34 Years young I became chairman of the board of a middle-sized Dutch insurance company. Determined to be a modern boss I instructed my secretary on my first day to refer all people that called me for business matters to my managers. After two weeks she sat down at my desk and showed me a list of fifteen names with numbers. She said: “These don’t want to speak to a manager, they want only you. They say that what they want to discuss cannot be decided by a manager, so no use going through a manager.” Fact of life. My choice was: ignoring them or take their calls. I arranged to call them on a pre-arranged time the next Friday. That day I started with the director of an ICT company. This is how the call went:

Me: Good Morning, Tom Kok calling.

He: Good morning mister Kok, so nice of you to call back. I hope you are not annoyed that I insisted on speaking to you personally?

Me: Nope, I am curious to what you want to discuss.

He: Yes, mister Kok, I would like to propose that we meet so I can inform you about our new services and products that might interest you.

Me: silence

He: Hello?

Me: Yes, I am here. I was waiting for you to tell me in what way your service or product is relevant to my company.

He: Ok, yes, but I think it would be much easier to explain if we could sit together and discuss.

Me: Please tell me what I can gain from your offers.

He: Well, I am convinced that if you have seen our presentation, your interest will be big.

Me: So, this is how I understand your proposal: I invite you, I spend an hour with you, you tell me about your business and then I can tell you how your services can be in my benefit? I do not have time for that. If there is something you want to sell, please do some research into my company and come with a concrete proposal that solves one of my problems. When you have such a proposal, please call me back. Good afternoon. End of call.

This went on like this with fourteen more calls. All of them had no concrete proposal, no offer I could not refuse, nothing that showed research and genuine interest in my company. But then came my last call. This is how it went:

Me: Good morning, Tom Kok calling.

He: Thank you for calling back mister Kok. I called you because I can solve your problem with your company’s high percentage of sick employees of 4.6 percent. I offer a service that will bring that down with 1.5% in three months.

Me: Wow, you did your homework, how can you know my percentage sick people, that is confidential!

He: Because I prepare and I know my business.

Me: Yes, you do. Let’s make an appointment for next week. End of call.

Now that is what I call an effective approach. Do not waste the time of your business partner. Put time in preparation, do serious research, find out what the need is of your desired business partner and make him or her a concrete proposal he cannot refuse. So, no smooth talking, brains please!