By Andrew Neitlich

Lessons from an ineffective sales call

By Andrew Neitlich

I got a call from a salesperson at a fledging search engine yesterday, asking me to pay money to market my business with his company. Here is how the call went:

Him: Hi Andrew how are you today?

Me: Who’s this?


Him: This is Joe Smith, we talked maybe six months ago. Do you remember? I’m with XYZ Marketing and Search.

Me: No, I don’t remember.

Him: Well, back then we talked about our search engine, which can help you market your business.

Me (getting annoyed): Okay, if you say so.

Him: Well, are you interested in new ways to market your business?

Me (sighing and annoyed at such a dumb question): Of course.

Him: Well, would you like to learn more about our search engine and how it can help?

Me: Not really. I’m quite busy now.

Him: So, you aren’t interested in new ways to market your business?

Me (amazed I haven’t hung up yet): No, I guess not.

Him (acting incredulous, as if I were an idiot for not allowing him to make a pitch): Okay then, have a good day.

I can’t believe that companies hire salespeople and let them make such stupid calls. And then, they keep salespeople who actually end unsuccessful calls by trying to make the prospect feel stupid for not moving the conversation forward.

Why was this call stupid?

1. He assumed a relationship that didn’t exist. Why should I remember a salesperson from 6 months ago?

2. He knew nothing about my business, or how I market, nor did he endeavor to ask.

3. He provided nothing but a generic feature (market your business), something that every search engine should offer. What’s unique about his?

4. He tried to make me feel dumb by closing the call negatively. I’ll never take another call from him again.

What could he have done differently?

1. Ideally, let me come to him, with a personalized letter or email explaining why his search engine is unique and how it can help my specific business.

2. Staying in touch for the six months (with my permission), with a variety of educational materials about how to market my business better.

3. Gradually developing a relationship with me so that we know each other and I perceive him to be a person and not just an annoying salesperson.

4. Taking my “no” in a more elegant and polite way, so that the door remains open later.

5. Asking me smart questions about my business, how I market it, and what is and isn’t working — especially as pertains to search engines. Then he could educate me about any unique advantages about his company’s solution.

6. Having a polite tone, not an arrogant tone. He should be role playing on the phone to hear how he sounds. I’ll bet he wouldn’t buy from himself!

  • doug

    I would imagine you dealt with a college student working the phones for a company (in this case a search engine). The fault really lies with the company, not with some 20 year-old rep doing telemarketing.

    In the end, your conclusions are right on. The company needs to completely revamp their marketing strategy and execution.

  • Sergeant

    good point on the phone call, points 1 till 6 can be taken very generaly!

    Thanks for the nice reminder.

  • Sergeant

    Ow by the way, you know me don’t ya? :p


  • Funny call and great analysis, thanks!

  • Great article, there is a lot of “cold calling” articles also on the Sitepoint

  • Dano

    oh, I always have something to say… this is a real story.

    2 or 3 years ago, In some place some girl took my phone number and other details. It was for a medical center (she told).

    Days later i received the call (from other girl). She was very insistent until i said “im not interested”.

    She: o, well… why did you give your details if you are not interested in our services?

    me: because she was nice

    she: that is no reason to give your contact details, mr. Daniel.

    me: can you tell me what is a VALID reason to do it?

    she: listen sir, Im calling from the public relations department of one of the most reputed companies all over the country (name-of-the-company). I suggest dont do it again if you are not interested in our services.

    me: ohh (scared), i dont like your public relations.

    she: so you dont know what public relations is!

    me: im sorry, i dont.

    she: If you follow my advice everything is gonna be easier for you. have a nice day.

    I took the remote control and turn up the tv volume.

  • ROFL Two great sales calls there! Thanks for the laughs! I needed them! (Had a PSAT today)

  • moagw

    Cold calls are never pleasant. But to me it seems much more like a beginning than an end. As people marketing our businesses to others, maybe unavoidably through cold calls, we should try to make the call a jumping off point. More along the lines of data mining. Get info about the customer, even if you have some, mention what you have when appropriate. Let the prospect know that you aren’t “some 20 yr old at xyz telemarketing company”. Nobody likes those. Especially businessmen/women. Engage them in conversation along the lines of what they do/how they do it, what they want long term vs short term.. Really dig, some of the best sales, are HARD sales. Just like you said andrew, gotta keep that door open. No today, might be yes tomorrow..

