By Andrew Neitlich

Two professionals in initial phone screen and why one came up short

By Andrew Neitlich

Here is a quick case study that shows the importance of how you handle yourself at all times. It involves attorneys, but applies equally well to web designers.

Yesterday I had a few copyright questions and called some local attorneys for assistance. The first was not available, so I left a message.

The second came to the phone. However, he was gruff. I asked him if I could tell him my situation and get his advice. He said, “Just be brief.” I was brief, and yet he still sounded annoyed at me throughout the call, as if I had bothered him.


The first attorney called me back soon after. He was friendly and enthusiastic. I liked him.

Guess who I’m hiring?

The same applies to web design/development professionals. There is a wide variety in voice tone, enthusiasm, and basic courtesy/phone skills.

It always amazes me how professionals make the dumbest mistakes in building new client relationships. (As you can tell if you read this blog, there is no shortage of highly skilled and educated professionals who constantly get in their own way when it comes to client service and marketing).

Ask a few of your friends these questions:

1. How do you come across on the phone?

2. Is your voice tone pleasant and enthusiastic, without being inauthentic?

3. Do you come across as a confident professional on the phone?

4. Do you make prospects feel at ease, and try to build rapport with them?


  • MarkB

    I couldn’t agree more. One should treat all prospects as valued customers, even before they’re actually customers :)

  • Thanks for the heads up.

    I think I’m good at talking to clients in general but I’m not sure how I sound on the phone. I don’t have a recorder button on my phone and while I’m calling I’m of course pre occupied with the conversation itself.

  • I’m sure the one that was “gruff” already is swimming in money anyway, so that’s why he didn’t really care to hear your situation. People like that don’t like to listen for something they may or may not get paid for.

  • Yeah I’m guessing the lawyer that was gruff was probably worried that you’d be wasting his time for a small job or just using him to get free information. This brings me to a question I’ve long debated. Of course everyone has probably been told at one time or another to treat their $1,000 clients the same as their $100,000 clients because you never know when the $1,000 might refer you to a huge client or give you a huge job. At the same time, I can see how it would make sense to just focus on the “higher probability” clients rather than risk wasting time on the “small fish”. How do you draw the line between these two scenarios?

  • Don’t be so sure. I know a lot of professionals who are gruff, and give off the “I’m too successful to deal with you” vibe – it turns out, some of them are just gruff!

  • Eater

    LOL obviously you haven’t dealt with professionals that charge $2,000 a day for your time. I don’t blame him for asking you to be brief. Advice is never free, nor should you expect it to be.

  • cs_carver

    I had a great friendly lawyer once. He didn’t even send me a bill! Unfortunately, his advice was useless. Two years later, I saw his headshot in the newspaper–next to the article about his conviction for embezzlement. No wonder he didn’t need to send me a bill!

    There are no bargains in legal talent, and intellectual property law is an area entirely unto itself. General practice lawyers can be a total waste of money in this arena. While I agree with the general principle in the blog, it may not be sufficient for this instance.

  • aneitlich


    Not only do I deal with professionals who charge $2,000 a day for their time, I am one. I can’t stand it when Sitepoint readers use words like “obviously” and make assumptions with no facts.

    I wanted to interview two copyright attorneys to see which one was best to hire. I didn’t want free advice. The “advice” I sought was about rates and how each could help me. The gruff guy lost my business. The friendly guy got it.


  • Eater

    Perhaps next time you can include the facts in your blog post.

  • Guillermo

    I can’t stand it when Sitepoint readers use words like “obviously” and make assumptions with no facts.


    This is a post about been nice to people and how that turns into business later on, really liked it, thanks for it. But, you have just destroyed all the good done here, by using an expression like “I can’t stand it when Sitepoint readers…”. Just made you sound too big for someone’s opinion….

    Makes you think, doesn’t it?

    Big time SitePoint reader and fan, and book buyer…
    guillermo (dot) poveda (at) gmail (dot) com

  • campbeld

    I don’t like the use of “obviously” on these forums either. I find that many commenters jump to conclusions too quickly on forums. To me, people seem to push to arrive at conclusive remarks without fleshing out the discussions. I agree with Andrew in that I “can’t stand it when Sitepoint readers use words like obviously.”

    I find that the only obvious points are ones made about trivial matters. For example, if I see that the cat is on the mat, then obviously, the cat is on the mat! Anything more complicated than this simple silly case is probably not obvious at all.

  • Two thoughts come to my mind here – why were you talking to a lawyer about his rates? I would expect any professional of that nature to have a receptionist – so if not then they weren’t that professional to begin with, and if the answer is that you bypassed their recepionist and interupted whatever work they were doing, to ask a non-legal question I can understand the lawyer being a little upset. Sounds to me like the one that was happy to hear from you probably wasn’t busy – which is a worse sign than being grumpy.

    Secondly, I think you have been extremely stupid to base what could be a crucial business decision on such trivial evidence. I agree that it is a good idea to be polite to clients, whether potential or existing, but when choosing business partners, nobody who has a professional role should be judged except on their results. Sales people, recepionists etc are the obvious exceptions where personality is a major consideration, but for technical people quite the reverse – all the best techies are trolls with no social life!

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