Cold calling (from the callee’s perspective)

My office phone rings a LOT. And at least 50% of the time, the person calling is cold-calling me, hoping to sell whatever product or service they offer. And since the more enterprising of these folks at least glance at my blog before calling me, I thought I’d write some tips for them here.

Be aware I have no idea how to actually do a cold call. There is likely no one in the world worse at that than me. So everything I write here is from the perspective of the callee, not the caller. I’m sure this will read like “10 steps to fewer sales” for experienced sales folks. :-)

Imagine this, which seems to happen most of the time:

Greg: “Hello, this is Greg…”

Sales guy Bob: “Hello, Greg, this is Bob WannaSellYa. How are you doing today?”

11 words, and this already puts me in a bad spot, and instantly annoys me. First, I have no idea who Bob WannaSellYa is or what company he’s with. So I’m either annoyed that he wants to know how I’m doing even though I don’t know him, or I’m horrified that I might have met him yesterday and forgot his name. Could go either way. If you have some connection to me – if say someone I know gave you my contact info – then say so right away, and I’ll pay much more attention. Otherwise, my usual response to this:

Greg: “Fine.”

And I’m sorry to admit, it’s not a polite “fine” – it’s more of an annoyed, who-the-f%@!-are-you “fine”.

I don’t want to be mean, I really don’t. It’s not my nature. But I have a lot to do today, and talking to you wasn’t on my list. So please, do what you can to get to the point quickly.

Ok, so now Bob knows I’m doing fine, and if he’s really listening, he knows I’m already somewhat annoyed about the call. Now comes the meat of the conversation, I guess. I’ll give a hint at this point – if I don’t know who you are, then don’t pile on any more small talk; asking me about the weather in Denver will not help your chances. But assuming we’re past that:

Bob: “Great, glad to hear it. Greg, I’m with AcmeServices here in Dallas, TX, and we’ve got 90 of the Fortune 100 as clients. Do you currently host your own information systems?”

Greg: “I’m sorry, who did you say you were with?”

Bob: “AcmeServices.”

Greg: “And what do you do?”

You see, I’ve probably never heard of AcmeServices, I don’t know what you do, and I’m not likely to have a conversation with you about what I might or might not be hosting until I know what you’re after. Are you a managed service provider? An edge network provider? A consultant? A hosting company? Give me one or two sentences about what exactly you do, and maybe even how you think it might fit with what I do. Even if you get the second part wrong, I’ll know two things:

1. I’ll have a general idea what you do.

2. I’ll know that you spent at least 5 minutes looking at what I do, so I don’t have to explain that we sell enterprise software AND operate an online hosted system.

Based on #1, I’ll be able to triage the call. Either tell you a) I’m not interested, b) I’m not the one to talk to but perhaps point you to someone else, or c) I’m indeed the guy and let’s spend a few minutes talking. And if you also did #2, we’ll be able to jump right in if there’s something here.

And if I know enough about what you’re saying to tell you I’m not interested, then you’re just not going to be able to talk me into it right then on the phone. It’s never happened. If I don’t really know, then I’ll say so and you can tell me more. If, for example, you sell solid-state storage, and I use regular disk storage, then I’ll pepper you with a bunch of questions to help me understand whether I might be interested…but if I’m not interested from the get-go, then you can save us both some time, and you can save me from feeling like I’m being rude by trying to end the call.

(aside: if you do sell solid-state storage, please do call me, because I do have some questions. :-)

Let me try to boil all this down to a few tips, if I might:

  • Get to the point quickly; small talk is awkward when we don’t know each other.
  • If we have some mutual acquaintance or connection, say so quickly, and I won’t blow you off. Better yet, ask them to introduce you to me via email.
  • If I don’t answer your voice mail, you don’t need to leave 8 more messages – I got the first one. I probably just don’t need what you’re selling at the moment. It’s no offense.
  • Don’t ever say we’ve chatted personally in the past when we haven’t. I have a bad memory, but I remember things like this. This is a sure-fire way to make sure I will never return your voicemail or email. You’d be surprised how much this happens.
  • Email is a much better way to get ahold of me, frankly, than the phone. If you’re obviously selling something, then I might not respond, but I do at least read the first sentence or two of every email I get. If I don’t need something now, but think I might in the future, I’ll save your email, and remember you later (I usually don’t reply until I’m ready to actually dig in). But – if your email reads like spam, as opposed to a personal note, it’s much less likely that I’ll save it or respond.

