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

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past.  Original post March 6, 2008.


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 lost souls 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 unfailingly polite. Being nice to someone who annoys me causes cognitive dissonance which annoys me even further. 

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

1. Talk to the right person. Believe me immediately when I say that I do not select textbooks, library books, or videos. Yes, my office orders them, but I do not select them. I make no decisions about things like photocopiers, fire walls, servers, or online databases - 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 program 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% Mac - 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-aggressive 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 (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.



* 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 (5)

9. Don't pronounce it "lie-berry" if you want me to take you seriously.

March 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

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.

Hi Doug - I've read your blog for a very long time and learn an enormous amount from your insightful thoughts. But this comment about the actual person doing the cold call is very out of character for the tone of your entire blog. Surely your derision and mocking should be directed at the companies that ask individuals to cold call and not the actual person themselves.

I agree 100% that making cold calls into any business is a huge waste of time for everyone in the transaction. But I believe the actual person making the call should be respected as a person. The company employing them to make the call should be called out for their lazy approach to business, but not the actual person.

The executives of the companies that use cold-calling as part of the business model are the lazy ones. They are the people who should be ashamed of their business process, they are the ones who have decided not to produce marketing, not to engage their prospects, not to do the hard yards of actually building a continuous funnel of prospects being feed into the phone sales team.

I know that your comments are tongue-in-cheek, but I would love to see your post on the vendors that employ cold-calling tactics, as I feel they are the ones that simply don't get the points you are making.


March 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Linke

Hi David,

I appreciate the frank comment. The comment was meant to be a bit "over the top" and humorous - sorry if it hit a nerve.

I would say that your argument that it is the company, not the individual who should be held to account for cold calling is a bit like saying only the mob boss, not the hit men he employees, is guilty of a crime. The jobs we choose are a personal responsibility.

All the best,


March 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I know that your comments are tongue-in-cheek, but I would love to see your post on the vendors that employ cold-calling tactics, as I feel they are the ones that simply don't get the points you are making.

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertaruhan bola online

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