The Cold Caller

What makes a call “cold” is that the person you are calling is not expecting your call. Because they are not expecting your call, you interrupt their day, even if they aren’t doing anything important when you call them. You can never know who you are calling, and even looking at Linkedin before dialing the phone doesn’t provide any information about their general disposition or their current mood.

Occasionally, you are going to run across what we might describe as “grouchy” people. The very nature of “grouchy” people is to be “grouchy.” What follows here are some ideas about how to deal with people who are rude to you when you call them to try to help them improve their results.

It’s Not About You

The first thing you need to know about grouchy people is that your phone call did not cause them to be irritable, angry, or upset. They were in a bad mood before you called them because that is the state they choose each day. Your call was no different than the car in front of them that wasn’t going fast enough, the long line they had wait in for coffee, or the fact that they had to park in the overflow parking lot because the main lot was full.

Don’t believe that your cold call to a rude or difficult person has anything to do with their response, no matter how rude or angry they are, and even if they hang up on you. Salespeople are responsible for helping people get better results, something that isn’t always easy to do. You will struggle with people even when they engage you to help them with the better outcomes they need.

Some Choices as to What to Do

The very first B2B cold call I made ended with my prospective client hanging up on me. He told me to call him back when I no longer needed a cold call script. When I asked for advice as to what to do, I was told to call him back and tell him I didn’t need the script and ask for an appointment. It’s hard to call someone back when they just hung up on you, but I made the call and got the appointment. I also learned not to sound scripted.

This was my very early initiation into the idea that as a salesperson, you are not inferior to your clients. You are not something less than they are, regardless of their title, age, experience, or any other factor. There is no need to be servile or excessively deferential. Nor is there any reason to be conflict-averse when you can exercise diplomacy instead.

When They Hang Up in Your Face

One choice you might make when someone hangs up on you is to move on, dialing the next number without giving it a second thought. Maybe you caught the person at a bad time. You have more prospective clients you need to call, and you can always try this excessively grouchy person another time, and if you’re lucky after they’ve had their coffee (even though that isn’t their problem).

You might also choose to call them back, exercising diplomacy, apologizing, and asking for the meeting you called for anyway. If the idea of calling again frightens you, you need to know two things. First, no one will drive to your office and hurt you for calling them back, so there is no real danger in calling again. Second, you don’t have your prospect’s business now, so there is nothing they can take away from you.

You can always call back, and say, “I am sorry I caught you at a bad time, and I want to apologize, I know you weren’t expecting my call. I hope your day goes better, and I’ll try you again some other time. I’ll send you an email so you can reach out to me should you need anything.” By making this call, you prove you are not afraid of your grouchy prospective client. You also provide the idea that you are going to call again later and that you truly want a meeting.

Could making this call upset your contact? Of course, it could. But so could the fact that they ran out of staples.

When They Hang Up II

When your contact hangs up on you before you can even tell them why you are on their phone, you may want to modify your diplomatic call, adding the reason for your call.

You might say, “I am sorry I caught you at a bad time, and I apologize. But I would like to tell you that the only reason for my call is that I believe I can help you get better results in this area, and if that might be helpful, I’d love to meet with you to share more.”

The likelihood of the person still being grouchy is still relatively high. They’re already grouchy. There is also the possibility that your contact hangs up in your face a second time. No matter the outcome, you have distinguished yourself as someone who might be worth working with because you aren’t afraid of them.

The Worst Client I Ever Had

You would be hard-pressed to find a client meaner than one of my first very large clients. She would yell at me, curse at me, call me names, question my intelligence, and criticize my team. I was doing good work for her, but nothing was enough to make her happy. She was perpetually difficult.

One day, I was visiting her in her office when she threw herself into her chair, exhausted and emotional. Then she shared with me that she was working twelve hours a day or more, and then going to stay at the hospital with her husband who had cancer and had undergone a number of surgeries. None of her anger was really directed at me, and I recognized that most of what puts people in a bad mood has little to do with me and everything to do with things that are invisible to me.

