Manage your business finances with Wave—it's free.
Send invoices, get paid, track expenses, pay your team, and balance your books with our free financial management software.Get started
Call a stranger part four: inspiring a conversation
The moment has arrived. You’ve dialed a number and instead of reaching voicemail, the stranger you’re calling answers and says “Hello”. Yikes! What now?
No matter who you’re calling, or why, there are some simple strategies you can use to inspire conversation. As CEO and Founder of Fierce Inc., Susan Scott, says: “The conversation is the relationship.”
An unexpected call from a stranger automatically creates suspicion and defensiveness, so it’s important to start strong. You can do this by eliminating three common phrases:
- “How are you?” When this question is asked by someone we don’t know, it makes us more suspicious and creates the impression that the call is going to be a pushy sales call.
- “Is this a good time?” While this phrase was polite and essential etiquette for many years, today it reminds people that they are very busy and gives them an easy out. They can end the conversation quickly by simply saying “No”.
- “I’m just calling to … .” This common phrase is meant to be polite and perhaps even a bit apologetic for the interruption, but that’s not how it’s heard by the person you are calling. Instead they hear there is no value to your call, no importance, and they don’t give you their full attention.
Answer the Unspoken Questions
Know that when any of us answers an unexpected call from someone we don’t know, we have two questions that arise in our mind, flashing like Las Vegas neon lights. They are: What is this about? And, What’s it got to do with me? (Test this out. Answer calls from strangers yourself and pay attention to your reactions.)
These two questions are a complete distraction and until they are answered, they prevent any genuine interaction. In order to inspire conversation you must know the answers to these questions and provide them immediately. For example:
Stranger: Alexa Campbell speaking.
You: Hi Alexa, this is Evan Simms calling and the reason for my call today is …
You’ve now told the stranger that you’re going to answer the first question. You have indicated you’re not going to waste their time and you are going to tell them exactly what the call is about. When you use this approach, a stranger will give you 20 seconds of undivided attention. And in this 20 seconds, they want to hear the answer to the second question: What does your call have to do with them? Why should they take the time to speak with you?
This is where you need to craft your call and be well prepared, because this 20 seconds is vital to your success in inspiring conversation. It can’t be about you. It has to speak directly to the reason you have chosen to call this stranger.
Here are two examples:
- Hi Alexa, this is Evan Simms calling from ABC Company. The reason for my call … I’m aware that you’re an active angel investor and my research indicates that you have a passion for creating sustainable solutions for fisheries. We have recently received several innovation awards for our work in this field in Atlantic Canada.
- Hi Kristin, this is Mary Jane Copps calling from The Phone Lady. The reason for my call … I understand that you have a team of people there making outbound calls. We work with similar teams helping them become more effective on the phone and produce more revenue.
In both these examples, the reason for the call is stated quickly. By eliminating “How are you?” and “Is this a good time?”, the stranger hears and experiences that the caller is not going to waste their time.
Then something specific is revealed about the stranger, letting them know the call is not random, that research has been done and that the call is specifically about them.
The next sentence is a value statement for the stranger, a benefit or reason for them to speak with the caller.
To get from here to conversation requires an open-ended question. This is a question that can’t be answered with only “yes” or “no”. These questions most often start with who, when, where, what, why or how.
The role of this question is to create interaction, support the beginning of relationship. It’s too soon to ask for a meeting or book a demo. Instead, you want to take a few moments to share information and begin building trust.
Let’s go back to our examples:
- Hi Alexa, this is Evan Simms calling from ABC Company. The reason for my call … I’m aware that you are an active angel investor and my research indicates that you have a passion for creating sustainable solutions for fisheries. We have recently received several innovation awards for our startup in this field in Atlantic Canada. I’m wondering, what is most important to you when choosing a startup to review for possible investment?
- Hi Kristin, this is Mary Jane calling from The Phone Lady. The reason for my call … I understand that you have a team of people there making outbound calls. We work with similar teams helping them become more effective on the phone to produce more revenue. I’m wondering, how do you make decisions about trainers that work with your team?
The answers to these questions not only start a conversation, they reveal more about the stranger and their needs. They help both parties stay on topic while learning more about each other and uncovering if there is value in getting together, sharing more information, etc.
Take your time choosing the open-ended questions you will ask. Test several out with colleagues and friends. You want the question to help both you and the stranger decide what should happen next. Should this conversation be continued? Or perhaps a meeting is of value? Or maybe there’s no fit at all and you’ve both been able to discover this quickly.
Know that calling strangers and inspiring conversation is a skill. And like any skill, from driving a car, to creating an app, to running a marathon, it takes practice to gain confidence. Calling friends and family is an easy way to start building this confidence. Then reach out to colleagues you know, then referrals and then … call a total stranger. You’ll be surprised and delighted by what you will discover and accomplish from talking on the phone. As I always say “Pick it up. Make things happen!”.