Cold calls, even warm ones where you’ve emailed the person beforehand, are an interruption. Everyone is busy. The single best question you can ask someone when calling is, “Did I catch you at a bad time?”
That bears repeating so one more time.
“Did I catch you at a bad time?”
You may prefer the conventional, “How are you today?” or if you are on the west coast, “How’s your day going?” This is great if you actually mean it. Sadly, most people just say it instead of “Hello.” Everyone has spoken with someone who rattles off the question and launches into whatever they want to talk about without even a pause for you to answer.
Asking “How are you?” then pausing is one of those tactics taught in Salesmanship 101, but even when people pause and listen to the answer, they aren’t listening.
Instead, just ask, “Did I catch you at a bad time?” Unlike, “How are you?” people will honestly answer and tell you if they have a moment or when a better time to call would be. The person on the other end, if not pleasantly surprised at your manners, will appreciate your consideration for their time. This goes a long way to building a great relationship.
This is particularly useful in sales situation with high-value items. As Neil Rackham found in his research for his book SPIN Selling, a sale can depend simply on a lead’s relationship with your salesman. Developing a rapport is about as high on the priority list as getting in touch with the decision maker(s).
The next time you are on a sales call, give it a try. The person on the other end of the line will be impressed with your courtesy and be all the more receptive to it.