“Everyone has Gotten So Rude!”

Not too long ago, I was leading a group of business owners in a discussion. These were not my peer board members, but rather owners at a breakfast, none of whom I’d met before. To start the conversation, I asked each to describe the biggest business challenge he or she faced today.

One older fellow came back sharply. “Rudeness!” He said. “Business people no longer have any manners.”

I immediately thought of several versions of this problem. Folks who communicate abruptly via email or text. The near extinction of friendly conversation just to “get to know” customers and vendors. A growing tendency to negotiate via revised Word documents or purchase orders emailed back and forth instead of discussing differences. I didn’t know if these were the man’s issue though, and so asked him to clarify.

“For my entire career,” he said “I’ve prospected successfully for new customers by dropping in on companies unannounced. I’d just walk into a business, give my card to the receptionist, and ask for 15 minutes of the CEOs time. Once he saw what I had to offer (insurance), he’d often ask me to follow up with a proposal.”

“Now, when I ask for the CEO the receptionist usually asks if I have an appointment. When I say ‘no,’ she refuses to contact the CEO. Even if I get her to call him and ask, he won’t come out and see me. I’ve gone to the trouble of coming to his place of business to meet him, and he won’t even do me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say.”

business greetingI was aghast. Surely he couldn’t be serious? “No soliciting” has become so ubiquitous that most of us don’t even bother putting signs on the door anymore…it’s just assumed. I certainly don’t meet with walk-in salespeople, especially now as they seem mostly to be guys selling something off a truck. Who has an expectation of a CEO welcoming an unscheduled sales visit?

As I considered his issue, however, I realized that most forms of cold calling get the same response. Do you answer emails that offer a free analysis of your web traffic? Do you return telephone messages from companies that have buyers ready to purchase businesses just like yours? Do you RSVP for a presentation at the local steak joint on how to make your retirement savings grow faster? Probably not.

We don’t worry about rejecting various forms of mass solicitation because they aren’t personal, and we don’t expect the sender to take our lack of response personally. An actual, traditional sales cold call is personal, and the salesman is relying on your reluctance to offer a “personal” insult to gain face time. Rejection of the daily flood of sales contacts has become so automatic, however, that we no longer consider any rebuffs to be either personal or rude.

Cold calling has been replaced by warm calling, a contact backed up by a referral, Linked In connection, or shared common interest. As we increasingly categorize, catalog, limit and prioritize our relationships, those outside the circle have less chance of getting through, even if they show up in our lobby.

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6 Responses to “Everyone has Gotten So Rude!”

  1. Phyllis Pickard says:

    It is true that we don’t see cold call sales people, but we do try to treat them courteously.

  2. Mike Havel says:

    Interesting and so true. The World has changed! When I started in sales in 1979, I use to park my car in an industrial area, and walk the block making cold calls. I do not believe that would work in today’s world.

    Just like a lot of us grew up with an open chain link fence or no fence at all. We all knew our neighbors.

    Today most fences are tall wooded structures that are not open to your neighbors to see in, and a lot of us never see or know our neighbors.

    I agree that most of my calls today are “warm calls”. Either the customer found us on the web and ask to see us, or I connect with a referral or follow up from a show.

    However I do miss the FUN of making cold calls. Use to learn a lot about an area and meet new and interesting people.


  3. Jim Edholm says:

    I began selling in 1964. From day #1 – based on the sales book used at my Monsanto sales training course, “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Sales” by Frank Bettger – I always worked by appointment out of respect for the other person’s time. I felt that just “dropping by” suggested that the CEO or Purchasing Agent had little to do besides entertain me.

    That said, when I would call for appointments, I usually got a somewhat friendly reception and an appointment.

    In 1975 I changed to selling estate planning/financial planning just like your subject in your opening story. We called on business owners – valuable, illiquid assets like a business need cash, i.e. insurance, to pay estate taxes at death. WHen I made that switch, also moving to New England from the Midwest at the time, I found an ENTIRELY different atmosphere – hostile, suspicious, defensive, closed off.

    Since then it’s only gotten worse. Coward that I am, I now employ a telemarketer to “sell” initial telephone consultations. Easier appointment to get, somewhat less productive than face-to-face.

  4. Mike Wright says:

    As pointed out, the Internet has changed so much. It used to be that sales calls were an important source of information. Now we are constantly bombarded with information, and the challenge is on filtering most of it out. Which comes across as abrupt or rude. We have been trained the we can search for what we need when we need it. Knowing exactly what we are looking for has become the challenge.

  5. Jeff Ostroff says:

    Our distribution business requires cold calling. We get no where with phone calls and little with emails, so we go to the prospects. In food service this has not become entirely unexpected. We apologize for interrupting, introduce ourselves, leave a card, ask for a card and a future appointment. Rarely are we treated poorly and the results are still worthwhile.

    • John F. Dini says:

      I agree, Jeff. The restaurant industry – perhaps due to the more hectic nature of mealtime rush and lulls combined with the “hospitality” aspect of greeting everyone as a potential customer, is one of those where cold calling is still effective and expected.

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