An Hour With Kimberly-Clark

This post is about seeking understanding. My hope is that, once you read the stories below, you’ll be able to shed some light on the “why” of things. If you can’t, please send this post along to someone who might be able to provide all of us with some illumination.

As many of you know I don’t only teach telephone communication skills, I’m also on the phone for specific clients – fundraising, selling, booking appointments, a wide variety of things. I love the challenge of these projects and do about a dozen each year. Right now I’m finishing up one I do annually with Metro Guide Publishing – selling advertising in Nova Scotia’s seniors guide, Positive Aging 2012.

And it’s obvious I suppose that since the first time I picked up the phone to sell something – which was October 5, 1987 – phone communication has changed substantially but nowhere more drastically than within large corporate marketing and advertising departments.

So as I’ve been working on Positive Aging this year I found myself procrastinating a bit on calling some of the bigger corporations, the ones that represent the well-known brand names of medications and products associated with seniors. But it had to be done. Fortunately I own a very useful directory, “The National List of Advertisers”. It provides company names, product lists, phone numbers, names of marketing directors and advertising agencies. This directory was specifically designed to help people like me present advertising opportunities to people who cared.

But as I’ve already mentioned, times have changed.

The directory lists two people in the marketing department of Kimberly-Clark’s head office in central Ontario. They do not list an ad agency. Many (many) years ago, this meant that you would connect with a staff person prepared to listen and talk. Today it can mean something else entirely.

My first call led me to a voicemail which, although it had a number of options, did not include a staff directory. No matter what I did, I always ended up back in general voicemail – I couldn’t even reach a receptionist.

This didn’t deter me as I’ve encountered this maze before. Using trusty Google, I searched by the name and title of the staff members. I was able to find them in a limited way, LinkedIn being one of them, but no combination of search words led me to alternate phone numbers. This is a bit unusual – I’m often able to at least find a direct line on a press releases or corporate announcement somewhere on the internet.

I moved to Kimberly-Clark’s website and searched their media relations pages. No names were listed but I did find a phone number for North American media relations in the United States. I dialed and connected with Terry (and let me say that Terry deserves to be complimented because, as you will see, she is sincere and very good at her job).

Once I get a media relations person on the phone, I always apologize for calling them and say something like “I’m hoping you can help me, I’m having trouble reaching so-and-so and wonder if you have a phone number for them”. This usually gets me exactly what I want … but it didn’t work with Terry. Without being irritating or rude she inquired why I was calling, verified that the individuals I was looking for did indeed still work for Kimberly-Clark, but told me that she was not allowed to give out direct phone numbers. She could, though, get an email message to them.

I was very skeptical about this, but Terry was so nice I worked with her to create a detailed message, thanked her and … sat at my desk being unreasonably stubborn. I know at this point I should have let it go but I couldn’t. I hate being shut out when I know that the reason I’m calling is 100% valid.

So I went back to dialing the main Toronto number again. There was an option to enter an extension number. I fooled around with this about 7 times – entering random numbers in the hopes that one might work. None of them did and each time I made the attempt I was disconnected instantly.

Approximately 35 minutes had gone by since I made my first call to Kimberly-Clark. This is not an efficient use of my sales time and I know it, but my heels are dug in. I go back to LinkedIn and consider sending each of the marketing executives a message. But then I realize, when I look at the number of contacts they have accumulated, that it is doubtful either one of them is paying much attention to this social media tool.

I try Google one more time and through some variable I no longer recall I find a Kimberly-Clark phone number that is similar to the main number except for the last two digits. And this is slightly embarrassing to share with you but … I sit and dial about a dozen variables on this theme until … someone answers the phone!

This person is very lovely but even in his corporate database there are no phone numbers for the two marketing people. He does give me an email address though and offers the information that the offices are being renovated and that all Kimberly-Clark staff is working from home. I must say, in 25 years of phone sales I’ve never encountered that one before!

One hour has now gone by and as I sit trying to compose an email about Positive Aging to a marketing executive I’ve never spoken with (which I really dislike doing!) my phone rings. And God bless Terry in the media department. She sent out the email message we created and someone who represents Kimberly Clark in Nova Scotia is calling me. I’m amazed!

And I’m also puzzled because I know, both personally and in business, when I try to control everything, keep tabs on it all and maintain an inflexible structure, I miss out on things. I don’t notice opportunities right in front of my nose. And I certainly don’t learn anything. Isn’t it the same with businesses? I understand that they don’t want their highly paid executives to suddenly be deluged with calls from consumers, but in building such a high wall around themselves they are also keeping ideas out. That troubles me, has troubled me for years now and I really would like to understand it better. Perhaps if I did, I wouldn’t spend an hour trying to figure out corporate extension numbers.

A similar incident happened with another company with offices here in Halifax. When I presented Positive Aging to the local office I was directed to Toronto. That voicemail indicates that they return all calls – but it could take them a week because they are very, very busy. Really? I called several times and never heard back from anyone. I know the firm is interested in the over 55 demographic because I see their advertising other places. I get stubborn again.

I call back the local office and, my sales angels are working overtime because I am told the owner will be visiting later in the day. And here’s the crucial bit – when I reach the owner and explain why I’m calling he’s excited and interested and, if my good luck holds out, will be purchasing an ad.

For those of us in sales, let me say on our behalf that most of us don’t sit around and make random phone calls. We have goals, we have deadlines so we do our research and the majority of the time we are approaching you with an idea or product or service that has a direct benefit to your organization. Building the corporate voicemail wall keeps good ideas out!

One final story and then I’ll stop nattering as I know this post is much longer than usual. Again, still working on Positive Aging, I use The National List of Advertisers to call a major pharmaceutical company about a very famous, high profile brand. I’m thinking that I’m going to get shuffled to an ad agency immediately (and while ad agencies are marvelous centres for inspiration and creativity, they are a salesperson’s worst nightmare of red tape). But again, my sales angels take over – the receptionist is delightful and gives me the name and direct line for the brand manager and … he answers the phone!

He’s as startled as I am because at the end of the conversation he asks me how I got his number but … he is very excited about the opportunity. Proof once more that a voicemail wall could have kept out a valid opportunity.

Okay, I’ve probably shared more of my phone adventures with you than was feasible for your busy day, but I continue to be highly curious about the inaccessibility of advertising and marketing executives. If you’ve got any insight – or an interesting story or two – please share!

And remember … enjoy your phonework! TPL

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