Anyway, I’m sure I just offended most of the sales people who read my blog, and perhaps others as well…and like I said, I have no idea what kinds of things actually work and what doesn’t. I just know what I personally respond to. So if you want to sell me stuff, this will probably help!

34 thoughts on “Cold calling (from the callee’s perspective)

  1. Jerry Gennaria

    I couldn’t have said it any better. In my case, I would also add that you can leave a voicemail, but unless you actually catch me when I’m looking for what you’ve said your selling, I will never return the call. If you want to talk to me, you need to catch me in person. And then all of the above applies, especially, “Don’t ask me questions about my company or my setup until you’ve told me who you are and who you represent.”

  2. Dossy Shiobara

    A great tactic is to simply cut the call short by saying, “Sorry, I’m really busy right now. Send me your marketing material by fax at (…).”

    Giving out an email address is too error-prone and time consuming (“At what? Is that a p or a d? Wait, dot org? No? Dot com? Okay.”) and gives them an opportunity to try and stall you. You shoot off a 10 digit phone number and you’re off the phone.

    As antiquated as fax is, I still like it because it still _costs the sender something_. Email is too cheap–it doesn’t set the bar high enough.

  3. April Spurling


    I am a professional Sales and Marketing Promotions Specialist and I absolutely agree with your point of view. Cold calling sales calls have to change.

    All businesses have a valuable service or product and all businesses have their own way of prospecting and expect their own sales people to carry this out or hire a third party to do this for them. Unfortunately most businesses prospect/cold call in the wrong way. It is annoying and intrusive just as you have descibed in your description.

    However, if your sales people didn’t cold call or whatever they do to find new business opportunities, where would you stand in growing against your competition. That remains a very important part of business. What doesn’t belong is what you have said and that is a sales person that doesn’t know how to cold call and only wastes time annoying busy people like yourself and that is not OK.

    I have spent 14 years thus far undoing the damage left by cold callers who simply did not do the job right and now teach it and carry out cold calling services for businesses that not only build new business opportunities, but leave the callee happier and less annoyed with something valuable to consider.

    I wish more people like yourself would come forward and really say what annoys them about cold calls.

  4. Ken

    I’m in sales and appreciate your input greatly! I’m in the insurance business(OK I’ve already lost about 1/2 the readers now)and too have had to adjust after so many previous cold callers have tainted the phone presentation practice.
    This is a necessity in our business to increase our customer base and our sales objectives. This kind of approach needs to be taught with care and an understandable objective before you let the leash go on those that want to just “dial for dough”. Seniors make up the majority of my business and they are unfortunately the ones that have been abused the most.
    Any tips or suggestions from anyone on the other end of the phone line is greatly appreciated.

  5. Elizabeth

    I am in insurance sales also. I do not see a way of cold calling that does not annoy the prospect, make them suspicious, or cause them to be rude. I deal with people who actually request the information, and 90% of them still yell and hang up.

    Just as you do not want your time wasted, we do not either, so bogus excuses such as “mail me the info” “fax the info”, “I’m too busy” are silly and waste both of our time. Give the person enough time to explain thier purpose and then be honest. Say that you don’t want to be called again or whatever it is that you feel. if you do not feel like dealing with it, then don’t pick up the phone. Put yourself on the Do Not Call list. Also, try to remember that we are people, not dogs! Don’t play fax machine games, we are just trying to make a living.

  6. Sven

    I have been in sales for a long time and am always open to new ideas regarding cold calling. One thing that works for me when you get the prospect on the phone for the first time is this: “John? Blah Blah with XYZ Company. I bet I caught you at a bad time.” This is not what anyone expects from someone cold calling. If they say “yes” then ask them when a better time to call would be. If they say “No, not too busy,” then do your thing!

    I have learned recently that doing the opposite of what the prospect expects is the best thing to do (throughout the whole sales process).


  7. Chey

    Thanks for this blog! I have recently started to transition from a non sales tech role to a tech sales role and I have been hunting for ideas on how to call without leaving people with a bad taste in their mouth.

    Most of our busienss comes from networking and refferals but recently one of our vendors has asked us to take up cold calling. I know that there are people are successful at this, and I would love to absorb some of their methods.

  8. Jake Atwood

    Great article! I’m a sales coach and trainer to over 10,000 salespeople each year, and this is a terrific perspective that reinforces everything I’ve been teaching for years. I’d like to feature this on my blog if it’s ok.

  9. Chris Doyle

    While I appreciate the opinion of the “Callee,” cold calling is a numbers game. If you are a salesperson that desires success, you must out work your competition. While I agree that some methods work better than others, cold calling is an essential activity for any successful salesperson.

