7 Leadership Dos and Don’ts From Telemarketers

by Alli Polin on June 18, 2013

leadership learning from telemarketer best practices

Today, when my phone rang, and I saw Private Caller pop up on my caller ID, I knew who was calling – yet another telemarketer.   Instead of listening to my gut and just letting it ring, I picked it up to ask to be put on their Do Not Call List.   This time, when they heard me sigh after they asked if they were speaking to Mrs Steam-Burner (not my name) and as I prepared to launch my request, I was left with the dial tone.  They had hung up on me.  Nice.

I am not a fan of telemarketers but I’m the one who keeps picking up the phone, right?  Still, they’ve taught me a thing or two about leadership that I can bring to work and life.  Here they are…

Seven Leadership Dos and Don’ts from Telemarketers:

DO: Keep Going. 

Telemarketers must get hung up on nine times out of 10, but they keep on dialing the next number that pops up on their screen.  The next call could be the one that donates, buys the raffle ticket or agrees to the time-share presentation.   As a leader, the same holds true for your ideas, insights and efforts.  You may not solve the problem at hand on the first try, but each attempt gets you one step closer.

DON’T: Hang up.

When you hang up the phone it says you’ve made a mistake and are taking the fastest, most disrespectful path for your retreat.  Leaders also “hang up the phone” when they abruptly end discussion – it doesn’t leave a warm and fuzzy feeling or make others want to engage in the future.

DO: Make a Connection.

Scripts can be useful but also can quickly become rigid, false and incredibly impersonal.   A caller that wanted me to take her “short” survey once acknowledged that my child was crying while they were making their pitch, asked if they were OK, and if there was a better time to call.  Recognizing the communication and connection is a two-way street humanized the caller and their cause.   I actually rescheduled because her agenda didn’t trump my agenda.

DON’T: Fake a connection.

Sometimes I’ll be asked, “How are you doing today?”  I could say I’ve been mauled by a pack of dingoes and they would say, “that’s great!” and jump into their pitch.  As a leader, if you think it’s building rapport when you ask how someone is doing, but don’t really care at all about their response, you’re only serving to widen the divide.

DO: Ask, Pause and Listen.

Here’s a novel concept: Ask a question, wait for an answer.   When telemarketers try to get me to buy in to their cause without connection, the battle is lost before it’s started.  “Heart disease is a terrible killer.  Don’t You Agree?  Well, each year blah blah blah.”  Even if I agree, I’m not really being asked the question.  Leaders pull out that same tactic when they have an answer or an outcome in mind and are “guiding” people to agree with them instead of actually creating an opening for dialog.   If you are simply making a point, don’t pretend it’s a question. (Click to TweetWhen you really want to know what others think, pause, listen, respond and learn.

DON’T: Keep on talking.

I may be one of the few people who does not want to interrupt someone who is speaking so I’ll wait for someone to take a breath before I jump in with a no thank you.  You may feel like you’re being “heard” just because you’re not cut off as you race through your key points but if someone is just waiting for you to breathe, so they can speak, there is nothing compelling about your pitch.

DON’T: Lose YOU.

The best telemarketers and leaders have something in common.  You get a sense of whom they are, not only what they do and what they want YOU to do.   Hold an intention for a desired outcome but do it like you, not like a corporate zombie or a telemarketer. (Click to Tweet) If I’m going to go the extra mile for anyone, it’s going to be another human being, not a private number or a private leader.

Do you take telemarketer calls?  What are some best practices from telemarketers that would benefit leaders to adopt too?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lalita Raman June 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

A great post and thought provoking. Unfortunately every telemarketing experience of mine has been a bad experience and not something I would ever want to give someone and definitely not receive from a person who calls themselves human and a leader.


Alli Polin June 19, 2013 at 12:26 am

I’m with you, Lalita! I wonder how often most telemarketers listen to and reflect back on their calls. Most leaders should be reflecting on the impact of their behaviors too! Connection depends on one human being talking to another human being – not one person pushing an agenda and crossing their fingers that the person on the other end of the phone will do what they want them to do.

Thanks so much, Lalita! I appreciate you!


Jon Mertz June 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

I always admire the persistence of telemarketers but dislike the ones that try to “trick” me. The tricksters start with a misleading opening and won’t answer simple questions. Persistence, in most cases, is a good thing. However, if something isn’t a fit, then persistence is just wasted. Telemarketers need to know the difference.

The best telemarketers are honest and to the point. They are respectful and listen. Good points for us all to remember!

Thanks, Alli.


Alli Polin June 19, 2013 at 12:23 am

So right on, Jon! Persistence is great but when there isn’t a match, there isn’t a match! There are good telemarketers out there and they show up as real people connecting with me. Unfortunately, in an industry with high turnover, that’s a minority! Great points, Jon! Thanks for raising them here!


