Talk about deja vu. I took the Goddess of Trading out for Italian in our hometown of Summit, N.J., last week to celebrate our new site launch and found myself gawking at one of those bulletin boards that list the firms inhabiting the upstairs floors of the restaurant's building.
"What are you staring at?" Mrs. C. asked in bewilderment, as I read out loud the names of those who worked in the offices.
"My God," I said. "In another life I cold called in this building."
Mrs. Cramer was astonished: "Who did you know in this building?"
"No," I said, "That's the point. I didn't know anybody. I just blindly knocked on doors and asked to see people."
She was intrigued. "Did anyone ever want to see you?"
I snarled. "Of course not, but that's what cold calling is all about. It's about steeling yourself."
Indeed, fourteen years ago, fresh out of
Harvard Law School
, with a newly-minted certificate of admissions to the New York Bar, I found myself walking up and down the streets of Summit, Millburn, Short Hills and a host of other suburban New Jersey towns trying to find potential clients. To buy stocks! Any "Joe Blow Equities" or " John Q. Public Investments" got a knock on the door from me, no matter how seedy or dank.
Yes, we're back in school and now, without further ado, I am going to tell you how to build your client list. I ought to know. When the director of the movie Wall Street was doing research on the way brokers work, his assistant stumbled on me as I was at one time a master cold caller. You think Bud Foxx would have known to send flowers on a secretary's birthday if it weren't for me?
When I got out of the
training program in 1984, I was like the circus guy getting shot out of a cannon. On any given day I made 30 calls or knocked on 30 doors. I would plant myself in a town, any town, and go up and down office buildings. Then I would take a trip to the local library to read the local papers and I would call on anybody who seemed to have anything going whatsoever. I would never return to the office until I had made those 30 calls.
Invariably, 30 calls produced 3 meetings which produced two prospects which produced one client. That's the ratio. No matter what. I got the same ratio whether hustling in midtown Manhattan or parachuting into Elmira, Syracuse, Rochester, Corning or Horseheads in the depressed Southern Tier of New York. You make enough calls you get enough clients.
All I ever wanted to do on first blush was to befriend the secretary. It's quite rude to demand to or even ask to see the principal. I always treated the secretary as the important person. As I knew the secretary held the key to getting through to the potential client, I went out of my way the first time not to attempt to ask to see Mr. Big.
That way when I went through the second time I had a much better shot of hearing "Mr. Smith, this is that nice young fellow I told you about." When I heard that I knew I was cooking with gas. I don't think I ever, ever went to an office and asked for the person I most wanted to see. That's what jerks do. My style worked. I developed an excellent client list in six months! And I actually liked it. Met a lot of nice people. Made a lot of friends.
So, Mrs. C. wanted to know if I ever developed any business in Summit? "No," I replied, but I found out where I wanted to live if I ever did, and that's how we moved to the most beautiful town in New Jersey.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of
. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Mr. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback, emailed to