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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!

One more comment on Beacon

Sigh…I thought I could let this go, but I just can’t seem to. :-)

As I wrote a few days ago, Facebook’s Beacon collects data from third-party sites, and associates actions on those sites (such as buying something) with your profile data on Facebook. They’ve now allowed you to opt-out of having this information stored on Facebook’s servers, but the data is still sent to them regardless (even if you’re logged out).

Upon further reflection, I think MUCH more blame falls on the Beacon partners than I originally thought. The one Beacon partner that I’ve interacted with (that I know of) since all this has been happening is Kiva. I made a loan there, and the little Beacon popup came up and asked if I wanted to publish that to my Facebook feed. At the time I said yes, and silently wondered what exactly just happened.

What happened was this – Kiva sent, without my permission, data about a financial transaction I just made to Facebook. They sent it in a way that allowed Facebook cookies to be sent as well, which included my email address. Basically, without my permission, they told Facebook that Greg Reinacker just loaned money to Julia Vilca Chura.

That’s a dangerous precedent. And if we look at Kiva’s privacy policy, here’s the relevant piece (emphasis mine):

4) Kiva will not disclose your personally identifiable lending activity to any third party without consent. Kiva reserves the right to record and display anonymous lending activity on the Website and display the general regions where our lenders are located.

I think the transmission of my lending activity to facebook, knowingly with identifying information in the form of a facebook cookie, is pretty blatantly a violation of this privacy policy. Even if Facebook “promises not to store it” – I don’t care. I don’t want you to send it.

I don’t know for sure – but I’m guessing other Beacon partners don’t disclose this in their privacy policies either. If any of you have checked, please post a comment about it.

And by the way – I hate to pick on Kiva, because I think they’re accomplishing something that’s really great, and I encourage you to check them out. But I hope they will fix this in one way or another – and for the time being, I think that means disabling Beacon unless they have my explicit consent.

UPDATE: Liz from Kiva responded via email:

We appreciate the concerns that you mention below, so a short while ago, we suppressed the feature so that it is entirely opt-in on the thanks page. Now, after making a loan, a lender must actively click “Post” to display information about his/her loan to a Facebook Newsfeed. We do not share any loan data until the user clicks a Facebook link after lending, and unless the lender clicks the link, no loan data is shared. Please find a screenshot of the thanks page attached to this email.

As you note in our privacy policy, we assert that “Kiva will not disclose your personally identifiable lending activity to any third party without consent.” So, when we saw how the Facebook feature worked, and that it was opt-out rather than opt-in, we quickly suppressed the feature so that there was no possibility that Kiva was sharing lending activity without pro-active consent.

Kiva screenshot

Perfect- kudos to Kiva for stepping up, realizing that Facebook’s “changes” have been wholly insufficient, and making the changes necessary to protect their users’ privacy. We can only hope that the other Beacon partners will do the same.

Facebook Beacon – eek

Over the last month or so, Facebook has been making changes to how Facebook Beacon works, seemingly in response to privacy concerns. But none of the changes have addressed one of the worst parts of the problem.

If this post from Dare Obasanjo doesn’t scare you, at least a little, then read it again:

When you read this you realize just how insidious the problem actually is. Facebook isn’t simply learning about every action taken by Facebook users on affiliate sites, it is learning about every action taken by every user of these affiliate sites regardless of whether they are Facebook users or not.

At first I assumed that the affiliates sites would call some sort of IsFacebookUser() API and then decide whether to send the action or not. Of course, this is still broken since the affiliate site has told Facebook that you are a user of the site, and depending on the return value of the hypothetical function the affiliate in turn learns that you are a Facebook user.

But no, it is actually worse than that. The affiliate sites are pretty much dumping their entire customer database into Facebook’s lap, FOR FREE and without their customers permission. What. The. Fuck.

If you’re not worried yet, then take a look at this post from the CA Security Advisor Research blog, showing a network trace of a site sending data to Facebook that could identify you being sent to Facebook even after you’ve opted out or logged out.

I usually run pretty fast and loose with this kind of thing; however, if I do business with a site, I expect that they will not share identifying data with another site without explicitly asking. Shame on you, Beacon partners.

