Last Word

I put down my croissant and answered the phone. “How did you get my number?” I asked indignantly. “No one is allowed to talk to me without going through my secretary.”

I could hear the salesman take a deep breath as he began his sales pitch. “Mr. Hesh, as the top decision maker at your company, you realize the true value of …”

I stopped paying attention but I kept on saying “uh huh” as he continued his spiel. He asked me what I hated about my current suppliers.

I hit F4 on my keyboard and a list of responses came up on my computer screen. I began my tirade. “Late deliveries, no computerized tracking system, and never getting a discount for paying within 30 days, can you beat them?”

“Well Mr. Hesh that will all change with our new …” And again I went on auto pilot. I turned off the speakerphone so he wouldn’t hear me crunching on a frozen granola bar.

I could tell by the modulation in his voice that the request for a meeting was coming. I interrupted him. “Listen I have a conference call starting … Call me back … When? No, I can’t take a call at 3 tomorrow; at 4 on Tuesday … I guess so.” He thanked me profusely thinking he had boxed me in and won the first round.

Little did he know that he had succumbed to our corporate subterfuge. I was a bogus top decision-maker (TDM). My job was to receive all sales calls and keep the salespeople treading water. We made it difficult enough to get through so that by the time they spoke to me they thought they had really connected with the TDM.

My background? I had a Ph.D. in the psychology of selling.

My job? Simple, to counter each move made by the ubiquitous salesmen around us. I was to create a purgatory from which they would never exit.

I learned my trade listening to endless audiotapes and attending national seminars to learn the latest sales techniques. Soon my name and face was on their most wanted list and I was using fake IDs and wearing Groucho Marx moustaches just to get into an auditorium.

Fortunately, with the introduction of Webcasts, I could keep my anonymity. I actually enjoyed following the trends. I would learn of a new technique of getting to the C-level exec (the CEO, CIO CFO, CMO) and then I’d wait to see how long it would take for the new sales pitch to reach me. Often the cycle was as short as three hours.

But then there are those young tech-savvy procurement hackers.

They’d figure out our system and get through to real decision-makers. And they’d actually sell them something. (I hated those weekly procurement reports. My bonus is tied to the amount of money we don’t spend.)

I thought I was pretty well set in my company; they could not downsize or outsource me. However, I have seen one disturbing initiative — the proliferation of these new computerized reverse auctions. Corporate strategy was shifting and more bidders are now desirable.

My latest printout says calls to my office are down 40 percent. I realized that if the phone stops ringing I am out of work.

If you are a salesman starting out and need to show your boss that you can connect with the TDM please give call me. If you get a busy signal please leave your number I will call you back in 30 minutes. I promise!

Hesh Reinfeld is a Pittsburgh-based business columnist and humorist.

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