Responding to Cold Sales Calls

How should a busy shop owner relate to salespeople who drop in unannounced and uninvited? February 26, 2012

How do some of the small shops stop the sales person from coming in the shop? I know larger shops have a front office and someone there that can stop them right there and deal with them there but the smaller one-two person shop is working away then look up and there they are. Now some are nice and in five minutes they are on their way but others do the whole sales pitch and just disrupt the whole momentum of what you have going on.

Whatís funny is when times were good we saw very few now the that things are slow now they are everywhere. I don't want to be rude to them because they can be helpful I will call you when I need you.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
I know how you feel, this can get very disruptive and annoying. How about posting a sign saying "No Solicitation Without a Prearranged Appointment" This should be sufficient to get the message across to them. I don't mind meeting with sales people either, but for them to assume that it's ok to just stop by unannounced and take up your valuable time is unacceptable. Chances are they wouldn't do it to a doctor or a lawyer, why should you be any different?

From contributor G:
If you don't want to talk to them, don't talk to them. Just tell them you don't have time right now. This is another thing that you have to control. I find salesman useful and informative. It is mutually beneficial.

From contributor O:
We have a largely ineffective "No Soliciting" sign at the front door. The few people we want to see know they can ignore it. Others that presume they can ignore the sign and walk in are greeted with "Did the sign fall off the door? Oh no, it didn't - did you choose to ignore it?" If they don't get the message, then I ask them to leave, showing them the door.

If they breeze past the office and come into the shop, I explain they have violated our safety and ask them to leave. I will not say a word but escort them to the door. Do not allow any two-way discourse, unless it is the broken sign line. When I am in the shop I am intent on my work and usually selling my time to my customers. These people come by and try to rob my time, and if they surprise me when intent at a machine they can be a real safety hazard

From contributor S:
My friend owns a sandwich shop/deli and his vendors/salesman always come in during the lunch rush, and expect him to stop what he is doing. He has no employees. If youíre not interested in the product or service they have to offer politely tell them so. Turn the tables and give them your sales pitch. That will likely get them out the door! If people have the guts to come to me and try to sell a product, I am willing to listen if itís something I am interested in. A helpful vendor/supplier can be an asset as well.

From contributor M:
So, are these sales people from your usual suppliers, or are they cold callers?
The cold callers should basically be locked-out! If one of your usual reps stop by at a bad time for you, just ask them to come back next week, in an hour, on Tuesday morning, or whatever works for both you and them.

As others have said, these are mutually beneficial meetings. Tell them that you would like to anticipate their visit, on a regular basis, but with 24 hourís notice. This makes you a professional, who seeks industry updates and meaningful interaction with your vendors, but on a scheduled basis.

Once you force them to treat you as a professional, then you have a two way conversation. It is not just the new products and glossy paper handouts. It is a chance to see what benefits this vendor can bring to your business. Do they exceed in quality, service or price? Are they the best match for your company? You should have many questions that go beyond the products they offer. This meeting can often be a negotiation. If they bum rush you, it will be a very one way street.

From contributor I:
I donít mind them at all, even though they use up my time. They save me enough money to make up for it. Take advantage of them actually wanting to sell you something. After they come to your shop a couple times and you donít buy anything from them that will be the end of them bothering you. The ones that have the best prices are the ones you want coming to your shop. If they donít have the best prices, tell them. Tell them if they want to sell you something they need to have the lowest price. Youíre in business to make money so take advantage.

From contributor Z:
I agree with Contributor I. The time they take to stop by and see you can more than be made up at the end of the day by you. Like me a small shopís hours are not fixed. An extra 1/2 hour here and there is all part of the job. The regular sales people are always welcome. When you need a favor (like extended dating or trimming their price) they can help.

From contributor K:
If a sales person comes by the shop I have always thanked them and ask them not to do it again. I also tell all vendors that I do not accept calls from them, email only. I will contact them if I need them. With the internet who needs sales people?

From contributor U:
I just had salesmen from three companies come by to show me a new pre-finished plywood called MPX. It's similar to a product we used to use but much lighter. It has a sanded outside crossband of poplar instead of MDF. It is a very smooth product. There are no ripples on the exposed veneer face.

I don't think I would have ever thought to call a vendor up and inquire about this. In fact I probably would never have known about the material if the first salesman hadn't have stopped by to tell me about it. It was when the second two salespeople came by to talk about the same board that the price dropped $5 a sheet. I usually buy at least 20 sheets at a time and that's a $100 in my pocket for having been willing to meet with these guys. I guess the best business would be one that we didn't need to have any employees, salespeople, or customers.

