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“Can I Have 15 Minutes Of Your Time?”

by David Brock on April 29th, 2011

The phone rings, I answer, the voice on the other end asks, “Can I speak to the person in your company who is responsible for _______________ decisions?”  You can fill in the blank with about anything, today it was printers, a few days ago IT Networking, another time recruiting, then telecommunications, banking, health insurance, then……….

Hesitantly, I respond, “I guess that’s me.”

The voice at the other end, “I’m from ______________, next week I am meeting with companies in your area to present our technologies (solutions) on ____________.  I’d like to spend 15 minutes with you to tell you about them, there is no obligation or commitment required. Are you available on _________________”

Could anything more be wrong with this call?  But I get them every week.  The scripts are exactly the same, the results are always the same, but the calls continue.  Stop wasting your money!  Stop wasting my time–companies making these calls automatically go to the bottom of my list, should I eventually want to make a purchase in whatever area they are looking at.

What’s wrong with the call?  Besides everything, let me start with a few, hopefully you can add on.

  1. They don’t know anything about me or my company.  It’s easy to find that out, I have a reasonably visible profile, our company has a website, it only takes a couple of minutes to find out and personalize the discussion.
  2. When they talk to me, they never ask any questions about my business or my needs.  Today, the call was about printers (from a global 50 technology company).  In the past 2 years, we’ve spent less than $500 on printers–much of that was ink cartridges.  Printers and print technology aren’t high on my hit parade.  They aren’t keeping me up at night.  But of course, the person on the phone didn’t think to ask me this.  It might have been valuable to know to shape the next steps in the conversation.
  3. They are always focused on what they want to achieve–which is to get a meeting, not what I want to do.
  4. Even if I wanted to have a meeting, is that a good investment of a sales person’s time?  The cost of the sales call is more than I am ever likely to spend in printers in the next year.  Is this really a good “marketing qualified lead?”

I’ll stop there.  Other than being annoyed, that’s not my point in this post.  My issue is, as a sales or marketing executive, do these calls make sense?  Do we want to be spending our money, wasting our people’s time,wasting our resources, or wasting our customers’ time on programs that are so poorly structured?  Can these really produce a return? 

Is getting a meeting so important?  Do we want our people meeting with people who clearly aren’t in our “sweet spot?”  Shouldn’t we use the telephone conversations we have to determine whether the people with whom we are seeking meetings are worth our time–or that we might leverage a different channel for certain types of customers–they may be good customers, but not for direct field sales, perhaps through telesales, eCommerce, perhaps through nurturing until they might be more receptive.

If we’re sales people making those calls, trying to set meetings.  Is our time so worthless that we are willing to invest it in things that are 99.99% likely to be a waste of our time, or that can be handled purely through a phone call or through some other technique?

For the moment, don’t think about the customer, think about yourself.  Are these calls worth the time and money?  Is the successful outcome of these calls worth the time and money (remember the successful outcome is a meeting not a sale)?   As sales people we are time poor–so we need to guard how we use our time, we need to make sure we are investing our time in meaningful activities.  As sales and marketing managers, we worry about our people’s time, our resources and our money.  Do we want to be wasting all of those with programs like this?

We need to be smarter about our prospecting calls.  We need to be smarter about our investments in these programs.  We need to be smarter about how we engage our customers.  Finally, we need to realize that “Newton’s Law” applies with customer perceptions.  Newton basically said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,”  this global 50 company is now a company I’d be hard pressed to buy from.  They apparently have no thoughts about how they want to engage prospects, they apparently have so much money they can invest in bad programs like this–give it to me in a price reduction!

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  1. I’ve often set out to write posts about these sad excuses for sales calls. Aside from the fact that you do it so eloquently, the results from call to sales managers and executives confirmed my suspicions that stop me in my tracks. The general response is they’re happy with the bottom line results, or so they say.

    Unfortunately, countless sales and marketing people believe selling is just a numbers game. Changing their approach requires a change of philosophy and that is like banging your head against the wall, of which I prefer the latter.

