There was a time when virtually everyone believed the earth was flat. But this unanimity did not mean that it was. The same principle applies to the idea that marketing yourself through social media and other on-line means somehow replaces ‘old school’ methods. Many people believe this to be self-evident but it’s not.
As suggested in the first blog entry, email might appear to be the best way to make initial contact with a potential client but it has severe limitations, not least because emails from unknown people are very easy to ignore. A telephone call, however, is much more direct. What’s more, a phone conversation is far more dynamic, interactive, and natural than the written word.
Another reason why people shy away from the phone is habit. As we spend more time online, we inevitably spend less in the physical world and, as a result, we forget how to interact in ways that nature intended. This is particularly true for those who were born in the last three decades. Dubbed ‘Generation Y’ by sociologists, members of this demographic have never known a life without mobile phones, email, the web and, more recently, social media.
For Generation Y, these manifestations of technology are normal and, by extension, anything that harks back to an earlier era is inferior. Social media is the classic example. It is claimed that Facebook, for example, has revolutionised human contact. While it is true that people all over the world can connect in ways that were unimaginable even twenty years ago, surveys have shown that young people who are most immersed in the virtual world are the least confident with real-life interactions. Social media is, arguably and ironically, actually anti-social.
As a university teacher of journalism, this has become increasingly apparent to me over recent years. A decade ago, a few students would be a little nervous about doing a vox pop or a phone interview, but most would be excited by such a mission. With each successive cohort, however, comes increasing trepidation about connecting with real human beings. ‘Can’t I just send him an email?’ is a regular request, and last year, for the first time ever, I had to coach students on how to introduce themselves to a stranger.
And, it’s not just young adults who suffer from ‘stage fright’ when faced with an unknown person, either on the phone or in person. The prospect of opening a conversation; being stuck for words; embarrassing yourself by saying the wrong things; and, of course, the fear of being ignored and rejected, fills many people with dread. And so they avoid it.
Avoidance is a rational response to fear but the rewards for learning to interact with human beings - outside of the virtual world - are enormous. Remember the maxim: humans buy from humans, and the closest, most fulfilling and ultimately, the most lucrative professional relationships can only be built through real-life connections.
Like anything else, making phone calls to people you don’t know becomes much easier the more you practice. The best starting point is to spend a few minutes with a pen and paper and write a script. This might seem excessive for such a brief, simple and seemingly-natural exchange but it works beautifully, and ensures that you don’t talk nonsense and waste a golden opportunity.
If, for example, you are a freelance journalist and you’ve had no luck pitching ideas to editors via email, try the following. This script applies if you are trying to sell and article, and you can adjust it if you are an actor, singer, musician or any other creative profession.
Before you make the call, do your homework. Check that you are phoning the person who can commission articles, and make sure you understand what type of articles appear in the publication. You also need to write the substance of your pitch (a brief description of the article, its suggested length, etc.) in advance because you will need to refer to it later.
Then read your script out loud a few times to yourself and try to anticipate and react naturally to the possible responses. When you feel ready, take a few deep breaths, punch in the numbers and smile broadly as the phone rings (it sounds crazy but if you force a smile, your voice will be more upbeat). Remind yourself to speak slowly and clearly…
Editor – Hello?
Journalist – Hi, John. My name is Gary Merrill and I am a freelance journalist …
At this point, pause ever so slightly, less than a second. This gives you an early opportunity to gauge the person’s mood. He might say ‘Hi Gary’ in which case the door to conversation is opened. He may sigh, perhaps indicating a busy day, or he might say ‘Can I stop you there?’ and then explain that he is not commissioning any work at the moment. Assuming he is neutral or better, quickly move into the main part of your call.
Journalist - I wonder if I could pitch an idea for an article to you…
Be careful with your voice tone not to say this line as a question: if your intonation rises at the end, you give the editor an easy opportunity to say a flat ‘no.’ Insert another slight pause for the same reason as before.
The editor will often say ‘yes, but could you email it to me?’ Advocates of new methods of marketing might claim that such a response confirms the power of email, but if you precede an email with a phone call, your case is far stronger.
If the editor agrees to hear your verbal pitch, refer to your prepared overview of the article. At the end, pause again, a little longer this time. You should always give the other person opportunities to give their views but you also need to ‘control’ the flow of the conversation so that it meets your objective, which is, of course, to get commissioned.
If the editor suggests emailing, check his address, tell him that you will send it straightaway and thank him for his time. The editor will remember your name and will be far more likely to read about your idea. And in less than five minutes, you have successfully positioned yourself as a confident, courteous and reliable professional.
Yes, there will be times when the person on the receiving end of your call sighs loudly as soon as you speak. Sometimes, he might even cut you off and hang up. But don’t let such reactions dent your confidence. Everyone has bad days and people who commission work have more than most. One of the reasons is that they are so inundated with unsolicited emails that they have no time to do their more important tasks.
Despite the risks to your ego of negative responses, making the initial contact with a prospective client by phone is far more likely to result in success than an email. Apart from the obvious improvement in speed, you have instantly placed yourself apart from the countless other freelances who subscribe to the ‘copy-paste-send’ school of marketing. By using your voice and listening to the editor’s replies, you are communicating as nature intended, and you have taken the first steps toward rediscovering the lost art of being human.