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 organization. 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 their tone of voice and breathing very important. Listen actively to how they are talking. And make sure you have prepared the call properly.

Know what you want to achieve with your phonecall, call in a quiet environement and keep everything you'll need to hand. 

Preparations

Establish who you are going to call and prepare yourself for them and the situation. Are you calling a council official about a permit or the marketing director of a supermarket? Do not put off picking up the telephone – that only adds to the stress, particularly with difficult calls.

  • Find out, or try to imagine, what the culture is like at the organization you are calling. That makes it easier to establish effective contact.
  • Write down the names of the person you want talk to, who puts you through and who you are put through to. Then you can ask for them again next time.
  • Write down in advance what you want to achieve, and what you want to tell.
  • Have a good opening sentence ready
  • Have a pen, paper and your diary to hand for notes and appointments.
  • Do not hold a conversation like this on the street but pick a quiet time and place.
  • Do not call too early in the morning or too late in the afternoon: there is a risk that much of what you discuss will be forgotten.

Conducting the call

  • Introduce yourself: Who are you? Who do you represent? What is your question? Are you calling the right person?
  • Be respectful to the person you are talking to. Ask if you are calling at a convenient time? If not, when can you call back?
  • If you are transferred to somebody else, explain again why you are calling.
  • 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 BeroepKunstenaar.nl is een website van de Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten February 2015 (p 2) 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 manoeuvre.
  • 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 necessary, ask for the name of a contact person who can help you. Use business contacts like this for networking.
  • Thank the person you have been talking to for their time, note down your next contact in your diary and add any new names and numbers you have been given to your address book.