored. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a delightful Mother's Day Weekend!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 11 months ago from USA

      Excellent advice. People tend to treat you in accordance with what you will allow. Thus, communicating parameters and expectations in the ways that you have outlined says that your time and expertise are valuable, they need to be as prepared and focused as you are when connecting, and they'll have to share you with other people who have needs too.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      Got that right, FlourishAnyway! I've had a much better experience with both prospective and existing clients since I started using strategies like these. Thanks for adding that additional insight to the conversation! Hope your weekend calendar is filled with fun and relaxation! :)

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 11 months ago from Oklahoma

      Great tips!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 11 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Larry! Thanks for stopping by and the kind words. Enjoy the Memorial Day holiday!

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