How to Respond to a Dreadful Sales Call

My friend and colleague Anita Kirkbride of Twirp Communications sent me a midday email last week with this subject line: I just received the worst cold call ever.  I shudder when I hear this because shoddy salespeople allow long-held negative stereotypes to persist. Sales is a craft to both admire and cherish. I believe it’s time we push back, aim for a positive impact.

What happened during Anita’s call and what lessons did it contain?

1. The first thing that Anita experienced was a salesperson who rushed right into their pitch without giving her a chance to say anything. They weren’t interested in her or her business, only in the vague possibility of making a sale.

When this happens, interrupt the salesperson immediately. If you have their name, say it clearly and loudly. It’s human nature to stop talking when someone says our name, so this should create a small gap of silence into which you can redirect the conversation. You could say, “This is obviously a sales call so tell me why you’ve specifically chosen to contact me. Why do you think your product is a fit for my company?” At the very least, this statement will shorten the length of time you are on the phone.

If the salesperson has not given you their name (oh my!) then clearly and loudly say, “Excuse me,” (without any emotion) until they stop talking.

2. The most underhanded aspect of this call was the salesperson implying that he was working with the Centre for Women in Business, where both Anita and I, and hundreds of other women, are members. He was very careful with his wording, but Anita pushed back (as I encourage all of us to do), revealing there was no relationship, just a salesperson calling everyone in the CWB’s online directory.

Whenever a salesperson references a mutual connection, don’t hesitate to ask a few questions to verify the truth of their statement. Tell them you will be checking with the group or person they’ve mentioned. And if, like this salesperson, they are mining a professional online directory, contact someone at the organization and let them know. They may want to take steps to protect their membership information.

3. This salesperson was calling from a promotions company (it wasn’t clear to Anita which company and call display did not include a name) wanting to get rid of an overstock of S’well bottles, and he made a HUGE assumption about Anita’s business by stating, “Everybody has some kind of swag.”

As soon as you hear that you are one of hundreds or thousands of people receiving a sales call because everyone is the same, clearly tell the person they are wrong. You are unique and, if they truly want to become a supplier to your company, they should have done their research. At this point feel free to end the call.

4. Using sexist language or references on a sales call is, well, stupid. Unfortunately, it does still happen. In this case, the salesperson attempted a play on the word S’well, implying that “the ladies” appreciated and understood the product better than men. Yikes!

Here you can say something  like, “Okay, I’m done with you,” or, if you have the patience, “Do you realize how offensive that is?” And, yes, end the call.

5. Anita didn’t mince words. She told the salesperson she didn’t appreciate his cold calling technique (go, Anita!). His reply was, “It’s a free county. Don’t get offended.” (Oh my!)

This salesperson was obviously feeling pressured to make a sale in a hurry. It is doubtful his approach won him any clients. And while it is important to remain empathetic, it is also important to speak out against this behaviour. If the salesperson isn’t open to hearing feedback, ask to be connected with their manager.

It’s time to make an impact on dreadful sales calls. Simply hanging up isn’t enough. Our moments on the phone today are precious, valuable. Let’s speak up about those who waste our time and limit the possibilities for committed professionals who truly want to build relationships.

Oh … and one other thing. If you’d like to send me details of dreadful sales calls, I’ll gladly feature them here. They always contain great lessons and discussion helps all of us improve.


Closing a sale is the natural outcome of inspiring great conversations and listening intently to our potential customers.

This natural approach still involves a process – a plan that moves potential customers through a journey of discovery with you. So ... what's your process? And am I the right sales coach for you? Let's find out.

4 thoughts on “How to Respond to a Dreadful Sales Call”

  1. You have much more patience than I do! Not sure I would have made it to “At this point feel free to end the call.” Unfortunately I have found that trying to help anyone by pointing out their mistakes rarely works, even when I try to do it gently and from a place of giving. Interested in your thoughts on this as we only have so much advice and giving to go around.

    • Your are absolutely right, Linda. The type of call I’ve written about takes both time and patience and we often don’t have either. In retrospect, I should have had more humour in this post, as it is on the unrealistic side. I do get very tired of the sales stereotypes and I’d like to find a way to shut them down, or give all of us a way to start eliminating them. They do so much damage to salespeople who are doing a great job. Thanks for pointing this out … I think you’ve allowed me to start thinking about a follow up post.

  2. Should I ever have the chance to do this again, I will definitely use the “Do you realize how offensive that is” comment. I was so shocked by his complete lack of respect for the sales process I barely could say anything!

    • Thanks, Anita, for commenting on the post. And you raise a great point … sometimes sales calls are do dreadful they shock us into silence. I’ve certainly had that experience. Perhaps I need create a list of phrases to use in these situations – put it out there as a free download. 🙂


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