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How to Get People to Do What You Want Over the Phone

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how to get people to do what you want over the phoneDo you feel less confident speaking over the phone than you do speaking to someone eye to eye?

Most people do.

Most people are much shyer over the phone than they are in real life. Some very intelligent and otherwise respectable people turn to wimps over the phone.

I’ve got a number of cold calls on my phone lately by company reps and sales people, and they’ve all been terrible. Their tonality reeked of fear – fear of rejection – and their scripts were stiff and unnatural. I felt like Seth Davis from Boiler Room. Only worse.

This needs to stop. Starting with you, dear reader of SGM. It’s time for you to step up your phone game.

Because if you were to learn a few tricks, you could become better than 90 % of people at talking over the phone, which means you’ll have more advantages in life. . .

Why should you take my advice?

Because I have a background as a phone salesman and over the past six months I have:

  • Cold called and interviewed 15 CEOs or executives of big companies over the phone.
  • Renegotiated my phone subscription bill to 1/3 of the normal price by convincing the phone company’s customer service employee.
  • Saved myself over 2000 kr ($320) by re-scheduling appointments (dentist, doctor, etc) in situations when it shouldn’t be possible from a legal standpoint.
  • Renegotiated a business deal from a 10 % cut to 25 % of profits.

So let’s get into it. . .

The 3 Most Important Things in Order to Get People to Do What You Want Over the Phone

There are a number of best practices and fundamental principles that you need to learn when you talk over the phone. Here are three very important ones:

  • Tonality is everything. Stand up and walk around for improved vocal projection. Your tonality improves by doing this and you will seem more confident.
  • Smile to sound happier. Even though the other person does not see you it still helps. For the same reason, it helps for phone salesmen to dress nicely, even though the caller doesn’t see their fancy suits. It’s just another way to boost your own state, improve confidence, and therefore also your tonality.
  • Rehearse the close beforehand. If you there’s something you are nervous about saying – like closing — you should rehearse it at least a few times before making the call. Most people are very uncomfortable with closing. This is a serious problem if you’re looking to be successful. You must become a closer. Rehearsing helps.

Here’s a great example from Scott Adams’s book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:

… But I had my plan. I practiced saying ‘$ 5000’ until I thought I could say it without laughing. I called back my Canadian contact. That conversation went like this:

Canadian: Did you come up with a price?

Me: Yes . . . $ 5000.

Canadian: Okay, and we’ll also pay for your first-class travel and hotel.

I flew to Canada and gave a speech.

The point is: You need to rehearse the close repeatedly to yourself, until you can say it normally — as if you were talking about the weather with your grandmother.

Say it until it doesn’t make you nervous. This will increase the chance that the other person complies with your request. A lot.

4 Powerfully Persuasive Tricks to Get People to Do What You Want Over the Phone

  • State things matter-of-factly. This is important for the same reason that you need to rehearse the close. A matter-of-factly and business-as-usual type of tonality doesn’t raise questions, it invites compliance.
  • Assume they’ll do it. Instead of asking something, you will state, “So you’ll do [blank] and then go ahead and [blank]” You will say this in a polite and matter-of-factly tonality.
  • Ask your questions then shut up. Get them to invest in the conversation by letting them talk more than you, thus setting up a pattern of compliance.
  • Communicate your message with as few words as possible.

I met the former swedish justice minister two weeks ago. I listened to a speech he gave and spoke to him a while afterwards. He said that Göran Persson, a former prime minister — and very charismatic guy — used two characteristic social gimmicks related to communicating with as few words as possible.

1) When he answered the phone, or called someone, he would only say his surname, “Persson….” and nothing else, letting the other person start the conversation and do the talking.

2) He always kept it short. After the other person had spoken he would say, “Is there more?” and if there were, you’d better tell him.

How to Get People to do What You Want Over the Phone

If you were to reschedule an appointment or something like that, here’s what you’re gonna do:

When you make the call, know that you have about 4 seconds to make a first impression over the phone, and show that you are important.

