Everyone has different and often relatively strong opinions on business etiquette. Having said that, phone calls-- at least in the tech startup world-- are widely regarded as inefficient and often unnecessary.

Nothing annoys me more than sitting in a meeting and getting a call from someone I don't know who wants to discuss business and with whom I have never communicated in the past. Email me, schedule the call and we are good. Call me without scheduling-- and without me even giving you my number-- and that might be the last time we converse.

It's simple: if you text or email someone, they can respond on their time. But if you call someone, they need to respond right now on your time. It's just inconsiderate.

However, sometimes in business, unscheduled phone calls just need to be made. Not everyone replies to texts immediately and sometimes you need an immediate response. Also, emotion and nuance can get lost in messaging,

However, if you have one of those moments in which you decide it is appropriate to pick up the phone and not to send an email or a text, then at the very least, follow consider the following:

Think of the person you are calling and their time.

We are discussing a business call, not a phone call to your mom. We are also referring to a spontaneous phone call, not one that was scheduled. That said, start the call with these few words:

"Is now a good time?"

Just because your meeting ended early and you are able to spontaneously jump on a call now does not, by any means, mean that they are. Ask the simple question and then proceed with the topic about which you called. 

Know your audience, always.

Phone calls are a pretty basic example, but the rule here goes well beyond that. In business, you have your needs, your KPIs, your goals, and that is great. But you know who doesn't necessarily care about your needs and goals? Everyone else.

Whatever it is you are doing-- whether you're sending an email, pitching a journalist, selling to an investor, or trying to sign a strategic partnership-- stop thinking about your needs and start thinking about the other side.

Take the press, for example. You might very well think that the fact that you just hit a thousand users for your app is the best news ever. It might be a huge milestone for you and you might be very proud.

Guess what though? That is a non-story for most journalists. Why? Not because a thousand users isn't impressive, it is just not impressive enough compared to the million other stories that journalist was pitched that day. 

So in your universe, huge news. In your "audience's" universe? Non-news.

Take this simple principle of knowing the audience and apply it to sales too. You might have built the most impressively robust algorithm the world has ever known. You know who doesn't want to know about it? Well, everyone except you.

If you think your algorithm should be a primary part of your sales pitch, you are very mistaken, unless of course you are pitching it to an engineer you are trying to recruit. 

Think of the person you are pitching. How will this algorithm you built enhance their lives? What tangible value will it provide them? Ask yourself that question and focus on the answer in your pitch. Their needs, not yours.

This concept of thinking about your audience applies pretty much across the board in the business world. Focus on you and your product, you lose. Focus on your audience and their needs, you win.

A good place to start is asking every person you call whether now is a good time to talk.

Published on: Nov 28, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.