When Do CEOs Return Cold Calls?

Well, in this case it was Friday morning.

The CEO of a large New York-based company (approx. $100M in revenue) left me an urgent message early Friday morning, August 7, requesting that I call him on his cellphone as soon as possible. He answered my call immediately and let me know my timing was perfect. However, he couldn’t wait for my UK client to visit New York in September to get things started. Was it possible to organize a teleconference meeting next week?

This was the direct result of my cold calling his company the previous day, a cold call that has now resulted in a strong opportunity for my client to not only generate hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also grab a larger share of their new export market.

Here’s the story:

As part of my commitment to The Phone Lady and the skills I teach, I take on two or three cold calling projects each year. I do this because I know phone behaviour is changing rapidly and I need to make sure my workshops are up to date and accurate. I also do it because I really enjoy the challenge of cold calling … and the adrenalin rush when it works.

Is it easy? No.

The New York company mentioned above is part of a project I started on Thursday morning, August 6. On behalf of a client in the UK, I am booking September appointments with qualified prospects in Manhattan and Long Island.

It’s important to know that I always start these projects with maximum optimism and I truly believed I could call the list of 24 companies before noon. Enter frustration #1: the list was flawed and required research not only relating to accurate contact information (thank you LinkedIn), but also in terms of recent mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies, location etc. Fortunately my journalism background means I love this research part but it does take up hours and hours of precious time. In the end, the research revealed that only 15 of the 24 leads were valid.

As I completed the research on each company, I dialed the phone. Enter frustration #2: All of the companies had many-layered voicemail systems. While this is to be expected today, it’s still annoying. One system had me spelling the last name of the person I wanted to reach, but then did not confirm my choice. It said “For (silence) press 1” and “For (silence) press 2”. As I’d entered the name of the CEO, I pressed “1”, only to have the system disconnect my call. I dialed again and this time pressed “2”. The same thing happened. (I’ll get back to calling this company again on Monday.)

Frustration #3: In 5.5 hours I dialed the phone 21 times. This is well below my average of 10 calls per hour. Several other items on my list for Thursday are still waiting to be done.

Frustration #4: I only spoke to 3 people on Thursday. They did all accept detailed information by email but I ended the day a bit agitated. After all, the client is hoping to attend 10 booked meetings in September.

But remember the end of the story? At one company the Executive Assistant of the CEO put me through to a senior executive she thought could help me. And he did. He shared the email I sent late Thursday afternoon with the CEO and that CEO called me Friday morning. This confirms: 1) I am working with a valid list; 2) my approach of starting with the CEO is also valid; 3) my client’s product is well represented in the marketing material they’ve created; and 4) there is a need and interest for what my client provides.

If you are an entrepreneur or salesperson, I really want you to stop listening to those who say cold calling is dead. Cold calling/prospecting still matters when it comes to business-to-business communication. Would the CEO I’ve mentioned responded as quickly if I’d only sent an email to his company? No, I don’t think so.(In fact, my client has sent out email to their target market with no results. The reason in this case? My initial research on this company indicated a different CEO. Turns out that CEO died 18 months ago. And yes, on Thursday I did have to navigate the dreaded “He’s passed away” phone call.)

And if I’d started farther down the decision-making chain, if I hadn’t asked for the CEO initially, would the information have reached him so quickly? No, I don’t think so.

A phone call still  gets you inside a company. The sound of your voice begins the process of building trust. The follow up email with well-crafted marketing material moves the relationship forward.

Still nervous and hesitant? Of course you are and I do empathize. One of the other reasons I take on these cold calling projects is they demand I go back to basics: write a pitch, practice a pitch, change the pitch when it doesn’t work. And if you think because I’m “The Phone Lady” I don’t get nervous calling CEO’s in Manhattan … perhaps I’ll video the start of a new campaign some day so you can see that cold calling always takes courage, especially for that first call.

But it’s a courage that always pays off.

Until next week – enjoy your phone work!

Closing a sale is the natural outcome of inspiring great conversations and listening intently to our potential customers.

This natural approach still involves a process – a plan that moves potential customers through a journey of discovery with you. So ... what's your process? And am I the right sales coach for you? Let's find out.

11 thoughts on “When Do CEOs Return Cold Calls?”

  1. Great story. Congratulations to you and your client and the Manhattan company too… all winners.

    I want a copy of the book.

  2. Thanks for sharing this story Mary Jane! It served as a great reminder how impactful that initial phone call can be! Big Congrats on your book! Look forward to getting my copy!

    • Yes, phone calls are still so important in business-to-business communication. Thanks for your comments, Nicole. Do let me know your reaction to the book.

  3. This is an inspiring story for our many clients at CEED who need to cold-call and are fearful, thank you for sharing it Mary Jane.

    Congratulations on publishing your book, It’s exciting because it means more people will be able to benefit from your message and training!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. This project has been a good reminder to me of the value of getting on the phone. It is easy to listen to the naysayers and begin to think “Well, maybe CEO’s really aren’t taking calls anymore.” But it simply isnt’ true. And thanks also for your comments on the book. I understand you’ve completed a book yourself lately. Quite a task, isn’t it?

  4. Congratulations, Mary Jane, on the launch of your book!! I’m very excited for you and look forward to reading it – and reminding myself of all the great content you provide to make this easier for entrepreneurs and others. It’s sure to be a great resource, and referred to often by many.


Leave a comment

When you subscribe to my weekly blog, you'll immediately get my detailed ebook The Why and How of Following-up featuring my best advice plus examples of success you can duplicate.


What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

Do you or your team want to improve your communication skills? Do you have a communication question or challenge you'd like to discuss? This quick-to-fill-out form is easy to use and you'll hear from Mary Jane very soon.