6 Phone Skills To Use To Get Whatever You Want

by Sam Diener on March 2, 2010

Note: The following are merely suggestions.  Keep in mind that each person on the phone is different, and that you may have to vary your strategy based on the type of call you are making, and your audience.  Enjoy!

Unsolicited e-mail is for wimps. Just like anything else, you get what you pay for. It takes five minutes, and NO risk, to craft a well-formed e-mail. Maybe you even run the spell checker. Good job. You took the cheap way out.

One in a thousand times, your cold e-mail might work. (Spammers please feel free to shower me with your 80% ROI on e-mail marketing campaigns. I know you will.)

For you job seekers, please stop submitting your resumes to companies online. That’s just glorified e-mailing that makes you feel like you are doing something with your job search.

The reality is that, for cold e-mail, it takes a millisecond to delete.

The phone is better. It is SO much more effective than e-mailing your target. For sales, jobs, dates, or whatever else, the business rules of the phone are the same as any other social rules. But many people who are ineffective on the phone forget that. And they never get what they want.

Here are some tips:

  1. Your First Call Is About Building Rapport: This the old cellphonefirst rule does not necessarily apply if you are in a “time-crunch.” When you cold call someone, your goal is to make a connection. Whether it is a recruiter, sales manager, executive, or whomever else, you are simply attempting to build a rapport with that person. You want them to know who you are and be familiar with you. Did you notice how I said “first call?”

    Would you immediately start asking someone you just met at a networking event how much profit they made last year?  (PLEEEEASE tell me you said no!)  So do you think it is okay to start talking business with someone you just met, and aren’t even looking at, over the phone?   NO!  It’s actually rude to ask someone you don’t know about their personal business.

    So, your first call is an introduction. “Hello my name is Sam Diener. We haven’t spoken before so I wanted to make your acquaintance.” Go from there and don’t ask the person on the other end of the line for anything.  This is key.  DO NOT ASK THE PERSON ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE FOR ANYTHING.  Just attempt to exchange some small talk. You will surprise them, and they will usually be somewhat intrigued and pleasantly surprised you didn’t try to sell anything.

    Then when you call back, you have gone from being a no one, to an acquaintance.

  2. Know how you sound: I will tell you right now, most people who are sales people sound like exactly that on the phone. It’s a side effect of all of the coffee they have to drink to actually keep them making ineffective cold calls. Everyone knows the tone of a sales call when they hear it .  Therefore, you should try everything in your power to avoid sounding like this.  One important key is to match your vocal/emotional tone to the person who you are talking to. It makes the other person feel more comfortable, and this is SO important. If the person on the other end of the line is up and you are down, game over.  You want the person on the other end of the line to feel comfortable.  That starts with your voice.  This is your first impression, so you had better get it right.

    A quick side note that was brought to me by Laura Rivchun: “While it’s important to be aware of how you sound on the phone and if you’re matching the other person’s vocal/emotional tone, it’s equally important to sense if they can’t talk. That’s your cue to say, “you sound busy, is there a better time to call?” If someone’s about to go into a meeting, it’s not a good time to try and engage them. You’re starting off on the wrong foot. I’ve had many people who’ve done that with me and I don’t appreciate it. It tells me they’re not listening. Courtesy and appropriateness go a long way.”

  3. slamming the phone down

  4. Your goal is to get the other person talking about themselves: We are all guilty of this, myself included.  We simply forget that we are trying to have a conversation. While this is much harder to do on the phone when you don’t know someone, it’s still VERY important to do. Think about this conversation:

  5. Phone: “Ring Ring”
    Million Dollar Executive
    : “This is Mr. X”
    Sam Diener
    : “Hello Mr. X, My name is Sam Diener. I have a great widget for you. It does yadi yadi yada, ramble ramble ramble. How does that sound?”
    Phone
    : “Click.”


    Nice, eh? On the phone, I was quick to start talking. Immediately, the busy executive is listening to me talk about myself. I became just another cold caller. Game over.

