Don't you hate the feeling when your phone call goes unanswered--again? You're trying to achieve something important and get in front of powerful people. But they aren't returning your calls.

Here's why I wrote this article. I've faced the frustration of unreturned phone calls. In my years as a consultant, I pitched my services to influential executives at some of the world's biggest brands. As a startup entrepreneur, I sought funding from Silicon Valley's most reputable investors. I called and called. And I got rejected.

Phone calls matter. But unanswered phone calls are dead ends.

The people I was contacting were powerful and busy. Why would a phone call from little me matter in their big lives?

Eventually, I discovered some techniques that allowed me to gain access to them. Sure, making successful phone calls was only part of that, but it was an important part. Here is what I learned.

Use the phone only if it's the right way.

First, you must figure out the best way of reach this person.

It's going to vary from person to person. I've met entrepreneurs who will schedule meetings only from 6 to 7 a.m. Others use a block of time one afternoon a week for phone calls. Some businesspeople prefer email only.

Before you get frustrated that someone isn't returning your call, follow their process for getting in touch. There is a right way to get in touch with anyone, even the president of the United States.

If you don't know the best method for contacting your target, ask someone who does. Receptionists, even the surly ones, can provide some information.

Sound respectable.

If you leave a voicemail, presentation is everything. Just like clothing makes a difference in your personal appearance, your tone of voice makes a difference in your phone calls.

Here are a few suggestions that will improve your chances of getting called back:

  • Use correct grammar. Powerful people behave intelligently and respectfully.
  • Enunciate clearly. They need to understand what you're saying.
  • Speak confidently. A confident tone makes them more confident in you.
  • Be brief. Get to your point quickly and keep it short. Every second longer than 30 seconds reduces the likelihood of a callback by 2% (source).

Don't ask for their time or money. Give them something instead.

Busy people don't have time to hand out. Rather than asking for their time, ask to give them time.

The way you can do this is by providing them with something that will benefit them. You need to offer them something specific that won't require their time or money.

The method I used for getting in front of important people was offering to give them my SEO services free of charge. I made small changes on their websites (TechCrunch, Mashable, etc.) that improved their traffic.

It didn't cost the CEOs of these companies anything, and I did all the work myself. It required none of their time and gave them something of value.

Explain precisely what the call is all about.

If someone is going to call you back, they need to know what it's about. Some people propose gimmicky methods. For example, you say "I have your... " and then accidentally get cut off. I don't recommend that.

Instead, give your prospect clear instructions about your call--the purpose and the required action.

Sometimes, I'll say something like, "It will require only two-and-a-half minutes," since I know how long my proposal will be. Even if the conversation goes longer, they will understand that it's short.

Make a connection.

People rarely call strangers. In order to approach the person in the right way, establish some form of connection.

The best connection is a referral. This is my preferred method of getting in touch with people:

"Your friend David may have mentioned that I would call you. He told me that you would be the best person to speak with about this."

If you don't have a true referral, you should be transparent.

"We haven't yet met, but I respected your TED talk last month."

Don't ask questions or explain things.

A voicemail is a request for a callback. You should not use the voicemail to ask a question or explain something complicated.

The reason is twofold. First, the longer a voicemail, the more likely it is to be ignored. Second, if you provide too much information, then the person has enough information to decide not to call you back.

Connect online.

One of the great ways to improve your presence with the person is to connect with them online. Follow them on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn. Comment on their blog. If they are active on social media, they will see your name.

When you give them a phone call and leave your name, they will recognize it and be more likely to call you back. Another advantage of connecting online is that they can look at your information to find out more about you.

Follow this formula for leaving a message.

Could it be that you're leaving the wrong kind of voice message? If you're unsure of how to get in touch with someone, try this approach.

  • Name: "My name is... "
  • Date: "I'm calling at [time] on [date]."
  • Purpose: "The purpose of my call is... " Leave just enough information to establish importance and make them curious.
  • Request: "Please... " Make an easy and actionable request that they can do right away.
  • Contact: "My phone number is [#]. Again, that's [#].
  • Close: "Thank you." Don't get cute. "Hope to hear from you!" or "Call me when you get a chance" are not appropriate.

As long as your purpose and request are short, the entire message should last 20-30 seconds. If you use any of the other scripts in this article, you may have to shorten your purpose and request sections.

You may want to time your message and rehearse it a couple of times before placing your call.

Stay persistent up to a point.

One way to guarantee that you'll never get a callback is to stop trying. If you want to get in touch with someone important, keep trying. It may even benefit you to explain this in your message:

  • "I realize that we haven't spoken as I've requested, but I will plan to keep calling until we do."

Sometimes, it takes a while. I've tried incessantly to reach important people, only to receive a callback saying something like, "I'm sorry I couldn't call back sooner. I had a severe heart attack, and only recently was released from the hospital."

Hopefully, the person you're trying to reach is healthy. Since you don't know the circumstances for them not returning your call, give them the benefit of the doubt. Be gracious, never rude.

While persistence is important, you should not continue to bang your head on the wall for years. In this case, provide a definite endpoint to the effort. The way to do this is with a takeaway. Here's an example:

  • "I've left two voicemails. If I don't hear from you by the end of tomorrow, I'll assume you're not interested."
  • "If we aren't able to connect on the phone by COB Tuesday, I will be unable to do ___."

If you still want to get in touch with the person, try again a few months down the road. Their circumstances may have changed, and they might return your call.


You matter. You have something of value. You deserve to get that phone call returned.

Keep these things in mind, implement these scripts, and your likelihood of a callback will skyrocket.