  10. Bruce Whited

    I appreciate your perspective. We have all bee in the position of the sales call at the wrong time. I absolutely agree with Elizabeth. Don’t waste my time. If you don’t want or need what I am selling, give me the courtesy of a “not interested, and please take me off your list”. I work in a place where unless you specifically tell me to not call again, I am required to call until you buy, or tell me not to call. I do not want to harrass you, or bother you. I have a job to do and part of that is prospecting for new business. If there was another way, believe me I would JUMP on it!!!!

  11. April Spurling

    There is another way to cold call and in the downward economy we face, more then ever you need to position yourself not only in prospecting and doing this right, but your entire business practice from inside out.

    Why? This gives you confidence in your product and service and helps you focus on growing your business and passing this confidence on to your potnetial buyer in an unstable market. They key is to communicate this properly.

    Cold calling is hard because it is not done with the frame of mind of what the person your calling will listen to, it’s what you think you should say and that is a problem. It is almost always a call killer!

    Here’s a tip for you. Take out of your cold calling script…(I like to call it a call outline) anything that brings attention to you and your product until you have their interest in it.

    How do you that? You have to communicate that you understand their challenges and would like to provide them information that may be helpful with their permission, then ask if they have ever heard of your company before…this should lend itself to further communicating what you do and why to qualify your prospect. I hope this helps.

    Let’s face it it is completely annoying to companies when sales pitches waste their time and understandably so as is the comment at the onset of this thread.

    Have a great weekend.

  12. Matt Davis

    I believe that if you are providing a service they may or may not know they need yet. It is not a cold call! It’s just a simple friendly introduction.

    When I make these calls, (and I have made many) I know at the end of the day my services are needed.

    The reason cold calling gets a bad rap is many people do it with out their heart in it. To be an effective cold caller you must be friendly, outgoing, assertive, and helpful.

    There are too many people in the game now that think you can just read a script (Hating it the whole time) and be effective. The people on the other end can and will pick up on this.

    In “Cold Calling” you must bring you’re “A” game.
    You also must believe in your self and your ability to help.

    They will then listen.

    I run an outbound lead generation call center see our link below.

    We charge on a pay per introduction basis.

  13. Matt D

    Hi Greg, (and everyone else reading this.)

    I think you wrote this extremely well. I don’t think cold callers hate you for this unless they don’t get the big picture and if they don’t they may not be cold callers for long. Thanks for articulating your thoughts. Good on you! Take Care!


  14. christina h

    As a new telecom sales rep. all this information is extremely valuable, but i have to say to the callees without, cold-callers(if done properly) there would be alot of companies that are extremely successful today that might no be so if it werent from cold-calling and referrals possibly even your company. Im just saying remember that and as a new cold-caller i will remember all you’ve said. I hope this makes sense. Thanks for your time.

    Happy Holidays=)

  15. Roger

    Great Blog. I’m a sales exec for a small newspaper, and I’ve made a lot of cold calls. Ironically, I’ve learned that the less professional I am on the phone, the better response I get. If I don’t know who I’m calling, that’s just how I talk. “Hi, Greg. We haven’t met before. I’m with the Register-Call and I want briefly to talk to you about your advertising.”

    This usually works pretty good as an opener. I’m not insulting my perspective client by talking like a used car salesman. Nothing sounds worse than phony charisma.

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  17. jollydodger_23

    Thanks to all who replied, your input about gregs blog was actually more helpful as customer mindset than his initial comments.
    Ive done sales in retail ‘face to face’, where i studied books on the psycology of ‘selling’ a person with proven techniques.IE, make it their idea, make an emotional connection, break down the price into digestable parts, etc.
    And ‘cold calling’ in person is more difficult because most of the time you are on ‘their’ turf, creating a virtual and oftentimes palaple feel of defenseveness. They dont intend it, im sure. But like greg says, the last thing the receptionist needs is more work!
    Positively reinforcing words, not negative adverbage… “most affordable” vs. “cheapest”.
    Thats all i got… thanks Greg!

  18. Manish Kumar

    i think cold calling is a serious affair, where the chances of success depends on your experience over the phone.

  19. Lela

    I hate cold callers. I don’t care how friendly or cute they are,it’s annoying just to drop in or call me selling something. mail me the info and if I’m interested I’ll contact you.

