How to make a phone call

When I was a teenager, I had an unnatural shyness about calling people on the phone and asking for information. What time do you open? What time do you close? How much do your karate lessons cost? What time does the movie start? Are you looking to hire a very introverted teenager like me?

I never made those simple calls. And this was pre-internet, so I ended up not going out much.

My shyness about making phone calls was one of those problems that never really showed itself to others because I was able to dodge responsibility. But over time I knew it was a problem.

And the problem easily solved itself when I got a job working the counter at a miniature golf course. I was sixteen years old. The first day on the job, the phone rang. “What time do you close?” Next call: “What time do you open?” Call after that: “Can we bring 20 people over right now to play?” And the calls kept coming, day in and day out.

By simply being put in the position of answering the phone, I learned how to call others. And ever since then, I’ve had no hesitations or shyness about calling places for basic and general information. It solved the problem.

Fast forward to when I became a wine sales rep. I was damn good. I grew business, I carefully massaged accounts, I learned the best ways to make sure I got the job done (much of which I recount in this blog). However, one thing stood out even after fifteen years of selling wine: I was horrible at opening new accounts.

It was the same shyness I had as a teenager making a phone call. I froze, I dodged, I leaned on others to make the cold call and the first meetings. I went so far as to convince myself that not being on the opening wine list of a new restaturant was somehow an attirbute, saying to me and others “I like for them (the new restaurant) to get the dust settled and learn who their most innefective sales people are, then I’ll move in.” It was crazy talk.

How did I solve that problem? How did I crack that egg, shift that gear, and learn to do the right thing? I became a wine buyer.

When I became a wine buyer at a restaurant group I got to experience the other end of the transaction, much like when I was a teenager at the miniature golf course. I learned what it’s like to be inundated by sales reps. I learned who did a good job and who did a horrible job. I learned how to cold call a new account, because I was now the one they were calling. I learned what did work (consistency, honesty, attention to detail, bringing ideas), and what did not work (the soft sell of “I don’t want to bother you, call me when I can be of service”).

By being a cashier at a miniature golf course I learned how to make phone calls.

By being a wine buyer I learned how to be a better wine sales rep.

So what kind of cold calling works? Something quick and honest, with the goal of getting a meeting (not selling wine, that comes later).

Here’s the simple paragraph to try to crack into an unsold restaurant: “Hello. My name is _________ and I’m from ________. I’ve been in your restaurant — great hamburger by the way — and I would love to share with you a little introduction to our portfolio and company. Might you have time this week for a visit? Oh and congrats on the mention in the newspaper last week, that ribeye steak sounds awesome.”

What’s the worse that can happen? They say no. You say I totally understand but I’ll be by to eat anyway because you like the restaurant. Hope to see you soon! Then you keep the ball rolling.

A cold call to a business is a way for a potential account to know you are interested in them, that is all. Don’t overcomplicate it and don’t take anything personally (if they don’t actually know you as a person, why would you take a rejection personally?).

Friendliness, kindness, honesty, consistency, and the effort to make the initial phone calls and meeting will help you sell wine.

Being introverted, not making the call, sticking with what you have instead of seeing what is out there, will eventually shrink your world.

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