Ask someone to name all the things in life that annoy them, and cold calls will probably feature near the top of the list. Whether we're being offered compensation for mis-sold PPI or an accident we never had, or sales calls for products we don't want, cold calls can feel like a waste of our time and an invasion of our privacy - just how did they get our number in the first place?
But every now and then, there are times when I actually want to hear about a new product or service that might benefit me. It might be something I've never heard of that will change my life forever, or something I've thought about buying for a while, and have just been waiting for the right time to act. Either way, I want the information, so I'm then able to make my own decision based on what I've heard. But before giving over my time, I want businesses to have done their homework - am I even likely to need what they're selling - and when I start asking questions, will they have the answers?
'Good sales' is something to be treasured, and good sales teams are worth their weight in gold. A good sales team can get results for their company but also provide a service that could benefit me.
So it's not sales teams or cold calls that are the problem, it's bad cold callers and bad sales teams who think I'm going to say 'yes' just because they've hassled me into submission. Maybe even worse than bad sales teams are non-existent sales teams - the ones that can't even be bothered to call me to sell me something I might buy; you have to wonder what the point is of a sales team that doesn't sell. They need to show the initiative to come to me with something I need rather than expecting me to go to them, because I probably won't.
They also need to sell not just the product or service, but the idea too. When I look to buy something - especially a bigger purchase - I want to be sold to and I want to feel special. For example, when I bought my car, I bought a dream, a brand, an idea. I wanted to know when the model above mine was released and I wanted an invite to drive it. I would have brought friends with me - themselves potential buyers - but no, the dealership passed up any such opportunity, and therefore a possible sale.
As someone who's spent many years involved in sales and as the managing director of a company that speaks to dozens of people every day to genuinely inform them about a service they may need, when people say sales in general - and cold calling in particular - is dead, I disagree. It just requires some thought as to what the customer's demands are, and maybe a little less complacency. It also needs a bit of added value - making the customer feel that they're getting a deal. I speak from experience; when I think I'm getting something that saves me time and money and that makes my life just better, I'm immediately alive to the possibility. You can learn every trick in the book but for me it's simple, if you don't add value then you can't sell it.
I also expect people to listen to me - if I tell them I want one thing, then why do they offer me something completely different. You can't force someone into a two bedroom house when they need four bedrooms. Listen - take the time to get to know my needs, then give me what I want.
Sales still has a massive part to play in the business landscape; it just needs to adapt to the technological advances that we've seen. Nowadays, websites know that because you've looked at a toaster, you're probably looking for a toaster, and will then proceed to show you the best toaster deals around. You buy one, and the website wins. Why should sales be any different? Know what I want, and then come and sell it to me - because otherwise, I won't buy it off you.
Alex Sullivan is UK Managing Director at World FirstSuggest a correction