Telephone Blues

You hate cold calling.

You’ve been teased, tweaked, pummeled and noogied over the phone for nearly a year. Grilled by secretaries. Toasted by purchasing assistants. Charbroiled by freshly minted MBAs. All in an honest attempt to tell people how badly—desperately!—they need your service. You’ve tried not to take rejection personally—you’re a big boy!—but still, it’s brutal!

You’ve put your faith in the numbers. Ten phone calls equals one appointment. Ten appointments equals one bid. Ten bids equals one sale. Ten sales equals goal. (10c = 1a) x (10 = B) x (10 = S) x (10 = G!) You see it in your sleep, it’s tattooed onto your eyelids. Okay, maybe the formula’s a little whacked, but who cares! Make the calls and you’ll make the sales!

Then your buzz-kill brother-in-law works it backwards and concludes that you’d better fatten up the database because at this rate, you’re going to run out of names way before you qualify for that little Cape Cod out in Buford. In fact, he tells you, you’d better get religion real quick because you’re most likely going to die here at your desk, face-first in your moo goo gai pan, before you ever sell anybody anything.

My God! You persevere—what else can you do?—until finally someone on the other end of the line says, “You know, I get a half a dozen calls a day from guys like you and you all sound exactly the same.”

Ping! Something snaps in your cerebral cortex—you actually hear it! You sit there at your desk—your late Uncle Al’s desk, the very desk that once launched Big Al’s Baked Beans of Youngstown, Ohio—and you vaporize. You drift up toward the ceiling and over to the window and out through the screen and you and the dust and the pollen and the fluorocarbons settle into the ozone and orbit Mother Earth.

Screw it! You invent every reason in the world to stay away from the telephone. You overhaul the transmission, convert the family VHS tapes to DVDs, adopt a stretch of highway, re-sod the lawn, cross reference the junk in the attic with the crap in the basement.

Then it hits you—awareness! Of course! You’ve got to let people know who you are before you make the calls! Fertilize the soil, so to speak. You call an advertising agency. You tell them you need an image campaign. Something cute. Something memorable. They ask you what your budget is. They put you on speaker phone and ask you to repeat that. “Six hundred dollars,” you say. They’re howling! Finally somebody says, “C’mon, really, who is this? Harry, is that you?”

You finally run a little ad in the local paper and imprint your logo on some ballpoint pens and then you’re back at Uncle Al’s desk with a butt in the tray and the phone in your ear, and you punch in some numbers and clear your throat and the operator says how may I direct your call? and you close your eyes and imagine yourself astride a magnificent stallion, galloping through hostile territory to save the wagon train.

“Stop! Don’t do it! They’re finished!”

“There are women and children down there, damnit!”

“You’ll never make it!” 

“That may be, but I’m taking some of those damn injuns straight to hell with me!”

And you dig your spurs into the trembling haunches of your jet black steed and he rears back on his hind legs, and there you are, silhouetted like a god against a perfect azure sky and you fire two rounds overhead and the Apaches, stunned, break from the wagons , turn their ponies toward you and with whoops and war cries come for your scalp. And you attack the whole bloody lot! And as you gallop toward your fate you picture a handsome woman in a blue gingham dress standing in a field of wildflowers above the modest headstone of a prairie grave as she whispers I love you, I love you, I…

“Sir? Sir, how may I direct your call?”

And from far, far away you hear your voice, strong, steady— bold and daring, “Morning, Ma’am, I’d like to speak with someone in purchasing.”

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