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Dealing with Phone Solicitors

Nov 15th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick Kemper PhotoHow many phone solicitations do you receive on a weekly basis? How many spam emails? Think about the philosophy of spam. It costs so little to send (apparently) that it justifies a 0.000000000001 percent success rate (that’s an unscientific number, pill by the way.) Companies are willing to inconvenience and pester millions for a tiny return on the investment. Why? Because doing things right is slower and harder work.

Phone solicitations have to be more effective than spam, but they are also more intrusive. I get regular calls from companies I have never heard of who want to help us with our Google ads, or with web optimization in general. I don’t mind talking to these people, but the chances that I will ever even entertain using their services are infinitesimal. I’ve come up with a unique way to shut them up though. I let them start to make their pitch and if I don’t hear the name of their company and their website address, I ask for both. Then at some point I ask how they would categorize their business. I say something like, “So would you say that you specialize in internet marketing?” Often they will come back with a yes, or they’ll refine my suggestion with something like “internet marketing experts.” Then, while I have them on the phone, I’ll Google “internet marketing experts” and see if their website address pulls up in the search results. I’ve tried this maybe a dozen times and it never does. So then I tell them what I just did. Usually they start stammering or trying to figure out how to explain that they can’t get their own website to rank high.

Of course, there are millions of companies offering this type of service, so it would be very difficult to get your company to rank high on a search engine in a category like that. Still, it give me a chance to ask them why, if they can’t get their own ranking to appear on the first page, should we trust them to do the same with us? They don’t give up selling to me, of course, but it makes it easier to end the conversation.

I’ve never held a job like that, but how hard is it to cold-call businesses and try to sell them something? It has to be soul-crushing, if you care about your job at all. It’s like calling up all of the pretty girls you don’t know and asking them for a date. That’s why I don’t mind talking to these people – I feel bad for them. Some of them are very good at what they do.

Here’s a more specific tactic I used with a different type of phone solicitation. A representative of a state towing association called and asked if we would like to join the association and advertise in their member directory and on their website. They claimed that the traffic to the site was astronomical. I fished around a little and discovered that she worked for a different company who was working for the association to build their membership. That was what the company she worked for did – assisted trade associations with selling advertising and memberships.

Banner ads on the website were what she was pushing primarily. I took a look at the site and the primary banner ad was a rotating ad with only three companies currently rotating, one of which was our biggest competitor. So she had done a good job of finding a potential advertiser. I asked her some questions about the company she worked for. That’s how I learned that they were in the business of working for trade associations. We talked a little about some other trade associations they represented. Then I asked her how her company secured those contracts with trade associations. She was a little bit mystified at the question. I refined it: how many of those accounts did you secure with banner ads on a website somewhere? None, she admitted. They had a sales staff who called on trade associations and made presentations (the slower, harder way of building business.) She was trying to sell me on banner ads, when neither the company she worked for, nor the state towing association, invested any money in banner ads to build their business.

Now, again, it probably wouldn’t make much sense for a company serving trade associations to place banner ads on the web hoping that the president of some trade association would stumble across one, or for a trade association to place banner ads looking for new members, but the point remained: there was no legitimate endorsement of the process they were recommending.

All of this gets back to an old-fashioned law of business — we trust people we know. Even when we buy something from someone we don’t know, we use that experience to build or erode trust for potential future transactions. When a vehicle owner calls you to tow their car, if they’ve never used your service, they’re giving you the opportunity to build trust. It’s a fairly low-risk venture for them, but it’s one of the most crucial opportunities for you. You’re selling them on your service. Now, if they found out that your car broke down one day and you called a competitor to tow it, you would have a problem similar to my phone solicitors. That’s why it’s a little easier to provide personal endorsement in the towing business than it is in the internet marketing business.

I enjoy these interactions with phone solicitors, and, in fact, I might start a service where I troubleshoot phone pitches for companies. I think I cannot only shoot holes in their sales strategy, but I might be able to come up with a simple way to deflect my own bullets. Just throwing it out there, if anyone wants to cut me in on a percentage of net sales revenue.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper