Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I've Got the Cold Calling Blues

Readers: An important update! I just exchanged email with Elizabeth Cutler, Group Vice President, US Conferences at IDC. IDC is not having a 2009 conference IT Expo/CIO Summit, so the calls I've been receiving are a scam. That explains the reason they would not email me any materials about the conference. I have not experienced cold calling scams as a CIO before. My apologies to IDC. When I receive my next cold call from the company pretending to be IDC, I'll play along and forward the info to Elizabeth. Life as a CIO is never boring!

Today in the middle of a meeting, I received my 5th cold call from IDC trying to sell me a registration to the 2009 IDC IT Expo and CIO Summit

I'm always kind to cold callers, and I explained that I know it's their job to sell me products and services I have not specifically solicited and do not want to buy.

In this case, I explained that I travel 200,000-400,000 miles per year and keynote all over the world. My goal in 2009 is to travel less, so I will not be attending any IDC conferences which require travel.

I also said that I would be happy to read about their conference and circulate it to my peers. However, this particular IDC marketing campaign seems to prohibit email communications. I've told the callers 5 times to email me an overview and they've explained that they cannot. Must be part of the sales pitch.

As a society, we have declared unwanted email to be Spam and various states and localities have tried to restrict the flow of spam with legislation.

At what point will cold calling a business to the sell the CIO an unsolicited product or service constitute telephone Spam or even harassment?

In the case of IDC, they have somehow obtained my private, unpublished office number that only my assistant and direct reports are supposed to know.

My phone rings about once a month, so I always answer it, assuming its an urgent call from someone close to me.

Today, I replaced my standard desk phone with a caller ID enabled phone so that I can screen unwanted sales calls. This strategy has been very effective at home, where my unlisted number is called several times a day by

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts
The Boston Ballet
The Massachusetts Fraternal Order of Police
The Boston Symphony Orchestra
Marketing and Survey organizations
The Unknown Caller (whoever that is, 8am on a Sunday morning is popular)

They never leave a message.

I have politely asked that my name be removed from all future fund raising lists and I am on the do not call list. Unfortunately, I made small contributions years ago to some of these organizations, which technically gives them the right to call because of a pre-existing business relationship.

Here is my action plan:

1. Sign up for every do not call list, do not mail list, do not send catalog list etc.
2. Put an embargo on donations to any unsolicited caller or visitor to my home.
3. Create an department wide ban on sales to any company making unsolicited calls to any IT staff member at BIDMC or Harvard

And of course, my blog can serve as a public wall of shame for these cold calling companies. I'll ask my staff to send me lists of company names for publication. I see that is available from

CIOs are very busy people. They are providing complex services to demanding organizations and are given limited resources. They last thing they want is

"Hi, I'm Bob and I need to tell you about the best widget ever from"

when they are in the middle of a meeting, negotiating a contract, or writing a strategic plan.

As I tell all my vendors - I'm a voracious reader and when a new product is announced or a new need arises, I'll call you. Until then, tell your cold calling salesman to chill!


John Halamka said...

John Powers at BIDMC sent me his list of favorite cold calls:

1. Talked to John (mis-pronounced) "Halamka" who referred me to you. Pushed, they change the story to John Halamka's office.

2. Some front person who has limited product knowledge calls. "Joe Adams" will be in Boston next week and would like to meet with you for 20 minutes to discuss your IS strategy. No prior contact (or knowledge) of the company, Joe or his position in the company, but they expect you to spend 20 minutes given them a fishing expedition.

3. Second or third call during the same week, sometimes the same day, often from the same person asking to meet or inviting you to an event. No management of the call list.

4. Call from a vendor representative or reseller to introduce you to a product line for which you already have a substantial investment. The call usually ends with - Me....."We are already a major ____ customer". Caller..."Can you tell me who is your account representative?"

5. Old business acquaintance who has moved from ops to sales or from one company to another. "I'm now working for ABC company and would appreciate an opportunity to sit down with you a few minutes to get some advice. I promise it will not be a sales call."

6 Cold call from someone with an accent that is very difficult to understand over a VoIP connection with a noticeable echo.

Unknown said...

little utility I used to use when I still had a landline -- maintains a list of caller id's -- you can select the "spam" callers and the next time they call, they get a precorded "this line is no longer in service" message. called phonetray.

Unknown said...

As a sales person- I feel the need to come to the defense of cold calling (or perhaps I should call it “professional cold calling”).

I have been on two sides of the sales spectrum- working for large, international companies (Siemens and Philips) and small start-ups (Emergin and a new start-up which must remain nameless).

Siemens and Philips have millions of dollars to spend on advertising and the brand recognition to back up and promote their products. They also have their “Strategic Account Managers” or “Executive Account Managers” who have lunch every other week with the CEO of XYZ hospital and who can get a product sales person the meetings and contacts they need to sell their solution.

For a start-up with very limited marketing resources and without the brand recognition to get into publications that customers such as yourself read, cold calling is sometimes the only way to introduce your product to a customer.

Also, from my experiences, a lot of customers do not know there is a need for my product or the solution we can offer until I make an introduction call. Start-ups and new ventures typically have creative and innovative ideas to problems that some hospitals don’t even know exist. It’s the whole “you don’t know what you don’t know thing.”

Take Emergin 2-3 years ago. 80-90% of the customers I called had no idea what Emergin was or what we did. All they knew was that they had horrible communication between systems that produced alarms and the caregivers who needed to respond to those alarms.

I cannot tell you how many times I had customers say “You can get alarms from my ABC system to my nurses XYZ phone! We had no idea a company can do that?!”

If is was not for professional cold calling- a lot of my customers would have not implemented our solution and would have been stuck with the same problems they had before (until they later found out about Emergin- post Philips acquisition 2-3 years later).

I disagree with your rule #3:

“3. Create an department wide ban on sales to any company making unsolicited calls to any IT staff member at BIDMC or Harvard”

Don’t get me wrong- what IDC did (calling the CIO 5 times, especially after being told “no thanks”) is unprofessional and a very poor sales practice. "No means no" and a sales person should be respectful of his customer’s time and in-box space.

Instead, I think the rule should be changed to “repeated unsolicited calls.” If I am the new area sales manager and I make an introduction phone call and send a short overview of my company to one person in your organization (which probably shouldn’t be the CIO), I don’t think that deserves to be put on your wall of shame.


John Halamka said...

Trey has great comments! He once again illustrates the importance of thoughtful, balanced policies. Admittedly I've had so many cold calls post Labor Day that I'm crispy. I'm happy to modify my approach to repeated calls. BTW - I'm about to post a redaction about IDC. Turns out they are not having a 2009 conference - the repeated calls I received were a scam!

Greg Pfister said...

What an appropriate comment to have on this post - someone spamming for SEO.

Anyway: Trey, I'm sorry, but society as a whole has voted "no" on cold calling as a technique; hence the national do-not-call list, passed in a flash by Congress when several million *voters* signed up. Consider every one of those votes an indication that they consider cold calling something that should not be done.

I understand that getting startups noticed is a problem, but don't you understand that the negative notice you get far overwhelms the positive notice? Don't just count the (few) positive results you get. Find the ratio of negative responses to positive responses to see what it does to your company's rep.