  2. Dave, thanks for the great post. You very eloquently expressed a common issue for when companies adopt the “spray and pray” methodology, and how common it can be for them to fail at making a sale before even the first meeting.

    Companies can really change their approach (and, I’m sure, their results) by just doing a little bit of research or being more targeted about *who* they call and when.

    • Thanks for the comment and joining the discussion Ada. It’s amazing what a difference just a little research makes. Regards, Dave

  3. Nimoh permalink

    The article describes a common trend which we have all experienced at some stage or the other and that by itself is testimony to how common and widespread the approach is. Apparently this spray and pray or hit and run approach does have it’s “catch” at the end of the day and they could be people who are genuinely interested, or people who foresee being interested in the immediate or near future or just people who are undecided. In a B2B environment this is usually done by a telemarketing team from a low-cost base and the aim is just to do a first level qualification and nothing more, any one who progresses to the next stage is then forwarded to the relevant sales person. Thousands of calls are done by the telemarketing team and a handful would be filtered and passed on to the sales team with probably one or two in a year leading to closure, but this is just through the telemarketing channel.

    • Nimoh, thanks for the interesting view. Imagine what could happen if people started taking a better approach at the beginning of the process. If they equipped their telemarketing teams to have informed conversations, if they targetted customers more effectively, if they engaged the customers more positively—the results at all levels would be much more positive and produce better results at a lower cost. Too many billions of dollar/euros/yuan are wasted every year by poorly thought out and executed campaigns.

      Improving the quality of the “campaign” and customer engagement will produce far better results at a far lower cost.

  4. Mike permalink

    Sadly, my most recent employer promoted this exact same type of sales call. I didn’t set enough appointments and now I’m unemployed.

    • I am always amazed at the $100’s of millions that are thrown away every year with these poorly thought out and executed campaigns. Imagine the results that could be produced. While I’m sorry to hear about your situation, it frees you up to find a great opportunity.

  5. Excellent point here David: Newton basically said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” this global 50 company is now a company I’d be hard pressed to buy from.

    It highlights the fact that poorly done sales approaches do more damage than good.

    • Thanks John. If companies recognized the negative impact this stuff has on their “brand,” they might be more thoughtful about their approach. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  6. Jim Melo permalink


    as always another well laid out article and topic. I thank you for this info. As far as the article it seems many companies are too number concentric and promote people that may have excelled at sales but are poor leaders and/or communicators. As one gent mentioned he didn’t book enough appointments so he lost his job. So what is the real measurable KPI? I have mentioned at times to some “managers” ( I use that terms loosely ) that what really matters is the context of the call not how many calls are made. With this said, there must be some inbred qualities for a sales person to succeed, one being hunger and a go get it attitude. The reactions I get are at time borderline comical.

    From my perspective the problem begins at the top and snowballs downhill to middle management. Success at times defined by people appearing to be “busy” but in fact they spin their wheels. What I find ironic is some firms are resolute to hiring “salespeople” but then expect them to be telemarketers. The miss is telemarketer are just that, script readers…in fact what they want is a business person that sells but that requires a skill set that may not be inline with that managers volume expectations.

    I believe much of this is attributed to not having proper leadership on the ground level that is in tune with their outbound efforts. At the end of the day they feel good if someone makes 120+ calls a day, but in reality it’s better to make 40 strong conversational calls that lead to a meet and a potential sale. Just my three cents

    All the best.

    • Jim, What a thoughtful comment! I tend to agree, a lot of the problem is with management setting meaningless and arbitrary goals. Often with the thinking, “more is better,” without understanding the fundamental drivers of their business.

      We have to be smart about setting goals, We have to have leading goals, like number of QUALITY calls conversations that tie to expected outcomes. 40 strong conversational calls are far more powerful than 120 + dials, etc.

      The only point I would quibble about is “telemarketers being script readers,” and there it’s again a management problem. If that’s all you expect of them, then that’s all you get.

      Thanks for a wonderfully insightful comment Jim.

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