If you want to help people and make a difference, it is going to sometimes require you to deal with difficult people. They may prove to be difficult from the very first call.

Helping Others

A few days ago, on the way home from dinner with my wife, I noticed a dark figure standing on a street corner in the cold, rainy weather. He was holding a cardboard sign, but I couldn’t make it out because it was too dark, and the weather was too bad. I knew what the sign said without having to read it.

I asked my wife to roll down the window and ask the man holding the sign to come over the car, and I asked her to hand me my bag so I could grab my wallet. I was just back from speaking in Las Vegas, and I knew I had a little cash. I handed the man two $20 bills, all the cash I had on me.

The homeless man took the money, said thank you, and head down, turned away from the car. He was ashamed to look at the money in front of us, so he carefully looked as he walked away, maybe hoping we wouldn’t notice. When he realized he had $40, he turned around and started crying.

Bawling his eyes out, the homeless man said, “Thank you. I can go home. I can go home. Thank you!” He ran behind my car and kept right on running. We were all emotional because the man was crying as he literally ran to his “home,” whatever that meant, and $40 isn’t life changing money—for us.

My daughter asked, “What if he uses that money for drugs or alcohol?” I told her that there is nothing that I could do about that, and that I would have given him the money regardless. We don’t help people in need so we can judge them or control their behavior. Any one of us can make life decisions that don’t turn out the way we want them to and find ourselves in need of help.

We help people because they need our help. We give because we are fortunate enough to have the means to do so. The more you are given, the more you have to give.

Whatever your religious beliefs, this season is a good time to remember that you are here for a reason. Your life is the greatest gift you have ever been given, and you are here to do something purposeful and meaningful with that life. For my money, nothing shows your gratitude for that gift as much as making a difference in the lives of others.

The Very Best Intentions

There are times when an operations team can become overwhelmed by the volume or the difficulty of their work. They fall behind, and sometimes, they fail their clients or customers. To address these difficulties and shortcomings, some leader decides to acquire additional help by calling on their sales team to pitch in on the operational work, helping the operations team to catch up. They also ask—or allow—salespeople to do work that belongs to other roles, believing they are helping, when in fact, they are harming the organization. If you want a high-performing sales organization, you cannot take your sales team out of the field. Your intentions, as good as they may be, compromise your sales culture.

They Need Help. But What Kind?

The operations team has fallen behind in their work. They need more hands if they are going to stop falling behind and eventually catch up. The leaders decide to take the sales force out of the field and apply them as resources to ensure that the company doesn’t fail their clients and customers. The rationale that the operations team only requires the sales force’s help for a few weeks, and they believe they can live without the couple weeks of whatever it is salespeople do when they are selling. This is poor thinking and a poor decision, for several reasons.

Taking your sales force away from sales to do operational work means they are not creating new opportunities or working to capture the opportunities they have already created. The two weeks they spent in operations are lost to them forever; they literally cannot get the time back, and you have shortened their sales year. The opportunities they didn’t create may not be lost to them. Still, the timing of the acquisition of the opportunity is lost, as they have moved the sales cycle at least two weeks into the future, if you believe the salespeople will pick up right where they left off (more on this later). While the sales force is working in operations, they are not progressing their existing opportunities, pushing the deal into the future for both their client and their company.

As tempting as it may be to believe that pulling your sales team out of the field isn’t as harmful as failing the customer, you are creating a culture where the need for help continues in the future—and destroys your sales culture in the process.

What Are You Enabling

The fact that your operations team needs help is an indication that something is wrong. That something has nothing to do with the sales force, with the possible exception being the sales force promising clients delivery dates the operations team cannot meet. When an operations team needs help, it is a symptom that suggests that they are under-resourced, have poor processes that prevent their success, have inadequate talent, are being poorly led, or some combination of these things.

