Reframe the Challenge; Create the Best Question


There’s a direct relationship between the words we use on the phone and our ability to uncover new opportunities and increase our revenue. When your prospecting calls aren’t having the desired impact, examine the language you’re using. A quick edit can make a big difference.

My friend and colleague, Peggy Issenman, agreed to meet with me recently and provide her cold calling efforts as a case study.

Peggy is a passionate graphic designer with over 30 years experience creating everything from business cards to textbooks, and from annual reports to Canadian postage (yes, two of her designs are on our stamps!) through her company Peggy & Co. Design Inc. 

Book design is one of the areas of her business where she wants to create consistent growth, but she gets discouraged by cold calls that don’t produce results.

The Challenge

“In large publishing markets like the U.S. and the UK, designers are able to specialize,” Peggy shared with me. “They are able to focus only on cookbooks, or book covers, or children’s books. This isn’t possible in Canada, so I feel at a disadvantage when I call a U.S. book publisher.”

What Peggy can do in this situation is comment on specialization as part of her pitch and reframe the value of her vast experience. It might sound something like this:

“I realize, from my research on the U.S. market, that there are a lot of designers that specialize in cookbooks (textbooks, book covers, etc.). The Canadian market, being smaller, doesn’t allow me to specialize, but my clients find this an advantage because I bring new and innovative ideas to a project based on my broad range of experience.” 

The Best Question

While on a cold call, Peggy is always conscious of  the time. She knows everyone is busy and she doesn’t want to keep them on the call too long, so she’s been asking publishers this question to keep the call efficient:

“Do you send out your book design and typesetting, or do you do it all in-house?”

While these are good, targetted questions, they don’t elicit enough information to make the phone call valuable for either the publisher or Peggy. She needs to ask a question at the end of her pitch that inspires conversation, giving the publisher the opportunity to learn more about Peggy’s value, and allowing Peggy to determine if the publisher is indeed a valid client for her firm. A better question might be:

“What is your current procedure for hiring freelance designers?” And when the publisher answers this question, she might follow up with: “How do I access this process so I can be considered for upcoming projects?”

If the answer to the first question is “We don’t hire freelance designers,” then Peggy can quickly (and politely) end the call; the publisher is not a valid prospect. But if the publisher answers this first question in detail, they are now engaged in building the relationship, which is the goal of cold calling. The second question allows Peggy to provide the publisher with exactly what they require from her, instead of sending them information that may not be applicable to their specific process.

Using the phone effectively comes down to the language you choose. If the responses you are receiving are not what you want, it’s time to record your calls and pay attention to the words you are using. It may be time for you to do a quick edit.

Enjoy your phone work everyone!

0 thoughts on “Reframe the Challenge; Create the Best Question”

    • Thank you, Steve. When I read your comment and Linda’s I realize that, of course, it is always easier to choose the right language in retrospect. But it does point to the need for all of us to keep editing and revising what we say to prospects. To be present to how we are aksing questions.

    • Thanks, Peggy, for offering to be a case study … and for the great conversation over lunch. Enjoy your company very much.


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