One aspect of your “office” that often goes overlooked is your phone system. If you are working hard to create a professional appearance, don’t ruin it by neglecting this component! Think of your personal phone. Does your voice mail message sound something like “Hey dudes, this is Joe. Leave me a message and, umm, I’ll get back to you when I feel like it.” Let’s hope your office phone doesn’t sound like that! If it does, fix it right now.
Even if you have to use your home or cell phone as your main contact number, you can record a professional message. Compare this one: “Hello, you have reached the office of Joe Johansen. Your call is important to me. Please leave a message, and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.” Potential and current customers and vendors respond well when you act big. Yes, you may get some ribbing from your buddies, but if it helps solidify a deal, it’s worth it!
If you have a little more time and resources, consider a phone with an automated answering system. When I called the “corporate offices” of one company I dealt with, I was greeted by a recording of a woman with a classy, zipped-up British accent that was incredibly pleasing to the ear. The recording came across as spicy and engaging, exuding the appearance of a large and progressive company. It was golden!
Even though I knew there were only three people in a teeny Southern California office behind the recording, the casually elegant accent won me over—almost. As the woman’s voice concluded, I heard a man say, “You’ve missed us in our office; our normal business hours are 9-5. Call back during that time, or press extension 1 for John, 2 for Fred, or 3 for Mary.” Talk about dumping their gold into the dirt.
Rookies often make two of the very same mistakes: they allow direct access to the decision makers and they give away the exact size of their organization (three people!). As far as possible, build a buffer between you and the ringing phone. If you don’t actually have an admin, take turns “playing” admin for each other. It gets a little complicated, but it’s worth your time. On the second mistake, it would have worked much better to go through a list of possible “departments,” rather than names. For example, “For Sales, press 1. For Accounting, press 2. For Support, press 3.” Direct the calls to whichever line you’d like—if John deals with the sales end of things, route those calls to him. When he answers, “Hi, this is John in Sales,” nobody will be the wiser.
Another great trick is to offer a “company directory” function, where callers type in the first three letters of the first or last name of the person they are trying to call. Voila! Without ever knowing that Mary is only one of three people in the office, callers instantly have her on the line. Usually, it’s only sales reps who will catch you on this. If they call and have no success with their pitch in “Accounting,” they often call back and try “Support,” not realizing that both numbers forward to Fred. But it livens up a Monday afternoon, that’s for sure!
During the time I was working from my home with my blown Achilles tendon, I got in contact with the president of a large regional mortgage firm. At the time, I was working out of my basement. We had managed to outsource some leads to a call center and had received a great referral from another colleague that led to this executive’s company. I called this president and acted very calm and confident, when in reality I knew very little about how mortgage leads even worked. With a little bit of luck and some superior B.S.-ing skills, I managed to confidently navigate my way through the discussion.
At the end of the call, the executive pulled in his vice president, and said, “Rich, let me introduce you to Mike. Now, Mike is going to be managing this relationship, and Mike, I really want you to treat these guys right. This isn’t a couple of guys in a back office rubbing two dimes together!” At the time, I remember thinking, “Nope, no back office here—I’m in my basement, and it’s not dimes I’m rubbing together, its pennies!” But because I was confident and we did the job well, the two of them never knew.
It doesn’t matter where you’re doing business, you must project confidence and competence. Your service or product is worth the customer’s investment, so you have to be careful to never sound desperate. When people call, have someone else answer the phone. Schedule specific times to speak to new clients, and make sure you’re not always available. It’s a balance between being ready and playing hard to get.
Porter’s Points—Please Leave a Message
- Be polished and professional, even if all you have is your cell phone.
- Use your phone system as a buffer. You may not always need to use the buffer, but when you do you’ll love it!
- If you lack confidence and technique, the person on the other end of the line will see right through you. Be assertive and skilled, and callers will have no reason to think that you are anything but—even if your “organization” is just you and a laptop at a card table.