I was stunned listening to a webcast yesterday. There was an “expert” pontificating on the secrets of success in prospecting. I couldn’t believe that what he was presenting was positioned as outstanding sales practice. I knew a colleague was watching, as well, I started flipping out, texting him, “How can anyone who is an expert on creating value and differentiation in initial conversations be promoting these practices?” He responded, “Well, these volume guys have a very different orientation…..”

There was nothing right about what this individual was presenting in his wandering conversation about prospecting. I can’t possibly cover all of it, frankly it nauseates me that he is presenting an unprincipled approach to manipulating prospects. But, I’ll share a few low points.

  1. Somehow, the discussion started with local number presence. We all know that phone systems can be manipulated so that we can leverage a phone number that makes it look like the caller is local. Research, some years ago, somehow showed that people were more likely to pick up a call that looks local than one that is in a different area. That has fallen into disfavor, at least based on the data. But, across my three phone numbers, I still get dozens of calls a day from “949.” I even get calls from my wife’s mobile number (even though she passed away 17 months ago…maybe it is her making a very long distance call.) We have all broken the code, unless it’s a number that we know, we don’t answer.
  2. This person had broken that code, he said local presence didn’t work anymore and was promoting “social dialing.” Apparently, they do some social analysis on who they are calling, and leverage that to provide a fake caller ID. Now that explains all the calls I’m getting from “415” and “628.” I’m a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors, apparently this ilk of prospector is using those area codes to get me to pick up. Maybe they are thinking that I’m hoping Stephen Curry is giving me a call.
  3. This expert had no problem with the fact they are purposefully deceiving and manipulating the prospect. They want the prospect to think something, but in fact they are knowingly starting the relationship with a lie. To him, it was all about manipulating the prospect to pick up the phone and respond.
  4. He went on to describe a number of innovations they were creating to trick the customer into responding.
  5. Then he went on to describe the use of tools like social media. He described, “It turns out my LinkedIn presence is very high. People are more likely to respond to something from me than they are from my sales people. So we have our sales people sign in as me, and reach out to the prospect. When they respond, the sales person responds and introduces him/herself.” He described this process with some pride, showering us with numbers about their success. He never expressed a concern about the purposeful misrepresentation. He seemed unconcerned with related issues like, he’s not enabling his people to build their presence on LinkedIn, or will they have an adverse impact on his reputation if they don’t present themselves with the same credibility (I use this with hesitation) as he might.
  6. He talked about the importance of volumes, but the reasoning was surprising. To get the same number of responses, as people got smarter, they had to cast a wider net and to more. At some point they ran out of people to manipulate with a technique, so they had to innovate to find a new technique.
  7. He went on to proudly describe a number of deceptive practices techniques they were exploring to get people to respond. I suppose he was being forced to do this because people are smart. They recognize these manipulations. None of us picks up on a caller-id we don’t recognize. That no longer works, so they have to look at the next manipulation, using it until people figure that one out.

I’m stunned by the lack of principles, ethics, and integrity. No wonder customers say, “We want to minimize sales person involvement.” Customers expect and deserve better than this. Our organizations need to be represented better than this. We owe it to ourselves and our profession to be better than this.

But it’s even more stunning to me. There is a lot of research, creativity, and innovation used to come up with techniques designed to mislead, deceive and manipulate customers. What if we harnessed this and tried to find real value based, high integrity ways of engaging our customers?

I’m always amazed by these people focused on any means to get the results and the continued focus on escalating volumes. I wonder what would happen if they took that creativity, energy, and disciplined execution and harnessed it in another way. What it they tried to figure out real ways to engage customers, creating deep value on the first call?

We are, by no means, the best prospectors in the world, but I have never seen one of these high volume companies focused on manipulation produce better results than we do. We make a fraction of the outreaches they make to get the same number of responses they do. And each engagement produces far more yield than theirs produce. If we can produce those results, imagine what someone who is talented can produce.

Finally, principles, ethics, and integrity are important to our customers. They are the foundation of building and maintaining trusting relationships. We owe our customers this–and they respond to this. We owe our companies this. We owe ourselves and our profession this. Anything else is unacceptable.

Afterword: I was reminded of this by a reader, so didn’t want to miss it. It’s bad enough there are experts promoting such bad practice. The most disappointing things is how many VPs of Sales buy what they do!!! There are, sadly, so many executives focused on “the end justifies the means.”

Ironically, if they acted with principle and integrity, they might actually perform at far higher levels—it’s tougher work, but that’s what differentiates the great from everyone else. They do the work!