During the sales process, you usually have a variety of situations in which you need to get answers or information from a prospect. Here are some dos and don'ts you can apply to make this process easier and more efficient:

Don't call too many times. Calling too often or leaving messages to call back every time the prospect doesn't call you within an hour or two irritates the prospect and is the best way not to get a call back. I must admit that over the years this has been one of my bad habits, and I have made this mistake often. It drives me crazy not to be able to make contact with the prospect to get the answer I need.

In a way, this is both a strength and a weakness on my part, since on one hand I am tenacious and don't give up easily; on the other hand, I call so frequently I often drive the clients crazy.

Years ago, I didn't notice irritation on the prospect's part because many people were taught to call back when a person left a message. It was part of business etiquette. Even when I know a person is calling to sell me something, I will normally return their call. Not always, but usually.

Since many prospects now think of not returning phone calls as an acceptable aspect of time management, I don't take this lack of courtesy as a personal affront.

Don't call and leave a message more than once a day. In general, I don't irritate people nearly as often when I limit my calls to a maximum of one a day. However, I also know that calling once a day for five straight days is also too much under most situations. You need to find another approach.

Ask prospects how they like to communicate. Some people prefer the telephone and others e-mail. There are some people who pick a quiet time of the day after normal business hours to answer all e-mails. Often, these are the same people who don't have time to call you during the business day.

Make an appointment over the phone. If you need more than a few minutes, make an appointment for a specific start and finish time. My partner and I often make two-hour phone appointments to demonstrate our sales automation software and answer any questions prospects may have. We don't have problems with the total time because we've reserved the time in advance, and the prospects usually realize they need the full two hours to get the information they need.

Call the prospect after hours and leave a short voice mail presentation. Make sure that you think through the presentation first and practice it in advance. This can be very effective. I shoot for a message of 60 seconds or less.

Enlist the help of the prospect's executive assistant or secretary. If this person wants you to get through, you will. Ask for his or her advice on how to make it happen.

And finally, always think of the situation from the prospect's point of view. Unfortunately, too many sales people think of it only from their own perspective.

P. S. A note to those I bugged too often over the phone: Please accept my apologies and give me another chance.

Tom McCarthy, CHME, CHA, spent half his career with Hilton and Marriott in sales, advertising and public relations and half in his own training and consulting business, Hotel Professional Education and Consulting of Falls Church, VA. He is a past president of Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) and is a member of the HSMAI Hall of Fame. He can be reached at or 703-379-4488.

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