    In fact, the first 3 seconds of any phone call are CRITICAL because that’s when the person on the other end of the line decides if they want to talk to you. And, of course, for anyone to want to talk to you, they have to like you, QUICKLY.

    So how do you do that?

    Let’s dust off my copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends And Influence People,” (which ironically was a gift from the absolute worst manager I ever had).  Looking at a summary of how to make people like you:

    1.  “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests”
    2.  “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely”
    3.  “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language”

    And I am going to harp on this last point for a second: when a person gives you their name, repeat it back to them in conversation at least three times!  If they don’t give you their name, ask for it….

    A quick tip on how to follow through with the 3 points above: Always ask questions about anything you can!  It gets the other person talking about themselves, which EVERYONE loves to do!

    So instead, your phone call goes something like:

    Phone: “Ring Ring”
    Million Dollar Executive: “This is X”
    Sam Diener: “Hello X, it’s Sam Diener.   I just was reading through the Wall Street Journal and heard you got promoted.  Congratulations!”
    Million Dollar Executive: “Why thank you.  Who is this again…”
    Sam Diener: “Well it’s funny you should ask, we are actually both good friends with Joe.  He was telling me he plays on your bowling team.   Joe and I bowl all the time.  How long have you bowled?”

    You might be saying, well you aren’t going to know all that before calling someone!   Well, I disagree, you MUST – which brings us to point 4…

  6. Do your research: In an age when everything is electronic, you had better know something about the prospect you are going after.   You have so many resources.  Linked-In.  Facebook.   Company websites.  Google.   You had better be using these.   If you are calling someone completely cold without doing ANY research, that’s just lazy.

    Time is a non-issue here.  If you are making one call, you probably want to be successful.  Therefore do your research!  If you are making a thousand calls, would you rather use research to WOW 20 or 30 of those contacts, or call every single one completely cold?

    Research makes leads warm. Make sure you get the research right though….

  7. funny phone

    Funny Note from Kellie the Editor: Kellie was an executive assistant (aka “Gatekeeper”) at a Chicago ISP back in 1998. Her bosses were Mike and Tracy. One day she got a call from a guy wanting to talk to either one of them, saying he was “good friends” with both Mike and Tracy. At first, it sounded like this person may have been genuine. He knew enough about the business and was very friendly with me. She was just about to put the call through when the salesperson said, “I knew Tracy when she and I lived in Florida. She was a real go-getter then, too.” She immediately took note of the phone number, name of the person and the company he worked for and decided not to put the call through and instead “take a message”. It turns out, while this person did know that Tracy lived in Florida at one time, he apparently didn’t do enough homework since he didn’t know that Tracy was a man. Game over for caller – permanently.

  8. Listen Up: There is a principle in medicine, which I honestly don’t believe is in any textbook, that says that any patient will tell you exactly what is wrong with them in approximately seven seconds;  You just have to listen.  Often what YOU  think is the problem is really not what ails someone.  In a phone call, if something is bothering the other party, a good listener will pick it up.

    Take a job listing for example.  Sometimes a posted job description only mildly matches the actual needs of the position.  If you were to call up and request to ask some questions about that position, and LISTEN to the response, you might be in a MUCH more competitive position to tailor your resume.

    If you are trying to drum up business, keep in mind that people generally have to personally say they need a service or a product for them to psychologically want it (from “Start With No” by Jim Camp).  Therefore your goal is to get them to realize they have a need and to talk about it.   You must listen for verbal clues someone gives you, and ask great questions to get to this.   Asking great questions to get someone to realize that they have a need takes practice.  People generally WILL hint at their needs with their words, and if you are truly listening, you will catch it.

  9. Let The Other Person Lead: No matter what, the other person is in control.  If you are going to get anywhere with them, you are going to have to let them lead you.  By this I mean to let them be in charge of the flow of conversation, the topics, etc.   Any time you call someone unexpectedly, you are on their time.  Many of the times when you are calling a manager, recruiter, etc, they are going to have a dominant personality.  If you try to control the  conversation (by talking too much without being asked to), they are probably going get annoyed or may even hang up.  Remember which person is the buyer here,  And he/she who has the gold, makes the rules.

