Every sales manager preaches it. (Almost) every salesperson hates it. Most business owners even refuse to take them.  Yes, I’m talking about cold calling.

Anyone who has spent any time at all in sales has been required to cold call. There are salespeople who are very good at it. Then, there’s the rest of us.

My first experience with cold calling came when I was working for GTE (formerly General Telephone Co, since merged into Verizon). 8 hours a day for just above minimum wage and no commission, I and a roomful of others buried deeply in a windowless office  “dialed with a smile” to sell services that were new at the time.  Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, 3 Way Calling and Speed Dialing were  being packaged as The Smarter Call Pak. Just U.S. $3.95 after your one month free trial. Now, those services and that extra #4 did not just fall off of the bill after 30 days. We gave the customers a date that they had to call back by in order to cancel the service, or they would start being billed for the extra services. Of course, GTE would rather they forgot, even if they never used the services. People would call the service number wondering why they were getting a beep in their ear sometimes.  We sometimes would use a script which was almost comical “What if you missed a very important call?”

Has any business ever told you that “everyone is a prospect?” We were told that. After all, everyone who had a phone could have these services added to their lines.  The reality was that we were often asked to call residents of nursing homes (we called those lists “Group 4”).  Unfortunately (and sadly) these residents often received very few phone calls and would have little use for these services.

GTE  did some advertising in print and on radio/TV, and a few of us were selected to take incoming calls. If you think I didn’t jump at that chance, you would be wrong. There was a big difference between the people who called in in response to the advertising and the folks we cold called. The telephone customers who called us found a need for the services we were offering. The people we cold called, day in and day out, largely didn’t really have a need, and just didn’t appreciated being called. Some were behind on their phone bill and thought at first we were collection agents.

The takeaway, even then, was that cold calling was an inferior way to reach customers.  GTE thought it was worth hiring 100 people to dial the phone on 2 shifts, but would better targeted advertising encouraging inbound response have been better? Maybe even cost less? I don’t know GTE’s budget numbers at the time, but a lot of people churned in and out of that basement, three Temporary Help agencies were contracted, GTE customers were inconvenienced and there was probably a better way to introduce customers to the the new services than doing cold calls from a boiler room. Boiler room operations are the reason that the Do Not Call list was born, with penalties for companies who call individuals at home without their permission.

You might say a telemarketing room has nothing to do with business to business sales or business to consumer sales.

Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out why this operation has everything to do with professional sales…or lack of same.

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