Cold-calling horror stories

25 May 2009

26 May 2009

Sellers who don't know what you do or won't take no for an answer can be frustrating. Martha McKenzie-Minifie hears about the worse cases

When asked by SM if he likes to be cold-called by prospective suppliers, Adam Smith responded with a resounding 'no'. The purchasing manager at Morgan Advanced Ceramics says he acknowledges sellers have a job to do - but he's sick of tricky tactics, having been on the receiving end of too many gimmicks.

He says he's particularly wise to "those that ask leading questions such as 'please tell me the address you want the two free bottles of wine sent to'. I consider this bribery, so I refuse. I generally try to end the call within the next 10 seconds."

While Smith doesn't want to kill off approaches from non-incumbent vendors completely, he wishes those calling would do their homework more thoroughly.

And he's not alone. The latest SM100 poll (see page 11) asked buyers if they welcomed approaches from prospective vendors.

About one in five (21 per cent) of respondents said 'no'.

While 79 per cent welcomed the pitches, most gave caveats and many spoke out about overly-persistent cold-callers who do not do enough research.

Chris De Luca, chief purchasing officer for refining and marketing at BP, seems to have heard it all.

"I've had a sales agent call to sell me a ticket to an event where I was a speaker! When I asked who else was speaking they either didn't know or, in several cases, had inflated the roles of people who work for me," she says.

"Seriously - this happens."

De Luca prefers well-researched pitches, with background, sent to her email address, which is available on the internet - not a call on her BlackBerry (a pet hate).

She offers this advice: "Take the time to do your job properly."

Nigel Coghlan, a purchasing manager at Itron Metering Solutions UK, has a similar message.

"I'm happy to speak to suppliers who have done their homework and approach us with a unique proposition. These are the people we will possibly follow up," he says.

"I get annoyed by companies that have no idea what we do. As a manufacturer of industrial products, I've been approached by companies who sell in-store point of sale displays - what's that about?"

Other buyers were frustrated by repeated approaches from sellers who wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.

Dorothy Holland, director of Dot Purchasing, describes suppliers who keep trying to book meetings with her despite having been told earlier she would review the offerings and get back to them if required.

She says it is as an "old selling technique" of "pushing and pushing, rather than taking a modern approach".

Holland welcomes the possibly of finding a new system or techniques, or more market information through cold-callers - and finds information of interest in about 10 per cent of the approaches.

Our survey shows suppliers are innovating in their methods of contact, as communication technology changes. Martin Wakelin, the purchasing manager - Europe (global operations elastomers) at industrial group Trelleborg, says electronic approaches don't stop at email.

"I'm finding suppliers are beginning to use the web to make contact using networking sites such as LinkedIn and Xing," he says.

Like the majority of the purchasers who responded to the latest SM100 poll, Wakelin was open to well-researched and relevant approaches.

"Any approach from new suppliers is welcomed and is, in fact, a more frequent occurrence in this climate."

SMmay2009

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