For the longest time, back in the days when I actually had a home phone line, I resisted getting caller ID. Instead, I took a certain pride in maintaining this “purist” approach to picking up the ringing phone without any indication of who was calling.
I was old school, by golly, and my stance meant I was more fully partaking in this daily adventure we call Life. Occasionally, though, it veered into misadventure territory as I quickly regretted picking up the phone. Telemarketers come to mind, as do fussy editors at my newspaper and time-sucking chatty friends and family.
So my ultimate line of defense was the answering machine, which would serve as a screener to keep certain folks at bay.
That era now seems so impossibly 20th century quaint. These days, by contrast, just about everyone has caller ID on their mobile phones or otherwise. Having no clue about who is calling is as archaic as tape cassettes and Classmates.com.
All of which points to this reality: when we make phone calls, the stakes are higher because we are in a competition to get through the gatekeeper known as the “Answer” button. Whenever just about anyone sees a call coming in, broadly speaking they have one of two reactions to the number that shows up on their screen: positive or negative.
And regardless of our station in life, it’s a universal truth that we want people’s “gut” reaction to our number (or our name, if we are programmed into the other person’s phone) to be positive. This does not necessarily mean they will always pick up, depending on their circumstances in the moment, but then the playing field shifts to voicemail:
Do they look forward to hearing what you have to say, and try to respond as quickly as possible? Or do they let your message languish or delete it outright, perhaps not even bothering to hear your remarks let alone return the call?
In short, are you welcomed in or screened out?
In business, the implications are huge and can mean the difference between failure and success. Here is a three-step process for maximizing your chances of being welcomed in much more often than screened out:
Be a Giver
Think about it: whenever we make or receive a phone call, so often the person doing the dialing is looking for something from the person they are calling: an answer to a question, a request for our time and energy later, or the fulfilling of a need that takes on some other form.
This isn’t an indictment—it’s simply human nature, and it’s the nature of communication overall.
As often as possible, then, make calls with an intentional desire to add value to someone else. Doing so will set yourself apart and result in your call being answered more frequently.
In the public relations and marketing world, where so many PR types are focused solely on making one self-serving pitch after another, having a reputation for giving (a genuine compliment, a story idea unrelated to your clientele, a helpful networking tip) is an asset that will put you light years ahead of your peers.
Keep it Short
Whether you are making a sales pitch or staying as a guest at a friend’s home, it’s always better to leave before the other party wants you to leave. That same truth applies with phone calls.
All it takes is one time to have your precious time chewed up by someone who talks aimlessly about whatever pops into their head or doesn’t know how to get to the point of their call. Thereafter, you are apt to relegate them to “ignore” status when their name surfaces on your caller ID.
So confirm at the outset that the person you are calling has some time, keep your call brief and then strive to be as helpful as possible. After you both hang up, one measure of your success will be if the other party wishes you could have stayed on longer.
Likewise, if you do get shuttled into someone’s voice mailbox, keep it short and sweet. Some of the worst messages are those that meander all over Kingdom come and come across as vague. Remember: the person calling you back should have an idea of the topic at hand.
Phone calls frequently include a promise of some sort. You will send information by a deadline that was discussed…you will meet at a given time and place…you will take action that comes up as a pivotal part of the conversation.
Now, there are some extreme examples of following through on your word. Years ago, Amway Executive Diamonds Terry and Linda Felber overcame snowstorms that blanketed a huge chunk of the country. With airlines grounded and much of the area immobilized, they completed the last part of their arduous trek by renting a snowplow to get to the World Wide Group conference where they were scheduled to speak.
You may not be able or willing to move heaven and earth in similar fashion, but it's within most everybody's reach to take the relatively easy steps that we pledge to take in our day-to-day interactions.
The question we all would do well to ask ourselves: Have I built a reputation as somebody who follows up and follows through on my word? If the objective answer is "yes," then we will have laid the groundwork for the next phone call we make.
That’s the one which the other person not only picks up, but looks forward to answering.