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  • Diana Schneidman

Telephoning so it feels OK

Recently I reconnected with a long-ago acquaintance dating back to my life in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1990s. Finding Miriam brought back a lot of old memories. In particular, I called her for advice when I first started as a freelance writer—and one piece of her wisdom has stayed with me vividly all this time.

Let’s back up here. I phoned her religiously every day for a week and left a message on her answering machine each time without hearing back. Having recently left corporate employment and being new to phoning as a marketing practice, I began to feel that I was superb at follow-up and highly responsible, while she was negligent and sloppy. I’ll be more successful than she has been, I smugly thought.

The next week she finally called me back, indignant that I had left so many messages. She had been out of town and had listened to her answering machine, but she couldn’t call back until she got home. She warned me that possible clients would be turned off at receiving so many calls spaced so tightly.

I took her advice to heart and scaled back on my persistence, realizing that what I thought looked so good was casting me as a nudnik (or worse) in the eyes of others.

When calling for freelance assignments, I now go for quantity of initial contacts over multiple contacts of one individual. If I am especially interested in a certain prospect or they have requested my call, I may do two or three calls spaced three days apart. For a contact of slightly lesser importance, I’ll do a second call one week later. And for many contacts, I will reach out to them once every six weeks to two months (or less frequently if I am busy with paying work).

I’m seeing a lot of assertive marketing in a competitive environment, and speaking as a buyer as well as a seller of B2B services, it seems to be based on a misconception: I am under some type of obligation to buy your service—or at least hear out your entire spiel—because you have decided that I must do so.

You may call this persistence or reliability or demonstrating responsibility or something along those lines.

I call it a nuisance. Except for when it becomes especially overbearing. Then it begins to feel more like stalking.

I recently attended a seminar on how to use LinkedIn effectively at which the speaker veered onto the topic of phoning for work. He recommended that you phone every day into eternity until the contact either takes the desired action or tells you to quit calling.

Wow. Talk about inviting rejection. Some people deserve every bit of rejection they demand.

Phoning every day is way too aggressive for my taste. Once the person being called feels more like the target of a psychopath than partner to an eventual business transaction, it’s over. They may have been somewhat receptive to the first phone message but they didn’t bother calling back because they didn’t have time right then or they didn’t need your service. They may have had it on their to-do list to call later in the week.

But once they got a taste of this harassment, they become more repelled with each call. They may even decide they would never work with you if you were the last person left on earth with your type of expertise.

Heard another technique a few weeks ago that is different in the details but almost as annoying in its implementation. Here’s how it works. Say you make your first call on Monday but the intended recipient is not in. (At least you think they are not in. Maybe they are at their desk but not answering calls from names they don’t recognize. Such is the delight of caller ID.)

You leave a message saying you will call back in three work days (that is, Thursday) at 9 am. You call Thursday and again they do not answer. So you leave a message that you will call back in three days (Tuesday) at 9 am and you do so. You keep repeating this process until you have called a total of five times, once on each of the five days of the workweek.

This proves you are dependable and assertive, the experts claim. The experts assume that your victim—er, prospect—is powerless in the face of such stick-to-it-iveness and will be putty in your hands.

Now I have to admit that this technique is mathematically appealing. You call on each of the five days of the workweek, and if the sole impediment to your connecting is that the individual is out of the office on certain days, it does resolve that problem.

However, I believe that is rarely the real problem. If someone wants to speak to you, he will get the message and call you back.

And while some messages are quickly deleted or overlooked so that the recipient doesn’t recognize that your follow-up is not your first call, this ceases to be the situation after a few more calls.

There is a perception out there that people can be forced to want you and your services if you monopolize them sufficiently. Phone them repeatedly as misguided proof of your dependability and then verbally wrestle them into submission.

Telephoning doesn’t have to be that way. Find a technique with which you are comfortable and repeat it with lots of the right people.

I assure you, it works!

Originally posted 4-14-09

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