Direct lines: The often overlooked element of sales prospecting

By Steve Richard, Co-founder, Vorsight

Stand in front of a room of 150 sales reps and ask them, “Raise your hand if you’d rather call your prospect on their direct line vs. going through the switchboard.” I promise that you will see 150 hands shoot into the air. But why is it so much better to call a direct line than a switchboard? Furthermore because most companies keep these magic 10 digits under lock and key, how do I get direct lines?

Why you need direct lines

Typically we call on Director, VP, and C-level execs at organizations with $100m annual revenue all the way to Wal-Mart. Some projects have us calling $10m-100m as well. We tracked 6 of our associates over three months on 2 key areas: % of direct lines on their call list and # of appointments completed that month. Though I’m no statistician, I do know what a straight line looks like when I see it.

Associate Average Meetings
per Month (last three)
% Direct Lines
on Contact List
Pete Best 11 51%
Ringo Star 12 45%
George Harrison 20 76%
Paul McCartney 22 74%
John Lennon 29 87%
George Martin 33 97.6%

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 – precisely the time when you have a better chance of catching execs.
  3. Call routing – you can always bypass the switchboard and sometimes even bypass the assistant.
  4. Speed – when you hit that magic window of 4-5 pm and you want to crank out a lot of dials (on a tool like the power dialer), the last thing you want is to fumble around with dial by name directories.

How to get direct lines

Though I’m not willing to reveal all our secrets, I will offer three primary places to get direct lines with many sub categories.

  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% direct lines for contacts in their 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 3×3 Research prior to calling. ZoomInfo is 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. The accuracy of Jigsaw has generally eroded over the years, but it’s also available for free if you add your own contacts to earn points.

These data sources / sales intelligence tools are all great (especially InsideView), but they only get you to first base in the quest for direct lines. To up your percentage, you need to call into the target account.

  1. 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 club pop into your mind? Yes, many admin people at organizations are trained to be nasty, pit-bull gatekeepers. Yet for every professional gatekeeper, there are 100x more people who have access to the same directory and who have not been trained in the ways of the gatekeeper. As a salesperson you need to have the savvy to find these people and ask them for the info in just the right way to get it. This is easier said than done. Try calling into some of the following places and probing for direct lines:
    1. Switchboard operators at different locations or different countries
    2. Floor receptionists or admins that don’t directly serve the executive but still sit near the executive
    3. The IT help desk
    4. Sales and customer service lines
    5. Random employees who really don’t care
    6. The mail room

At Vorsight we know exactly what to say in each of these and many other situations in order to get that direct line. Our methods are totally ethical and truthful – something that we see as more important than all the direct lines combined. Calls into admin and support people at a target account are the most sure-fire way to get accurate direct lines.

  1. 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 box 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, viola, 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.

Hopefully you enjoyed this tiny intro into the incredible power of direct lines to help you reach more decision makers, start more conversations about their needs, and source more opportunities. Though getting direct lines can be a bit of up front effort, the time is paid back in spades with the increases in quality conversations you have directly with executives.

Steve Richard is Co-Founder of Vorsight, currently ranked on Inc. Magazine’s list of the 5000 fastest growing companies in the US. Steve has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, The Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, CNN/Money, and is a CNBC guest contributor. Outside of work, Steve volunteers for Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind and enjoys scuba diving, skiing, running, and time with his growing family.

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