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Sales The Old Fashioned Way

© July 2004 BigDumbDinosaur

Posted by BigDumbDinosaur

Recently, a salesman for a certain software company whose target market is Linux administration contacted me to pitch his wonderful product.  I suppose my company is a tempting target for this sort of activity due to our focus on UNIX and Linux systems (we also do Windows, but only when they are dirty or broken).  So unsolicited sales pitches (aka cold calls, telemarketing - pick your favorite description)) are nothing new around here.

On average, we get at least 10 to 12 such calls via telephone each week, along with an occasional FAX or two.  In the majority of cases, either the product or service is something that would be of little or no value to us - Windows management tools, for example - or the product/service might be somthing of interest, but the caller's tone of voice and method of presentation is either uninspiring or downright obnoxious.

More than almost anything else, obnoxious salespeople turn me off and cause me to completely tune out whatever message they may be trying to send - this particularly applies to telemarketers, many of whom can't comprehend the meaning of words like "No" and phrases such as "We're not interested."  I especially loathe the way new car salesmen descend like hungry hawks chasing jackrabbits when I step into a dealer's showroom, and I make sure via body language and general demeanor that all concerned know how I feel (which probably explains why I haven't purchased a new car in some years).  My wife, who is more tolerant of sales poeple than I, has jokingly referred to my behavior as "Menard's syndrome," a reference to my dislike of that home improvement center's shrill sales pitches on radio and television.

Syndrome notwithstanding, many would probably agree with me that there is something blatantly impersonal and irritating about a TV shill bellowing at you to "save big money," especially when the supposedly low prices are the same as found at other similar businesses.  Many would also probably agree with me that it is annoying when someone out of the clear blue makes contact via phone, FAX or E-mail to, in effect, inform us we'd be fools to not purchase his or her product or service.  Yet this sort of behavior seems to be routine nowadays, escalating, actually: almost a defiant flouting of any sort of common sense or understanding of the psychology of sales or principles of good salesmanship.  No where is this obnoxious behavior more evident than when sales solicitations arrive via E-mail.

A particularly odious example of this sort of "salesmanship" recently got in my face, causing me to inform the would-be goods hawker that no business would be transacted between his company and mine as long as I was the one making the decisions around here.  Now, gentle reader, you may think I'm just a mean, grumpy, broken-down, old dinosaur for responding that way to a poor fellow who was just trying to make a living, and you'd almost be right with that assessment.  Yes, I can be grumpy, I am a bit broken down, and "old dinosaur" describes me to a T. Rex (I first learned how to program by pounding in code on a Teletype machine, that's how old I am).  However, like an equally old hound dog, I'm really quite docile and only get mean when someone annoys me, as this particular spammer succeeded in doing.  His original transgression was soliciting a sale via E-mail.

"So what?" you may reply.  "Everyone gets spam."

True enough, my friend, although some of us get more than others.  However, what really frosted my fanny was the manner in which he obtained my E-mail address.  His actions, in addition to being a case of plain old spam, were a gross misuse of facilities generously provided by a UNIX colleague as an aid to those seeking computer knowledge, and a blatant disregard of the right each of us has to some modicum of privacy.

Despite being a big, broken-down, old dinosaur, in many ways I'm very up to date.  I like to work with the latest technology: I'll pit my server against yours any time, I'm always exploring new ways of doing things, I try to enjoy new kinds of music, and I read a lot to stay current on world events and general thinking.  Like most computer jocks, I've fully embraced the use of the Internet as a tool to get things done.  I find E-mail to be an invaluable resource, as I can stay in contact my clients and suppliers without having to observe the limits of business hours, using verbiage that best articulates what I want to say.  There's no question that E-mail helps to grease the wheels of business: indeed, I am often able to serve my clients via E-mail and remote access when traveling to their location isn't possible for one reason or another.

Be that as it may, in a few areas I'm quite old fashioned.  I believe that the USA is a land of opportunities, not guarantees; that I should remove my hat indoors; that I should relinquish my seat on the bus to a lady or an old guy if there is nowhere else to sit; and that I should be polite to strangers and respect their right to privacy - a concept that is obviously foreign to spammers and telemarketers.  I also believe that the only proper way to conduct a sales call is by meeting with my client at his or her place of business, not by hounding him or her with phone calls, FAXes and spam.

When you visit your client to solicit business, the two of you will be able to observe each other's body language and gestures, which will convey information that could not possibly pass through any other means of communication.  Naturally, the result will be a more interactive conversation that will help to establish a mutual feeling of respect and trust, possibly leading to a long-term business relationship.  Also, by going to the client's premises, you will have given him or her an opportunity to show you what it is that the business does and how it is done.  For you, this is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate interest in your client's needs, as well observe aspects of the business where your professional services can be of value.  I should not have to point out to any IT consultant worthy of the name that this sort of interchange, especially in the early stages of pitching products and services to a new client, is invaluable in tailoring your sales presentation.

Key to this discussion is my opinion that an attempt to obtain business via spam, phone call or FAX machine ultimately is counterproductive.  Sending a sales proposal via one of these methods is fine after a dialog has been established and the client has asked you to for more information (although you really should send a signed copy via snail-mail to make the process less impersonal).  However, solicitating business by spam, FAX or phone call alone will probably result in a subtle message being sent to the would-be client that in effect says, "I'm more important than you, so why should I expend MY time to visit you.  If you want my product, you can contact ME."  I know I would be put off by such a message, and I'm sure your clients, as well as mine, would feel the same.

On the other hand, if you visit your client to ask for his or her business you are transmitting an unmistakable message that clearly tells your client, "YOU are important and worthy of my time."  That, and quality products and professional services, is the best sales tool money can't buy!


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I'd also note that I wish people would do at least a little basic research about me before they call. I regularly get calls from Search Engine Optimization firms. Now, I'm not saying that they couldn't improve things for me (though I bet most couldn't), but I'm already in the top position for a lot of searches that matter to me, and if you don't even know THAT much, you don't know squat and aren't doing your job. Were I doing that kind of prospecting, I'd look at your website, and try some searches. I'd also note your Page Rank and look you up in Alexa - how the heck are you going to have a useful conversation with me if you didn't even bother to do that?

Hint to the next wannabe who cold calls me on this: maybe if you started out with "I know you presently have a PR of six but I think I can get you to seven in a month", I *might* let you talk a minute or two longer. If you have really done your homework, maybe we'll talk longer. Maybe you'll get a chance to extract some money from me. Probably not, but without that, you have no chance.


In this day and age of instant gratification, the idea of actually performing a little research before cold-calling a prospect seems to have been completely overlooked. How in blue blazes is anyone supposed to make a sale when they don't even know what it is you do, let alone how you do it?


BTW, do I read that as this jebroney telephoned you even after sending spam email???


Naw, he didn't call, but he did send me more mail after I had I politely indicated I wasn't interested in his product (which I know nothing about, so how could I be interested?). If he had let it go after my first reply I would not have given it another thought, and might have even visited his site to see what the excitement was all about.

However, when he came back again he irritated me -- evidently he didn't understand "no" -- and that was when I told him his trolling the consultants listing for sales prospects was not to my liking. To make sure he got my point, I added his domain to the access database on my mail server so he could receive his very own copy of my "UCE rejected" message if he persisted. A later check of the sendmail log (notice to spam-meisters: I log *EVERYTHING* and if you piss me off, you too will find your way into access.db) showed one further attempt to send mail.



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