Migration to WordPress

As I mentioned, I’ve migrated my blog to WordPress. All in all, a pretty easy transition, but there was a lot involved. For the benefit of those contemplating such a move, I thought I’d write some notes here…

Linux hosting. Up to now, I’ve done all of my hosting on Windows, and NewsGator’s data center (where my old blog lived, on server #1) is all Windows as well. I couldn’t find any instructions as to how to install WP on Windows, so I switched my 1&1 hosting account (which hosts from Windows to Linux. Kudos to 1&1 for making that transition seamless – especially since I’m only paying $3.99/mo for my account. :-) Making this transition also gave me access to MySQL, which I needed for WP.

wordpressicon-hanttula2.gifInstalling WordPress. I have to tell you, I was blown away. This was my first time hosting anything on Apache, and my first time touching MySQL…but it all just worked. So easily, in fact, that I didn’t really believe it was working at first. All I had to do was a) create the database, b) update a config file with the database location and credentials, c) copy the WP files to my site, and d) navigate to an “install” URL. This part took literally maybe 5 minutes. Kudos to the WP folks for making this so easy!

Content migration. I had hundreds of posts and thousands of comments in my old blog, stored in a SQL Server database. I wanted to migrate these over as seamlessly as possible. After quite a bit of research, I decided to write an application to create a file in the Movable Type export format, and import that into WordPress with the MT import option. After a few test runs with small files for testing, I got a format that would work consistently. I also had to import in small chunks (around 90KB each) rather than importing the whole file at one time. (aside – thanks JeffT for building this app for me!)

Maintaining URLs. My old blog got thousands of hits per day from people coming from search engines and the like, and I wanted to make sure these old URLs would still work. My old permalinks were in the form:

Where the “811” was the ID of the post in the old SQL database. The new post in WP has a very different URL:

I did two things to get these old URLs working:

1. Built a PHP file called “archive.aspx”, which would look at the post ID passed in, and in turn redirect to the new URL. This is done via brute force (a big long “switch” statement), and that statement was auto-generated by another application. (thanks again Jeff!)

2. Added a line in my .htaccess file to map the .aspx extension to the PHP processor.

This part wasn’t perfect – I’m still fixing a couple of the redirect URLs – but it made 95% of them work the first time. And it’s not the most efficient way to do this, but it works for what I need.

So…all in all this took about a day’s work. 5 minutes to install WP, and the rest to take care of the migration stuff. But I’m back!

And the blog moratorium shall end

So as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, I haven’t been blogging much lately. But this time, I actually have an excuse. :-)

One or two of you might recall that back in December 2002, I built my own weblog server. The reasoning behind this, at the time, was a mix of being fed up with my previous tool, and also that I wanted to have the flexibility to experiment with what were, at the time, new technologies like trackbacks and pingbacks.  It was all built with .NET and SQL Server.  Ah, good times.

Fast forward to 2007…things with my aging blog weren’t so rosy any more, as it had been neglected for quite some time. There weren’t any standard posting API’s implemented, so standard blogging tools like MarsEdit or Windows Live Writer wouldn’t work. I had some custom APIs for posting, and some tools from way back that would use those APIs to post, but those had stopped working well sometime in the last year or so…so I was basically stuck with posting using a web form that had the world’s least reliable HTML editor.

And to make things worse, if I wanted to upload an image, well, there was no easy way to do that. It actually got progressively worse over the years, until the other day, when I wanted to do this, my operations guys asked if I had the Cisco VPN client installed.  Eek!  That’s way too hard.

So anyway…I’ve switched to using WordPress, and migrated all of my content over here. If you’re reading this in an aggregator, you’re probably seeing a bunch of old content as well…that’s due to the URLs changing for the posts. But from now on, all should be well.

The WordPress migration was fairly interesting…I’ll put up another post about that for others who are contemplating something like this.

Online surveys – what not to do

I’ve often found online surveys vaguely annoying…but I just received 3 emails in the last 2 days to please fill out a survey. One I filled out, and the other two I did not. But based on all this, I have some suggestions for those of you who might see fit to survey your customers in the future.

