Don't Fear the Phone

Why you should call your potential customers instead of emailing them

Written by Mira Shenker

Most people hate picking up the phone to call a client or contact. They would much rather send an email €“ it feels less intrusive and disruptive. But do people really mind getting phone calls?

Steli Efti argues in a post on that reaching out to potential clients over the phone not only sets you apart from other companies but wins you loyal customers—at least when you’re launching a startup. The co-founder of sales-support site argues that getting to know your current and potential customers over the phone will help you learn more about your product and build greater brand loyalty than whipping off a few emails ever could.

When canvassed 150 founders of VC-backed startups in Silicon Valley, most said that using a phone is outdated. The respondents felt they couldn’t afford to do something as manual and time-intensive as dialing clients.

Inspired by recent essays from Silicon Valley icon Paul Graham urging startups to Do Things That Don’t Scale, Efti put together a list of five benefits that await startups that don’t fear the phone. He’s speaking specifically to tech and web startups, but much of the advice applies to other types of new ventures.

1. Increase activation rate

When people sign up for a free trial of your software or website, they forget about it as soon as they leave the site. By the time you send them a follow-up email, they don’t recognize the company name and have no memory of signing up.

Calling interested prospects during their trial period leaves an impression and gives you a chance to solve whatever problem prompted them to sign up in the first place, creating a return customer, says Efti. This approach works just as well with a less virtual product. In fact, you could follow up with an online shopper who filled out an order form and then gave up part way through. (Look for tips on how to capitalize on search to narrow in on these targets when PROFIT’s October 2013 issue comes out this fall. To make sure you see the story, sign up for the PROFIT Report for new content daily.)

2. Market intelligence

Don’t have the resources to spend on calling all your prospects? Efti argues that the goal in the early days of making these calls shouldn’t be to close every potential customer; it should be to understand what those potential customers are looking for. Do a little light market research, he suggests, by asking how they heard about you and what questions they have about your product so far, and you’ll justify spending the time (and money) on the calls.

3. Higher close rate

Once you see your activation rate improving and you get a grasp on what it is your potential customers really want, you can start to see how your market on the whole works and what the consumer expects from you and your product. “Once you know you can deliver on those expectations, you can start building a sales model that includes calling customers and closing them on the phone,” writes Efti. “You’ll be able to close more customers and make more revenue if you call every single one of your free trial users. Period.”

4. Customer retention

Efti says when you call to check in on your trial users, more often than not you end up being able to address an issue they’re having with your product, or even discover a major bug you didn’t know about. Having been helped by an actual human, your customer is likely to be that much more loyal—not to mention they’ll be more successful now that you’ve worked out the glitch.

5. Branding

With everyone having abandoned the phone in favour of email campaigns, those who still make calls set themselves apart—for better or worse. Efti, for one, argues that it shows your customer you care.

Keep in mind, Efti isn’t advocating cold calling (which PROFIT columnist Matt Cook declared recently is dead). He’s suggesting you reach out to existing users or prospects who have already expressed some interest in your product. “Don’t worry about bothering users,” he writes, “you’re not a telemarketer.”

Not convinced? The phone isn’t your only resource for attracting and retaining customers. For instance, a well-designed app can accomplish a lot of the same things (albeit without the bonus of human interaction). You can also achieve impressive levels of customer care by showing hawk-like attentiveness on social media. If a potential or existing user tweets or posts to your Facebook page, a super quick response can turn a disgruntled customer into a loyal one.

Do you have other tips to share? Leave it in the comments section below.

Originally appeared on