You need to do this right away, because if you do, things are going to get much easier.

And how do you do this?

First thing: Have a friendly, positive, and polite tonality. Walk around a bit and smile for yourself before making the call so ensure this.

Second: Introduce yourself and explain briefly why you are calling.

Hey, I’m Mike Manley. I’m calling to [blank]…

Third:  State your case and give a specific reason for why you want to reschedule the visit:

I am looking to reschedule my appointment at 17:30. I got a sudden job interview and I am now looking at a ticket for getting to another town to meet the interviewers. I accepted immediately because I couldn’t let this opportunity go.  I really hope you can understand my situation. . .

It’s crucial that make you a pause here. At least 1-3 seconds. This will give the other person time to let what you just said sink in, and to put themselves in your position and identify with your situation.

. . .Is there anything you can do to help me? 

This is important because it makes the other person feel important — it might even make this person’s day, knowing that they helped someone out!

Fourth: The person on the other line answers Yes/No.

You will likely get a yes if you did the things above.

If you get a completely toneless NO, it likely means the other person is a “zombie”, and doesn’t give a shit about you.

This either means that:

1) You failed to create empathy. Perhaps you didn’t sound positive and polite enough?

Maybe you came across as too brash and commanding?

The challenge lies in sounding confident, happy, and polite, while at the same time conveying through your tonality that the other person would really help you out and make your day if he/she “could just do this one little thing for you”


2) This person doesn’t give a shit about anything, and hates his/her job. This is completely outside of your control. Some people just plain suck, know it themselves, and want to bring everyone else with down with them.

In either case, if you get a NO. Don’t try to be pushy. Being pushy over the phone is very annoying —  people hate it and will NOT want to aid you if you do it.

Don’t do it.

The Solution to Not Coming Across as Pushy (Even When You Are)

Is in your tonality.

You can be dominant and lead the conversation and state commands and so on without coming across as pushy. But you need to do it the right way.

You can keep plowing a bit and rephrase your questions to try again for the close. But you need to do it in a friendly or neutral tonality, subcommunicating that “it would be a good idea to do this”. Not blatantly stating “do this now or me get angry!”

You could say:

I understand… So, your situation is like this (give a recap of what the other person said).. How about we try doing (new solution) instead?

That often works.

However, if you are dealing with someone under strict regulation it’s usually a waste of time unless you can get the other person to care about you deeply enough to break the rules — which is unlikely, but possible.

When to Be Commanding Over the Phone and When to Take a Step Back

Here is some more specific advice.

When you hear that the person on the other side is insecure:

  • Use commanding tonality. This does not mean that you’re going to shout at them or tell them “Bitch, I told you to connect me to your boss!”, it means you’ll say whatever you’re saying with more depth and confidence. You will speak slowly, deliberately, and powerfully.
  • Use brief orders . Never say “Can you…?”  or use poorly phrased questions. Say “Do this for me” or “I want you to do that” or, “See if it’s possible to do this

These can be good, but they need to be calibrated to the situation. If you’ve made a strong first impression it should work.

If you try to command someone else over the phone and you are “insensitive to the situation” they will think you are a major douchebag and they’ll make it their mission to sabotage you.

How You Can Turn Cold Calls into Warm Calls

When you cold call people (which I don’t recommend, but it’s unavoidable sometimes) there are some extremely useful tactics that you can easily start using to improve your success ratio.

