In sales, this is the wrong kind of reference

In sales, this is the wrong kind of reference

Written By Jeffrey Gitomer

KING OF SALES, The author of seventeen best-selling books including The Sales Bible, The Little Red Book of Selling, and The Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude. His live coaching program, Sales Mastery, is available at


In sales, this is the wrong kind of reference

Jeffrey, I sell advertising for a broadcast television station. In sales, when the gatekeeper asks to take a message, or alert the person you are trying to reach that you’re calling, and they question, “May I ask what this is regarding?” would you say, “Yes, I would like to ask your boss to buy something.” What is your angle on this? Thanks for your time and your help! Rob

P.S. I used your voicemail advice. I’m new to this business, so I don’t have too many customers calling me yet, but it’s now so unique, about 15 of my coworkers in the sales department called my voicemail after hours to hear what it said. When they told me, “You need to change that goofy voice mail!” I responded, “If you don’t think it will work, why did 15 of you call it, just to hear what it said?” Thanks again for the advice!

Rob, “May I ask what this is regarding” is a question with 2.5 answers. Answer 1 would be the boring, “I sell advertising, and I want to know if the boss wants to buy some.” This will get you no place. Answer 2 is more inventive. It states the benefits or outcome of ownership. In your case it would be, “I want to speak with the boss about generating more qualified sales leads for his sales team.” And Answer 2.5 is a cute one. You can start out boring and say, “It’s a business matter of a personal nature.” Or you can just say, “No, it’s a secret.” That one has also worked for me. Or you can say something intriguing like, “It’s about air, and how you’re taking advantage of it.” Or you can say, “It’s about one minute.”

When someone says, “What’s this in reference to,” it means that your call is being screened because they don’t know you. The object in sales is to become known. If your name was Tiger Woods, would she say, “What’s this in reference to?”

Wouldn’t it be cool to say to the gatekeeper, “He’ll know what it’s in reference to”? Or, “Just tell him it’s Jeffrey on the phone, he’ll know”? Isn’t that more powerful than trying to make up some salesy or goofy message?

My opinion is that once the gatekeeper says, “What’s this in reference to?” 8 out of 10 times your call will not get through. You’ll be forwarded to someone else, you’ll be asked to send literature, or you’ll be politely refused and hear, “We’re not interested.”

Here are a few things you can do to avoid, “What’s this in reference to?”

1. Scour your local Business Journal, or other business publications, for articles that you think will benefit the recipient of your call.

2. Scour you local Business Journal, or other business publications, for a potential sales lead for the person or company you are trying to connect with.

3. Find something that was written about the company that you are trying to connect with. Print it out, mail it to your prospect with a post it note that says, “Nice article. I’d love to talk with you for 60 seconds.”

3.5 Since you are in the media (and even if you’re not) prepare a 30 second WOW! message that is so compelling, they have to take your call. Something about differentiating yourself from your competition. Something about greater productivity in the workplace. Something about profit. NEVER offer to save anyone money. This is the biggest mistake that salespeople make — they think a message about saving someone money will entice them to pick up the phone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ever get a call at home from a long distance phone company wanting to save you money? What do you do? You hang up. You’re angry that someone wants to save you money. Instead of saving, think earning more profit. Earning more profit will gain you the attention of any corporate executive.

The object of getting a call through is to be intriguing, and to be perceived as a person who has something of value to say — something that is actually worth listening to, and something that is worth responding to.

If your message sounds like everybody else, odds are, you’ll get treated like everybody else. You won’t get your call through. And if you get to a voicemail, you won’t get your phone call returned.

“What’s this in reference to?” is an opportunity — and a report card. The opportunity is for you to be creative and thereby get through on a higher percentage of your calls. The report card is that you are not very well known in your industry, or your community.

And in sales, it’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

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Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, and The Little Red Book of Selling. President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts internet training programs on selling and customer service at He can be reached at 704/333-1112 or e-mail to

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Jeffrey H. Gitomer and Buy Gitomer 704/333-1112