When calling prospects or customers, it is great if they answer the phone themselves and you can begin the conversation right away.


But your calls will often be intercepted by someone who screens the the decider’s calls. Then you need these methods for trying get through.

1. Don’t get lost in the phone system’s Bermuda triangle

When initially trying to locate a decision maker you’ve never spoken with, you may detect some hesitation in a screener’s voice. If this happens, continue questioning the screener. Nothing is as frustrating as being shoved from one unwanting soul to another like a hot potato. Find out the prospect’s title and department before you’re transferred.

2. Ask for the highest level

Find out who is a level higher than the person who typically makes the buying decision. This way, if you need to be referred, it’s better to say:

“I was speaking with Karen at Mr. McNabb’s office, and she felt that Ms. Collins would be the person I should be speaking with.”

It’s important that you don’t imply that Mr. McNabb wants Ms. Collins to buy from you; just let the screener know that you’ve come from above, and your call will implicitly carry more clout.

3. Go to other departments

This also works when an operator or screener is not authorized to give out the names of the people you’re looking for. Ask for someone in sales; you know they’re always willing to talk. Larger companies have purchasing departments that might be able to help. You might end up speaking with these people eventually, but what you really want to find out now is who uses and recommends your type of products. If you run into a talkative purchasing agent, you just might also learn who the company buys from, what the company spends and other goodies that can help you make the sale.

Even if you do land at the polar opposite of where you need to be, say something like this:

“I hope you can help me. I’m not in the right department, and you can probably point me in the correct direction. I’m Dale Strong with Thomas Development. I’m looking for the name of the person who handles the site selection for your franchises.”

4. Listen to prospects’ entire voice-mail messages

If you don’t, you might be missing potentially useful information. Recently, I was listening in on a sales rep’s call. As soon as the prospect’s voice mail answered, she hung up. I asked her to call back and listen again. This time, she heard the prospect say that he wasn’t going to be at this location for the next several days because he was at his other brand-new location. The prospect left a phone number and the hours he would be there. Now, this rep knew nothing about the other location, but she called the prospect there, congratulated him on his expansion and managed to close a sale right there.

5. Be prepared for voice mail

Don’t place a call without being ready to leave a statement on voice mail. Not just any message, though. Talk about ideas you have that may potentially help the prospect benefit in some way or avoid loss. Talk about a problem you’ve solved for another company, and mention you’d like to ask a few questions to determine if the solution would work for his company as well.

6. Sound interesting

Talking to a tape recorder has a psychological effect that causes even the most eloquent speakers to lapse into robot-like voices. Be yourself. Visualize the live person you are speaking to at the other end, not a passionless microchip. Practice your messages. Recite — do not read — them into your own tape recorder. Listen to yourself and be very critical about areas you want to improve. Focus on your inflection, putting variation in your voice to convey enthusiasm, urgency and importance. Be sure your articulation is crisp, especially when pronouncing the ends of words and consonants.

7. Hang up if you need to

If you are not prepared, and the recording has the effect of erasing all signs of intelligence from your short-term memory like a computer experiencing a data-zapping power surge, hang up before you say anything. Think through the message you’d like to leave. Then call back. Or, if the company’s system allows it, review your message to be certain you’re comfortable with it. If not, record your message again.

8. Answer screeners’ questions

Never try to evade screeners. That’s one sure way to get dumped. Screeners simply want to determine if you offer something of value. Use something like:

“Let me explain why I’m calling. We work with companies like yours that do large numbers of express shipments to help them cut down on their total bill each month. The savings run from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. Whether or not we could do the same for you depends on several variables that I’d like to discuss with Mr. Holloway.”

It’s tough to sell if you can’t get through screeners and voice mail. Try these ideas; they just might help.