Calling customers on the phone is not my favorite way to conduct business. I prefer the personal touch. However, there are times when I really do need to make the call, regardless of whether I like it or not. Indeed, the bane of business.
This hesitation I feel to making calls stems from the anxiety created because I can’t gauge what reaction I will receive when I connect with the other party. And that reaction will vary quite a bit depending on the reason I’m calling. I’ll call for three reasons: following up on an order, introducing myself to a new customer, and finally to collect on an unpaid balance.
The calls I won’t make are Cold Calls – those that have to do with contacting someone out of the blue. It’s a waste of both our times. The business I’m in runs on personality. It does not run on trying to pry open an account over the phone. Of course, I’ll call to make an appointment, that goes without saying. But I will never try to sell any brand I represent over the phone cold. It’s asinine.
The first reason I’ll call is if I’m taking an order or following up on one. They are the simple ones. I do not fear those because that’s how I make my living – selling and brand building the cigars. Those two situations are relatively benign; I can get through those without any tension.
The second reason I’ll call is to introduce myself, though I’d rather do that in person if at all possible. Sometimes it isn’t. I did so this morning when I called one of my newest customers. So new in fact, that I have yet to visit this shop or even talk with the owner preliminarily. The sale was made through another connection and I got on the horn to introduce myself and make sure the first delivery was there on time and in good shape.
The conversation went smoothly. Though I’ll have to admit, I was more talkative than the shop owner, which is unusual. So in this case I made it through handily. We briefly became acquainted with one another and talked about when would be a good time to stop by. I also covered my ass and asked him if he received the additional samples that were to have been sent out. He did not. So, with that response I reassured him that the cigars (it ain’t August 8th yet!!) would be on their way. We then both politely finished the conversation and hung up.
Now the final and most stressful is to call a customer who has an unpaid balance. I generally ask the office staff of the manufacturer to make those calls. But often when they hit a brick wall we are asked to make the intervention. Truth be told, I abhor and would rather bungee cord – sans cord – off the edge of the Grand Canyon into the abyss. I avoid them like the plague, even if I know the shop owner. Why? People change when they owe money. This morphing of character has not changed since the beginning of time and never will. But! If I have to – I do it. Maybe I take a whole Valium instead of half of the baby-aspirin-shaded pill just prior to making these calls. I need to be alert!
I have found that there are three types of responses within this category of call. The first is the casual explanation, “Yeah, I know about the bill. And it’s been slow. So I’ll have it for you in a few weeks. Just give me some time.” What can you say? They are polite and they know they owe! And for the most part they eventually will – pay the bill. That’s the easiest call to make.
The more difficult is when they conjure up a story about not getting the invoice or they didn’t realize they were behind. I call this type of plea the snake justification. They slither and slide in every direction and never make a point to actually say they owe. So you have to give them the benefit of the doubt, but then it’s a waiting game. And who doesn’t want to get paid.
The third is the asshole defense. “I don’t have the money.” Or “You’re not around that often so I forgot about the cigars.” Or “The cigars aren’t selling anyway, so why should I pay ya.” But, that’s not my problem, yet it is because regardless, they have the product and I want the money! But what good are they? Then they get mad at you for asking for the bill to be paid. Do I really need this hassle?
Yes, sometimes I do. But it’s all part of business – the personality business of the cigar broker. And the reason for the gray hair!