I used these tactics to get the CEO/executive interviews. Because I pulled that off by cold calling. Within the first 10-30 seconds you should:

  • Show credibility by mentioning or referring to someone or something they are familiar with. In my case I said I was from my university, told the name of my teacher, and said I was doing work on brand management.
  • Show social proof by mentioning someone they definitely know, such as another person in their company. If I’d got a recommendation, I immediately said, “so and so told me you were the right person to talk to about this.”
  • Show urgency by 1)  Respectfully asking “do you have time to speak for X minutes?” and by 2) Saying you’re free to speak to them when it suits them, showing that you’ll go out of your way to make it happen.
  • Show that they’d help you out by specifically saying why you think they’re qualified and why you’re interested in talking to them. It’s important that your tonality is enthusiastic when you say this part.
  • Once they’ve agreed to talk to you, be sure to validate them. After I had spoken to the CEOs/executives for a while, I always said, “it’s interesting that you should say that, because most of the other people I’ve interviewed have said the same thing.” That made them feel good about themselves, and smart. This is a subtle way to compliment someone without coming across as a pushover.

It can be hard to do all of these things. But the more of them you’re able to squeeze in, the more powerful it is.

Jordan Belfort’s Way to Get People to Do What You Want Over the Phone

I hope you’re not overwhelmed with tactics. But even if you don’t learn them all, it’ll still make a significant difference. This stuff does work. In a big way.

And if you’re going to talk to people over the phone, which you will, you should be doing it big – you should be doing it to win.

Enter Jordan Belfort. . .

Some people think Jordan Belfort is an untrustworthy douche and a snake oil salesman.

Maybe he is.

But one thing is for certain: he knows his shit when it comes to selling over the phone: he knows how to get people to do what you want over the phone. I would trust his advice here.

After all, he made hundreds of millions of dollars by leveraging his phone skills into turning as many stupid horny teenagers into extraordinarily persuasive phone salesmen as possible

Here are his most important tips for persuading people over the phone:

  • All sales calls are the same: a straight line from open to close.

how to get people to do what you want over the phone

You have a minimum and a maximum range that you allow the phone call (conversation) to swing up and down between before you actively push back the conversation to the middle line.

That means you’re not going to be fluff-talking about totally irrelevant stuff.

As the “sales guy”, your job is to keep the conversation on a straight line and navigate it to the close. This will happen automatically after you’ve done it enough times. You will become calibrated and know this stuff by heart.

You use your tonality to lead the conversation, deal with objections / reframe the situation / bring back the conversation to the line.

Your tonality is everything.


If you think this is an interesting topic, I highly recommend you to watch the following movies:

Boiler Room.

Glengarry Glen Ross

The Wolf of Wall Street


Do you have any useful tips for talking over the phone or to get people to do what you want?

Photo Credit:  Sean Mcpheat

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  1. If it’s an important call, written preparation is useful; it helps you remember details (especially if you’re nervous) and clarify your thoughts before you are caught saying, “Uhhhhh…” Before you dial, you should write down:

    Who you are (unless they already know you well), why you are calling, and any background they might need to establish a frame of reference. I know from experience that it’s easy to do something like call and start babbling about a meeting without reminding them just what the meeting is and when. When you call someone, their mind is probably not already tuned to your subject, and you need to help them shift gears. Often it will /not/ be sufficient to just give them your name, you need to also give them some referent so they can remember you or at least know something about you. Even if they’re a total stranger, “I’m a student at Baldfart U.” gives them a referent.

    Something personal about them, unless you know the call is going to be very brief. Most people like it when you remember how old their kids are or that their mother was in a wreck. You may remember this without writing it down, but then you may forget to ever bring it up.

    Any pertinent information you might need. You don’t want to call someone with a question about an insurance claim and realize five minutes into the call that you don’t know the claim number, policy number, or dates. Have your schedule handy. You don’t want to have to call someone back to tell them you can’t keep an appointment you just made an hour ago.

    A list of every single thing you need to mention, or every bit of information you need, including if it occurs to you during the call, and mark them off as they’re addressed. It’s embarrassing to have to call someone back and interrupt them again because you forgot to ask for their mailing address.

    Any points that might be difficult or awkward to express. Not that you have to stick to a script, but you don’t want to be at a loss for words when trying to describe an abstract notion – or worse, to realize only when you are trying to describe it “live” that it doesn’t make sense. This includes answers to questions or objections that they are likely to have.

