Had a conversation with a friend in Sales last night about cold-calling. Her perspective was that the first words, the first three seconds, of the conversation are crucial. So we were discussing openings that worked, or didn’t, to start a conversation. We ended up realizing that we both really like “I know I’m calling from out of the blue” as part of that opening, and that she often found it effective.
This morning I was reflecting on why that line works on me and on others. It seems like a throwaway line, but it’s not. Here’s why.
On the (admittedly rare) times that I pick up the phone for an unknown caller, I’m catapulted into a conversation without context. If the call is during work hours, I was almost certainly busy with something else, fully involved in the context of writing or editing something, planning something, having a face-to-face conversation, having additional conversations by email or Slack, or walking to get coffee.
For each of those actions I have context. I know who I’m writing the document for, what my timeline is, how important it is – all things that focus my attention in the right way. That’s, cognitively, the value of context.
For the call from an unknown number, though, I have no context. Did I have a call scheduled that wasn’t on my calendar? Are you a customer? Are you a friend whose number doesn’t happen to be in my phone? Are you a business contact? Are you my son’s Scoutmaster? Are you a friend who accidentally went 88 mph in the DeLorean, traveled back to the 1980’s, and is now calling me desperately after figuring out how to use a landline phone?
So the absolute first thing I need to know isn’t who you are, or what company you’re with, or who referred you, or how the weather is in the sunny city you’re calling from, or that you’re a thought leader using AI and big data to optimize something. I only want to know one thing: what is the context for this call?
No other line communicates that context quite as succinctly, and makes me as likely to listen for the next 30 seconds, as “I know I’m calling from out of the blue.” Here’s why:
- It’s honest. Nothing’s worse than a cold call opening that tries to suck you in with fake friendliness, or wastes time (remember, I was in the middle of something) with pleasantries while I’m trying to figure out if I want to be in this conversation at all.
- It’s humble. It gives me permission to say “Yes, you are, and I don’t have time.”
- It’s human. The humility above tells me that you’re a nice person. I’m not a jerk (I think). So I probably won’t say “Yes, you are, and I don’t have time.”
- It sets the context. Now I know it’s not a missed meeting, an emergency, or a priority that wasn’t on my radar. I relax. When you relax, you tend to want to stay in that space for a moment. If I want to stay in that space for a moment, I can do that by continuing the conversation.
- It places us both in that shared context. The line would be less effective if you left off the “I know” at the start. You’re telling me that we’re both in the same situation – neither of us really expected to be talking to the other – but we’re both here, now, in the same context. “I know” is the conversational Lebowski rug that ties the room together.
“I know I’m calling from out of the blue” isn’t a magic bullet for cold-calling. There are probably different openings that meet the same objectives of being honest, humble, human, and setting the participants in a shared context. Some people will still hang up. For those that don’t, all the phrase does is gain a few moments, so if you don’t have a strong follow-through it won’t matter. But the phrase works on me better than most openings, and I think the immediate setting of a shared context is the reason.