Hardly any other form of business communication is as effective as a phone call – it’s direct, personal and immediate. Yet many of us are still unsure how to maximise our business calls. In fact according to a comprehensive study, only 21 percent of business communication is kept simple and jargon free.
We believe the key to a great business call is to be prepared, purposeful and polite. Our 12 golden rules will show you how to do just that and make business calls with confidence. By the way, if you are not completely convinced of the power of a phone call, you should definitely read this blog post.
Be prepared: take the time to plan and reap the benefits
So you’re call is scheduled and it’s almost time to pick up the phone. But there a few things you can do ahead of time to maximise your phone call. Being prepared is paramount. Follow these steps to be more prepared than a cub scout.
1. Identify the purpose of the call
This may seem banal, but we have all been on the receiving end of someone who did not follow this step. Is it a sales call, a briefing or a follow-up to a meeting? Always know the purpose of every call and plan accordingly. If you are following up on a face-to-face team briefing, make sure that remains the purpose of the call. Don’t suddenly start discussing a non-related topic. If you need to discuss something else, then schedule another call and send a message ahead of time about what you want to talk about.
2. Make a roadmap
Take a couple of minutes to jot down bullet points. These should be the backbone of the call and can include:
- Key questions you want to ask
- Key dates when arranging follow ups or events
- Things you want to clarify from a previous call
A roadmap removes the danger of forgetting any crucial points and saves you the embarrassment of having to call back.
3. Do the research
Research the person and/or company that you are calling. How many times have you followed up to an email only for the person to say “I’m sorry what company was that again?”. This really comes across as unprofessional. By researching the company and the person you call – a quick check of the company website and the person’s LinkedIn profile – shows that you have put the extra effort in. As a minimum you should know the main market that a company is in and what position / department the person you’re calling is in.
But why not take your research a little further. If you see that you studied the same subject at university as you or that you both have worked in a similar industry, note it down! Having things in common is a great way to form a bond and works great as an opener to the call.
4. Create a phone-friendly environment
Give your business call the respect it deserves by booking a conference room. This ensures that you will have a quiet environment free of disturbances. If this is not possible at least try to find a quiet corner of the office to make the call. Even letting colleagues know that you have a call ensures they know to respect that time and keep chatting to a minimum.
Be purposeful: these tips will keep your call on track!
5. Be Concise in Your Messaging
Proper communication consists of listening and speaking. Formulate your messages in a precise manner and make it easier for the other person to listen to you. Before you call, think about what the aim of the conversation is and focus your communication on achieving that goal.
It sounds trivial, but if you do not get to the point of your message, then you will override the capacity of the listener – a psychological stress response that ruins the flow of the dialogue. In the worst case, your counterpart will label your conversation as a mere waste of time.
6. Be Friendly, And Be Direct
Don’t just blurt something out, but at the same time don’t be too timid. You have a reason to call – that’s what your counterpart is assuming anyway. A little small talk goes a long way. By saying a brief “How are you?” or a personal statement like “I hope you had great holiday with your family!” you demonstrate empathy and interest without running the risk of losing yourself in endless private stories.
The reason for your call is business. So, after a minute at the latest you need to get down to the nitty gritty and explain the reason for your call. By the way, you should avoid asking awkward questions like “Is this a bad time to call for you?” This gives your counterpart the impression that there’s not really an important reason for your call. If your contact person genuinely has no time for a conversation, they will either tell you outright or not pick up the phone in the first place.
7. Test if Your Message Was Understood
A telephone conversation is not like writing a master’s thesis. Nevertheless, you should check whether the transmission of information is working. Invite your counterpart to ask questions about the content of your conversation. If someone doesn’t have any spontaneous questions, they tend to reflect what has been said in their own words – a perfect way for you to double-check whether your message has reached the person at the other end of the line.
This type of feedback is important because a phone call is about more than just what is actually said. Even what you do not say or what you transport between the lines is part of the communication. By asking questions, seeking clarification and repeating the content of the conversation in the words of the other person, you bridge these gaps in communication in a very elegant way.
8. Celebrate Silence
Conversations without full stops and commas are not only exhausting. They also disregard an underestimated means of dialogue: silence. On the one hand, the content of a conversation can be so emotional and disturbing that we need a moment of silence for a little relaxation. On the other hand, silence is also probably the most underestimated negotiation tactic.
In addition to your words, intonation and choice of language style, silence is part of the communication mix of every phone call. For example, use it deliberately in negotiations if your counterpart tends to fill the silence with words and thereby reveals more information than planned. Silence also conveys the fact that you are listening. Silence signals that you value and are reflecting upon the other person’s message.
Be polite: a little phone manners go a long way
Things can get hectic at work and often you’re on a tight schedule. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t time to follow basic phone etiquette, regardless of who you are calling.
9. Speak clearly
People mumble. But not speaking clearly puts the recipient in an uncomfortable position: they have to ask you to repeat things. Remember you are not face-to-face. Messages are much harder to decode without body language, gestures and facial expressions. This means you really have to try to speak as clearly as possible. One great tip for speaking clearly is to smile. This may sound surprising but it can actually make you sound more natural – particularly if you get a little anxious before calls.
10. Don’t transfer or put people on hold without asking
Never assume that the person you’re calling has enough time to wait around on hold. Respect their time by asking if they mind first.
The same goes for transferring the call to another person or department. Ask first if the person is comfortable being transferred, and provide them with helpful information before you do. This makes the process much smoother. At a minimum you should state:
- the reason you need to transfer them
- a concise introduction to the person you are transferring to
11. If you don’t have an answer just admit it
You can’t know anything. If you genuinely don’t know the answer to a question, politely let the recipient know. This is much better than passing on any information you are unsure of. Make sure to reassure them that you will clarify anything you were not able to answer and get back to them.
12. Don’t forget to enjoy the call!
Good preparation will lead to better business calls. Making a roadmap, researching the person and company will give you the confidence you need to make great calls. Letting the person know that you enjoyed the call helps build a bond.
By following these tips you can make every business call count. Being prepared, purposeful and polite will help you close deals, personalise follow-ups and speed up your workflow.
Do you have any tips and tricks of your own? Let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!