Phones Are for Talking, Too

I believe not only in calling people personally, but actually answering my phone when it rings. So often when I answer, I can hear the shock in the caller’s voice. A human being? Not a recording? They stumble over their words, not expecting to have to actually pitch a human being. We chat. Whether the pitch fit my needs or not, I’ve made a human contact, communicated my own business needs and, hopefully, helped the caller fine-tune her pitches toward me in the future. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece about how young employees’ preference for online communication over the old-fashioned phone was hurting sales. Emails are easily ignored; phone calls are more persistent.

My comfort with the telephone comes from my non-Millennial status. I am Gen-X, which meant I didn’t have a cell phone, email or the Internet when I was in college. At my first reporting job, on my desk sat a telephone and a PC whose only useful program was Microsoft Word. The phone didn’t have caller ID so I had to answer each ring, whether it was the source I desperately needed to put a story to bed or the reader calling to yell at me because I misspelled a name or didn’t cover her event.

Even once we started using email, it was obvious that it was a poor stand-in for human contact. With email, people can hone their message. On the phone, you can instantly ask followups or dig deeper when someone is trying to skirt an issue. For anyone trying to seal any kind of deal, that kind of instant feedback is irreplaceable.

And there’s also this: Short of a face-to-face contact, there is no better way to sell yourself as someone a client or vendor would want to work with. Emails lack personality, and those who try to force it can come off as flippant. With the telephone, you can read into a personality or mood just by the sound of their voice. You can hear exhaustion or exasperation, excitement or elation. You can sense when a pitch is going in the wrong direction and immediately change course. You can have that little chit-chat that adds a layer of the personal to a professional relationship.

If all your contacts are via email, you are expendable. Your name in the “from” field can easily be replaced by someone else who is doing the same work, and maybe for less money. But once you become a talking head, you’re a person with ideas and funny stories who commiserates when you’re working from home because a child is sick or rushing to meet a deadline.

So if your sales are slipping, if your network is shrinking, if your client list needs bolstering – pick up the phone. Call people, and answer when they call you. You’ll find yourself more engaged and, possibly, more successful for it.

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