15 August 2017

Call Me Maybe… Not: Why Do Sales Reps Push Phone Calls?

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder Of Atomic Tango + Guy With A Hang-Up About Phone Calls…

As I typed my very first email in 1994, I thought, “Writer’s dream come true!”

  • No more fumbling for the perfect words while speaking on the phone.
  • No more trying to end a rambling call in a polite yet immediate way.
  • And no more timing my calls to suit someone else’s schedule or mood.

Today, texting lovers have taken those anti-call sentiments a step further. And on an enterprise level, chat tools like Slack have obviated the need for conference calls.

So you’d think phone calls would be relegated to the communications attic, stored just in front of handwritten letters, and dusted off only for special occasions, good friends, or urgent situations.

Yet phone calls persist. And ironically, they’re pushed hardest by those selling new technologies.

Hey, 21st Century Exec, Wanna Go Analog With Me?

I’m referring to those ubiquitous and bewildering requests in sales emails: “Do you have 10 minutes for a phone chat about our business solution?” Sometimes it’s not just a request, it’s an order: “Schedule a conversation today!”

I get at least one such unsolicited solicitation every day. What bugs me about these offers? Oh let me count the ways:

  1. talking on the phone
  2. with a complete stranger
  3. who wants to sell me something

Yeah, I think that’s an offer I can refuse.

Interestingly, most of these requests come from reps trying to sell me “digital solutions.” I don’t think they see the irony. Case in spot: Hubspot — which fetishizes inbound marketing and regards all other promotional tactics as carcinogenic — loves making phone calls. In fact, they go so far as to call prospects without warning. (So much for “stop interrupting.”)

Hubspot marketing

Hubspot: practicing what they preach against

Now I get it from a sales rep perspective — at least I thought I did. When I worked in automotive marketing, our primary objective was to persuade prospective customers to visit dealerships, where the virtuoso sales reps could enthrall them with the fine art of finagling. (“You know, for just a few dollars more per month, you could…”) Unlike writers like myself, these sales reps would rather let their voices do the talking.

But these days, many prospective consumers and clients are hip to that scheme. That’s why so many avoid talking to sales reps until they’re ready to buy. And some use online buying services to avoid sales reps altogether.

So why push sales calls at all in the 21st century?

The Sales Rep’s Confession

To find out more, I responded to one of these call requests (by email, of course). First, I politely declined the offer (which, yes, was for sales and marketing software). I then asked the following:

“Just curious, why do all sales reps ask for a phone call? I’ve never once accepted a phone chat with a sales rep and never intend to. Wouldn’t it be better to explain the benefits of your product in your email, then direct people to a website page where they can learn more at their leisure?”

(Note: The direct mail/email tactic does work on me. Show me a relevant product, a strong value proposition, and a website link, and I might just bite. But asking me to call? Never.)

To my surprise, I got a friendly, detailed response from the sales rep:

“Well if you consider it from my point of view, I’m trying to close as many deals as possible in the shortest time. As a salesperson, time is my greatest resource.

If I can get you on a call, I can find out much more information with much less effort (on my part) than if I were to link you to our website and perhaps we have some back and forth via email. If I can qualify you as not a legitimate opportunity I can move onto my next opportunity.

As well as this, it’s much easier if I can understand any current issues that you have… quite often you won’t think of something as an issue unless someone questions it and I can’t do this without information. If I know nothing about you, your business or your workflow it’s difficult for me to sell you any benefits of our solution.

It’s a funny one really I do I see your point. We as salespeople love getting prospects on the phone. When in actual fact (and I’m thinking when a sales person phones me – I’d rather do it on my terms and not have to speak to another human) perhaps we can connect via Slack or some sort of instant messenger and turn the sales world on its head!!! (let me know about that one)

These are just a couple of reasons why salespeople prefer calls.”

In short, he likes phone calls because they save him time.

Yet saving time is also why many prospective customers reject sales calls.

Let’s Make A Deal

Here’s a simple compromise: give customers a choice.

In an introductory email, provide a succinct list of relevant product benefits (know thy customer!). Then invite the recipient to call you, BUT also acknowledge that phone phobia exists and invite them to visit your informative and persuasive website. The latter option might not be as time efficient, but some leads take nurturing. And a well-structured website might just save time and even close deals.

Plus, if you’re selling sales and marketing software, what better way to prove that it works?

I know sales is difficult — it’s a ridiculously large part of my life as an entrepreneur. And I assume practices such as unsolicited call solicitations occasionally work, otherwise experienced professionals wouldn’t use them. But the same could be said about spam or those annoying pop-up banners on YouTube videos.

Over the long run, I don’t want to be seen as an annoyance or irritant. Call me crazy, but I want people to want to talk with me, and not just because they want to sell me something. Now those are the kind of business calls even I would enjoy having.


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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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[…] conversations can help move a sales prospect along, but most business people avoid unnecessary calls — particularly with sales reps — until they really need something. More to the point, the word […]