Al Franken (D-Minnesota) is now in his second term as a U.S. Senator. As a U.S. Senator, he meets foreign dignitaries and leaders, recommends Supreme Court candidates and votes on matters of national importance. Oh, and he also makes cold calls.
A former comedian, actor and cast member on Saturday Night Live, Franken has built a reputation in Washington as a hard-working, policy-oriented member of the judiciary committee and a strong supporter of progressive ideas like a single payer healthcare system. Agree with his politics or not, you can’t argue that Franken is also very, very funny. That sense of humor has helped him wrestle with the frustrations of Washington -- and for making cold calls to donors.
In a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air to promote his new political memoir “Giant of the Senate,” Franken not only shared his thoughts on the challenges of being a Senator in these crazy times but also the challenges of making these calls – a challenge any business owner can understand. “It’s called Call Time,” he explained. A typical conversation:
Franken: "Hi, this is Al Franken. I'm calling for Mr. Myers."
Receptionist: "Oh, he's not in the office right now."
Franken: "Uh-huh. I'm calling to invite him to a fund raiser in Dallas on June 7th."
Receptionist: "Oh, he and Mrs. Myers are going to be out of town."
Franken: "Uh-huh. But will his checkbook also be out of town?"
Franken says that the approach oftentimes gets a laugh - and money. Sometimes it doesn't. But he's doing it. He's a United States Senator. He's a national celebrity. He's Stuart Smalley. He has a "cold call director" -- someone akin to a marketing manager who accompanies and coaches him through the multi-hour sessions.
He follows a script. He’s on the phone.
Of course, Franken hates making these calls. Who doesn’t? It’s not easy so he tries anything to relieve the boredom, pass the time and keep his sanity -- even going so far (in his head) as to replace the lyrics in famous Broadway tunes with the scripts of his calls ("Please answer the phoooone, Howard Goldfine," he croons to the tune of an Evita song. "You've maxed out to me last cyyyycle. Oh, won't you be hooooome, Howard Goldfine?").
It helps a little, but not a lot. Cold calls are a necessary part of being a politician. You need donations to get re-elected and stay in office. You need to reach out to your biggest financial supporters, make sure they're happy with your work, then ask for more money.
I was thinking about this recently when someone asked me the last time I called up my clients out of the blue. I couldn't think of one. I'm usually sending emails or relying on others in my company to do the follow-ups. I know that people don't want to be bothered. I rationalize that I'm very busy. But am I too busy to check in with a client for just a few minutes to see that things are going OK? Am I too important to find out if there's anything else a client needs, or recommend another service or product we sell that might help in his or her business?
Franken, like his Senate colleagues, is also very busy. He could delegate these calls to underlings if he chooses. But he does not. Being a successful politician is a business and successful politicians have learned that emails and letters have a purpose, but only go so far. Donors (like our customers) respond to a personal outreach. I close more deals when I meet a prospect face to face. I strengthen more relationships when a client hears my voice and I can hear hers. The internet and our wonderful digital universe is great. But nothing replaces human contact -- at least once in a while.
So the next time you're grumbling or avoiding a phone call with a big client just remember: everyone does it. One U.S. Senators even does it to the soundtrack of Evita. Howard Goldfine, are you theeeeere?