A question I’ve never been asked on a sales call

I got a call today from a headhunter looking to get hired to conduct searches.  It’s the second time he’s called me since March.

First, kudos to him for being on top of things.  He has a list of prospects, tracks things assiduously, and spends his time making cold calls to build leads.  He’s sticking to it, and that’s a hard and often thankless job.  Determination and execution go a long way.

The one catch for me was that the pitch was terrible.  It felt like he was working his way through a list. Here’s roughly how it went:

“Hi, I’m John.  We talked in March and I wanted to see if you need any help with any executive searches.  I’m calling to follow up.”

“Uh, thanks John, we don’t right now.”

“Do you think you might have needs later in the year, when the economy improves…”

“Probably not…”


Why did John make me feel like #38 on today’s list?  Because his pitch was, “Do you need anyone to conduct searches for your firm?”  This is very different from, “Do you want ME to conduct searches for your firm.”  For a “me” pitch, I’d have to know something about John, his firm, their skills, why they’d be a fit…

Instead, it was a volume play: I’ll call lots of people, I’ll have the same pitch for everyone, and if I make enough calls I’m bound to find someone who needs someone for something – and by calling, I’ll become that someone for someone.  If you do the math right (maybe he has), this can work great, for example:

30 calls/hour = 200 calls/day (some calls probably last more than 2 minutes)

1% of calls lead to a next conversation

~10 next conversations generated per week


Fair enough, but I was one of the 99% of folks that said “no” today, and by the time I’d hung up I still didn’t even know John’s last name.

Right before he lost me for good, John said:

“Before you go, can I ask you one last question?”

“Sure,” I said.


“Do you have any temporary hiring needs?”

Aw shucks, wrong question.  He’s still working his way through the script.

How about this instead: “My last question is: how did my sales pitch work for you today?  It sounds like you don’t have any hiring needs but you’re also in an awful hurry to get off the phone.  Is there anything I could have done differently?”

(applause ensues)

John would have kept me for another minute, and I’d have shared some thoughts.  He’d have learned something – if not from me from the next person who answers this question.

I’m sure half of his ‘no’s’ would tell him something if he bothered to ask what they really think.  And if John spent just one day taking his ‘no’s’ and turning them into conversations, he’s taking the 99% of calls that were worthless (200+ of them) and making them worth something – to him and the person he’s calling.

Bonus: by asking that question, he’s started a different conversation, and might actually turn a no into a ‘someday,’ someday.

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One thought on “A question I’ve never been asked on a sales call


    Seth: (Phone rings) Hello?
    Ron from the Daily News: Hi, Mr. Dahvis, this is Ron from the Daily News. How you doin’ this morning?
    Seth: It’s Davis, and I’m not interested.
    Ron: Okay, I’m sorry to have bothered you. Have a nice day.
    Seth: Wait a minute. Wait, that’s your pitch? You consider that a sales call?
    Ron: Well, um…
    Seth: You know, I get a call from you guys every Saturday and it’s always the same half assed attempt. If you guys wanna close me, you should sell me.
    Ron: All right.
    Seth: All right. Start again.
    Ron: Okay. Hi, this is Ron from the Daily News. How you doin’ this morning?
    Seth: Shitty. What do you want?
    Ron: It’s not what I want, sir. It’s what you want.
    Seth: Ron, now we’re talkin’. All right. What are you selling me?
    Ron: I’m offering you a subscription to the Daily News at a substantially reduced price. We’re trying to reach out to people that have never had home delivery before.
    Seth: Right, so, basically, everybody who already has a subscription is getting fucked on this one?
    Ron: Yeah, I guess so.
    Seth: All right, well, I can handle that. So, tell me, why should I buy your paper? I mean, you know, why… Why shouldn’t I get the Times or the Voice, you know?
    Ron: Well, the Village Voice is free, sir, so if you want it, you should certainly pick it up. But the Daily News offers you something no other paper can: a real taste of New York. We have the best features, more photographs than any other daily in New York and we have the most reliable delivery in the city. Now what do you think?
    Seth: You know what I think, Ron? I think that was a sales call. Good job, buddy.
    Ron: So you gonna buy a subscription?
    Seth: No, I already get the Times.

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