Making business phone calls

As soon as you first speak to somebody on the telephone, they start to form an impression of you and your organisation. An impression shaped by the way the call unfolds. Steering the conversation can be difficult because you are not face to face with the person you are talking to and so cannot assess their frame of mind. This makes factors like tone of voice very important.


Know what you want to achieve with your phonecall, call in a quiet environement and keep everything you'll need to hand. Like pen and paper, your agenda and the name (or names) of the person you would like to speak to. Establish who you are going to call and prepare yourself for them and the situation. Are you calling a council official about a permit, a marketing director about sponsoring or are you calling to respond to a job offer? Make a list of the things you would like to discuss, in this way you will always have something to fall back on.

  • Find out, or try to imagine, what the culture is like at the organisation of the person you are calling. That makes it easier to pick a tone of voice at the beginning of the conversation.
  • Have a short and powerful story ready to explain why you are calling and to kick-start the conversation.
  • Do not call too early in the morning or too late in the afternoon: there is a higher risk that much of what you discuss will be forgotten.

Conducting the call

  • Be respectful to the person you are talking to. Ask if you are calling at a convenient time? If not, ask when you can call back and tell how long the conversation will take approximately.
  • If you are transferred to somebody else, explain again why you are calling.
  • Write down the name of the person who puts you through and who you are put through to. Then you can ask for them again next time.
  • Introduce yourself: Who are you? Who do you represent? What is your question? Are you calling the right person?
  • Adapt your conversational style to the person you are talking to. Busy people prefer factual information and a direct, non-nonsense approach. Others like to be more sociable. Informal chat is sometimes fine, but keep it within reason. Try to strike the right balance between empathy and respect on the one hand, focus and professionalism on the other.
  • State what you need. If that is money, never say how much straight away – try first to assess the attitude of the person you are talking to.
  • Explain what you have to offer. What does the other person need to hear in order to be persuaded to give you what you are asking for?
  • Listening, asking follow-up questions and summarizing what has been said are the most important skills needed to conduct a conversation of this kind.
  • Ask focused questions that give the person you are talking to room for their input.
  • When answering questions, be brief and to the point. If you cannot give an answer there and then, state when you will provide the information. That creates confidence.
  • Make sure the other person has enough ‘space’ to say something as well. Avoid a one way stream of words.

Completing your call

  • At the end of the call, sum it up: what has been agreed and what action is going to be taken.
  • If the person you talked to cannot help you, ask for the name of a contact person who can.
  • Thank the person you have been talking to for their time and note any new names and numbers you have been given.