From contributor J:
Well, maybe I'm old fashioned but I take a minute to allow them to introduce themselves and then I explain I am really busy (which is usually very true). I then explain that the best way to do things is to email anything they think I'd be interested in and that I'm always happy to talk with them "if" they will simply call a couple weeks in advance and arrange an appointment!

I've been doing this type of thing for years and once the sales folks understand how I work they are appreciative as they can save some time by not having to stop and wait till I'm at a point that I can take a break and they know that if they email me information I will read it. We use the formal appointments to do business. They like it and so do I. Many of these folks are walking encyclopedias and if treated with respect they are only too happy to bend over backwards to try to help me out. A friendly, polite and respectful approach always wins the day!

From contributor C:
I have never treated a salesman with disrespect. I have always been polite and professional. When crazy busy I always shake their hands and tell them I am in a deadline mode and explain "it needs to be brief, and I got to get back to work." I have been bailed out many times and a lot of special deals have come my way due to my treatment of them- and many have told me this and how much they appreciated. Do not judge, just act and give them your time.

From contributor U:
I have, for the most part, always had pretty good relationships with salespeople. I am one of that tribe myself. My hardware guy always makes sure I get my pricing from the right hand column. Periodically they have certain items on a "spiff" account. This is a deal where the manufacturers give them a small stipend for moving product. I always inquire if there is anything currently on "spiff" and try to buy something to help them out.

One of my lumber salesmen always keeps me posted about stacks of miscellaneous material they accumulate. I usually buy 20 sheets or more of plywood that is marked down from $50 to $30 and use it for toekicks, etc. One of my lumber salesmen actually bought a kitchen from me. That's nice when it happens. I took that as a compliment. He knows a lot of cabinet shops and he picked me.

Salesmen are also a good source of recommendation for workers. They stay in touch with everybody and they do what they can to help you. Your success is their success. They want to keep you intact. They are a great source of information and so is the internet, as well as trade journals. Get your advantages where you can.

From contributor N:
Having worked on both sides of the desk (more than 20 years as a sales rep and more than 20 years as a business owner), the one thing lacking with some sales people and some business owners is lack of tactful ways to ease out of a sales conversation. A sales rep should be allowed to give a 30 second commercial on why they should be allowed to continue, and an owner should have the next 30 seconds to use to determine if now, later or never would be the time to continue the conversation. In every case, it should take one minute or less to determine what the next steps would be for both parties.

If an owner requests a call back at a later time or day, then that owner should plan to be all ears and devote undivided attention during that agreed time and day. A put off like that shouldn't be used as a test to see if the sales person will actually show up or for some other kind of game or test.

If you are truly very busy at the precise moment the rep calls on you, say so, but offer the 30 seconds for them to tell you why they are there. If what the rep says is intriguing, even the busiest of schedules or tightest of deadline should allow time either later that same day or week for the rep to return for a mutually agreeable meeting. It makes little sense to put off the rep for two weeks or longer to return. There is always time before working hours, after hours or at breakfast/lunch/dinner where you could meet with the rep, assuming you truly have some interest in what they offer.

If you have no interest or can see no way you can use what the rep has to offer after the 30 second commercial, say so. Don't waste more of your time or theirs on sending literature you won't read, asking for references you won't check, telling them to follow up in a couple week/months when you'll have some other excuse not to see them etc. I'd much rather know as a rep where I stand with a prospect. Yes or no answers are easy to deal with. Maybe will drive everyone involved over the edge and wastes tons of time for both parties.

Finally, if you treat the rep with the same level of respect you'd expect if the tables were turned, you might find that the rep may have a job lead for you or other opportunity totally unrelated to what they are selling. You never know what else another might say, but if you are rude and shut them down before your give them their 30 seconds, you might be passing up a beneficial/profitable opportunity.

From contributor V:
Part of the issue is discriminating between the genuinely helpful, useful sales people (most of them), and the duffers who just stand around waiting for you to do their job for them. When I had my shop in Vermont, I had one salesman come in from a lumber vendor. His father owned the company and this guy thought that wearing a camel hair coat was all he needed to do. In the winter I used to escort him outside once he'd taken his coat off and talk to him outside. He chilled off quickly and would be on his way! On the flip side, there were some older sales people who would come in that I would stop everything to talk with them, because they were a font of information. So, you pick your strategy.