    Once again, your goal is to make your contact on the phone feel comfortable with you, and to do this, you must take great care to follow points 2 and 5.    When someone feels comfortable with the conversation, he/she will realize that they would like to know about you, and will start asking you questions.   That is your opportunity to share what you have to offer.


Conclusions: I know you  have some good tips to share that I didn’t catch…. what are they?  If you don’t have any tips, what are some things that you want people to know when they call you?

Subscribe to Stuff For Success

Subscribe to the Stuff For Success feed via RSS or Email to receive notifications of new posts.




  • Mika Liss

    Thank you! Love what you wrote and it's helpful too.
    Dale Carnegie remains the best source.

  • http://www.annbarrblog.com/sales-tips/words-that-ruin-cold-calls/ Ann Barr

    Very, very good information. Thank you! Listening and letting the other person lead is critical. So glad you referred to the cold call as the first call because it is true – that is where the relationship begins. And some words used by telephone marketers absolutely ruin first calls.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Mika – thank you. I really like Dale Carnegie's stuff!

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Ann the article you wrote is very interesting. Don't hesitate to share a link here…

  • http://twitter.com/PPStelemarket Matthew Gethins

    Thank you for pointing out that the cold call is not dead…on the LinkedIN Inbound Marketing Group no less…Heresy! But I like it.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Challenge the status quo Matthew, right?

    Thank you!

  • http://www.english-pro.eu/ Lucy Cripps

    The more I read, Sam, the more I realise my perceptions of sales is/was stuck treading water back in the 90s.

    This article is inspiring and motivational. I may even manage to pick up my phone soon and leap over my ridiculous ‘can’t call’ barrier. You have described the way I always WANTED sales to work, but never believed it did.

    Coming from a teaching/writing background I only experienced about six months of ‘hands on’ saleswork (as an estate agent AND a double-glazing cold-caller!) suffice to say, the characters I came up against in both worlds managed only to confirm that stereotypical image of the bombastic, loud man, who refuses to be budged on his talk-them-into-submission rant, and when that fails gets rude!

    Thank you – and I’m looking forward to the next article :)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/laurarivchun Laura Rivchun

    Hi Sam,

    I enjoyed reading your article and you gave some great pointers.

    While it’s important to be aware of how you sound on the phone and if you’re matching the other person’s vocal/emotional tone, it’s equally important to sense if they can’t talk. That’s your cue to say, “you sound busy, is there a better time to call?” If someone’s about to go into a meeting, it’s not a good time to try and engage them. You’re starting off on the wrong foot. I’ve had many people who’ve done that with me and I don’t appreciate it. I tells me they’re not listening. Courtesy and appropriateness go a long way.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Laura – this is a very good point and something I forgot to mention.
    With your permission, I would actually like to add an addendum to the
    article and cite you. It should be a sidenote on that point…

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/laurarivchun Laura Rivchun

    I absolutely wouldn’t mind if you cited me in the article. Your website is loaded with great, informative articles. Not to mention the humor you inject. We’re fortunate how much information is at our fingertips because of the internet.

    Best to you and keep those articles coming!

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Challenge the status quo Matthew, right?

    Thank you!

  • Marty Reed

    Thanks for a great article. I'm always looking for great tips.

    One thing I teach people who are in business with me is phone etiquette. First, be dressed for business (even if you work from home), second smile (put a note on your phone if you have to) and most importantly ask if you are calling at a bad time. If you are, find out what is the best time to call back and do it. If you talk better standing up, then stand up or pace or whatever works best for you.
    Thanks again.

  • Tina

    Good article and great tips. I agree with all of your points especially the “listen” point. In today's society where things go from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds it is so important to slow down a bit and listen…and to your point, it's not about you, it's about who you are calling.