1. Tell me how long it’s going to take. Even better, tell me exactly how many questions there will be. As much as I’d like to, I just don’t have time to spend 15 minutes on your survey.

2. Don’t ask me the same question 3 different ways just to see if I’m consistent. That might be great for a personality profile or something, but remember, I’m not spending 15 minutes on this.

3. If you really, really want me to take the survey, offer me something. I’m a sucker for free stuff. And a drawing probably won’t do it.

If you mess this up, there are some pretty dire consequences. I might have had a great experience with your hotel or whatever – but if your survey is annoying, that damages the memory I have.

At the end of the day, I want to give you feedback. I really do. But you’ve got to make it easy.

Hertz sent me a survey that I didn’t mind doing, took me 60 seconds, and the company got some useful feedback. Here is the opening paragraph in the email (and frankly, I’m not likely to get too far past that first paragraph, so tell me what you want quickly):

As a valued customer, we would appreciate your taking a moment to complete this brief four-question Customer Satisfaction Survey regarding your recent rental at SEATTLE TACOMA AP. Your comments will help us gauge how well we performed on your rental and will enable us to enhance your rental service.

“four-question” is the part that got me to click. Sure, I’ve got time for 4 questions. Like I said, 60 seconds and I was done.

Here’s a bad example, from the Edgewater hotel in Seattle – which was very nice, by the way, until I got to the survey.

First page:

What was the main purpose of your stay with us?
How was your reservation made?
Why did you choose this property?

Ok, easy enough. Second page:

How would you rate your Overall Satisfaction as a guest of this property?
How likely are you to stay with us if you are in the same area again?
How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or colleague planning to visit the area?

Then we go downhill…third page has 10 questions, all looking for ratings. I let out a sigh, but I even completed this page, with the following items:

Overall reservation experience
Overall check-in experience
Overall appearance and condition of property
Overall guest room quality
Overall guest room comfort
Overall staff friendliness and professionalism
Overall meeting/conference experience
Overall food and beverage experience
Overall check-out experience
Overall value for price paid

And then, the straw that broke the camel’s back. The next page asks the following:

Please rate the following regarding your experience with the reservation process (followed by 3 subitems asking for feedback on specific parts of the reservation process)

Please rate the following regarding your check-in experience (with 6 subparts).

I recognize a pattern by this point. Of the 10 items on the 3rd page, of which I already gave responses to, it appears they are now going to go through every one of those and ask for more details. So now I assume I’ve got at LEAST 5 more pages of the survey to go through, and each is probably going to have 10 questions, and who knows how much more stuff after that, and I’ve got to tell you…

I just don’t care enough to fill this all out.

So I quit. And now I’ve wasted the time I took to fill out the first few pages, AND you got no useful data. Nobody won.

I started out with a pleasant experience at the hotel, service was excellent, etc…but I’m just oing to take 15 minutes or so to fill out your unknown-length survey in excrutiating detail.

So I wrote this blog post instead. :-)

My first computers

Brad Feld wrote a couple of days ago about his first computer, which was an Apple II, with a whopping 64K of RAM. Kind of brought back memories for me…

The first computer I worked on was a Commodore VIC-20. How I did it I can’t remember…but when I was 14-ish years old (1983 or so?), I managed to score myself a job writing educational games for the VIC. I remember my mom would drop me off at this company’s office on the way to work, and I’d toil away filling up the 3.5K of RAM. These were the days when you wrote in BASIC, and when you ran out of memory you started to go through and change your variable names from “num” to “n” to save two bytes. :-)

As I recall, I made $100 for each game that was completed and accepted, which was to me a whopping boatload of money. I wrote three games over the summer, and bought a bike.

My next computer was a Texas Instruments 99/4A, which I believe had 16K of RAM. Oh, how I would torment my poor VIC-20 friends with my expansive wasteland of unused memory. Pretty sure I had to sell my Atari 2600 game console to afford this guy – but whew!

