A technology director (Chief Technology Officer) colleague recently asked:

I believe about 60% of the call traffic to my office is from vendors trying to setup appointments or tell me about the newest and greatest thing they have to sell. Email from them makes up about 75% of my inbox daily. I am wondering if anyone out there has a policy or a message you give to vendors to ward them off if you don’t need their services? Is there a kind way to get off the mailing/call lists?

Here are some of the responses shared by various technology directors, all of which I found fascinating…new responses are separated by 3 asterisks (***).

What would your response be, whether as a vendor or recipient of a sales pitch?

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Here is my pat line………………
“I will call you if I need you or your services.”
Actually my secretary tells them that I don’t take cold calls or calls from vendors unless I contacted them first. Fortunately she filters my phone calls and my mail.

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ANY purchases via 199-11 or 199-12 and the 411 (state tech) MUST be from an “approved” vendor. Our Business Manager requires either a DIR Contract# or TCPN Contract # on all PO’s. If the vendor is NOT on any of these lists, we can’t purchase from them. We also have an “approved” local vendor list and we strive to purchase local first if possible. We are not part of the Regional purchasing cooperative – and that has left a few vendors off that I would have liked to purchase from, but can’t unless I use some other fund – i.e. 199-53, 199-23, etc….

And yes – I have gotten tons of vendor calls in the last two months and it’s getting pretty bad lately. I’ve even hung up on a few – like the generic cartridge vendors….. unbelievably hard to get off the phone with them – and the FREE stuff they want to give you. Another policy – not supposed to receive “gifts”.

Some days we just let the answer machine get the call and screen that way.

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My standard answer, is “thanks, were covered” and then hang up OR let the voice mail answer it and then erase.

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I just tell most of them we try to trade local where we can because our local vendors support our school. If they want to send our NHS a $1000.00 donation…..then call me back.

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At one point, I had a second extension so that I could send them all that way. Now, unless I am expecting a call I usually don’t answer it unless it is someone in the district… and then check the message to see if I need to call back.

It is a terrible approach but otherwise I would be on the phone all day or hanging up on people.

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AMEN!

I am to the point that I let outside calls go to voice mail. If it’s somebody “important” they will leave a message, but about 95% of the time it’s a cold sales call and I don’t have the time to waste.

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thank goodness for caller ID

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“You have exactly 45 minutes to make your case for this product. Please end your presentation at that time.” Fifteen minutes after the deadline, the meeting moderator finally made the effort to be direct with the vendor and escort him to the door. The failure to be direct, yet polite, sends the wrong message to sales representatives who are fighting for their livelihoods. Like the time a vendor called and said, “If I don’t make this sale, I may not have a job this Christmas,” their focus is on making money. Who can blame them?

As school district staff, our charge is simple–be good stewards of the money we’re charged with. Your school district’s culture defines what is “good.”

Those points aside, consider asking these questions when receiving a call from a sales representative:

1) After reviewing the district web site, how does your product align to stated vision and goals?
2) Did you send this information via email? If yes, if I want more information, I’ll follow up with you. If no, provide your email address so they can respond.

Unfortunately, since time is often spent in meetings, I seldom am in the office to receive those calls. My secretary encourages callers to use email as the best way to make contact with me, although I also have people–with no prompting of my own–trying to make contact via my blog (which is terrible since those are automatically deleted). For voice mail, leave your email in the outgoing message and encourage folks to initiate contact that way.

On the rare occasions, when I do receive a call from a sales rep or survey-taker, I find it important to take charge of the conversation rather than listen to an endless sales pitch. One approach is to ask questions:

  1. When listening to a sales pitch (first 10 seconds), interrupt and ask, “Are you selling a product or service?”
  2. When someone has a particular angle, ask “And is this Information Technology or Instructional Technology related?”
  3. When the world will be saved by district adoption of a product, ask, “How much does this cost per student? How is it licensed?” then point out there’s no extra funding this budget yet, the State of Texas is facing a $28 billion dollar deficit.
  4. To end a conversation, “Did you send me an email so that I might have a summary of how your product aligns to our District’s vision and goals, your list of previous customers and your contact information?”

And, finally, if a vendor persists (emails, call backs to other staff in the District) in making contact after I have already drawn a line that says, “I can’t afford or don’t want your services at this time based on these XYZ factors,” I am direct and tell them not to call me again. If I believe the situation will change, I suggest they contact me in the next budget year.

Particularly pernicious are those vendors that after you reject them begin to contact your Superintendent referencing previous unsuccessful contacts. For those, I have found the bald truth–with superintendent copied–with a short timeline of previous unsuccessful contacts, rationale why not, and a request to abstain from future contacts appropriate.

If selling, I’m not buying. If the initiative isn’t aligned to our vision and goals, I lack the budget or authority to fund that. If “IT” is their focus, my focus is on instruction and they need to make contact with someone else.

This approach has worked for me. As much as I appreciate vendor colleagues, I keep in mind that their bottom line is selling districts a product that we may or may not really need. My bottom line is to invest funding in students and staff FIRST, not expensive external products that involved wooing the right people…and I appreciate vendors who act accordingly.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure