My summer student, Lindsay, has just completed her first solo cold calling project. I thought it might be useful for all of us to hear, in her own words, how she managed to pick up the phone each day and make things happen. So, welcome as my first guest blogger, Lindsay Kidd:

Cold Calls and Carpet Stains

I walked into Mary Jane’s office one endlessly rainy morning with an expectation of my day in mind. I knew what was on my to-do list and I was prepared. I entered the office, taking care not to disturb her while she was on the phone. Her cheerful voice soon broke the near-silence. “I have an idea for you!” she said. I eagerly listened – and this was the last week I went into the office with an expectation of my day in mind.

Cold calls! Cold calls?! I’m 21 and a Psychology major. Few people my age even talk on the phone anymore. For example, I’ve spoken to one of my closest friends twice on the phone in the 2 years we’ve known each other. Even though we spend a lot of time talking in person, those calls were painfully awkward. Our words collided, with both of us speaking and pausing at the same time. “Oh, sorry — I cut you off there! What were you saying?”.”Oh no, you go ahead!” I think it’s fairly obvious why we’ve only attempted 2 phone calls in 2 years!

So when I was asked to take on this project, I was more than slightly nervous and completely out of my comfort zone. This is the Phone Lady after all, and with that brings quite a bit of intimidation. This woman is a seasoned pro at all things “phone”, and I am just a lowly undergrad with no experience! Being totally new to this I had no idea what a quality cold call sounded like. Regardless, I answered with an emphatic “Sure! That’s really exciting!” always looking forward to a new experience.

So we discussed the details of the project. It sounded fairly straightforward: I’d be calling approximately 400 people with an invitation to an event, which sounded unique and interesting; something I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble being enthusiastic about on the phone. If I believe in something, then I’m no longer “acting” enthusiastic, I’m “being” enthusiastic, and that enthusiasm is clearly heard through the phone. We went through the process of writing a script. By the end, I thought, “How could anyone say no to this?” With my head held high and a smile on my face, I read the finished product, very much pleased with what I (read: Mary Jane) had created. I could get on the phone and sound intelligent. I would nail the pitch, and by the end of the call be making witty references to the always-relevant Halifax weather and how it makes us all a little crazy (much like I did in the first paragraph of this blog!). I memorized it, in order to avoid the temptation to read off the page. There’s nothing more disingenuous than a monotone “…andwewouldloveforyoutojoinusforthisexciting….” I am not a computer! I certainly didn’t want to be confused for one.

Once I had the pitch memorized, I focused on my voice: tone, inflections, diction and pauses. I wanted it to sound as natural and conversational as possible. It was also important to me to understand the finer points of the event inside out and backwards, so that no matter what the person on the other end of the phone asked me, I wouldn’t stumble. The last thing I wanted was to embarrass myself by sounding unprepared for the call.

The project ran smoothly, albeit with the occasional error or two. I was able to suppress a healthy amount of self-doubt by avoiding over-thinking things. Rather than sinking further and further into my chair, tapping a pencil and growing increasingly nervous, I picked up the phone and dialed. This was a great way for me to avoid procrastinating and jump-start my day. Once the phone was ringing, it’s not as if I could hang up! After the first 2 or 3 calls, I felt silly I’d ever felt nervous about it. The more I called, and reached friendly people, the more my confidence grew. There’s much to be said for positive reinforcement!

After several days of success, I arrived at the office one morning and was completely shocked at what was awaiting me. I had received a voicemail from someone I’d called the day before. They were complaining about every imaginable detail of the message I’d left for them. It was truly shocking how angry they were over a very cheerful invitation. They had already decided that the best way to handle their anger was to complain to our client. Yikes! Suddenly I was questioning my ability to get this project done. Was I in the wrong? Should I have anticipated this? Was my message too long? Too detailed? Was I too enthusiastic?

All of our planning and preparation led me to the false belief that I was prepared for anything, and this person’s reaction caught me completely off-guard. In actuality, my only mistake was thinking I could control everything. Sure, I could deliver a pitch to the best of my ability, but there are a host of factors beyond the first minute of conversation that I have absolutely no control over. This person could have received awful information from a clinic, gotten fired from their job, or spilled wine all over a brand new carpet on their way to the ringing phone.

I was reminded of something Mary Jane always says: “It’s not about you!” She was right. This really wasn’t a reflection of me or my abilities. It was about the person I was calling. This straightforward and almost always overlooked piece of advice is so empowering because once you come to the realization that it’s not about you — it’s about them — a tremendous amount of misplaced blame is lifted off your shoulders. You understand that you can’t possibly please everybody, and that the sad situation you’re in is not a result of your doing the job poorly. You’re also much less likely to take things like rudeness personally, because they’re really just angry about their carpet that now needs an expensive steam-clean.

So I brushed it off. I continued my calls trusting my instincts and learning what worked well for me (as well as what didn’t!). I spoke to many more disinterested people. But I also spoke to the overwhelmingly friendly majority! I even dealt with a few calls where the person I was asking for had passed away. Those are tough calls! I just had to keep my composure and roll with the punches, because that’s the best I can do – and it’s also the best you can do.

At the end of the day, I met the deadline and got the job done. I even made the surprising discovery that my “psychology” brain can function in a business setting. Not only that, but I quite enjoy it!

Someone commented on last week’s blog on their hesitancy to hire young people for a customer-service oriented business: I encourage you to take that leap of faith. I believe that the key to success on the phone is a belief that you are capable, coupled with a willingness to put yourself out there. Oh, and a good teacher! None of this would be possible without the opportunity. I’m incredibly grateful to Mary Jane for taking that leap of faith with me, and in return I didn’t let her down!

Of course, I would love to hear your thoughts on this blog! I hope that some of this helps those of you who are hesitant to pick up the phone. Best of luck!

-Lindsay

The Week’s Highlights

1) Meeting and having lunch with Metro Guide Publishings new sales manager, Jeanne Gillard. I’m looking forward to working with you Jeanne!

2)Having Lindsay write the majority of this blog. Delegating can be fun!

Enjoy a week of great phonework!

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