  20. Ace

    Lela: yeah, I’m going to mail you some boring literature so you can either 1) throw it away or 2) lose it. Secondly, I’m not going to go into a diatribe about how businesses and sales were/are built on cold calling. Most services that people are dropping in or calling you about are intangible benefits that will help business owners(your boss)improve efficiency, decrease expenses, and increase revenues. Frankly, most of the time you are not aware of how said services will help you without sales people educating you…therefore, your request for info to be sent and then “I’ll call you when I need it” is invalid because you don’t have the internal resources to know you need it.

  21. Michael

    Lela, I am an Asset Manager and like to point out your comment is extremely ignorant, some of my best clients freely admit if I had not been proactive enough to have contacted them they would have either gone out of business or at the very least be in a very difficult place financially. Many products/services particularly within financial field need to be sold proactively because potential client either are unaware of their existence or know they need to address given issues but will put it off until its too late unless someone calls them out of the blue and convinces them to move forward. I myself do not cold call often but it does have its place and some of best clients have come from this approach. If you are not interested then just ask to be put on the no call list and if they still call you then you they are clearly unprofessional and as such should be reported to the appropriate regulatory authority. I work for a major bank and don’t even need to cold call but like I said on a particularly slow day and I have the time I will make cold calls and I know the people I do call are lucky to have received my call and I given them the option to turn my services down. If you are not interested then good luck to you but someone else will be I view it as your loss not mine. I am so confident with my own ability that I will only give people one chance since I will always be able to find clients.

  22. David

    Thank you for this Greg, I googled “How to cold call without being annoying” … i really hadn’t expected to find such an enlightening perspective. I am new at making calls to find business for my father’s company, and i want to make sure that when i am calling a business, i am not being a bother.
    your blog has helped me to form a foundation ….and not sound like a douche bag when im on the phone

    thanks Greg

  23. Peter Draper

    Greg, great blog post. I especially liked your comments about “getting to the point” and skipping the “how are you today”.

    I also really liked your comment “and remember you later (I usually don’t reply until I’m ready to actually dig in)”. This could also read “and I won’t get back to you until I have a need”, or “I will call you when I am ready to buy”

    New sales vs caveman sales assumes that the buyer only buys when he/she’s ready to buy. And no song and dance will change that. New sales emphasizes nurturing leads as opposed to pounding the life out of them.

    Good on you for writing the post. If you want a good laugh, check out my blog post on the same subject matter…

    Best Regards,

  24. Terri Campbell

    Y’all…..we are all selling something. If you are sitting behind a phone, you are selling something or, at one time, sold yourself to your company. Stop being so arrogant and give the caller an opportunity to let you know WHY you are on their calling list. As “busy” as you may be (being the important person that you are), the caller MAY just have something that you did not know that you needed to add value to your life or business career.

    People who are “too busy” or are “too important”, I have found, sit at the bottom of the food chain.

    Blog on!

  25. Jodi Hoye

    Great article. Elizabeth also makes raises great points. We care if what we’re pitching is the right fit, so if it isn’t, I would encourage a prospect to say so I could be on my way to someone who can use our services. It’s really that easy. We’re often times potential clients – or know someone who could be. Every interaction is a touch with the brand, including calls and emails that are handled in an untimely manner or not at all. Many times I’ve received cold calls and taken a few minutes to inquire how someone has gotten my name and number, only to end up with a sale for both myself and the person who cold called me. Cheers!

  26. Michael

    Cold calling is simple, and can become as natural as breathing. I can see why some people find it off-putting, annyoing, intrusive, abrasive.. etc..and there is no doubt there are some out there who may came across this way, but with time this can change. The reality of it is, if you can overcome the fear of rejection, and feel confident in what you have to offer as a valuable service/product/addition/benefit to their business AND you come prepared to not only deliver your message, but ALSO to be rejected for it – then this process becomes easier with each call!

  27. Michael

    I appreciate all the comments above as well as the article. There must be a confidence from within that exists, and an overwhelming sence of patience and empathy, to reach ANYone in a ANY sales situation (whether in person, or on the phone). Intentions can be read either way, and resistance to change is always present. But the willingness to properly understand their problem, and the careful delivery of the solution, can bring forth growth. IT boils down to this, you have to believe in yourself and believe in the solution your product/service can provide. The rest will take care of itself. Go in with a blank canvas, without pretention, ask thoughtful questions that invoke emotion and convey need and stand back to see the picture you both create… Some will, some won’t, oh well, who’s next! The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

  28. dwix09

    Hi Ian, I totally agree. The other thing I would say is to be brief initially. Then, as interest is generated, one can expound more on what is being offered. People are usually leery of sales calls and don’t want to commit to anything unless you can win their trust.


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