Best strategies for approaching customers via phone


We are currently creating a spin-off from the university, that offers services to biotech/pharma companies. We have tried to reach our first customers by cold emails, but we were not very successful. Now we are using Linkedin inmails, and thinking about approaching customers directly by phone calls. What is the best strategy?

  1. In a given organization, who is the best person to talk to? CEO
    (she/he can be unreachable) or secretary (he/she could say to
    forward message but forget later)?
  2. Is it a good idea to prepare a 5 minutes (or how long) pitch for
    starting all calls?
  3. Is there a better method by phone you could recommend?

Marketing Strategy Customers Phone

asked Dec 27 '12 at 18:55
114 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll

3 Answers


In a given organization, who is the best person to talk to? CEO
(she/he can be unreachable) or secretary (he/she could say to forward
message but forget later)

This depends on your product/service and the customer. Often the person you need to sell to isn't the person who writes the cheque. It's the person who will be getting the value from your service/product. They can then sell you to the internal cheque-writer.

Also if you're just starting you're unlikely to get your target customers directly. You have no reputation. You have no references. So you need to find the niche that really needs your product/service and go for them.

For example I have a client who produces a sensing technology. Their long-term cheque-writers are people at the CEO level, plant managers, etc. The sort of folk who decide what technology gets installed in large factories. They're getting those clients now.

However, initially they targeted geeky research scientists. The folk who needed this technology because nothing else would meet their needs - or just because it was super cool. They then leveraged those to get other customers in other market segments. And then leveraged those to get at their target customers.

Is it a good idea to prepare a 5 minutes (or how long) pitch for
starting all calls?

Ahh... you are still at the point where you think selling is mostly about telling people about your product/service ;-)

This took me a heck of a long time to learn - but selling is mostly listening.

Listen to your potential customer. Understanding their problems. Understanding their language. Repeat it back to them. This is old, old sales advice - but still true today.

If you're talking at somebody for five minutes at the start of the call you're not listening. Five minutes is a long time to listen to a complete stranger. Especially if you're a busy CEO.

If you must start with a pitch - it needs to be a 30s elevator pitch. Something along the lines of "Hi, I'm BLAH from FooCorp. We specialise in doing Wibble for biotech/pharma companies. I'm trying to understand the problems businesses like yours have. Do you have ten minutes for a conversation now?" [Yes == have a chat. No = "Can we have coffee sometime?/When would be a good time?"]

The point of the phone call is not to sell your product/service. It's to understand the customer enough so you can demonstrate how your product/service helps solve their problem.

Once you understand that you can start talking to customers in their terms, about the value you will provide them.

For example - this is a lightly elided version of a mail I had following an initial meeting with a client:

Hi $joe,

Thanks for talking to me last week about $company. From our chat it
looks like your biggest problem was transitioning from startup geeks
to long term customers. I think we can help.

We worked with $similar-company who had the same sort of issue
reaching their long-term market. After helping them re-build their on-
and off-line marketing materials their sales team saw a big increase
in qualified leads, which helped them save money and focus their sales
folk on some new markets. Conversions also increased significantly.

If you like I can put you in contact with their CTO and head of sales
who can talk about their experiences with us.

If you'd like to talk about this further we should meet up. I could
come and meet you next Friday afternoon in your offices. Drop me a
line if this sounds interesting or if you have any further questions.



Note how I'm not talking about the services we provided - user interviews, analysing their search engine results, a new visual design, a new custom built CMS, HTML5/CSS, user testing, etc. Despite the fact that we did it all for $similar-company.

Instead I'm saying "You told me this was you're biggest problem. Look we solved it for $other-company. Here are some people you can talk to for verification. Here is what you should do next".

Is it there any better method by phone you could recommend?

I'd strongly recommend not starting with cold-phone calls. As a method of acquiring customers they generally suck. Especially if you're providing services.

Follow the advice in Jim Gray's answer instead.

Go find and talk to your customers in person. Don't sell to them. Talk with them. Listen. Get them to tell you stories. Understand the problems. Understand who owns the problems. Understand who they effect and how much it costs them.

answered Dec 29 '12 at 22:46
Adrian Howard
2,357 points
  • That's a fantastic answer. Taking this advice would do you well. Particularly about listening instead of talking. Noone wants to hear a 5 min rant and you also can't be so prepared. You need to listen to what they say and alter your discussion accordingly. – Joel Friedlaender 9 years ago
  • +1 to everything above. You should also check out industry working groups & associations to make sure you're using the right language. One minor misstep can make life difficult. For example, doctors don't have "customers," they have "patients." – Casey Software 9 years ago
  • OMG, excellent answer, thanks really for your insightful comment! – Flow 9 years ago


Know as much as you can, going in. Do your user studies. Understand the problem from their perspective. Know the words they use to describe the problem. Know the typical structure of an organization which will have this problem, for the market segment you’re targeting. Know who will probably own the problem. To the extent possible, research the specific company. Try to find out who currently owns the problem – or failing that, someone who previously owned the problem but may have moved on.

Have a script, but don’t treat it like gospel. Getting them talking about their problem is 1000x more effective than anything you can say. Experiment with your approach to find out what works best. A great hook is to provide them some initial value in a risk free or low-risk manner, which will convince them that you will help them. Talk about them and their problem. At all times, remember that they’re the star. You’re just the guy in the background that helps them shine.

Off the phone: learn where your customer goes outside the office. Professional meetups? Conventions? Maybe there’s a bar where they congregate after work? Do whatever you can to be a respected expert who is providing value to their ecosystem before you ask for a sale. Even blogging can help you make progress here, but remember - it's about them. Solve their problems and provide them with value, don't just talk about why your company is awesome.

answered Dec 29 '12 at 20:36
Jim Gray
261 points


Cold emailing/ calling may not be the best way to gain customers. Have you already tried the following:-

  1. advertised in journals/magazines that your target customers often read
  2. written about the specific problem you are attempting to address with your service in blogs and other digital media . IOW, have you highlighted the problem and the solution sufficiently enough across the industry?

If you do cold call/email, prepare a short, concise elevator pitch and ask for an appointment to demo the product or explain it in detail.

answered Jan 2 '13 at 18:39
186 points

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