Thank You for Your Sales Call/e-mail... Here's Why I Didn't Respond by freezelight

Venting about the disruption of unsolicited sales calls and e-mails.  These modern scourges are enabled by new technology and allow sales to be more efficient but definitely not more effective. 

Disclaimer: All of the ideas expressed in this article are my personal statements and opinions, and do not reflect the opinions/statements of the City of Urbana.
Look, I get it. Salespeople have a job to do; their job is to sell. That means reaching out to prospective clients and offering their products. (Note 1... notes are below.) As one of those prospects, I want to be clear about why I don't respond to unsolicited sales calls or e-mails. (Note 2
It’s not you, or your product, it’s the sales process. Here are three ways that the current one is flawed:

Time Constraints 

In my role as an IT Director, I receive about 30 marketing e-mails a day. (Note 3) Assume I spent one minute reading each e-mail before deleting it. That’s 2.5 hours a week, or 130 hours a year. Similarly, I get at least 5 cold calls a day. Assuming I spent only 1 minute with each call (to wait for a pause in their script before I tell them I’m not interested), that’s another 21 hours a year just answering the phone.  

So that would be almost 4 weeks of my year just skimming and deleting e-mails and politely declining calls.  

To emphasize: that’s four weeks just to say NO to every contact. Imagine if I said “yes, I’d like to learn more”! (Note 4) If I spent 10 minutes reading the white paper, talking to the representative, or watching the webinar then I’d spend almost 6 hours per day just hearing more information. I would barely have any time to complete the Purchase Orders to buy all of that great stuff!

Propriety and Priorities 

I ended the last section with a reference to Purchase Orders. In the public sector our problem is never “hmm, how am I going to spend this pile of money they keep shoveling my way?” Buying things isn’t easy – and it’s not supposed to be. We have budgeting and procurement processes designed to make purchasing… ponderous. (Note 5) Let me say: I fully support these processes; an important part of my job is trying to constrain technology spending!  

Unsolicited calls and e-mails subvert the procurement process because they create demand for a product we may not need. Instead, our focus should be on identifying our needs and then finding the right solution for them.

Wasted Effort

Above, I calculated the amount of time I do not spend responding to requests. Companies do invest their time crafting white papers and delivering phone scripts, so many of which are probably ignored by their recipients.  

What’s lost in all this is communication, at least if you defined it as “a message that is transmitted and received.” The whole process is failing, which is what prompted me to write this blog.

As Usual, I Blame Technology (Note 6)  

The fundamental problem here is that technology improvements changed the sales process through bulk e-mail, automated calling, and call centers.   

Automated calling is wonderful for caller efficiency, but horrendous for effectiveness. Who hasn’t hung up on a phone call after waiting several seconds for the caller to start speaking, or deleted a voice mail left by a recording? And if you do pick up the phone to a live voice, it’s generally someone reading a script to you from a call center.   

On a lower level of hell, there’s bulk e-mail. At least phone scripts have a cost to the vendor using them. Bulk e-mail has essentially no cost, which leads to the expected overuse. (Note 7) (Note 8)

Improving the Process

Since I like to do more than complain, here are a few ideas to improve the process.
  • Go back to printed materials. I am infinitely more likely to read a paper document than an e-mail. Printed information lets me consume it at my pace and allows for more detail than a webinar. I actually look through my mail - and accumulate interesting materials in a stack that I take with me on flights to read. Information from some of these has turned into budget requests! I understand there’s a cost to mail paper… and I hope that creates a more careful consideration of what is sent and how frequently.
  • If you seek my real-time attention on the phone, you better have substantive information – not some bored telemarketer reading a script. The problem here is scheduling. So, I’m going to experiment with setting aside a time during the week when I answer the phone – and letting vendors know that about that time range via an auto-response to their e-mail. If a vendor makes the effort to line up an expert to call me at the right time, then I will listen.
  • Let’s redirect all of this human capacity into creating a better clearinghouse to transparently match up buyers and sellers. I proposed something like this in my blog on procurement specifications (see suggestion #3 here). IT managers need a place to meaningfully compare equivalent IT products, and companies want to share their information. Why can’t these ideas work together?


Note 1: Really, I can empathize: there was a short period in my career when I was the primary sales rep for a data warehouse add-on to a financial system – not to mention more than decade of software demonstrations. You can read more about that here… 

Note 2: To be transparent, here's what happens with the unsolicited calls & e-mails I receive: 
  • I tag senders as junk mail, and all future mailings from them accumulate in my junk folder, which I purge periodically without reading the e-mails. 
  • I let calls go to voicemail unless I recognize who’s calling. (See Note 8 about Phone Masking). When I listen to messages, once I hear that it's an unsolicited call, I delete it without listening. 
Note 3: I counted for a week (9/2/19 - 9/6/19) – and those are the ones that get past our Spam filter! 

Note 4: I took a day’s e-mail (from 9/5/19) and I classified them as follows: 
  • “Follow these links for white papers/online demo/case study” - 22 e-mails 
  • “Attend this webinar we’re hosting” - 13 e-mails 
  • “Take this quiz/survey” - 4 e-mails 
  • “We’d like to talk to you about your projects (and how we can help with them)” - 2 e-mails 
  • “Here’s a Free Trial” – 1 e-mail 
From a typical e-mail: “I would like to get some time on your calendar this week, or next to understand your roadmap for 2019 - 2020 and to determine how xxxx can become a strategic partner to help you achieve your goals.”  

From a typical phone call: “Hello, this is xxx calling from xxxx. I was advised that you are the IT Director of the City of Urbana, is that correct? I’m just trying to share a report with you on xxxx. Now, I have your e-mail address as xxxx...”  

Note 5: “Ponderous” in every sense of the word. For more, here’s my post on the problems with government procurement: 

Note 6: This is getting to be a habit for me… I outed myself as a Luddite here:  

Note 7: From the one week I analyzed (see Note 3): 
  • One vendor sent me 6 e-mails 
  • Two vendors sent me 4 e-mails 
  • Two vendors sent me 3 e-mails 
  • Sixteen vendors sent me 2 e-mails 
  • A few dozen sent me one e-mail 
Note 8: Worse than bulk e-mail is Phone Number Masking, when callers make their call seem to come from a local City in my area code. This should be outright illegal – it’s a deceptive practice. If I answer the phone and it turns out to be someone masking their calls, then I (*ahem*) "inform them of my disapproval." I think my officemates enjoy hearing me do this, as long as I don't do it too often.