Sales Ploys That Backfire

I started my selling career in high school. I sold door-to-door for Fuller Brush and a local cable television company. In college, I sold Grolier encyclopedias. Each of these sales positions involved “cold calling.” It was basically a form of human spamming: I called on people I didn’t know, who had not indicated an interest in the product, at times that were inconvenient for them. It was brutal work.

A Man’s Hand on Brass Door Knocker - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #6975278

Photo courtesy of ©

Thankfully, my dad kept encouraging me: “Son, it’s a numbers game. Every time someone says ‘no,’ you are that much closer to a ‘yes.’ Just be faithful to make your calls, and you will be successful.” He was right.

Over time, I got pretty good at it. In fact, when I was a senior in college and newly married, I took a job as a telephone sales rep for a local publishing company. I made more money working part-time than my wife, Gail, was making full-time as a teacher. As a result, I have always held selling in high esteem.

My own experience has served me well through the years. After all, nearly every job involves some form of selling. Consequently, I am always sympathetic to honest sales people. I try to give them an opportunity to be heard.

But as the current recession has worn on, I have noticed that an increasing number of sales people are resorting to dishonesty to secure appointments with their prospects. This dishonors the profession. Cold calling is one thing. Deceit is another.

While my assistant screens out 99% of these, these deceitful ploys usually take one of eight forms:

  1. “I’m an old friend.” This is almost always from a person I have never met. Occasionally, it is someone I met briefly. Somewhere. However, based on this approach, they make it seem that we are or were close personal friends.
  2. “I am returning his call.” This is supposed to make it sound like I took the initiative, and they are simply being responsive. Being forgetful, I sometimes rack my brain, wondering if I, in fact, did call them.
  3. “I have an appointment.” This usually happens on the hour or half-hour, so the sales person can say, “Hi, I’m calling for my 9 o’clock phone appointment with Michael.” With as much as I have going on, it sometimes does cause us to check my calendar.
  4. “It is important that you return my call.” Several years ago, someone called from my local police department and left a message. They said that it was urgent, and that I should call them back immediately. Naturally, it scared me. When I called back, I discovered it was a salesperson raising money for a police-affiliated charity. I have received several versions of this over the last few years.
  5. “I need to speak with you about a confidential matter.” I suppose this appeals to people’s curiosity. You don’t really know if it’s real unless you call back. I can’t think of a single time it was legitimate. The only people who call me with confidential information are people I know.
  6. “This is the third message I have left you.” Mostly I get these messages via email. There is an underlying sense of entitlement that I find disturbing. I refuse to let emails and calls from people I don’t know create an obligation on my part. I especially refused to be shamed by someone who feels entitled.
  7. “[Our mutual friend] asked me to give you a call.” Occasionally, I have bit on this ploy out of respect for my friend. However, my real friends almost always give me a heads up before I hear from a sales person. If they don’t, I have learned to double-check.
  8. “You have won first place.” I am amazed at how many awards are created and given just for the sake of selling you the award or an advertisement. I actually received a message like this as I was writing this post! It is especially suspicious when you have never heard of the award or you have to pay to get it.

I always find it refreshing when someone is just straight-up honest. How about this?

Mr. Hyatt, I know you are busy. You don’t know me from Adam. I don’t expect you to take my call unsolicited. However, I am going to email you some information about an opportunity that might be right for your company. If it’s not, please just delete it and forgive the intrusion. If it is of interest, I would be grateful for 10 minutes of your time to discuss it further. I promise, I won’t take longer than that unless you decide this is something you want to pursue.”

Sales is an honorable profession, especially when it is built on a foundation of integrity. Great sales people—those who build an enduring reputation—don’t compromise their integrity just to get an appointment.

Question: What ploys have you experienced? Better yet, what approach would you recommend to honest sales people who are trying to make a living?

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