    For important calls you should also have writing material immediately to hand /before/ you call so you can take notes. You don’t want to make someone wait for two minutes while you search for a pencil and then ask them to repeat the secret recipe.

    One more tip: verify who you are talking to, if there is any room for doubt. You could have the wrong number, or someone else could be answering your target’s phone. But don’t ask who /they/ are until you tell them who /you/ are.

    • Whoa. Maybe you should write part 2, Abgrund. Really useful tips.

      I’m guessing part of your job includes calling people?

      • My job involves a great variety of things, but I don’t do sales and I only occasionally do public speaking or cold calling (I do cold e-mailing frequently, but that’s quite different). You are right that voice tone is the most important thing – if you sound like you yourself aren’t interested in the conversation, or have no confidence in what you are saying, you are D.O.A.

        The typical “sales coach” would offer some advice about practicing, recording yourself, etc., i.e., faking it. This might happen with experience, but I think Sebastian has a better idea: Call when you’re rolling. Nothing emulates the impression of authentic conviction quite so well as authentic conviction. If the fire is out, wait for another day, don’t waste your time shortening your prospect list because you’re desperate.

      • “This might happen with experience, but I think Sebastian has a better idea: Call when you’re rolling”

        –Right. And if you don’t have the time to get the social momentum, you can take 1-3 shots of liquor, jump around a bit, and stand in a power pose. That’s a shortcut that works well for me.

  2. Wow, this is a very interesting topic, Ludvig. Your points on turning cold calls into warm calls resonate a lot with me. Useful tips.

    Anyway, to do all of this, we sure need a high level of self-confidence. The game is lost from the beginning if we don’t have it.

    p.s. Loved the video, haha. I must check out this movie.

    • Indeed, Jeremy.

      “we sure need a high level of self-confidence. The game is lost from the beginning if we don’t have it.”

      — That’s universally true. :)

      Definitely check out Boiler Room if you have time. It’s one of my favorites movies.

  3. I almost don’t talk over the phone, so this post is not very relevant to me. I will be content with the first 3 points as a takeaway.
    The post is very informative and detailed. And your accomplishments are praiseworthy.

  4. sebastian says:

    Ludvig, great advice.

    What I`ve learnt from calling dozens of CFO`s and CEO`s during my banking career:

    I never called during the morning. I used the day to build up social momentum. Before the call I was always talking with colleagues, joking around, and doing some body weight exercises. Yes in the office.

    If I felt shaky before a call, I didn`t called. I invested instead some more time into building social momentum.

    I never justified myself for what I was demanding. I put it into the room, and let the other person react.

    Whenever I could, I made face-to-face appointments. I tried to avoid negotiation over the phone. Not seeing the reaction of the other person is a huge disadvantage.

    And most important: I learnt to take a yes for a yes. No gabbling after a yes.

    • Cool, Sebastian.

      ” I used the day to build up social momentum. Before the call I was always talking with colleagues, joking around, and doing some body weight exercises. Yes in the office.”

      — This is so important…!

    • Good points Sebastian. Face to face is always better, if you can get it. You can see and read your counterpart, and they can also see you, which makes them more likely to trust you and to take you seriously. It’s also a little more difficult for them to cut you short. However, a cold in-person encounter might make some people more nervous than a phone call.

      Maybe we will see a post soon on how to handle cold in-person contacts.

    • Also: it’s good to call when you’re feeling ready, if possible, but also take into account how your target might feel. You don’t want to call most people at the start of their work day, nor at the end (especially on a Friday) or right after lunch. (The reverse might be true if you are trying to apply pressure on them.)

    • And a further good point: be prepared to get what you want. By “prepared” I mean “know what the fuck you are going to say”. It might be just “thank you, I appreciate your help” or it might be something like “excellent choice, sir, I will see that your product ships promptly” but have something ready to say. You will have maybe one second to make a “last impression” before the other person hangs up, and it can be very important. It may determine whether a customer gets “buyer’s remorse” or whether the person who helped you out is “in a meeting” the next time you call.

