The rules are not written in stone as to whether you should ask the person you are cold calling, "Is this a good time to talk?" Some sales trainers equate it to the kiss of death, whereas others are more easygoing about the question's place in a salesperson's repertoire. Whether you choose to use it or not, you can also take steps to call when the chances of it being "a good time" are greater.

To Ask or Not to Ask

Sales trainer Colleen Francis believes that asking "Is this a good time to talk?" mars your chances at making a good first impression to the person you are prospecting. Just by eliminating this weak opener, she says, you can improve your sales by 20 percent. She favors taking a gutsy direct approach that acknowledges the awkwardness of the call. "Inc.", on the other hand, doesn't find anything wrong with asking the question. If it isn't a good time, just find out when would be better to reach the person and schedule a callback. The next time you speak, you will have already touched base.

Good Time Vs. Bad Time

Francis suggests that instead of opening with the "Is this a good time to talk" tack, you should go the other route and ask whether it is a bad time to talk. She thinks that this can elicit humor in the person being asked, who might say that it's always a bad time. From that point, she says, the customer might be more inclined to ask what you called about, thus effectively opening the doors to further discussion.

Creating Opportunities

Steve Richard, sales consultant at Vorsight, suggests making calls during specified call windows, to improve your chances of getting the person you are looking for. This way, you don't have to chomp at the bit about whether the person has time; chances are, he or she will probably be more available. He says that a few minutes before the start of the hour are good for catching people before a new round of meetings. Low-key holidays such as Presidents' Day are also a potential window of opportunity for proactively finding that "good time to talk."

Ice Breakers and Humor

Francis and "Inc." both emphasize the importance of humor in breaking the ice during a cold call and getting the prospect to sit down and talk. If the point of asking whether it is a good time to talk is to respect people's time and not waste it, a dose of humor gets straight to the point and defuses tension. "Inc." notes one technique of opening with "Hold onto your hats, here's another cold call." Francis suggests saying, "by the way, this is a sales call, would you like to hang up now?" Alternately, you might identify yourself and your company and ask, "So have I filled you with excitement?" At worst, the question falls flat, but if it works, you have built rapport and the possibility of a sale.