Salespeople Suck, and It’s Our Fault

Recently, a salesperson contacted the Deep Core office, looking to make contact with a manager. This person called our front desk every day for over a week, asking if they could speak with my boss, but not once offering up their name or saying why they were calling. Every day, my boss was either busy or out of the office, so they kept on hanging up on our front desk manager and calling back the next day, like clockwork. The other day, they finally got patched through to me. The dialogue went something like this:

  • Me: Hello, { BOSS }’s office, Rhiannon speaking.

  • Them: Hi, I would like to speak with { BOSS }  please.

  • Me: May I ask your name?

  • Them: This is { NAME }

  • Me: And what company are you with?

  • Them: { COMPANY }

  • Me: I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of that company. Can you please tell me more about it?

  • Them: We do professional services for companies like yours and I want to introduce myself after speaking with someone who recently interviewed with you. Can I speak with { BOSS }?

  • Me (who already knew this was a sales call from the get-go and has been getting the same script from other similar firms for weeks now): I’m sorry, we’re actually all set on professional services right now, but thank you.

  • Them: Well I’d like to just talk to { BOSS } please.

  • Me: Is this a solicitation?

  • Them: … …. …Noooo?

  • Me: Well then may I ask what your intent is?

  • Them: I just want to introduce myself and the company to { BOSS } and learn more about what you do. Can I talk to him?

  • Me: No, I’m the one who handles these types of calls.

  • Them: Oh well can we set up an appointment for me to come in to your office next week and meet him?

  • Me: I’m sorry, but no. We’re really not interested. Thank you.

  • Them: OK well how does the next week or two look-

  • Me: I just told you no. Please go onto the next person on your sales list. Thanks, bye.

Looking back on it, I came across pretty harsh, didn’t I? But they would not respect my authority and would not take no for an answer. It’s a common scenario that has many business professionals frustrated and grumbling about the behavior of salespeople.

But why does this happen? Where did this culture of aggressive, persistent bullheadedness come from? Are salespeople just naturally intrusive, or do the sales structures that we’ve put in place today encourage, and even require, this type of behavior? Are we, the potential customers, at fault for creating these obstinate cold calling machines?

In my personal opinion, we’re all to blame here. Let’s break it down.

Dear Salespeople,

As the salesperson, you are often the first line of human contact that a company has with a potential client. It is your job to come across as engaging, insightful, and genuinely interested in helping solve your lead’s problems. I’m sure that once you’ve made contact, most of you manage to accomplish all those things, but when it comes to cold calls, crikey, so many of you are failing on all accounts.

Nobody believes that you just want to tell someone your name and learn all about their company anymore, so stop pretending that there isn't some ulterior motive.

The smokescreen of “I just want to introduce myself” has long since lost its effect; we are way too good at seeing past it. We want to know what your actual intent is when speaking to us. If it’s to add us to your sales and lead nurturing funnel, tell us. If you want a job at our company, tell us. If you want us to be a reseller for your product or want to add us to your vendor network, TELL US. Nobody believes that you just want to tell someone your name and learn all about their company anymore, so stop pretending that there isn’t some ulterior motive.

And please, show some respect. I know that decision makers are the ones you want to reach, but gatekeepers are in place for a reason. If all you do is say “I need to speak to X” as if the person on the other end is just some sort of doorbell, then you’re going to be doomed from the start.  Respecting the authority of the person that you actually have a chance to make a good first impression with will go a long way towards reaching your goal.

The reason gatekeepers are in place is because managers, corporate officers, and all those other people with purchasing power have a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it in. If they took every sales solicitation that reached their office, they wouldn’t have time to do any of the other administrative tasks on their schedule. So unfortunately, you simply cannot talk to the person with purchasing power until you’ve demonstrated why you’re actually worth their (often very limited) time.

Tell those administrative assistants and receptionists your name, be a human, and give them the same courtesy and attention you would give the person that you deem “valuable.” Because guess what? We’re all valuable. If you need to get the quick no and move on, get it from us. Don’t keep pushing and pushing until we lose our minds and start screaming.

Dear Sales Managers and Program Directors,

Why oh why are these salespeople so unbearably dense and frustrating? Did they just spring, fully formed, with no sense of empathy and a desire to drag companies into their clutches? No, as it turns out, they were taught to do that.

They were taught to never stop calling or making touches until they get a hard no. They were taught that after they get the hard no, to ask one more time. They were taught to get to the decision maker at any cost. They were taught to suck it up when there’s a rejection and forget that for a brief second they acted like that company mattered, because there are 500 more names to get through on that list.

