How to Bedazzle a Prospective-Client Referral by Phone

No, the Magic 8 Ball isn't going to help you this time--prepare for the call like it's your most important job interview ever!
No, the Magic 8 Ball isn’t going to help you this time–prepare for the call like it’s your most important job interview ever!

A personal or business friend has given your contact information to a potential client in need of someone offering your professional services. Your initial effort to contact the referral doesn’t land in the black hole of unanswered e-mail or voice mail. In fact, this prospective client actually wants to have an initial conversation with you.

The day and time are now set. You’re simultaneously elated and nauseous–having to pitch yourself via phone call just isn’t the same as meeting someone in person.

You want to make a great impression, but it’s all going to pivot on the information you share, the questions you ask, and your voice. How best to prepare? Treat this scenario like a job interview, gentle reader…

Do Your Due Diligence Online and Bookmark or Print (Rinse and Repeat): Nowadays, you don’t have to dig too deep to find relevant information on a prospective client. Let your index finger do the clicking by starting with a high-level Google search on your prospect’s name. See what pops up before you go straight to the company website.

And don’t just browse your referral’s public profile on LinkedIn. Check out his or her Facebook account, Twitter feed, Google+ page, and YouTube channel (if one exists for the company), etc. Instead of giving yourself writer’s cramp, either bookmark or print the relevant pages. And then…

Write Up More Questions Than You Could Hope to Ask in 60 Minutes: Would you show up for the most important job interview of your career with only one or two vaguely formulated questions? (Please tell me your answer is “no!”) There’s no harm in writing up more questions than you’ll need.

I don’t mind if you choose to draft your open-ended questions with an iPad or the Evernote tool for smartphones. The main thing is to write a variety of questions demonstrating you gave it your all when you did your pre-call homework. (You are seeking new clients and projects, aren’t you?)

Don’t Take the Call in Sweats and a Stained T-Shirt (Home-Based or Not): We can argue about this one if you like. Or, you can remove yourself from the oncoming path of my blog’s steamroller.

If you’ll be using Skype for the call, you know you need to look professional. And even if an old-school landline is your tool of choice, dressing nicely the day of your phone meeting will add nonverbal professionalism to your conversation.

Silence Your “Smarty-Pants” Phone If/When Using Your Landline: The last thing you want your prospective client to hear during the call is the cool music ringtone you recently (or not so recently) downloaded to your iPhone or Android.

Hey, I like the Doors’ “Twentieth-Century Fox,” or Green Day’s “Peacemaker,” or even Reverend Horton Heat’s “It’s Martini Time” as much as you possibly do. But never share your favorite tunes with a complete stranger (unless you’re barhopping on a Friday or Saturday night).

Take Any Notes Manually, Not with a Device That Includes a Keyboard: Before you scoff at my suggestion, think about this: Unless your pen or mechanical pencil has a motor, taking notes by hand is a very quiet task. Avoid the dreaded background noise produced by your desktop’s or laptop’s keyboard. Don’t stir up childhood memories of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type for your referral!

Even during a face-to-face job interview, I would never consider taking notes with a smartphone or iPad. I realize you can mute the sound, but still. By writing your notes manually, it will be easier for you to focus on your potential client.

When Asked Questions, Lead with Your Best Examples as Stories, Not Lists: Online, there’s an overabundance of employment and job-search consultants who blog, post, and tweet about this topic. Most advise that the best way to make yourself memorable is by answering a question with a brief anecdote demonstrating your expertise.

Just like a certain cereal hawked by an over-energetic rabbit, lists “are for kids.” Tell a summary story about a proud achievement in 2-3 minutes and you’ll never have to regurgitate your resume out loud again.

Almost Close by Offering to Send Samples or Client References (Or Both): Make your kind offer during the last 15 minutes of the conversation. Too soon, and you seem desperate for work. Too late (or not at all), and you seem not hungry enough for the project. Follow up with the appropriate information, files, or error-free links embedded into an email. Do it as soon as possible, and do it gladly.

Close by “Asking for the Job” (Nicely): Don’t be afraid to let prospects know you’re growing your business and look forward to (possibly) working with them in the near future. Express your interest clearly, unless you intuit your personality and that of your almost-client aren’t meant to be together.

It’s lovely to gain a new client or customer from a referral, but it’s best to trust your instinct. If you sense a red flag (or multiple flags in cherry-bomb red), you know what to say…


Does the “treat a phone meeting with a referral like a job interview” model make sense to you? If not, what is your ideal plan of attack for handling referral and warm-lead phone calls? What steps did I inadvertently forget to mention? I’ve been around the block once or twice, but my name isn’t Clarissa, and I don’t dare explain it all.

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing or educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at  for a no-obligation project quote today!

2 Responses to How to Bedazzle a Prospective-Client Referral by Phone

  1. Another great post, Lori. I just want to weigh in on handwriting versus typing notes. I don’t have a problem with the clickety clack of my keyboard. It is what it is. I prefer keyboard to pen & paper because I type a lot faster than I write, so there’s less chance of my missing something during the interview.

    • Hi Tobi,

      Thanks for weighing in regarding the note-taking issue. You are entitled to your preference, if that’s what works best for you.

      I asserted my opinion based on a previous experience. I once had a phone meeting with a possible client who was distracted (and possibly offended?)by the clicking and clacking of my keyboard. The conversation didn’t result in me being hired…

      When having an initial conversation with a prospective client, I think it’s best to minimize any chance that a small detail might be the undoing of your future paycheck. Once you secure the project/client, it gets easier to “Click, Clack, Moo!”