  • Andrew,

    I disagree with much of your analysis of this sales call. The guy probably stands to make a $5 commission – how much time do you reasonably expect him to spend on you? This is a cookie-cutter sales call, yes, but he did MANY things RIGHT:

    1. He prevented you from hanging up immediately by establishing a (non-existent) relationship. He probably never even spoke to you before. Of course he doesn’t expect you to remember him. He only expects you to stay on the line. And you did!

    2. He got you in “yes” mode by asking (stupid, sure) questions that force you to answer in the affirmative. This is a popular sales tactic that leads people into consistency mode (you didn’t read Joseph Sugarman’s “Triggers” yet, did you?), with a series of “affirmative” questions that will eventually lead to “yes, I’ll buy your product or service.”

    The things he did wrong were:

    1. He led too quickly into trying to sell his service to you. At the point he qualified you as a potential sale, he should have asked you about your business, what you do, and what marketing results you’d like to see. Instead, he relied too heavily on a smash-and-grab sale. He should have developed the call better before taking the plunge with his offer.

    2. He should not have given up. He had you hooked at that point. Even though you denied his service, he could have come back from that to make a sale.

    I think the 2 mistakes above show that he lacks experience, but I think he did really well despite that.

    Personally, I would have hung up at “hello”. :)

  • Andrew, if you think that those were good phone calls then you definitely need to invest in these 2 books. They’ll put you on the right track. Those calls were totally a 100% waste of time and if you can’t see that then you may need more than the 2 books below.


  • Sorry Andrew, that last post was meant for transio not you.

  • JNKlein

    In reponse to transio –

    That seems to follow the formula for what I’d call the “old school” of marketing, which has become less and less effective as people tune out and shield themselves from the noise of marketing.

    Building a business that lasts requires truthful and non-manipulative relationships. I recommend looking into the writing of Seth Godin (sethgodin.com)

  • “yes mode” or not this guy was from a typical boiler room operation.

    the “pitch” wasnt structured properly and this guy obviously wasnt a professional.

    these people think they can apply toner cartridge sales tactics to search engine sales,, its a little different than calling some schlep in a dead end job in some computer room and calling a business owner who runs his own show who is very careful with money and other things related to his business.

    if i were running the sales floor and i heard that, he would have been fired.

    most of us feel your pain,


  • Busy

    I can see where transio is coming from, but only as far as selling items that are unsought goods (Encyclopedias, cemetary plots, see http://en.mimi.hu/marketingweb/unsought_goods.html ) I wouldn’t think a quality search engine would want to resort to this type of sales technique, but as a “boiler room operation” they may be doing sales this way just to play the numbers and find the select few businesses who will consider advertising. They probably have a hard time retaining customers, and as Andrew has stated, there are much more effective ways of making sales.

  • Janice121

    Hi Andrew,
    Yes it was a pretty basic cold call, and he did not get any info to build on a future relationship. However having done cold calls on many occasions and having a dead end response on the other end of the phone, no matter if you have researched the company prior to your call and how hard you try to get a response and info can be the hardest thing. I strongly recommend that everyone at some point should spend a week cold calling, its not the easiest job and noone wants to do it. You were probably his 50th call of the day and with his inexperience was probably just a fed up of making the call as you were receiving it, and he was probably expecting the same response that he has received on many occasions!!!! having been on the other end receiving the cold call, I understand what they go through, but a little understanding instead of the yes, no, not interested response, can really make their day, and invariable open up a good dialogue, if not just ask them to send you an email, they are only young kids at the end of the day and its the training ground, everyone has to start somewhere…

  • Sorry Janice121, but I really feel no sympathy for these sales types who call me to sell me stuff I don’t want. Nobody is forced to work as a telemarketer! Even if you are in desperate need of a job, I’m sure you will be able to find something more decent, honest and human.
    I for one just hang up as soon I detect that a call is a marketing call. Saves my and their time. I really don’t want and need anyone pushing things at me.

  • Rob

    You sound like a cranky bollocks to be honest andrew. And you’re propably a bit of a smart arse too. I would imagine you were the the first one to be rude. E.G.Him: Well, back then we talked about our search engine, which can help you market your business.

    Me (GETTING ANNOYED): Okay, if you say so. (What were you getting annoyed about)

    So you my good sir are a bafoon who is oblivious to his own obnoxious behaviour.

    Good day sir.


Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.