If the operations team is lacking the resources they need, backfilling those roles with salespeople doesn’t solve that problem. Instead, it shifts the problem from operations to sales. Operations has been made whole, but the organization has now given up selling as a priority, while leaving operations no better resourced than before, and no better prepared for the future. If the operations team doesn’t have processes in place to allow them to execute for their clients, temporarily providing them salespeople is a response that does nothing to improve their efficiencies. Permitting poor execution due to a lack of people or processes to go unaddressed only causes more trouble in the future.

Following the logic and the rallying cry that everyone needs to work as a team, should we then pull people in operations and accounting and Human Resources and marketing to make cold calls and sales calls when the sales force falls behind on their numbers, reducing the number of people available to run those areas of the business?

Whatever variety of problem that gives rise to the idea that is pulling salespeople out of a sales role to do operational work, those problems belong to the operation team’s leadership, as well as executive leadership. None of this is to say salespeople have no role to play, something we’ll look at in a few paragraphs.

What You Are Teaching Your Sales Force?

When you ask your salespeople to stop selling and to assume operational duties, you destroy their effectiveness and infect them with weak beliefs and future excuses. You also allow the rest of your organization to believe that your salespeople don’t really work and have much free time available for other tasks, a self-fulling prophecy that all but ensures the destruction of a sales culture.

One of the first things that occurs to a salesperson when their operations team fails their clients is that they should stop selling. Failing one client isn’t made better by failing a second client because the operations team is overwhelmed with work. Later, the failures of operations become an excuse for poor sales results. In deals with a longer sales cycle, the opportunities they don’t create now are deals they won’t have ninety days from now. The last thing you want to do if you are building and maintaining a high-performing sales force is create the idea that there are times they should not be selling.

Once a salesperson is asked to do operational work as a way to keep their major client, you have given them a form of tacit approval to do all kinds of tasks that have nothing to do with sales. The client needs something, and they ask the salesperson for help. Because you confused them about their role and the value they create for the client and their company, you find the salesperson following up on orders, pulling reports, retyping invoices, and becoming a glorified customer service representative (and lessening their role in the process).

By moving salespeople into operational roles, you make it more likely they do work that belongs to someone else in the organization, and you increase the likelihood they struggle to reach their goals. It’s challenging enough to build value creators who can create and win clients without confusing them about their role and the value you expect them to create for your clients.

What Should the Sales Force Do Instead?

In The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, I wrote about Accountability. If you are a salesperson, you own the outcomes you sell your client. You do not, however, own all the transactions necessary to deliver those outcomes. Just like the operations team isn’t responsible for creating and winning opportunities, the sales team isn’t responsible for doing the work of operations. They are, however, accountable to their clients, and they must be good team members to the rest of the business.

The sales force can—and must—work with their client to adjust delivery dates or to come up with some creative way to mitigate the execution problems. They can keep the client updated on the progress of improving things, and staying in close enough communication to prevent losing the client. They can also work with other clients to change delivery dates or go-live dates to give the operations team a little breathing room. If you want a culture of high-performing salespeople, you have to build that culture by helping them become value creators, consultative salespeople, and someone their clients recognize as a trusted advisor. That means they need to be engaged in execution from a strategic perspective, not from a transactional perspective.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. As a sales leader, you should help your operations team get the help they need to execute and protect your sales culture from being harmed by dragging salespeople into roles that belong to others.

Becoming a Trusted Advisor

You don’t want to be a vendor. The word suggests that you offer something for sale, like a vending machine. You also don’t want to be a preferred vendor, even if that means your dream client gives you more of their business than someone else.

It might sound—and feel—better to be described as a supplier, another word that suggests the transactional relationship, one in which you supply something that your clients or prospects need. Adding the word “preferred” to the supplier is no more flattering than adding it to the word vendor.

You are not going to have any of your clients call you their “trusted advisor.” The way that you know you occupy this space is the way your client engages with you. When they describe you to other people, they might use the word “partner,” an indication that you are something more than a vendor or a supplier.

What Makes You a Vendor?

What makes one a vendor is a sales approach centered on selling a product, service, or solution, believing the most outstanding value you can create is to tell your company’s story and pitching the solution. You might call this approach transactional, or you might recognize it as an approach that doesn’t create much value for your clients, with an exception for the client is trying to buy what you sell.

