What Choice Will You Make?

Last month I agreed to help a colleague book meetings with SaaS (software as a service) companies, primarily in California. This is work I enjoy and I’m able (usually) to deliver excellent results.  Also “working the phone” allows me to identify new communications trends and behaviours. While I can’t attach the word “success” to this project, it definitely revealed some startling truths about our relationship with the telephone.

What did I discover in these recent calls? What does it mean for the future of phone communication?

For the past 11 years I’ve been involved in a wide variety of “cold calling” projects. As my teaching schedule has expanded, I’ve reduced my time on the phone, but still taken on one or two of these projects a year to make sure my skills align with market conditions. This year has presented me with my biggest learning curve yet.

I made calls to 26 SaaS companies. Detailed research had been done on each of them; I had a contact name, title and phone number. I clearly understood what they did and my client’s value to their growth and prosperity. Traditionally, making 26 calls would result in a minimum of 4 detailed conversations and at least 1 meeting booked. Not this time!

Only 6 of these companies had employee-specific voicemail allowing me to leave a message (no one called me back). At the other 20 companies I encountered:

  1. No voicemail at all – a phone ringing into space;
  2. A dial-by-name directory that took me to voicemail with no name attached to it;
  3. A dial-by-name directory that took me to an employee’s voicemail that was full, unable to receive more messages;
  4. A dial-by-name directory that did not include our contact, or any executive at the company;
  5. An answering service that was only able to accept minimal information;
  6. A receptionist that would only connect me if he could find me in the company’s database;
  7. Helpful staff who had no idea how to reach the executive I was calling.

While it’s tempting to dismiss this as trend specific to SaaS, I know this isn’t the case. Due to our constant state of overwhelm, more and more companies are labeling phone calls as unnecessary distractions/intrusions, and beginning to limit access. We will start to see specific distinctions between companies that embrace phone communication and those that don’t, and the types of clients each attracts and keeps.

I’ll be sharing more research on this in the New Year (yes, it is just around the corner). In the meantime, do share your thoughts. What choice will you make – or have you made –  about the role of the phone in your company?

P.S. Many thanks to those of you who responded, publicly and privately, to last week’s post. Do know that David and I are doing very well. Like all Nova Scotians, we are deeply concerned about our health care system and want to contribute to creating something more accessible and compassionate for the future.




18 thoughts on “What Choice Will You Make?”

  1. I’m finding that, though face-to-face and voice are the two best/most-efficient forms of communication (that is, the least time-consuming for both individuals, and least likely to be mis-understood), people in business have this mistaken belief that phones are not necessary, that emails the ONLY forms of communication. Maybe this is the downfall of humanity…..

    • Thanks for you comment, Mick. I have, on occasion, wondered where our communication habits will take us in the future. I’m hopeful that some of our traditional skills, on the phone and otherwise, will lead the way.

  2. Mary Jane. You use the words over whelm. It is so true. It diminishes the ability for leaders and employees to make decisions among a sea choices. It looks like this. You have advertised. You have peeked their interest and now engaged them only to ignore them when they came to you. It seems a disconnect. What and the heck are they afraid of ? Talking to a human.

    • Thanks, Paul for your comment. You are bringing a necessary perspective – that some of the calls being missed are actually created by a company’s own spend on advertising and marketing. That’s very much a disconnect and so wasteful of money and resources.

  3. Hi Mary Jane,

    As a counterpart of yours working here in the United States I can tell you this has been trending steadily for some time. It has reached gigantic proportions and what you described is a typical day on my phone sourcing routes. However, I’ve learned to circumvent that front desk and dial in directly to the companies in question – most companies still have a direct-dial system with a dedicated number that goes to each employee’s desk – however! What you’re describing as a sales item is software as a service and if you’re trying to get to their IT departments – forget about it! Many of them are shut off tighter than drums for a couple reasons: talent is hard to come by and with the glass walls that social media and platforms like LinkedIn have opened into companies these companies are battered daily by incoming hordes of contact from all around the world – Indian offshore companies send millions and millions of inquiring emails daily into these companies and telephone calls have battered and worn out their reception areas… therefore the IT (Information Technology) departments are running silent and deep – communicating on intranets composed of Instant Messaging and emails and CELL PHONES – phone numbers which you and I both know are very difficult to obtain.

    That being said – what’s a phone worker to do? As I said – find another way in. Find the internal dial system and call and ask ANYONE who answers for someone’s number inside the company. You’ll be surprised how often they cooperate with you – it’ll be like the old days.


    This phone directories thing – directories are powerful engines for us phone workers AND THEY are changing too – as you said – going silent and some of them are not listing valuable employees in them! It’s gone so far that even the front desks don’t list some valuable employees. I’m not sure yet that these employees understand the ramification of this non-listing for them in their own company directories where they spend most of their weekly daytime waking hours.

    What I mean here is if the front desk says someone “is not found” in the directory sometimes if you get to someone “on the inside” there’s an internal directory where the person will be found! It’s pretty outrageous maneuvering on the parts of companies – if you ask me.

    As far as making a difference – millennials are moving into management and they don’t care about the phone (except to text/use it as a computer) so if you want to be heard send your coherent and cogent emails to the executives (or better yet! call them) who matter that have enough grey hair over their brains to understand the importance of the human voice. Maybe someone will hear your message but I’m not hopeful.

    Maureen Sharib
    Phone Sourcer
    513 646 7306 <- if you want to chat

    • Maureen – many thanks for taking the time to share so much information and valuable insight. Much appreciated! It is understandable that tech departments are “outside” the phone system, for all the reasons that you mention. Limiting access to those in charge of growth, revenue and innovation doesn’t make sense in terms of sustainability. My goal is to get a bigger conversation started about where we are going and what it means, instead of having everyone blindly accept the status quo. Your contribution to this conversation is very much appreciated and I hope you’ll continue to share your knowledge and wisdom.

  4. As a person in the telecommunications business we are still seeing that businesses do consider the telephone as a lifeline of any business. However, that said, the trend in communications is changing. Businesses are eliminating jobs and use their phone systems in their place. Its quite obvious that doesn’t work because there is a need to have someone accountable.

    • Ooooo – this is a great insight, Cathy. Using the phone system to replace a person and thereby making no one accountable. Yikes! What does that say about a company’s focus on growth and innovation and, more importantly, customer service and loyalty. Thanks for this comment.

  5. Working as a Virtual Assistant I perform many different job functions for my clients. I am the Customer Service and Sales Support representative for a client who refuses to consider the importance of customers being able to reach me directly. Their phone number leads to a voice-only answering system. Once I receive the message and answer I always provide my direct phone number and email address. Nonetheless, customers are dissatisfied with the delay between leaving a message and receiving a response.

    There is a growing trend for companies to become “virtual” as the ability for employees to work more effectively together online increases. But we need to keep in mind that our customers must be able to reach us if we want their business. The customer must always come first.

    • Cheryl, Mary Jane,

      It’s as if they’re trying to “retrain” human nature and the natural call of need.

      I suppose that’s what you get when you tamp down human nature with drugs (nearly half of all Americans over the age of 12 take prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives or stimulants, according to a federal survey) and constant proselytizing about how rude the phone is.

      I’m not sure what the answer is to tell the truth.


      • This is interesting, Maureen – the idea that there are many factors at work creating our current relationship with the phone. We are definitely retraining ourselves through our relationship with technology, but perhaps in other ways as well. This is definitely worth more consideration. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    • This is interesting, Cheryl. Years ago (I’ll guess 13 or so) I was helping a software company grow its client base. There were only two of us in the office and eventually, in addition to sales, I also provided support. But with only two of us in the company, we weren’t always available to answer the phone. We created a voicemail message that said “we return all calls, usually within two hours”. When both of us were away from the office, one of us would call in and pick up messages every 90 minutes. It worked as it gave a promise to the customer which we always kept. Perhaps your client can change what the voicemail says to create a new, acceptable expectation for their customers that you can easily fulfill. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  6. This is so timely Mary Jane. I’ve been thinking about the evolution/trend of phone interaction lately.
    It used to be that I would reach people by phone and set up a meeting for a more detailed chat in person.
    Then we moved to only booking a phone meeting.
    This evolved to “send me the info” and I’ll get back to you if I have any questions.
    In the past few weeks I’ve noted that more often than not there is voicemail and no call back.
    Forced to be more persistent with email, there is then a response… often within minutes of the call that was just ignored and voicemail that was not returned.
    The interaction is most often amiable and successful in achieving everyone’s goals but people don’t want to connect by voice.

    I’m currently active in a couple fields and I’ve noted this doesn’t seem to be industry specific.

    Also – I have a set of flats and I’ve noticed that younger people (22-30) only interact via text.
    When booking/showing an apartment to prospective renters they simply won’t have a voice conversation.

    Could we be seeing a mindset borne of a generation of youth opting for “text only” cell plans, conditioned to avoid conversations and the “cell minutes” they would cost?
    Now these folks are 30-40 and making decisions regarding communications systems/structures/cultures.

    • Wow, Heather, I had not thought at all about the impact of “cell minutes” on a generation. That could certainly be a factor in the communication shift we are experiencing. Interesting that your emails are responded to very quickly. This is not commonplace, so I suspect you are writing enticing emails. You may want to consider giving a workshop! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

  7. That generation (here in the U.S.) is loaded with education debt, the majority of which they are behind on payments on and the debt collectors on this debt are vicious; 20 states here in the U.S. go so far as to suspend drivers licenses for non-payment -this country is essentially becoming a debtor’s prison to them and it is no wonder they hate answering the phone when they are hounded day and night by debt collectors on it. This has been going on for years and these chickens are coming home to roost and this is the price we’re paying today.

    It used to be the mortgage crisis – now it is the 1.4 trillion dollar student loan crisis that is causing a shudder here.

    • Wow, Maureen, this is something I know nothing about. Suspending a driver’s license for student debt … yikes! Definitely a reason not to answer your phone. Thanks so much for sharing this information.


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