Dialing for Dollars: Telephone Skills That Matter

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    Yesterday I volunteered to make some phone calls on behalf of my professional organization, ASTD-TCC, in order to support their annual Regional Conference. It started me thinking about how much of my professional life has been spent on the telephone. When I needed a second job early in my career, I worked at a phone bank for a political party. When I was a technical recruiter, virtually all my work was done over the telephone. My boss called it “dialing for dollars.” When I started out my business nearly twenty years ago, I had a goal of making 20 cold calls every day. Whew!

    Nowadays I rarely ever make a cold call, and in fact, I sometimes think I spend more time on e-mails than I do on the phone. Still, the phone is one of the most important business tools we have. Today we don’t use the phone just for conversations or to set up meetings; we use it to have meetings.

    Has the art of the telephone been lost? Or do we just take it for granted? Here is a checklist of best practices and a few no-nos to keep in mind next time you are doing business over the phone.


    Slow down. The listener can’t see you or read your lips, and maybe can’t hear you all that well, especially if they—or you—are on a cell phone or in a noisy place. So slow down and enunciate just a little more than normal.

    Take a breath. Sit up straight. And smile. These are tips given to customer service reps and phone salespeople, and for good reason. You sound better if you smile, and you will speak with more power when you breathe and sit or stand tall.

    Greet your listener. “Good morning, good afternoon,” or “Hello” set a friendly tone. Keep your opening brief but cordial to make a personal connection. (Don’t overdo it; most of us can see a sales pitch coming a mile away.)

    Provide your name and contact information. Somehow we forget this or assume the other person knows who we are. Name, organization, and phone number, all spoken clearly and slowly really help. If you want a call-back, repeat this information again at the end. Slowly.

    Give the purpose of the call. Be direct. “I am seeking sponsorships for the conference, I am looking for a speaker, I am asking for a recommendation, I need some information,” etc. are direct ways of letting people know why you are calling. Don’t make them guess. Don’t beat around the bush, and please, don’t just give your name and number with a request for a callback. You will have a much better response if you give the reason for your call.

    Listen to your outgoing phone calls and messages. Periodically record your calls with a voice recorder or your smartphone (there’s an app for that.) Listen for your tone, rate of speech, enunciation, the number of fillers you use, and generally how clearly you articulate your message.

    Take a break. Phone calling is hard work; it calls for fast thinking and concentration. If you are getting tired, bored, or have just had a negative experience, walk away for a few minutes. On the other hand, instead of stopping after a great call, keep going. When you experience success, you get a whole new tone in your voice. That’s the time to place one more call. That is when I would typically place my “most important” calls; when I was feeling I couldn’t miss. It very often worked!


    Don’t distract yourself. Stay focused on the message and clear delivery. If there is noise or distraction, shut your door or wait for a better moment to place the call. If you are thinking about what to have for lunch, stop and focus on the reason for the call.

    Don’t slam the phone down to hang up. This is my personal pet peeve. Come on! If you are trying to gain cooperation, make a sale, or build a professional relationship, don’t slam the phone down at the end of the call or your message. What a poor “last impression.” Disconnect the phone quietly, then replace it on the receiver.

    We may use them a bit differently, but great telephone skills will never go out of style. Over time you will be in countless conversations, meetings, and webinars. You might even find yourself “dialing for dollars.” Take time today to check your telephone skills and see if they measure up.