  • victoriaI

    Hey Sam, one essential point many people still don't seem to get is…figure out before the call how to pronounce the target's name! My last name, IPRI, is only four letters, but causes such difficulty, because there are several possible pronounciations. These days, we're all doing business in the same backyard. Some names can be quite unusual.
    How to know the correct way to say the name? Perhaps the person has participated in an audio or video presentation, so you can listen and hear the pronounciation. This takes research but it's well worth it. If you can't get this lucky, you may share a friend or colleagues who knows. If not, then simply ask your prospect, “I'm sorry. Can you help me with the correct pronounciation of your name?” This is far more acceptable to your prospect than butchering the thing and pretending it never happened. If that's how you want to play it, go to work as a telemarketer.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Victoria — this is a very good point. I can imagine that for the more
    difficult names, it is impressive and creates a great first impression
    if the caller gets it right!

  • William Lambert

    Great article!

    As a recruiter, I highly value a candidate that seems genuinely interested in a specific position, and asks pointed questions about the job itself. As a fan of Carnegie's book, I believe that the only thing better than a phone call is face-to-face interaction. We live in such a “me”-centric world; I am happy to see that people still promote being interested in what others have to say.

    Flipping some of these scenarios around, I think that a lot of recruiters out there need to learn the same lesson. A candidate will be so much happier to join a company when their first interaction is with someone who they feel cares about them and with whom they share a connection.

    Thank you, Sam, for a great piece!

  • victoriaI

    Hey Sam, one essential point many people still don't seem to get is…figure out before the call how to pronounce the target's name! My last name, IPRI, is only four letters, but causes such difficulty, because there are several possible pronounciations. These days, we're all doing business in the same backyard. Some names can be quite unusual.
    How to know the correct way to say the name? Perhaps the person has participated in an audio or video presentation, so you can listen and hear the pronounciation. This takes research but it's well worth it. If you can't get this lucky, you may share a friend or colleagues who knows. If not, then simply ask your prospect, “I'm sorry. Can you help me with the correct pronounciation of your name?” This is far more acceptable to your prospect than butchering the thing and pretending it never happened. If that's how you want to play it, go to work as a telemarketer.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Victoria — this is a very good point. I can imagine that for the more
    difficult names, it is impressive and creates a great first impression
    if the caller gets it right!

  • William Lambert

    Great article!

    As a recruiter, I highly value a candidate that seems genuinely interested in a specific position, and asks pointed questions about the job itself. As a fan of Carnegie's book, I believe that the only thing better than a phone call is face-to-face interaction. We live in such a “me”-centric world; I am happy to see that people still promote being interested in what others have to say.

    Flipping some of these scenarios around, I think that a lot of recruiters out there need to learn the same lesson. A candidate will be so much happier to join a company when their first interaction is with someone who they feel cares about them and with whom they share a connection.

    Thank you, Sam, for a great piece!

  • Debbie

    Love the article – great tips! Question for you… You say in #3 that your goal should be to get the person talking. That’s great but I think most people want to know the purpose of the call before they start chatting. Any advice on how to do this effectively?

  • http://www.rapidresults.co.nz/ Craig McFayden

    Hi Sam,

    I train people in sales and specialise in phone based training and all I can say you have nailed the principles! Very good examples used and great flow to show someone how to use the phone professionally for a change.

    I cannot believe how many ring with no idea of what they are doing (especially in a recession) and when you say 'No thanks' they say Oh OK and hang up! I hate to imagine how many leads are being wasted no to mention business opportunities lost simply because they missed these basic principles, thanks for taking the time to share.

    Craig McFadyen
    Rapid Results

  • temafrank

    I was with you till you got to the second (good) phone call example. Sorry, but if some stranger called to congratulate me I would assume it is a sales call and be annoyed by the falseness of it. That is one place where I think e-mail actually can be more useful than a phone call. Sure it is easier to delete, but it is also less intrusive — I can decide when and whether to read it.

