Just in case you don't have the time to read this article by its entirety, here are those five words that will increase the success rate of your telemarketing efforts by orders of magnitude:

"Is this a good time to talk?"

In 2013 I ran for office as a trustee on the Plano Independent School District board. I lost that election. Friends, experts, veteran politicians gave me advice as for the use of different political advertisement tools. One of them was phone banks, and moreover--robocalls. I have to admit that I don't like robocalls, and was therefore somewhat apprehensive about using them. What didn't help was the statistics on their success, and even worse--the consequences of failure. I was told I should expect 8-15% of the numbers called to call me back with an angry response, or even threats. I wasn't ready for that, so I've put this effort on low priority. Towards the end of the campaign period, I decided to do it anyway. I recorded a 45-second message, uploaded it to the system, and at the right time, automatic calls were placed to some 20,000 people within the district boundaries. I was ready for the nasty calls back. Or, at least I thought I was. But they didn't come. By the end of the campaign period, only 8 people called back. One wanted to know more detail about me, and seven said they will vote for me.

It couldn't have been the message body. Not all of it, anyway. It was too similar to other calls. I'm getting robocalls and cold calls all the time. Those calls start with a gross mispronunciation of my name (definitely not a good start...), and continue with a one-way sales pitch. Doesn't it matter that I'm busy? Does it matter whether I have the time? No! I often hang up those calls while the person on the other side is still talking. After all--they didn't even give me an opportunity to indicate if this was a good time for me to listen or not.

So how was my robocall message different? After all, on a robocall message you don't even have the opportunity to ask if this is a good time or not, because it is a "one-way" call. Mine started with the following words:

"Hi, my name is Yoram Solomon, and I'm running for the Plano school board elections. I hope I'm not interrupting your evening, and I apologize if I do."

Then I continued with the body of my message. Not a single negative call back. That was the only thing I did differently than all other candidates. I still lost the elections, though, but not because of that...

If you are actually making a cold call, using a phone bank, most likely hiring a company to do that, make sure the call script starts with:

"Hi, my name is XXX, and I'm with [company YYY]. Is this a good time to talk for 2 minutes?"

Do that, and the probability of having the other side staying on the line increases dramatically. There is science behind it, and a lot of it goes to the work of one of my heroes, Prof. Robert Cialdini. You showed the unsuspecting person who picked up the phone that you care about them and value their time. They feel obligated to you to some extent. At least to hear you out. They feel obligated to treat you right, just like to treated them. Cialdini's "reciprocity" principle.

And, by the way, I ran again in 2015 and won that election.

And a second "By the way:" Note how I started this article. I didn't assume you will have the time to read 600 words. I gave you the answer upfront...