In the same way I rubberneck while passing car wrecks, I'm strangely fascinated with horrible telemarketing calls. Sometimes I empathize with the caller. We're both in sales, right? Not wanting to be rude, I let them plow through their opening lines. The calls all sound something like this:


Me: Commercial Forest Products, this is Steve, how can I help you?
TM: (Three seconds of silence while soulless autodialer connects me to soulless telemarketer) Hello, is this Mr. Mispronounced Last Name?
Me: What can I help you with?
TM: Um ... good. How are you.?
Me: What can I help you with?
TM: Blah, blah, blah ... I just need to confirm your address (or other assumptive close)
Me: No thank you, have a good day. Slowly hanging up while TM's futile attempt to continue the conversation fades into the background.

I hate receiving these phone calls. The telemarketing modus operandi has not changed in decades. It is as fresh as a Foghat concert. I have yet to field a call that resulted in a negotiation, much less a sale. Regardless, the calls keep coming in. Why do we hate telemarketing calls? Let us count the reasons:

The shotgun approach. They call everybody with a phone number. Everyone gets the same pitch.

  • They do all the talking. Reference the script above. In an attempt to keep you on the phone, they only shut up when they need your recorded consent to start billing.
  • They know nothing meaningful about you before they pick up the phone.
  • We often know nothing meaningful about them before they try to sell us something.
  • Many of the callers hate their job and it comes through in their presentation.
  • Bullying their way to a quick close is considered a good thing.
  • Frequent use of questionable tactics to create the illusion of a connection. “We're doing work for one of your neighbors ...” is only honest if you consider the all of Earth's inhabitants to be your neighbors. “We spoke a couple of months ago and you asked me to call back.” No, I'm quite sure I didn't.
  • How could a telemarketer revise her approach to actually sell me something?

    Find out information about me before calling. Am I really a potential customer for what you're offering? Doing even a little pre-call research separates you from the majority of cold callers.

    Go off script and have a meaningful dialogue with me. I will often speak with and give information to a person who I'm conversing with. When a person is working from a script, it's   like listening to a boring soliloquy. Instead of engaging, my focus is 100% on how to quickly end the call without providing any information that could be misconstrued as “yes, I'm interested.

    Give me a good reason to listen. If you don't know anything about me, it's doubtful that you can provide one. 

    Pay attention when I tell you why I'm not interested. Telemarketers are trained to blow through your objections come hell or high water. If it's not a fit, move on. This will save you time and make me more apt to speak to future callers.

    Be direct about who you are and why you're calling. If you're working for a good company that does good things, there's no need to be vague or misleading about your employer and reason for calling.

    Most importantly, how can I avoid making telemarketing calls? The last thing sales professionals want is to be lumped into the category of telemarketer. Let's assume that sales phone calls are rated on a scale of 0-10 based on the prospect's likelihood of taking the call. Zero is a telemarketing call to be avoided at all costs. 10 is zero-cost phone time with a respected industry consultant/guru. When prospects see your number on their caller ID, are they sizing you up as a 0, 5, or 10? Here's how to improve your ranking:

    Have a good reason for calling. Don't call just to check in, say hi, or see how someone is doing. Even when calling a regular customer, this type of call is not going to generate a lot of excitement. I occasionally receive calls from vendors that sound like this “Hi , I haven't heard from you in a while, just calling to check in...” The imagery associated with this opening is of someone who is not very busy, wants my business, doesn't have a lot to offer, and wants me to think of something they can sell me. 

    When speaking to someone for the first time, use your brain to find a connection to lead in with. Do you know someone at the company? Do you work with one of their competitors? If you have no personal connection are you familiar with their products?

    Let your prospects know you're thinking about them. “Hi, It's been a while since we last spoke. I saw your name mentioned in ProSales Magazine last month, do you want me to mail you the article?” The imagery here is of someone who is busy but hasn't forgot about you, vested in the industry, and has something to offer with the magazine article.

    Present yourself as having something valuable to offer in a specific way (“We're the only widget manufacturer in your state”) rather than subjectively (“We make the best widgets.”). 

    Let's create a sales phone call that might actually have a shot of going somewhere:


    Me: Commercial Forest Products, this is Steve, how can I help you?
    Caller: Hi Steve, I was on your website and saw that you distribute widgets, we supply widgets to some
    distributors in Oregon and are looking to expand into California. Do you have a few minutes to
    Me: OK ... Questions about the widgets
    Caller: Knowledgeable answers about his widgets
    Caller: I'm going to be at a trade show in your area next month, can I stop by and meet you in person?

    How does this call compare to the telemarketing call at the beginning of this article?

    Caller had researched my company before picking up the phone.

  • The conversation flowed naturally in two directions. If he was working from a script, it was not apparent.
  • Caller engaged me with a subject of interest to me.
  • In his answers, caller provided information that showed his expertise.
  • Caller presented himself as vested in my industry (What's this trade show he's going to?) .
  • Caller wants to meet to see if it makes sense to work together rather than trying to close a deal during the initial phone call.
  • Telemarketers use the shotgun approach. Call volume is emphasized over call quality. It's unlikely telemarketers will ever make calls like this because of the required time investment. If they did, they would be sales professionals, anyway.

    Stephen Ondich is the owner of Commercial Forest Products, Fontana, California, a manufacturer and distributor of hardwood products. He can be reached at (909) 256-4583 or

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