The End of an Era

My first job out of college was in sales at an insurance company. I’ve told parts of this story before, but I never shared this aspect of it.

On the first day on the job, I was told to write down the names and phone numbers of 50 people that I knew. I didn’t have to worry about knowing anything. All I had to do was get in front of them. If they would agree to a meeting, I could bring along a sales manager who would be able to explain everything.

That should have been my first clue to get the hell out of there, but in 2008 there weren’t many doors that were being opened for me. I did what I had to do.

One family friend was kind enough to agree to a meeting. They were interested in buying an annuity, so they figured they might as well buy it from me. I don’t remember the exact details of how that conversation went, but I’m guessing it didn’t go well because there wasn’t a second meeting.

I didn’t have success tapping into my network, which was hardly a surprise. Nobody wants to sit down with a 21-year old to talk about their personal finances, let alone hear an insurance pitch. Enter the cold call. When you’re talking to a stranger, you can be anyone.

What I’m about to type is an actual thing that happened.

Me: Hi my name is Michael Batnick and I’m calling from ____ avenue financial. Does the name ring a bell?

Stranger: Who is this?

Me: Michael Batnick from ______ avenue financial. I thought the name might ring a bell because I’ve worked with some of your colleagues on their financial plans.

Stranger: Which colleagues?

Me: Greg. I’m sure you can appreciate the fact that if you were a client, I would keep your information confidential. It so happens that I’m going to be in your office next Thursday at 3 or the following Tuesday at 1. Do either of those times work for you?

Stranger: Do either of those times work for what exactly?

I’m honestly embarrassed to share this. It’s just too cringe. “Does the name ring a bell?” Good lord.

Being a successful cold caller requires a combination of charm, improvisational skills, and feeling comfortable with stretching the truth. I have none of those things.

Charm and improv still go a long way, but it’s hard to bend the truth these days. With the internet, people can fact-check you while you’re on the phone. They can look you up!

It’s also difficult to build trust with a stranger in a post-Madoff world. Everybody knows cold calls are bullshit. And with the do not disturb list, companies can have legal trouble on their hands if a trainee calls the wrong person.

And with that, the era of cold calling is over. Merrill Lynch is banning trainee brokers from making cold calls. I don’t know what took so long, but clearly, this is no longer a viable way of generating business. I’m pretty sure it’s been dead for a while, but Merrill is making it official.

Josh and I are going to cover this story and much more on an all-new What Are Your Thoughts?

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