    So if somebody sent me an email saying something like, “Hi Tema, I just read about your award in the Wall Street Journal and wanted to congratulate you. I've been watching what you've done at Company X, and it is really impressive.” I'd be likely to at least e-mail back and thank them. Then they can either e-mail or call me to continue the conversation.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Tema — this is a very interesting point and I think different from each point of view. However, I am going to disagree with you a little on this.

    For example, what if I am a new sales executive in Philadelphia and I hear about a well-known in the industry getting a promotion… It would be a great way to establish a rapport with that person by calling them up to introduce myself and offer my congratulations as I mention in my first point.

    Yes E-mail could be a great way of doing this, but we couldn't always e-mail….

    Thoughts?

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Wanted to post this question that was asked by Susan Joyce through linked-in. It is truly an honor to have her reading my articles, btw…..

    Sam, you make good points in your article, but I've got a question for you:

    Why not ask the person if it's a good time for them to talk? Right at the beginning of the call?

    This seems like common courtesy to me, particularly when someone is asking for a favor.

    Maybe the assumption is that if it wasn't a good time, I wouldn't answer. But, that's not always true for me. Sometimes people call exactly when I'm expecting another call. Sometimes it's easier to answer than go back looking for voice mail (that doesn't always work).

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    My response: Susan — this is a very good point to bring up. I think that you are quite right, this is VERY important. I think it kind of ties in with what Laura was saying. Some people are good enough to figure out from the person's tone of voice if “now” is the best time to talk, and others must ask. I think EITHER is a great way to go. You are right though, both ARE important.

  • http://www.english-pro.eu/ Lucy Cripps

    This is an EXCELLENT point from Susan Joyce, and absolutely fits with the ‘nice’ approach. Also, if it’s not a good time then it’s quick to set up another time and gives you a place to go from in the next call – you already have the beginnings of a relationship.

  • temafrank

    Well, Sam, I guess you could do it by phone, but part of what would have turned me off would also be the second bit you put in about bowling. To state what the link is that we share (I'm a friend of so and so who I gather you know from xyz) is good, but then to try to get me into a conversation on my hobby with a stranger? When I'm in the middle of a busy work day? That would really irritate me.

    I wonder if this is perhaps a male-female difference? I know from my research on women in the workplace that women tend to try to cram more into their work days so they can get out at a reasonable hour. The result is that they may be less confortable spending time in social chit-chat. (Contrary to stereotype.)

    As to those who ask if it is a “good time”, while that is good practice, I'd have to say that unless I'm actually actively looking for what they have to sell, it will never seem to me to be a “good time”.

    I wonder if any research has been done on the actual effectiveness in the past year or so of e-mailed versus phoned first contact. Certainly what I'm hearing from my colleagues is that they'd far rather be approached by e-mail than by phone. (This may also be something that varies by demographic.)

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Tema – this is an interesting point of view. I think there are
    certainly demographic differences to who each approach works on.
    Obviously the different points I made cannot be taken completely at face
    value for that reason.

    A point from an executive in a discussion regarding this article on
    linked-in, pointed out that you have 30 seconds to interest him.
    Whether it be you talking in terms of his interests or business,
    otherwise he is done. (He also said he was as old as god.)

    However, there is an interesting turn: if I am e-mailing you and you
    respond, then certainly we are going to have a phone conversation
    anyway, and to buy what you have to sell, You have to like me. So why
    not just go from the beginning there. If I have done a good job
    marketing myself (as a company for instance), you may already have an
    idea of WHAT I sell, and you might be be happy to hear from me.

    Here is my thought — if I am a busy executive your introduction
    probably will go right to my spam box. Figure out a better way to meet
    me.

    With e-mail you have NO personality. At least if you get me on the
    phone, you have a chance by being friendly and engaging me in a
    conversation, about whatever. Doing your research and possibly having
    something to congratulate me about is a SMART way of doing this.

    Very interesting discussion.

