The Worst Sales Call I’ve Ever Seen

It’s time for guest post #2!

This story comes to us from a great friend and former colleague, Larry White.

Until very recently, Larry was a colleague at my company’s Los Angeles office, where he managed a team of veteran salespeople.

He just accepted a position as the division manager for a packaging company on the east coast and I am sad he is no longer with us.

I first met Larry after my family moved to a new home and we became his next door neighbor.  That introduction and the relationship we built is how we eventually came to work together.

Back in 2010-2011, we would spend the occasional Saturday evening hanging out on our shared driveway, enjoying the beautiful California weather, talking about people, sales, and life.

I like the way Larry thinks.  I think you can classify yourself as a sales nerd when you can find enjoyment talking about specific selling situations and the general process of sales for extended periods of time.

Larry and I are two such sales nerds.

Without further ado, I give you Larry White.


Like most sales leaders that are really paying attention, I will occasionally find myself observing situations that have me furrowing my brow in disbelief.

Such a situation occurred a couple of months ago during a visit to my dentist, who is a good friend of mine.  As I sat in the lobby waiting to be seen, I witnessed one of the most remarkable sales calls I have ever seen…and not in a good way.

To really set the scene you need to get the visual on the salesperson in this story.

He was wearing a wrinkled polo shirt, tan cargo pants and shabby shoes.  He was unshaven.

Why does this matter?  Because I can tell you that my first impression was that this guy really doesn’t care.  Within 30 seconds his sales approach proved my first impression correct.

Here is how the deal went down:  Mr. Wrinkled Polo enters the office hurriedly and clearly focused on the task at hand.

He starts his interaction with the receptionist by placing his business card on the counter and pushing it in her direction.

Sales Rep: How many offices do you guys have?

I was…amazed.  SERIOUSLY, these were the very first words from his mouth.

Not, “Hello, how are you?”

Not, “Hi there, my name is John with XYZ dental supply”

There was ZERO acknowledgement of the receptionist as a person or any attempt to create any level of rapport.   Straight to “business.”

Receptionist: Three

A direct question was given a direct answer.

Based on his initial approach, why would the receptionist elaborate voluntarily?

Sales Rep: Is this the corporate office or are one of the other offices?

Again, nothing from the rep to indicate any interest in finding out who he is addressing.

For all he knows he is speaking directly to the employee who is tasked with buying supplies for the dental practice, which happens to be the receptionist a LOT of the time.

Receptionist: There is no corporate office, each office works independently.

I was amazed she provided this information considering how things had gone so far, however, she still did.

Sales Rep: Is the person in charge of this office available?

Comedy Gold this guy.

This question indicates to the person you are speaking with that you believe there is no chance that they could possibly be in charge.

Whether he knew it or not, he insulted the receptionist.

Receptionist: No

When she gave this single word response, it was a clear indicator that she had lost her patience.

At this point he had zero chance of getting anywhere with this sales call.  But alas…he was not to be deterred.  🙁

Sales Rep: What implant system do you use?

How’s this for an interrogation?

THIS right here….is why people hate salespeople.  This is why they don’t want to see a salesperson…ever.  He’s built no rapport.  He hasn’t even identified himself.  He has earned nothing…and its amazing she didn’t flat out tell him it was none of his business.

Receptionist: Do you have an appointment? We don’t see sales reps without an appointment.

This was the end of the line.  After he asked the out of place implant system question, she figured out for sure that he was a salesperson.

This rep had gone about this call so poorly, in so many ways, that he was now hitting the brick wall he had been asking for.

Sales Rep: Can you make sure the person in charge gets my card?

Again…insulting!  The rep slid his card closer to the receptionist, grabbed one of the business cards from the practice, placed the card in one of his cargo pant pockets and left the office.

Total elapsed time of this sales call: 90 seconds.

The second the rep left the office, his business card hit the bottom of the trash can.  Talk about a futile effort.

The 5 girls working the front office proceeded to dismantle what had just occurred and laughed as they did it.

Here’s the kicker: the woman he had this short conversation with was in the person in charge of ordering all supplies.  

She couldn’t believe that he didn’t bother to simply ask her WHO ordered the supplies…

When my name was called, the conversation had migrated to the back and eventually to the doctor.  The doctor chimed in and asked what this guy was selling…but nobody knew!

I pointed out to the doctor that it was likely dental implants and that the rep could have been the world’s foremost authority on dental implants, but nobody will ever know.

So what can we learn from this train wreck of a sales call?

Let’s start with the obvious; people hate sales reps.

People hate sales reps because they have experienced this scenario many times in their lives.

They have been lied to, likely multiple times.

They’ve been promised one price and then invoiced for a higher one.

They have been hounded, stalked and generally misinformed by sales reps.

Now that this has been said, what did the rep from our story above do?

Well, this guy accomplished living up to the expectation that has been created by a slew of others before him. He was disheveled, underwhelming and uninformative.

He ADDED this experience to this receptionist’s memory bank, and she will now be even more wary of salespeople…thanks to him.

As an onlooker who has been selling for more than 20 years I can sit and pick this approach apart all day, or I can look at what lead to his approach in the first place.

The way that this experience could have been avoided for everyone involved is in the training process.

Assuming there was some form of training at his company, when this rep went to training did he get eight hour days of technical data and definitions to words he had never heard before in his life?   Were his eyes glazed over for the majority of his training due to copious amounts of statistics and procedural data?

Did they even cover ANY fundamentals of selling?

You know…like introducing yourself?

It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable you are about your products, a poor approach will often eliminate your chance to use that knowledge.

A word of warning to the sales leaders of the world:  make sure you don’t go overboard on product knowledge training.

Spend AT LEAST half of your training time on sales fundamentals, philosophy, and approach.  A major focus or bias toward product knowledge training at the expense of the approach will lead to poor results.

Salespeople can always “phone a friend” to collect more product knowledge for a prospect that is interested in working together, but they can’t make a phone call to become more likable.

A sales approach must begin with the acknowledgement that we are disliked from the moment we walk into a cold-call, up until the moment actual value has been demonstrated.

We need to accept that when we walk in to a business for the first time, it is with a zero-balance in our “credibility banks.”

What should your process look like?  It’s depends on a multitude of things such as who your customers are, what they need, what products you sell, how often people buy, and a ton of others.

My advice to you is to find the people that are at the absolute top of your company or industry in terms of results…and find out what they do.  

Emulate the actions and habits of top performers, and you’ll soon find yourself among them.

Good Selling!


Speaking of leading and training well…why not start with yourself?
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