  5. Awesome post Ludvig!

    I have an interesting tip for people who are trying to land clients for their consulting business or whatever, via sales calls.

    It’s basically, how to make a cold lead, turn into a hot one, by making them expect your call.

    Here’s how I did it.

    1. I’d find a potential client to which I wanted to offer my SEO/internet marketing services. I’d gather all of the necessary information about their company’s structure, their online presence, etc.

    2. Based on my intel, I’d make a 5 page SEO report, where I showed them for free, how they could claim their Google Local Business listing and how to get more sales from the internet, by ranking higher in Google. This report was chock-full of practical information.

    3. On the first page of the report, I’d also make a short intro about me, the reason why I’m sending them this report, and the CRUCIAL PART I’d tell them that I was going to call them on this and this date at a specific time, so they could expect me to call them, so I was no more just some random cold caller.

    4. NOW HERE’S THE MONEY STEP – I printed out the report on high quality paper, with some nice covers and I sent them the whole thing via Fedex. The reason why I used Fedex, to send my package is two fold:
    – I immediately raised the value of the report, by having them sign for the thing
    – If you get a mail from an express courrier (especially if it’s an overnight delivery), you know you’ve received something of high value
    – People get excited, when they see that they received a package from Fedex, it helps to build intrigue

    This technique was really helpful to turn cold prospects into really warm and receptive ones. They were always expecting my call.

    You could argure that maybe this is too much work for a sales call, but if every potential client is worth a couple of hundred-or even thousands-dollars every month, then customizing a cookie-cutter report and spending $30 on a Fedex shipment, is really nothing compared to what you can get out of the deal.

    But too bad I bombed heavily when I got to the phone call, because I was nervous as fuck. I wish you wrote this post a couple of years ago, maybe I would have gotten some sales :)

  6. Hi Ludvig,

    I believe the art of cold calling is learning how to be passive aggressive. Tell the client what is going to happen or what you want rather than a watered down alternative.

    Visualizing really helped me too. I’d visualize the call going the way I want and tell myself “you’ve done this 100 times, stop thinking about it so much”. Afterwards I normally communicated better and I’m always able to build a ‘friendly’ type of chat. Rather than so serious.

    Also being a women has help. I find when speaking to a man they normally let their guard down to the ‘sweet voiced, innocent women’ who only wants a good deal. By the end of the call the deal is closed and the customer doesn’t feel ripped off because of my passive attitude.

    I did well in my cold calling days, but they are long behind me. Way to much pressure and having to deal with useless bosses.



    • “Also being a women has help. I find when speaking to a man they normally let their guard down to the ‘sweet voiced, innocent women’ who only wants a good deal.”

      — Hehe, nice!

      “Way to much pressure and having to deal with useless bosses”

      — I hear you. Those people tend to be a bit special.

      A friend of mine worked at a telemarketing center a few years ago selling electricity contracts. His boss always dressed in a suit, not that that’s strange, but he had stolen his entire personality, dress code, and lingo from Barney Stinson from the TV series How I Met Your Mother.

    • Being a girl helps with many kinds of sales (not car sales though). One trick I’ve seen used plenty of times is the bait-and-switch reps. The sales rep is a 26 year old hottie dressed in Business Provocative who is exceptionally friendly, at least to anyone in a suit who might have buy-power. Once the contract is signed, she is never seen again. The service rep is a fat old guy who wears stained shirts and a suspicious glare and don’t take no shit off no customers.

  7. Wow I didnt know there was so much thinking behind phone calls … I just talk to my friends.

    • Even if you don’t make phone calls as part of your job or business, it’s still important to be effective on the phone. Everyone has to call (or take calls from) customer service reps, insurance crooks, lazy receptionists, bureaucrats, and all kinds of people who can choose to help you or screw you.

