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June 4, 2007

Sales Call Catastrophe: You Can’t Win When They Ask, ‘Senior or Junior?’


You’ve made sales calls. You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve got a list in front of you, containing companies’ names that you think might be good prospects. And you asked for the names of the decision makers, specifically the CEOs if possible, because you silly people think we CEOs make decisions.


So there is your next call: Musicola Works Industries. Nicholas Kershaw, CEO. You call.


“Musicola Works Industries, how may I direct your call?” says the friendly voice who answers.


You reply confidently: “Nicholas Kershaw please!”


And then the friendly voice says the three worst words on Earth.


“Senior or Junior?”


Now you’ve got a problem. No, you’ve got a lot of problems. Where do we start?


For one thing, you have no idea who you meant. You want the one who’s the CEO. But if you say that, you’re giving away that you don’t know either one of them. In other words, you’re exposed as a cold-caller, and at this point you’ll be lucky if they let you talk to Nicholas Kershaw III, who is two months old and is busy blowing snot bubbles.


You could guess! Senior has to be in charge, right? So say Senior. But what if they tell you Senior is pretty much retired now and only comes in an hour a month to polish his 1979 Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year plaque? You’re busted then, too.


So you could say Junior. At least you’d know Junior probably isn’t retired. But there is a very strong possibility that Junior is a complete dipwad who wouldn’t even have a job at Musicola Works Industries if not for Senior’s doting good graces. Junior could be Vice President for Strategic Initiatives – in other words, he bops around on e-Bay most of the day. On the plus side, you’re probably going to get voice mail, since he won’t be back from lunch until 3 p.m. at the earliest.


Companies with seniors and juniors sharing space are nothing but trouble anyway. Whatever it is you propose to do for this company, you’re going to face one of the following problems:


  • Senior didn’t pay for that in 1965! Why should he now?
  • If you do that, what will Junior do?
  • No one had been doing that, but Junior had been thinking about it.
  • Senior likes you, but Junior thought you looked at him funny.
  • What would Mom say?


I’m not saying family businesses can’t do well and be good to work with. But seniors and juniors have curious relationships – at the family picnic, no less, let alone in the office. Inevitably, one is in charge and the other is waiting to be in charge. Or one just took charge and the other just won’t quite leave. How would you like to take over as a company’s CEO, but still have your predecessor wandering the hallways? How would you like it if he once changed your diapers? (Or at least told your mother to change them. These are older guys.)


The other possible scenario is that Junior will never run the company, and everyone knows it, because Junior is a complete idiot. Not so bad, you say? Well, now you’re doing business with a company that keeps idiots around. Idiocy is not a disqualifier, which means competency is not a qualifier, which means that when you do a good job for Senior, it will make Junior look bad and he will start demanding the right to flyspeck your invoices.


Bottom line – you can’t win here. As soon as the friendly voice asks if you want to talk to Senior or Junior, explain that it was a mistake all along, and you really were looking for Sammy Kershaw, the famous country/western singer, and you just thought he might be there.


Then hang up, and hope that the next person you ask for only comes in one model. Any more than that, you’re just asking to end up banished from the adult table.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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