The culture ingrained in far, far too many sales departments these days is still driven heavily around quotas and commissions. Just get the numbers, quality be damned. Let the closers handle actual human engagement. It’s great that inbound tactics and warm lead generation are becoming a thing, but cold outreach still is a necessary evil if you’re trying to extend the network. Unfortunately, the tactics for approaching outbound leads hasn’t grown and adapted the same way that marketing seems to have, and this is causing major issues.

This graphic from shows qualities that a salesperson should have.

Predatory tactics are not going to work in the coming years. Millennials (and I can say this because I actually am one) don’t care about products. We prioritize experiences, and will not stand for being treated as a transaction. If your sales strategy is based around elbowing your way past us or bypassing us for the old, white guy in the big office, you are going to have worse and worse returns down the road. I’m sure the sales team hates it too. I bet they feel dirty and adversarial, but what can they do? A job is a job, the economy sucks, and they need the money.

The bottom line is this: sales systems that focus primarily on using every tactic possible to get as far up the chain as possible, no matter how rude or unethical the method, are nasty. It sets the salesperson up as the enemy, someone the leads have to protect themselves against.

Which brings me to my last point…

Dear All the Rest of Us,

If so far you’ve read this and nodded along thinking “Yup, they’re all terrible and I am so tired of having to repeat myself and hang up,” then it’s time to strap in for a dose of reality.

This is our fault too. We are feeding this particular devil. We are playing right into this dynamic of “You try to get around me, I try to block you.” Back and forth, complaining from both sides, sniping at how much of a waste of time these people are. We’re just being asses to people trying to make a living. It’s hard to hear, but it’s something that needs to be said.

There is no excuse to dehumanize another person just because they're doing their job.

And here’s where I give the mea culpa. On this call, I was that ass. I knew this person’s call was coming and I immediately put up my deflector shields. I had a goal, and the goal was to make them go away forever. I didn’t care about who they were or what they had to offer. I was just trying to get information out of them to confirm my suspicions and then show them the door. I tried to be polite, but I was standoffish. I exhibited the same lack of empathy that I criticized them for. I threw their transactional attitude back in their face and I’m sure I left them with a bad taste in their mouth.

Now, I’m sure someone is going to say “Well they didn’t deserve your kindness. They were rude. You did the right thing!” Well I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. There is no excuse to dehumanize another person just because they’re doing their job. I could have handled the situation better. I could have said something like “{ BOSS } is unable to meet with potential partners in this capacity, but I’m available. Can we set up time to talk?” I could have cared, and showed that I sympathized with their situation, even though I was unfortunately not able to help them with it.

But I didn’t. I followed my part of the script. I was the obstinate gatekeeper. And we all at one time or another, even those of us in sales and marketing, have done it. We are so bombarded with offers and solicitations that we have run out of patience and just fall into those pit traps. And we’re only making salespeople feel like they have to fight us even harder.

So What Do We Do?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not an expert business analyst. My psychology training is minimal, but I do have a fair breadth and depth of experiences in emotional management, sociology, and the like.

My immediate thought is that if we were more authentic with our approach, more sympathetic and patient, the situation would improve. The problem is that being polite and respectful with someone you just don’t want to deal with is really, really hard. Some of us can work on improving our interpersonal skills, but some of us can’t (or won’t). And maybe that’s OK, but it would be nice if more of us could be less reactionary and more mindful of how our dialogue and actions affect the people we do business with.

If you take the pledge, you get one of these neat badges to put on your website!

And if I may self-promote for a moment (don’t worry, this wasn’t an extremely ironic and clever ruse to get you to buy something), this is exactly why we at Deep Core Data instituted our Ethical Tech Pledge. We are so tired of the way that we treat each other, and recognize that we need to get better if anyone in the tech industry (and really any industry) is going to continue to succeed in the coming decades.

We aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect. But I’m working on it. And maybe together we can start a dialogue on how we can each work a little more to help the other side. Because really, at the end of the day, you’re talking to another human being.

Even if they want to sell you something.

Edit: Since writing this post (originally on LinkedIn), said salesperson has decided to bypass me completely and send my boss an InMail message. It almost might have worked, if they didn’t obviously copy/paste the entire thing and call my boss by the wrong name.

What do you think should be done in this situation?

2017-08-10T11:32:31-04:00August 10th, 2017|Business Practices, Human Connections|

About the Author:

Rhiannon is the head of marketing and documentation services at Deep Core Data. A writer and editor for over 10 years, she is also a professional singer and not quite professional gamer. Her favorite blog posts are about tips and tricks to improving software, writing, and general business.

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