Brains please!

At the age of 34, I became the chairman of the board of a middle-sized Dutch insurance company. Determined to be a modern boss, I instructed my secretary on my first day to refer all people that called me for business matters to my managers. 

After two weeks, she sat down at my desk and showed me a list of fifteen names with telephone numbers. She said: “These people don’t want to talk with a manager, they want only you. They say that what they want to discuss cannot be decided by a manager, so no use speaking to a manager.” Fact of life.
My choice was: to ignore them or take their calls. I arranged to call them on a pre-arranged time the next Friday. That day I started with the director of an ICT company. This is how the call went:

Me: “Good morning, Tom Kok calling.”

He: “Good morning mister Kok, so nice of you to call back. I hope you are not annoyed that I insisted on speaking to you personally?”

Me: “Nope, I am curious to know what it is that you want to discuss.”

He: “Yes, mister Kok, I would like to propose that we meet so I can inform you about our new services and products that might interest you.”

Me: silence

He: “Hello?”

Me: “Yes, I am here. I was waiting for you to tell me in what way your service or product is relevant to my company.”

He: “Okay, yes, but I think it would be much easier to explain if we could sit together and discuss the matter.”

Me: “Please tell me what I can gain from your offer.”

He: “Well, I am convinced that you will be interested, once you have seen our presentation.”

Me: “So, this is how I understand your proposal: I invite you, I spend an hour with you, you tell me about your business and then I can tell you how your services can be in my benefit? I do not have time for that. If there is something you want to sell, please do some research into my company and come with a concrete proposal that solves one of my problems. When you have such a proposal, please call me back. Good afternoon.” End of call. 

This went on for fourteen more calls. None of them had a concrete proposal or an offer I could not refuse, there were no signs of research or genuine interest in my company. But then came my last call and here is how that went:

Me: “Good morning, Tom Kok calling.”

He: “Thank you for calling back mister Kok. I called you because I can solve your problem with your company’s high percentage of sick employees. I offer a service that will bring the current 4.6 percent down with 1.5% in three months.”

Me: “Wow, you did your homework, how can you know my percentage of sick people, that is confidential!”

He: “Because I prepare and I know my business.”

Me: “Yes, you do. Let’s make an appointment for next week.” 

End of call.

Now that is what I call an effective approach. Do not waste the time of your business partner. Put time in preparation, do serious research, find out what his or her need is and make him or her a concrete proposal that cannot be refused. 

In other words: no smooth talking, brains please!

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