If you are easy to do business with and what you sell works well for your client, you might move up a bit to the preferred vendor. There is no requirement that one sell using an approach that requires value creation for the client, but its absence and the lack of value makes you easy to beat in a contest against better salespeople with a modern approach.

What Makes You a Supplier?

A supplier is a level above the vendor. The difference may be that the supplier sells something more strategic, including something complex enough to be considered a solution. You will find purchasing agents and professional buyers tend to use words like vendor and supplier as a way to ensure that you recognize the nature of the relationship, or more accurately, the lack of a relationship.

Being a preferred supplier generally seems to be a term used when you perform where other people have struggled and failed, often due to the client’s constraints, and your success entitles you to more of their business. Someone can use this term to describe you even when you are something more, only because that’s the word their company uses to talk about the companies who help them with the things they need.

What Makes You a Trusted Advisor?

Even if your client is going to refer to you as their trusted advisor, there are signs that this is the space you occupy. You make it more likely you become something like a trusted advisor or strategic partner through your sales approach. An approach that centered on the relationship and insights that help your client discover something about themselves and their business, something that allows them to move their business forward.

The role of a consultative salesperson requires that the salesperson knows something the client doesn’t know or doesn’t know as well as the salesperson. They have some expertise, business acumen, and situational knowledge that allows them to fill in the gaps in the client’s knowledge and experience.

Older approaches to sales that focused on finding dissatisfaction still have some part of the truth about selling, but the truth is partial. Trying to talk someone into believing they have a problem worth solving isn’t as powerful as an approach that provides your prospective client with the context that helps them recognize the need to do change. It also provides the implications of doing nothing in the face of a world of constant, accelerating, disruptive change.

Signs You Are a Trusted Advisor

When your contacts call you before they make a decision or to get your view about a certain problem they are struggling with, you have evidence that you are something more than a vendor, supplier, or salesperson.

When your contacts call you to ask you for advice on things that are entirely outside of your domain, you have further proof that you are at least consultative, and likely a trusted advisor, proving you have both the intimacy and the proven discernment your client values.

The more your client initiates the contact with you, the more it means your relationship is valuable enough to your client that you receive a phone call, a call that your vendor competitor isn’t going to experience. Relationship selling still matters.

As you have new ideas and new initiatives to pursue with your clients, the fact that you only need to ask for a meeting to share your ideas is solid evidence that your relationship and the results you have helped them produce is enough to get your concept a mostly unfair hearing, one that is biased towards a yes, even if your timing is off. It’s always good to be in front of your clients when it comes to the next initiative.

What you want from your sales approach and your execution is an absolute right to the next opportunity, project, initiative, solution, or transformational change. You want to work on delivering strategic value, something I describe as Level Four Value in Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, giving you the upper hand in any contest.

Talent v’s Hard Work…

Anonymous asks, “Which is more important to success, talent or hard work?”

When Talent Fails

Countless talented people fail. They are better equipped through some natural gift, some set of experiences, or through training. It is clear to everyone around them that they have greater competencies and greater abilities. Almost all of these talented people recognize that they are more talented than their peers.

The reason these talented people fail has nothing to do with their lack of talent and everything to do with their unwillingness to put that talent to work. Talented people sometimes believe that talent alone is enough to succeed. But being unwilling to do the work, they fail.

When Hard Work Fails

Some people who work very hard fail, but not nearly as often as the talented person who is unwilling. A hard worker tends to produce results through the sheer force of will. They’re willing to just keep at something until they produce some result.

When hard workers fail it is because they believe that working hard alone is enough. Because they don’t work at learning more and improving their effectiveness, they fail. I have seen many a hard-working salesperson fail because, despite their willingness to work, they wouldn’t work on developing their chops.

Talent + Hard Work

The question anonymous asks supposes that talent and hard work are mutually exclusive, that you can be one or the other. But the most successful people are the talented people who work hard putting those talents to good use. They are matched only by the hard worker who is thoughtful enough to learn quickly, make distinctions that produce better results, and hustle to grow their overall competencies.

