Telephoning the impenetrable corporate fortress

Michele writes:

What kind of strategy do you suggest when the person you’re trying to reach with your marketing is very insulated?

One of my marketing targets is communications director of a large company. I did send a marketing letter on paper, which I assume was received. When I tried to do a follow-up call to confirm that the letter had been received and, I hope, read, I ran into the “assistant roadblock.” The administrative assistant would not put my call through nor would she give me the intended person’s email address. There was also no voice mail system. When she asked what I wanted, I explained I had sent a letter and was calling as a follow-up to the letter as I had promised in the letter. I then asked her to let the intended person know that I had called as I had promised. She took my name and phone number (or so she intimated), but who knows if the intended person ever saw either the letter or the message that I had called.

The assistant also told me, “We already have people who do this,” and implied that they had no need for my services. (Now she is making management decisions!) I didn’t have a quick retort ready, but afterwards I thought of saying, “Yes, but you have no idea if your boss would like to outsource this function or redesign the way you are doing it, so I’d appreciate your forwarding my message.”

What do you do when you can’t reach the intended person by either phone or email? Give up? (Send a letter?) This has happened to me several times.

OK, Michele, I have three ideas on how to proceed.

Number 1. Dress up as the grim reaper and get past the receptionist by telling her you are there to deliver a singing birthday telegram. (I can lend you my outfit but you may find the sleeves a little short.)

Number 2. Send your husband to pace on the front sidewalk of the target company wearing a sandwich-board sign saying his wife needs work.

Number 3. Tie a copy of your letter to a rock and throw it through the window.

The first two have an advantage over the third because they’re legal. However, I’m sure they’ve been done before and are no longer fresh and fun. The third may be the most emotionally satisfying, but don’t tell anyone I said that.

Seriously, if you really want to work with that particular person, I’d advise contacting him or her through more than one channel:
phone, postal mail, email, etc.

But wait, you’ve already done that. Never mind. (Unless perhaps you can find a new connection via LinkedIn or something else along those lines.)

I suggest putting this company on the back burner. Remember all of the names you have there in case you ever happen upon someone who could serve as your entrée, but for the time being, end this seemingly hopeless pursuit.

I suspect this is all for the best. This company flashes neon signs of being a miserable client. Inaccessible and egotistical executives, with support staff who share these characteristics. It could be exceedingly difficult to move projects along to completion or obtain needed information. And if your check is late, good luck in finding anyone willing to follow up on it for you.

If you aim to contact 1,000 relevant individuals for assignments, this communications director represents only 0.1% of the database. Insignificant and not worthy of your concern. (One thousand names is a worthy objective, but I’ve never had to assemble even nearly this many to keep busy.)

You make calls to offer people your help, not to pester them. Because you choose whom to call with care, they should be pleased to hear from you. Minimally, they should tolerate your approach and consider keeping you on file in case they need you later.

I recommend simply moving on to the next name. Take your offer to someone who will value it and who has opened the communication channels to receive it.

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6 responses to “Telephoning the impenetrable corporate fortress

  1. Thanks. I like the sandwich board approach!

  2. Marketing scares the crap out of me – especially anything resembling cold-calling – so I feel so relieved that you told Michele to “move on”. Which makes me realize that part of what’s scary about marketing is feeling like you can’t stop trying until you make your way in.

    So, thank you for reminding me that it’s really okay to focus on the people who want to hear from me!

  3. Victoria, thanks for your opinion. I believe telephoning is an efficient (tho time consuming) way to connect with the people most likely to need our services. You make an excellent point–we’ve been led to believe it’s about persistence, regardless of how we are perceived by the prospect. But we can’t bludgeon others into hiring us, regardless of what traditional sales managers teach.

  4. Hey Diana, I looked for a blog post for which my question would be on-point, and this is about the closest.

    I want a list of 1000 people to call. Where in your opinion is the best place to get such a list?

    For the benefit of others reading the comments, I take software development projects that are going badly and make them succeed–whatever it takes. My client base is mostly within about fifty miles of Cleveland, and people do tend to like meeting face to face, but distance is not a make/break requirement.

    So what is your recommendation for a list source?

    Thanks!

  5. Mark, great question. (Isn’t that what speakers say to audience questions while dreaming up an answer?)

    The best lists include individuals’ names, job titles, direct phone numbers and email. Oh, and these lists have people likely to need your services.

    Therefore, the best lists are the membership directories of relevant professional organizations. Generally, you have to become a member to access the directory, which in effect means you are buying the list.

    If you are trying to determine if you should join an organization, look online at the list of officers and their work titles. That’s a sampling of the group’s membership. Or ask current clients which organizations they belong to and recommend.

    Some organizations specify that their membership list is not to be used for solicitation. As far as I’m concerned, if I belong to an organization and phone another member, I am “networking,” not soliciting. And of course, in the off chance the organization gets on your case, threaten not to renew your membership. That should solve the problem.

    When you call another member of the organization, introduce yourself as a fellow member. This is a way to warm up what would typically be called a cold call.

    There are many print and online directories that list companies, enabling you to identify and sort companies by location, industry, size, etc. Some provide at least a few contact names. Start by going in person to the reference desk at your public library. (Go early on a weekday before kids are lined up for homework help.) Many libraries can supply free passwords to subscription databases. Some staffers will even offer to do research for you if you give them a few days!

    Another good source may be news releases from target companies. These can be found on corporate websites or in media services such as PRNewswire.com. Look for executive names or the authors of articles in trade journals.

    I have never paid for lists that did not identify individuals (and those lists with individuals’ names have always been membership directories).

    Of course, there’s LinkedIn and other social networking, perhaps using InMail on LinkedIn. Even if you don’t have a network to find the individual, you can pin down the city and the job title for an organization and then try to reach them through the receptionist.

    Finding 1,000 people to phone is a lot of work, no doubt about it. Fifty calls a day is not so difficult if you have a good list but it may be too ambitious a goal if you have to put a lot of work into finding names.

    And check out the following:

    How much research should I do before phoning a prospect?

    How many phone calls to start getting freelance or consulting assignments?

    Telephone the right person

  6. Diana, this is amazing information and rather surprising. I did not expect you to tell me not to buy a list!

    Thanks so much for the insight and ideas.

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