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Ice-Cold Calling

Tend to get all high and mighty when talking to executive assistants? Your bad behavior could come back to haunt you.

Cut out the middleman. Go straight to the top. Start with the decision-maker. In general, that's good advice when you're trying to make a sale. However, if you're a homebased business owner attempting to circumvent an administrative or executive assistant to get straight to the head honcho, your approach may backfire, according to OfficeTeam, a Menlo Park, California, company that specializes in administrative staffing.

"Calling under false pretenses for vague purposes can only hurt your ability to reach the manager you wish to speak with," says Lynn Taylor, vice president and director of research at OfficeTeam. "Administrative assistants today have a great deal of influence over their managers' view and perception of callers. Those who misrepresent themselves over the phone stand to lose any chance of future contact with the company."

According to a recent OfficeTeam survey, 61 percent of executives polled believe their assistants have greater influence on business decisions today than they did five years ago. Taylor cites several reasons for this shift in authority.

"Managers are dealing with an increased business pace today, and from an efficiency and time-management standpoint, it simply makes sense to give as much authority as possible to someone they trust," she says. "Plus, assistants are increasingly taking on a major role vis-a-vis technology. Today, executives rely on them to take care of massive fax and e-mail projects."

Taylor adds that business callers who understand the pivotal role of administrative assistants and work with them rather than against them will be far more successful in reaching managers. She suggests the following:

  • When you reach assistants, ask for their name. This shows respect for them as business colleagues.
  • When asked about the purpose of your call, answer honestly. Evading the point or lying only sends red flags. Even if you do get through, your intended contact and the assistant will likely be irritated by your tactics, ultimately making this a one-time connection.
  • Ask the assistant for the most appropriate method of reaching the executive. He or she may recommend an alternative such as e-mail or fax, or refer you to a different contact altogether. Thank the assistant for the information and take the advice.
  • Maintain a pleasant demeanor with everyone at the company, not just those at the executive level. Your phone manner may well be communicated to the ultimate decision-maker. And that decision-maker just may be the assistant.
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