How I Learned Permission Marketing While Making Cold Calls


I put myself through college in the early 90’s working as a telemarketer for a large bank in Iowa. There were about a hundred of us in the department and we would spend our entire shift cold-calling potential customers to sell credit cards and balance transfers.

After the training period was over, we were set loose to interrupt people’s dinners and naps with sales pitches. 9 out of 10 calls ended quickly with a few choice words and a slammed phone. We would make hundreds of calls in a 6-hour shift and each telemarketer would only sell 3-4 credit cards a day, sometimes less.

I was young and inexperienced but I knew we could do better – way better. So I started analyzing every step in our process to see if anything could be optimized. But we didn’t have freedom to deviate from the plan.

You see, we all used the same script written by a team of experts with advanced degrees in sales and psychology. And our supervisors monitored our calls to make sure we didn’t deviate from the script.

But the script was inconsiderate. It was written from the company’s perspective and was designed to force our sales pitch down the customer’s throat before they could hang up. We didn’t ask permission to take their time and we didn’t ask any questions that required more than a one-word answer.

But I believed in our product. We could provide real relief to anyone drowning in high-interest credit card debt by giving them a new card and transferring their balances to it at a much lower rate.

I was determined to find a way to do better – even better than our supervisors expected. So on my own time, I re-wrote the entire script from start to finish. The script was a computer program that had different canned responses depending on the customer’s objections. So I re-wrote the script’s responses to all possible outcomes.

Then I took the first risk of my career.

I printed up my script, brought it to my desk, and decided to test it. The supervisors had too many people to monitor so it was possible to use my script a few times without getting caught. I was confident that it would work and hoped that the results would help save my job if I was called out for deviating from the approved script.

I started each call by asking permission to take some of their time. I knew that people might say no but at least the call would end quicker and I could be on to the next customer in the queue who might just need a balance transfer.

If they gave me permission to talk to them for a minute, I would thank them and get right to the point. I’d ask if they have high-interest credit card balances that they’d like to transfer to a 1.9% fixed rate. If they didn’t, I’d ask if the next most valuable feature of our card would be useful to them.

I planned out thoughtful, courteous responses to every possible objection and even if a call didn’t end in a sale, it rarely ended in a slammed phone.

Long story short, I started the call by showing respect, asking permission, and cutting to the chase by offering the best benefit of our credit card offer. And my sales immediately tripled the department average, quickly getting the attention of my supervisor.

I was nervous when she called me into her office that afternoon. I needed this job to pay for college. I confessed that I had been experimenting with my own script. She asked to see it and after reading it over, she commended me and plugged my script into the system word-for-word for all 100 telemarketers to use.

And the entire team started performing better. Why?

Because Permission Marketing isn’t a new phenomenon and it doesn’t just work in email campaigns.

It has always worked to treat people with respect and it works in any and every sales or marketing endeavor. If it can work for a 19-year-old telemarketer in the early 90’s, it can work for you today.

Since then, these 4 basic principles have helped advance my career in 4 distinct industries but I first learned them as a young punk trying to pay for college and the occasional pizza party:

  1. Refuse to interrupt people
  2. Treat customers with respect
  3. Find the people who need your product or service
  4. When you find them, get to the point of how it can enrich their lives

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