  • temafrank

    Interesting discussion indeed. Maybe I'm just too cynical about the phone approaches because I've never experienced one that was well executed. They were all too forced. Whereas I have ended up getting clients through what started in e-mail. Of course it helped that the product I was selling was web-oriented, so my prospects were people who were pretty comfortable with the web as a way of checking people out.

    But look at the conversation you and I are having. If you had called me first I doubt that we'd have got this far. As it is, I don't know about you, but I'm starting to enjoy the conversation and think perhaps this is someone I'd like to collaborate with.

  • lindagrimm

    I agree, this is sound advise. When I am calling someone and need to spend more than a minute on the phone with them, I usually start off by asking them if this is a good time to talk. If it isn't, then we schedule some time that works for them. This puts them in control and ensures I have their attention if they say “yes”.

  • lindagrimm

    I think this is an excellent example of how the Myer's Briggs Type indicator would come into play. Based on temafrank's comments, I would go out on a limb here and say she's a very strong “D” (Dominance) type personality. Get to the point and don't bother me with all the frilly stuff! Of course, if you're making a cold call, it would be difficult to know what personality type you're dealing with until you've had some time to interact with them, whether it be on the phone or via email. Just goes to show, there is not just one best approach – know your customer!

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Linda – good argument for this! So medical/psych records are a plus? (just kidding by the way, joke!)

  • http://www.elkindgroup.com/ Kerry Elkind

    It is very important to remind people to write a script before making that phone call. And practice what you want to say — what is your elevator message? How do you want to sound? Practice doesn't make perfect — perfect practice make perfect, so record yourself and listen to how you sound. It's what you say and how you say it that is key to success.

    Kerry Elkind
    The Elkind Group

    Transforming service to sales.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Kerry – thank you for posting this. This is a great point and I am going to find a place to put it in the article to your credit!

  • Mary Anne Agnew

    Sam: This article was very informative even for myself an Executive Assistant. I am going to pass this information on to the newsletter of the Montgomery County Chapter, IAAP of which I am currently chapter President. IAAP is an international organization for administrative professionals. This information will go a long way with our members. Thank you!

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Wow – thank you so much!!

  • Bruce Green

    Might as well share these tips to my colleagues. We are in the outsource telemarketing industry and we do a lot of cold calling. These tips will greatly help us.

    By the way, Kellie's note was funny. I literally laughed out loud while I was reading it.

  • Bruce Green

    Might as well share these tips to my colleagues. We are in the outsource telemarketing industry and we do a lot of cold calling. These tips will greatly help us.

    By the way, Kellie's note was funny. I literally laughed out loud while I was reading it.

  • Gerard Sullivan

    I agree with letting the other person take the lead. I am in a telemarketing sales company and I see to it that the prospect and I have interaction. I let the prospect ask questions that's why I gained a lot of SEO leads and I eventually increased my sales.

  • Gerard Sullivan

    I agree with letting the other person take the lead. I am in a telemarketing sales company and I see to it that the prospect and I have interaction. I let the prospect ask questions that's why I gained a lot of SEO leads and I eventually increased my sales.

  • http://www.stlouiscareersonline.com St Louis Tim

    Good points. Callers often don’t realize that they are imposing their agenda to the one they are calling, and doing so without taking much time to find out anything about the one they are calling. In other social situations, is would come off as rude but it’s done all the time on the phone.

  • Kirbie D. Speights

    This is a very relevant and useful article in today’s marketplace. Rapport is extremely important in this day and age because people do business with PEOPLE. All else is secondary…Enjoy!

  • Atwas911

    Way to go.. Give them darn criminal telemarketers and phone scammers
    more tools to rob you of your money! Are you proud of yourself? GET A
    REAL JOB THAT DONT INCLUDE CALLING AND HARASSING PEOPLE!

  • Ronald Kern

    I am very glad for reading this article.. this article is really good for us.thanks for the sharing this type of information it is useful.. well done keep it up.. visit this :
    http://www.seplco.com

Previous post:

Next post: