March 25, 2013

Don’t Fear the Phone

By: D.B. Atchison

Cold calling is rapidly becoming a lost art form in the tech savvy age of text and email, but it is an important skill for any young professional.

I have done a modest amount of cold calls over the years. When one first picks up the phone, it is incredibly awkward. You’re talking to a total stranger, and in many cases, you’re trying to get their money.  Many people follow scrawled down outlines of how they think a conversation should sound go forward, but rarely if ever does a call go as planned. The caller seems like a robot, following an algorithm that leads to the wallet of the person on the other end of the line.  Most people know within 10 seconds that you are calling to sell them something. They become disinterested, distant, and in some cases downright mean.

So, why call someone? Most people check their email more often than a watch these days. Wouldn’t it be easier to reach them there?

It’s true that people check email often, but that doesn’t mean that they will answer you. In most cases, your email will be deleted right off the bat- or worse- marked as junk so that any further attempts to reach the recipient end in the black abyss otherwise know as the “Junk Mail” folder.

Calling provides a path around that. It gives you an opportunity to put a voice to your “” email address. You’re not a robot, and people will appreciate that. Here are a few tips for making cold calls a little easier:

#1) Do not fear the phone.

Getting started is always the hardest part of cold calling, especially if you are new to it. You’re sitting at a desk, with a list of people in front of you. You know nothing about them except the general area where they live and their name. You don’t know what you’re going to say. You fear they will be extremely mean since you’re calling at 9 a.m. on a Monday. The last thing you want to do is pick up the phone.  Phone fright is hard to overcome because so few of us use the phone on a regular basis. Most of the time, I text my friends if I need to get in touch. If I’m calling someone its usually because something bad has happened.

The only way you can overcome phone fright is to jump in the deep end. That may not sound like great advise, but realistically there is no way to wade into the shallows, feel the water temperature, and decide IF you’re going to swim when you’re cold calling.  You have to jump in, because you need to sound confident. If you’re shivering at how cold a call is, your fear will be heard by the person you’re calling and you will lose control of the conversation.

#2) When calling someone, you’re not selling a product; you’re selling yourself.

You must be extremely personable to keep a person on a phone. This is not a skill you get overnight, and having a bad day will plague your calls no matter how practiced you are at cold calling. The best thing to do is try to stay relaxed, keep a smile on your face, and stay focused.  If you need a snack to make yourself feel better, get one. Sleepy? Have a coffee. If it makes you feel better, do it before you start calling.  Be upbeat, positive, and pleasant.  If you are happy, the person on the other end of the phone will be able to tell, and will be more responsive to the conversation.

#3) Ask a ton of questions

Questions will keep conversation flowing, and will give you ammunition to use later. This derives from the simple fact that everyone likes to hear themselves talk, and more than that, they like a good listener.  If you ask someone how their day is going, and they start talking about their child off at school or a broken down car, humor them. Ask about their problems even if it has nothing to do with why you called. It will make them like you. Of course, don’t let them go on for too long, look for places where you can ask them about their business or what they need to make their life easier. They may not know it, but they need you, and its your job to tell them why they need you.

#4) Make your pitch palatable. 

When you find out why a person needs you; you have to tell them why they need you and your product. Think about a pitch like this:

In a restaurant, you ask about the soup de jour. The waiter says. “tomato”. Ok tomato soup, its red and plain. I’m ordering something else. If instead the waiter said, “the soup de jour is an elegant tomato basil soup made with organic tuscan heirloom tomatos and basil grown in rich volcanic soil beneath the slopes of Mt Etna” you would be far more inclined to go with it. It is still a plain red soup, but the adjectives make it sound like you would find it on the Queens table in Buckingham palace.

A pitch is no different. Your product has to sound good even if its really not that special. The best pitch comes when you believe the product really will help your customer. Those are the easiest sells. Its the customers that don’t really need the product that are the hardest. That’s when the adjectives may make the sale or break it.

5) Some people are jerks

There are many people in the world who are just mean. They will insult you, badger you, and hang up on you. The phone puts just enough of a barrier between them and you that they have no fear of speaking their mind. You will not change some of these people.  The only way to deal with them is to pardon your interruption, and say you will try them later (even if they explicitly say they don’t want to talk to you). Let them calm down for a week or two, and they will have completely forgotten you.  Then try them again. Maybe they were just having a really bad day when you first called, they may be fine at a later date.  The key is not to let what they say hurt you. If they get under your skin, it will be evident to the next person you call. Stay positive and shrug off their insults. Calls will go poorly, and you have to accept that.

The tips listed above may seem like common sense, but I hope they help you out. Cold calls are difficult, but by staying positive and removing the fear from the phone, you can make a cold call feel like you’re chatting with an old friend.