    • Heathenwinds says:

      If you look at what he’s saying, he’s really just telling you to use the same salesmanship principles in a phone call as you would in real life, esp. concerning body language. Making a sale takes less thought the more that you do it.

  8. Interesting Ludvig,

    Also when negotiating sensitive things it is important to know how to suggest things indirectly.

    Example: I was recently negotiating a contract with a major oil company when it came to light after a long interview process that I technically didn’t have enough experience to gain the work visa needed for that country, despite they wanted to hire me. For most people, this would be an unsurmountable road block. I guessed that since they had spent so much time talking to me and i sensed they needed my skillset for this job and didn’t have someone, I would try my luck.

    Me: I see. Well, in that case provided you are aware of my actual experience and provided this is just for government purposes, a reference detailing 3 years experience could be obtained” Translation – I don’t want to lie to you, I’ve already told you i don’t have that level of experience, but my boss is a cool guy, he’ll tell them I have 3 years and we can get past this pesky regulation that is going to stop us both from a mutually beneficial relationship.

    HR guy: “If you happened to ammend your CV detailing further experience and were able to provide a legitimate reference, this would meet minimum requirements” – Translation: OK, we can do that but I can’t take responsibility or be complicit in this. Send your cv again and make sure your bullshit checks out.

    So much depends on being able to suggest things and say things in a way that communicates ideas without directly using words with blunt force.

    It’s all about wordplay. This type of a situation also builds trust between people because automatically you’re now ON THE SAME SIDE, rather than negotiating against eachother.

    Interesting tips though and I’ll be sure to use them if in my business which does sometimes involve calling.

    • G-Freedom,


      “Well, in that case provided you are aware of my actual experience and provided this is just for government purposes, a reference detailing 3 years experience could be obtained””

      — That’s subtle. :)

      “This type of a situation also builds trust between people because automatically you’re now ON THE SAME SIDE,”

      — Very true. Always try for something like that. “This is just between us…”

  9. Talking about perfect timing. I’m about to call McDonald’s and tell them about my videos.

    Have a great rest of the week Ludvig.

  10. Hey, great stuff. With several years background in ‘pickup’ and experience as a door to door salesman, I have learnt how to deal with people in a face to face context but I have always struggled on the phone.

    I turn into an idiot if people are listening in too. I refuse to use a phone on a bus for example.

    One skill that I think can be transferred is the theory that you should talk to someone as if you are talking to yourself. Of course, people are very different with regards to personality and status, but it’s more of a general base idea that can then be modified to fit the other persons conversational style.

    The main benefit is it helps to keep yourself relaxed and your tone of voice and body language exude an air of confidence. At it’s most basic level it’s a form of becoming ‘present’,

    It works with face to face interactions so with a bit of practice I think it can work on the phone… worth a try.

    • I do too (get embarassed if others are nearby).

    • Hey Jamie,

      “you should talk to someone as if you are talking to yourself”

      — Sounds like a good idea. I think we’re all disposed to doing just that. But a great reminder when nervous!

    • “you should talk to someone as if you are talking to yourself”

      I think this would not work for me, unless I’m talking to someone that likes to hear a lot of swearing.

  11. Great post Ludvig. I had to do cold calling every single day when I was working in the gym. Confidence plays a great deal into it and believe it or not, body language speaks a lot too. It is not a good idea to make an important when you’re in the middle of watching Breaking Bad in your pjs. Just saying. ;)

  12. This reminds me of a job I had once. I was a criminal investigator and had to call courthouses around the country and get criminal histories. Often court clerks are hesitant to give that kind of information, they’re either too busy or they just don’t like giving people’s info over the phone.

    What I learned was that you have to believe in what you’re saying. If you’re hesitant and talk like you’re unsure about yourself, you don’t get far. But if you say it confidently (even if you’re not) and say it like it’s not a big deal, you can get a lot more on the phone. If you have confidence in what you’re saying, you’ll get more.

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