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One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy - telephone sales calls


My friend Tim Wilson over at the Savvy Technologist blog posted this little rant about vendor presentations. Go, Tim!

I've made similar observations as well about F2F sales presentations, but maybe it is time to educate those poor schmucks who do telephone cold calling. I sincerely dislike sales calls. I am a very tough sell. I am tight with the district's money. I am a born skeptic. And I am unfailing polite. Being nice to someone I can't tolerate causes cognitive dissonance which annoys me even further. 

Sales callers (whom I imagine all looking like Ernestine - yes, even the guys), here are a few tips for selling to guys like me:

1. Talk to the right person. Believe me immediately when I say that I do not select textbooks, library books, or video tapes. Yes, my office orders them, but we do not select them. I make no decisions about things like photocopiers, firewalls, servers, and online database - I only act on the recommendations of those people in the district who have the appropriate expertise and whom I trust.  Sell to the right person.

2. Tell me why I should give you my time within the first 30 seconds. Our telephones, our network, our website, our Internet filter, and our e-mail server all are working just fine. Thank you. If something was not working or I had a pressing need, I would be calling you. You've got 30 seconds to tell me how you are going to save me time, save me money, or improve learning opportunities for my students. Talk fast. Oh, and give your dumb company a name that actually means something. When you say you are calling from Matrix Optimization Apogees, you could be selling diet cola or hair restorer as far as I can tell.

3. Don't ask me how I am doing. I will tell you how I am doing. I will tell you how every tech director and every tech department employee in the entire world is doing:

I am busy. 

Unless you really want to know about my aching knees, my district's tight budget, and a troublesome co-worker, come up with a better opener.  

4. Do a little basic research and keep notes. Don't try selling me telephone service when your company doesn't serve my area. Don't offer me Internet connectivity when I am in the third year of a five year contract. Don't even bother mentioning that WIndows security system since our district is 90% Macintosh - just like it was the last time you called three months ago.

5. "Did you get the information I sent?" is a senseless question. I get even more junk mail* than I get junk phone calls. There is a convenient recycling container right by the mailboxes in our offices. Sweet.

6. Be ready to provide local references. I guarantee that my first question to you will be: "Can you give me the names of three schools in my area that use your product or service and the name of a contact in each?"  If you can't, I will have to consider myself a beta test site for your product and we should talk about how much you are willing to pay my district to do this work for you.

7. Understand the relationship public schools have with local vendors. It's the people in Mankato and in Minnesota that pay the taxes that support my schools. Anytime I can buy from that taxpayer (and parent) across the street, I will - even it means paying a small price premium for the privilege. Sorry, that is just the way we do business. Oh, an added benefit of buying locally is that if you need to find a throat to choke, it ain't out in California.

8. Know that it is sort of fun to be passive-agressive with you people. I am always nice, but that doesn't prevent me from:

  • putting you on hold and going to get coffee
  • transferring you to somebody I know isn't in the office
  • asking you to call back at a more convenient time AKA when I am out of the office

Here's my best suggestion cold callers - find a job with honor, respect and a future. Say, convenience store stick-up artist, Internet spammer, or American Idol contestant. Something you can be proud of at your kids' career day.

Don't call us; we'll call you.  rant.jpg


*A little bonus trivia for marketers from The Power of Intuition: And Why It’s the Biggest Myth in Business Today
By Kevin J. Clancy and Peter C. Krieg
(ChangeThis brief, February 2008)

One of the best kept secrets in American business today is that the average ROI of most marketing programs is zero or negative. Study after study, using different methodologies, approaches, and data, all come to this disappointing conclusion:

  • Nielsen reports a 95% new product failure rate.
  • The University of Michigan discovered that the average cross-industry customer satisfaction score has fallen below 75%.
  • The Marketing Science Institute determined that a 100% increase in advertising expenditures yields just a 1% increase in sales.
  • ROI measurement firm Marketing Management Analytics found that major media advertising for consumer packaged goods brands returns 54 cents on the dollar and campaigns for non-consumer packaged goods brands, 87 cents on the dollar—two losing propositions.
  • A Deutsche Bank study of packaged goods brands found that just 18% of television ad campaigns generated a positive ROI in the short-term; less than half (45%) saw any ROI payoff over the long run.
  • Copernicus observed that brand equity is in decline in 48 of 51 categories where buyers perceive the leading brands as more similar than different, and make purchase decisions based on price rather than product and service attributes.

With this kind of track record, is it any wonder that only two out of ten U.S. companies grow organically—through their marketing efforts and introduction of new products—by more than 2 or 3 percent per year?

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Reader Comments (2)

Excellent suggestions, Doug. I have also learned to avoid giving an inkling that there could be any interest. This only ensures a DAILY call.

In my role as a principal, I am surprised by the salespeople who just stop into our office and expect they can get "just five minutes" of my time. This is an even bigger turn-off because it shows just how little they understand the day of an educator.

Another big thing for me is vendors who are openly disrespectful about their competitors. Tell me what your software can do for students, not how rotten your competitor is. In some cases, vendors would make their competition responsible for the enactment of NCLB, global warming, and Avian Flu. This almost surely seals your fate with me.

Thanks for another wonderful epistle, Doug. Good reading!

March 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Hillmann

Hi Matt,

I sense many people are sensitive to "competitor bashing" by vendors. In fact, I heard this often during the reviews of our new student information system.

Might it be all the negative campaigning we hear in politics?

Thanks for the comment!


March 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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