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How Do You Get the Prospect's Direct Line?

3dad4f8Today's blog post is by Steve Richard, co-founder of Vorsight, an award winning sales training firm focused on prospecting, qualification, and discovery.

Sell more by calling the prospect's direct line. Here is how.

At Vorsight, we call on directors, VPs, and C-level execs at large organizations. We tracked six of our associates over three months on two key areas: percent of direct lines on their call list and number of appointments completed that month.  Though I’m no statistician, I do know a straight line when I see it.  


Average Meetings Per Month

% Direct Lines on Contact List

Pete Best



Ringo Starr



George Harrison



Paul McCartney



John Lennon



George Martin



The moral of the story: You can triple the effectiveness of your outbound-calling effort (or lead-qualification effort) if you double the number of direct lines on your calling list. 

Why is this so?  There are four reasons why you get more people on the phone with direct lines:

  1. Caller ID looks different. If you are a heavily solicited exec, would you pick up a call that shows as coming through the switchboard or reception?  Not a chance.
  2. Sometimes the dial-by-name directories are turned off after hours. That’s precisely when you have a better chance of catching execs.
  3. You avoid call routing. You can always bypass the switchboard and sometimes even bypass the assistant.
  4. You can make more calls quicker. When you hit that magic window of 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and you want to crank out a lot of calls (on a tool like the Power Dialer), the last thing you want to do is fumble around with dial-by-name directories.  

How to Get Direct Lines

Though I'm not willing to reveal all our secrets (you have to see one of our sales prospecting training workshops to learn it all), I will offer three primary places to get direct lines:

1.  Sales intelligence tools – There are tons of paid sources for direct-dial phone numbers, with varying degrees of accuracy.  If you sell into IT departments, you need to have a look at DiscoverOrg,which boasts 94 percent direct lines for contacts in its database, and RainKing,  which offers a bunch of direct lines, as well as deep intelligence on IT execs, projects, and systems used.

Not selling into IT?  Check out InsideView, which offers a bevy of direct lines, as well as aggregated information on the company and contact, pulled in from all over the web.  Vorsight is a big user of InsideView's sales intelligence tool for doing 3x3 Research prior to calling.  ZoomInfois an interesting data source based on Web crawlers that constantly refresh the data.  In the same vein is NetProspex, which also uses human beings to verify each record (novel concept, right?).  Finally, (formerly Jigsaw, but now owned by is another source of names and direct lines. 

These data sources are all great, but they get you only to first base in the quest for direct lines.  To up your percentage, you need to call into the target account.

2.  Calls into the account – If you close your eyes and think of an executive assistant, does an image of a big, burly bouncer at a nightclub pop into your mind?  For every professional gatekeeper, there are 100x more people who have access to the same directory and have not been trained in the ways of the gatekeeper.  As a salesperson, you need to be savvy enough to find these people and ask them for the info in just the right way to get it. Try calling into some of the following places and probing for direct lines:

  • Switchboard operators at different locations or different countries
  • Floor receptionists or admins that don't directly serve the executive but still sit near the executive
  • The IT help desk
  • Sales and customer service lines
  • Random employees who really don't care
  • The mail room

Calls into admin and support people at a target account are the surefire way to get accurate direct lines.

3.  Voicemail systems – If you have been in sales for any period of time, you likely have heard, "Your call is being answered by Audix."  Next time you get into someone"s voicemail and hear that, punch in **6.  It will say, "Enter last name followed by pound sign."  You key in R-I-C-H-A-R-D-# and, voilà, you hear, "Steve Richard, extension 4237."  Many voicemail systems have codes that take you to an automated directory that spit out direct extension numbers.  You then need to determine the area code and middle three digits – called the exchange – in order to put together that magic, 10-digit direct line.  Vorsight has identified eight voicemail systems with corresponding codes. 

Though getting direct lines can be a bit of effort up front, the time is paid back in spades with the increases in quality conversations you have directly with executives.

I'll offer this little story:  Vorsight does custom, on-site sales training workshops for clients.  Rather than center on PowerPoint presentations, our workshops center on live calling into target accounts.  We prove that our techniques work, instead of just talk about it. 

ABC ERP asked us for a prospecting workshop in 2010.  One of the reps challenged us to get the CFO of a $200m manufacturing firm to book a meeting.  She told us that there was absolutely no way we were going to get him.  She had been trying for more than two years, with no luck.  We pulled up the contact record in her company's CRM system: no direct line to the CFO, only a switchboard number.  We then called the IT help desk and got the direct line.  We prepared for the call by doing our 3x3 Research to customize the talking points to this CFO at this company.  Turns out, the CFO used to work at a company that was a big user of ABC ERP's software – a great conversation starter.  We dialed. One ring, and that CFO picked up.  All we had to do was say the name of the client, "Hi, this is Steve Richard from ABC ERP," and the CFO said, "I'm glad you called.  I'm talking to Oracle and SAP right now and have been looking for a third option." 

We landed a meeting that turned into a seven-figure opportunity for ABC ERP.  The sales rep was stunned.  We accomplished in two phone calls what she couldn’t in 100 or more over two years.  All it took was one direct line.       

Try out these ideas and have fun with them.   


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Solid article. The direct line is a powerful concept. One item you left out was if you could have the direct line of anyone in the world, who would it be?

- The President?
- Marc Benioff?
- The Pubmaster at Turf Tavern?

Great article. We had something similar with: "Who's your OchoCinco?"

Jon Birdsong

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