A series of essays about sales, startups, & general banter by Nick Persico

Did I Catch You At A Bad Time?

The first ten seconds of a cold call determines how effective you'll be in your first interaction with a prospect. It isn't likely you will get very far on the first call, so you need to optimize for getting a second call. This isn't easy, because any cold call is naturally uncomfortable for both parties.

As a salesperson, it's your job to make both you and the prospect as comfortable as possible. Removing animosity and confusion will put you in a great position to get to the next step of your sales process.

Did I catch you at a bad time?

The most powerful phrase I've learned in phone sales is "did I catch you at a bad time?". This phrase is used by many, as it's been referenced and taught in Aaron Ross' book Predictable Revenue. I've referred to Predictable Revenue on numerous occasions, as I believe it's one of the most complete works on B2B SaaS sales ever written.

I'm a passionate student of "sales theory", and I find myself dissecting this phrase every time I'm training new salespeople. The format of the question contains trigger words that seem to yield a desirable answer.

Let the dissection begin:

  • "Did I catch you.." - Casual, confident, and slang-like terminology. It helps you seem calm and composed.
  • "..at a bad time?" - The word "bad" is negative. Any normal human will want to reject anything negative.

The optimal answer you want to this question is "No". It's my opinion that the trigger word "bad" is subconciously connected to the word "no":

  • bad = no
  • bad ≠ yes

Above all, it's a question that has the intent of being respectful. You're unexpectedly interupting someone's day, and you have no idea what you'll find on the other end of the line.

How to use it.

Here's an example script that I use at the beginning of every cold call. Let's assume the person you're trying to reach picks up the phone:

Prospect: Hello?  
You: Hi, my name is Nick and I'm calling with a company called Startup X. Did I catch you at a bad time?  
Prospect: What's this about?  
You: I'm with a company called Startup X. We help [type of company you called] with the [thing you help them with]. Did I catch you at a bad time?  
Prospect: Uhh..some variation of [Yes] or [No]  

You're happy with any answer.

My favorite thing about "Did I catch you at a bad time?" is that you can be happy with any answer. The desired outcome in any first call is earning the right to get the next call. While you've asked a question that should help build respect and rapport with your prospect, you're also putting yourself in a position to benefit regardless of what the answer is.

If the prospect says "yes":

  • You now know that you need to cleanly wrap the call up.
  • Respond with asking for a good time to call back.
  • If there is push back on a next call, describe your intent and ask for their email.
  • Your highest priority is to get a next call.

If the prospect says "no":

  • Great! Move forward with your script and thank them for their time.

All things considered, "did I catch you at a bad time?" helps the entire conversation get off to a good start. There's no need to hide the fact that you are calling someone out of the blue, so embrace it by asking for the right to continue the call.

Your experience as a salesperson will be so much more pleasant.


Happy Selling!

Profile of Nick Persico

Nick Persico

Director of Sales at Close.com. Previous: Co-Founder of Smart Host (acquired), VP of Ops at Krossover (acquired), and sales at Sysco. Travel nerd, Baltimore Orioles and Ravens fan, and GIF enthusiast.