I remember writing a “Frogger” game on the TI-99/4A, which was (relatively speaking) a piece of cake because the TI had a sprite engine, which let you make an object and tell it to move (as opposed to calculating new positions on a timer). Wow…the world was my oyster with this baby.

After I wrote the frogger game (which probably took a week or two), I was so excited I wanted to send it to one of my friends, who also had a TI. Now, back in this day, the high-tech storage was cassette tapes, and it was actually a modulated audio recording that was written to tape. So I get this great idea…I called my friend, told him to hold his cassette microphone up to the phone receiver, and I’d play the recording to him over the phone. I mean, we don’t need no stinkin’ modem, right?

Well, wrong, as it turns out…that didn’t work nearly as well as I’d hoped. Like, not at all. Oh well, just had to beg mom to drive me over there with a copy of the tape. :-)

My next computer was a Franklin. I forget the model number, but it was an Apple II clone with 64K of RAM. And it had a floppy disk drive, which would hold something like 160K. Omigosh!

From there, I went to a 80286-based system from CompuAdd, and the rest is basically a history of Intel processors. But the fond memories – the ones that I look back on and see my future career starting from – are the ones of the VIC-20 and the TI-99/4A!

Web hosting company jokes about downtime and SLA’s

Daniel at Red Sweater (MarsEdit’s new home) has a post up talking about his web host, DreamHost, and some recent downtime. This reminds me of way back, in early 2003, when was running on a shared hosting platform, and the service became more and more unreliable.

But what really led me to comment about this was the seemingly flippant attitude from DreamHost about the outage. Their “apology” jokes about how you shouldn’t be reading your email anyway at 2am, and they make fun of SLA’s that refund a portion of your monthly bill, which they say in this case would be $0.44.

Sheesh. If my hosting facilities sent me a note like that in the morning, I’d be looking for a new partner in the afternoon.

We do have SLA’s with the folks who host our systems. And yes, we do get service credits in the event they are down – after a few hours of downtime, we have a 100% credit on our monthly bill. But does that really do any good?

Well, to me, I don’t care that I’m getting my monthly bill back – I need the site up, I’m paying for it, and I want service, not a service credit. But the part that makes me happy is if they go down, and have to start refunding, it will really hurt them. Say you’re making $5M per month in hosting fees…and you have an outage for a few hours, which leads to you having to credit your customers to the tune of $5M. That’s real money – and because of that, they’re easily able to justify the infrastructure required to stay up and running and meet their SLA’s.


About a week and a half ago, TechStars launched. Basically, it’s a startup “bootcamp” – 10 teams will get a small amount of seed funding, work in Boulder, CO getting their new companies off the ground, and be mentored by a long list of smart folks. It’s the brainchild of David Cohen, and has some great people involved (including Brad Feld). When David offered me a chance to participate, I jumped at the chance.

Michael Arrington wrote about it yesterday on TechCrunch, and likes the idea. But what blew me away was some of the negative comments to his post. Most of the negatives seem to circle around the investment/equity part; basically, TechStars puts in $5,000 per founder (up to $15,000), and takes a 5% stake. Normally I’d write something clever now about the pre-money valuation of a napkin :-), but that really isn’t the point.

The point is, being mentored through the summer by this group of people is SO worth it. When I started NewsGator, I didn’t know anyone in the business, and really didn’t know a lot of successful entrepreneurs (other than consultants), let alone people in the legal or investment communities. When I saw my first venture term sheet, it was such a shock I’m sure I had some interesting expletives for my attorney (who, incidentally, had to be recommended to be by the same Brad Feld who was doing the investment, because again, I didn’t really know anyone in this community).

If I could go back to the beginning of NewsGator, would I have given up 5% equity for the kind of mentoring and contacts I would have made in a program like this? Yes – in a heartbeat. I can think of specific decisions I made on my own that I may have made differently if I had had a chance to talk to people like the folks on this list…and they could have made a positive impact on the company very early in its life.

Never underestimate the value of your network. And to those poo-pooing the whole concept, I’d remind you that there are a lot of people who don’t live in Silicon Valley, who have never met a VC in their life, but who have great ideas that could turn into the next big thing.