The only choice to made is whether you are going to work hard if you are gifted with some talent, or whether you are going to develop yourself and learn if you are a hard worker who lacks the natural talent…

Lack of Leadership Equals Lack of Results

No one wants to work for a micromanager, just as no one wants to be one. Like most things, when people believe that one thing is bad, they presume the opposite must be good. If micromanaging is bad, then leaving people alone must be good, or so this is what some managers believe and many managers practice.

The opposite of micromanagement is macro-management. Where managing every detail of an employee’s work is terrible, managing the significant outcomes that lead to success is useful and necessary. Too little management, too little leadership, and a lack of direction is something much worse than micromanagement.

Too Little Direction on Outcomes

Where a micromanager would provide too much direction, someone who fears their team thinking of them as a micromanager might avoid guiding the outcomes the individuals on their team need to create. Managers don’t exist to manage paperwork and provide reporting. All managers must be leaders, someone responsible for future results.

In sales, managers and leaders who avoid providing guidance around the number and quality of the opportunities the individuals on their team needs to create each week, or month, or quarter is not providing enough direction for many of the individuals on their team to succeed. Instead, they are merely hoping for the best. You see this when sales leaders allow their salespeople to show up to a pipeline meeting with no new opportunities week after week, without admonishing them for failing to build their pipeline.

Macro-management means providing strong direction on the outcomes your team needs to create. It means ensuring the people on your team know what you expect of them, that they are capable and equipped to produce those results and holding them accountable for doing so.

Too Little Activity

There are two reasons an individual may not produce the outcomes for which they are accountable. First, and most likely, they aren’t doing the work they would need to do to generate the result. Most people who fail in sales don’t fail because they can’t sell; they fail because they don’t sell. Call this a lack of sales activity or “anti-hustle.”

Some sales managers and leaders don’t address the problem of too little activity when it comes to prospecting. Instead, they ignore it, providing too little leadership around a significant outcome in sales. What is worse than having to talk to a rep about the fact that they aren’t doing the work to create new deals is allowing them to fail because you don’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation. The failure to have these conversations with senior salespeople means your best reps are not in the game.

Activity management is micromanagement if a salesperson is producing the deals they need to be successful. That same activity management is macro-management when one is not providing the result they need due to too little activity.

Too Low Effectiveness

When an individual’s failure to create new opportunities is not due to any lack of effort on their part, the root cause is almost always a lack of sales effectiveness in their role. The second thing you need for growth is closing more deals.

Sales effectiveness is also something that many managers ignore. When salespeople believe their “style” should trump a modern a sales approach, one the client finds valuable enough that they prefer to work with the salesperson and their company, their managers allow weak sales practices to cause losses and the poor results that follow. Losing isn’t a style.

There are a lot of ways to get to yes and win a deal, but when a person is not winning, the choices they are making in sales are detrimental to their success. Allowing someone you are responsible for to fail is not leadership. Waiting for a person to figure out something they believe they already know isn’t going to help them improve. That improvement is only going to come from a manager willing to manage the macro outcome that is “won deals.”

There is No Benign Neglect

As a manager or leader, there is no such thing as benign neglect. There is only neglect, something that harms others. It is an abdication of leadership hat one should not micromanage, should not have to provide direction, and should not need to require the activity necessary to produce results.

It is easier to fail your sales team than it is for your sales team to fail you. The imposition of a standard not only serves your goals and results, but it also helps the people that make up your team. Leaders see something in people that they don’t yet see in themselves, and in doing so, improve them both personally and professionally.

Providing leadership means providing high standards, something people will have to strive to achieve. A lack of standards means anything is acceptable.

Lack of Growth and a Lack of Accountability

When you find a lack of growth and sales performance, you also find a lack of accountability. The unwillingness to provide consequences and help when people don’t do what they are responsible for doing allows them to continue to fail. Without accountability, that failure belongs to the person providing too little leadership, not the person who is failing to perform.