Stephen Lahey June 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

I’ve found that learning through the mistakes that we see other people making is valuable. In fact, it was a crucial aspect of my early business education (as an employee) before launching my firm in 2000. Great reminder that lessons are everywhere — thanks!


Alli Polin June 19, 2013 at 12:22 am

So true, Steve! There is huge learning from our own mistakes and also substantial learning from the less-than-best-practices of others. Helps us to see clearly that we want to make another choice!


Samantha June 18, 2013 at 10:19 am

Great post Alli. : )

I got rid of my land line and that got rid of the telemarketers! Since I also have a cell phone, it got to the point where the only time the home phone rang was when it was a telemarketer. The people I knew simply called my cell. Not interested in paying for unsolicited phone calls so I got rid of it. : )

Love your list of do’s and don’ts. Who said we can’t learn from even the things that we can’t stand and drive us bonkers?! : )


Alli Polin June 19, 2013 at 12:21 am

Samantha – I can totally undertand getting rid of your land line! Here in Australia we don’t get that many calls and 8 out of 10 times it’s a telemarketer when it rings. I was frustrated after yet another hang up once I asked to be on the Do Not Call List and decided to look for the lessons instead of fume about the hang up. Learning is truly everywhere!


Lolly Daskal June 19, 2013 at 11:41 am

Fantastic Article.

The Do and Don’ts can be replayed in so many aspects of our lives.

Thanks so much for sharing



Alli Polin June 19, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Absolutely agree, Lolly. In life as in work we always can choose to connect or only focus on our own agendas. Every day you remind us which one you choose!

Thanks, Lolly!


Chrysta Bairre June 20, 2013 at 10:46 am

Ah, I love so many of these points and they are right on!

I felt a particular connection to your tips don’t hang up and do ask, pause and listen. I’ve had multiple conversations with leaders that hang up or ask questions without listening for the answer. Both of these leadership missteps caused me to feel unheard, unimportant, and disengaged as an employee. I’m a self-motivated individual, and good at motivating myself, but I can’t do it all alone! I still need organizational leaders to engage me and you’ve outlined great tips to get there.

Instead of putting all the focus on the bottom line, like my last organization, balancing fiscal responsibility with employee engagement could have yielded better results because without employees the organization can’t succeed! (And sadly I fear the lack of leadership in my previous organization is really starting to show as the company just shut down an entire office and laid off over 100 employees.)

Thanks for sharing these great tips- I hope leaders are listening!

Have a grateful day!



Alli Polin June 21, 2013 at 3:50 am


I feel like we must have worked for some of the same leaders! It’s so true – a question that’s not really a question makes us tune out and disengage as we realize we really don’t even need to be in the room for the so called conversation to continue since the dialog is really a monologue.

You share some great examples here with clear impact and solutions too. Greatly appreciate your insights!

Many thanks, Chrysta!



Ginger Shay July 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm

This post is a great learning tool for telemarketers, myself included. I just began as one of “them” 6 weeks ago as a means to survive the summer with no paycheck from the school for which I work during the school year. The company I work for is extremely reputable and professional. As a matter of fact, we HAVE to DRESS professionally to sit at a computer screen with headphones attached to our heads, even though the potential donor cannot see us. We go through 4 weeks of training. Some are better communicators than others and those that aren’t are quickly “weeded out” and retrained. All of our calls are recorded and QA is always listening to SOMEONE. We’re not bad people, really, we aren’t! In this tough economy, finding a full time position to make enough money to pay my bills throughout the summer was close to impossible. Here are some truths from me, to consumers:
* If I am calling on behalf of a non-profit charity, odds are almost 100% that someone in your household donated to that charity at some time. Take the time to get that household member on the phone. The charity may mean nothing to you, but it just MIGHT to your spouse or adult offspring.
* Don’t YELL at us like a screaming meemie. Nobody enjoys being belittled or cursed at.
* If you pick up the phone and hang it up immediately, you’ll probably be called back again within the next day or two. This is why you’re getting “so many calls!”
* Non-profits rely on donors to help the disabled, cure the cancer-stricken, and provide surgeries that can be life saving. Look around at your own family and see the many blessings in your life… THINK before you say NO to $10.00 for a well-known non-profit. YOU might be depending on them yourself someday!
* You can tell a QUALITY communicator by their introduction. They should be well-spoken and will tell you their REAL name, for whom they work, and why they are calling.
* Patience IS a virtue!


Alli Polin July 23, 2013 at 3:46 am


I want to give you a sincere thanks for sharing the perspective from “the other side.” I’ve had some telemarketers call me and infuriate me, and others, that truly know how to connect beyond the script, have gotten me to engage, take their survey, and take action for important causes. Honestly, I’m impressed that you go through four weeks of training! Maybe your organization is unique in the space but clearly they invest in you and your skill development and are committed to doing the best they can for their clients too.

Thanks, Ginger!


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