In most small businesses time is the one thing that's always in short supply, especially for owners who are trying to do it all.
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To save time, smart small business owners are charging their assistants with the task of screening their telephone calls to sift out telemarketers and other unnecessary conversations.
Unfortunately, telemarketers are on to this tactic, and have responded by developing a toolbox of tricks that would make Houdini salivate. Although it's not easy, you can spot some of their tricks and maintain a solid first line of defense. Here are some of their favorites:
"I'm returning the boss' call."
Some telemarketers specialize in bending the truth. Others have no problem telling an outright lie to gain access to a company's decision-maker. Over the years, this one has seen more than its share of airtime largely because the screener has no way to verify whether or not it is actually true. You can shut it down easily enough by maintaining a log of outgoing calls or at least notifying your assistant when you are expecting a return call. It's that simple.
"I'm a friend of the boss. Is he in?"
This one is another favorite among telemarketers, mostly because it is equally difficult to disprove. After all, your assistant can't possibly be expected to know who your friends are, right? Well, maybe not all of your friends, but your assistant should at least be aware of those friends who have direct access. All other "friends" should be asked to leave a phone number and the boss will return their call if - and when - the relationship has been verified.
"Is this ABC company? Is Mr. Jones the owner? Could you transfer me?"
Lately, telemarketers have been using a technique that relies on rapid-fire questions create the illusion of authority and get the screener in the habit of saying "yes" before they drop the really big questions. It sounds silly, but you would be surprised how often they get through to a decision-maker. Make sure your screener is aware of this technique and is prepared to resist with a firm "no" when necessary.
"This is John Doe from the XYZ Agency and I just need to verify some information for our directory. Is the boss in?"
No matter how legitimate it sounds, requests for verification are frequently sales calls in disguise. That information alone is helpful for the screening process. To take it a step further, screeners should also be instructed to respond that they are authorized to verify most information for the company and ask if they can be of assistance. If the telemarketer takes the bait, the nature of the call will soon be obvious. On the off chance that the call is legitimate, the assistant can then determine if you need to be brought into the loop.
It's important to know that you are not alone in your battle with telemarketers. In recent years, legislation has come down on your side, making it more and more difficult for telemarketers to persist in their efforts. Once the caller has been identified as a telemarketer, the screener should routinely ask to be placed on the "Do Not Call" list. This legally binds the telemarketer to removing your company from their database, leaving you free to manage your business in peace.