how to get rid of a vendor who refuses to leave

A reader writes:

A paper vendor comes into the building and arrives at the reception desk. He gives you a card and wants to meet with the director of HR. He won’t take no for an answer. What do you do?

He has to take no for an answer, because this isn’t his call — it’s yours, as a representative of your employer.

So that leads me to think you’re not being firm enough. The conversation should sound like this:

Vendor: Hi, I’m with XYZ Paper and I’d like to meet with your HR director.

You (knowing that the HR director will have no interest): I’m sorry, she’s not available, but I’d be happy to pass your card along to her.

Vendor: Oh, I’ll wait. I don’t mind.

You: You’d need an appointment to see her. But I’d be glad to give her your card.

Vendor: It won’t take long, so I’ll just wait here for her.

You: I can’t allow you to do that. She isn’t able to see you without an appointment. You’re welcome to email her to see if she’d like to set one up, but I can’t allow you to wait here.

Vendor: No, really, it won’t take long.

You: No, I’m sorry, you can’t wait here. I’m going to need to ask you to leave and I’ll pass your card along to her.

At this point, if not before, most people are going to leave. But if he doesn’t, then you say this:

You: I’ve told you several times now that you can’t wait here. I need to ask you to leave. If you don’t, I’ll have to call security. (Pick up the phone and call security if you have it, and whoever else would be appropriate if you don’t — such as a manager who you know won’t take kindly to guys like this.)

In other words, you control the situation, no matter how pushy the guy is. It’s your office, not his, he can’t stay without your permission, and you need to (a) believe that and (b) use the words that stem from that belief. When people aren’t quite clear on that in their own minds, they tend to use fuzzier language and softer messages that leave room for interpretation. So be clear, in your own head and with him, and don’t be afraid to escalate your tone and your response if he forces the issue.

If you feel uncertain about handling things this way, you can always check with your manager ahead of time and make sure that she has your back … but there’s no reason for you to feel that you have less power in this situation than a stranger who happened to walk through the door.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Tina*

    This was in a residential setting, not business, but I once saw a sign on someone’s gate that said “We shoot every fourth salesman. The third one just left.” It would be fun to hang that up at work!

    1. Anonymous*

      “We shoot every fourth salesman. I know what you’re thinking. Have they shot three today, or only two? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?

      1. Tony in HR*

        We had this hanging up in our office when I worked for my dad. Let me tell you, we got some great looks.

        1. Editor*

          When I had had my driver’s license about two months, I got into a fender bender in a city about an hour from home with my mother in the car. It took place less than half a block from a repair shop, and the guy I clipped pulled in there — his regular shop — to get an estimate for the insurance claim. It seemed like an eternity while we stood there and the shop owner calculated the cost of the accident, which he was able to bring down below the threshold for being a reportable accident.

          I will never forget the sign — which had obviously been there for years — that was tacked up behind the desk in the shop’s office:

          Mrs. Helen Back handles our business’s credit arrangements. If you want work done on credit, you can go to Helen Back.

  2. happycat*

    ugh. it is hard, but, you do have to stand your ground. If pushed, I let them know it is MY job to be the gatekeeper. Keeping that in mind might give you the inner push to be more forceful, yet professional. Don’t engage in any extra chit chat.
    That is a great script, and if you don’t have security, now is the time to devise a plan for future scenarios. If you have a paging system, a code word works, to alert someone to come up and help you out, for example.

    1. Chinook*

      AAM’s script should be printed and added to every Receptionist’s handbook (with proper credit, of course). The next page should include a list of people to contact (in order of priority in case the previous people are unavailable (like on a day before a long weekend)) who can help you remove an unwanted visitor.

      As well, those who are on this list need to be told that, if they are called by the receptionist, it is not a mild request (regardless of how calm she sounds on the phone) but a plea for help that should not be ignored.

      Lastly, if you have a receptionist as the only person in front of the secure doors, give her a panic button so that she can let someone on the other side know that they need help NOW!

      1. Jazzy Red*

        I worked as receptionist at a large office building in the downtown of a big city, and all the doors leading from the lobby into the offices were locked. We had buttons to unlock each door, and one panic button. I hit that panic button accidentally once, and all that happened was a phone call from another secretary asking if everything was all right, and if they should turn the security cameras on.

        1. Pussyfooter*

          Yes. I know your pain.
          I came close to calling 911 once because campus was empty and I couldn’t get a live person at campus Security for over 20 min.
          We also have a big, white panic button, up high for all to see (which we’ve been told not to touch, without further instruction) and an old, red panic button, under the counter (also told not to touch) but don’t even know if it does anything.
          I’m going to have a chat with my boss about this…

          1. Chinook*

            I learned what happenned once when I was working a late night shift and one of the 3 of accidentally hit the panic button (none of us remembered doing it). It is surprising how fast cops will come when the local donut shop is in trouble!

            (We did offer them free coffee after apologizing for the inconvinience and asking them if there was a way to call them to let them know that it was a false alarm. There isn’t).

      2. ChristineSW*

        Oh I definitely could’ve used a panic button at one (very brief!) receptionist job I had years ago!! It was a wholesale manufacturer, and they ALWAYS had people come in off the street looking for work. I once had a whole gang of ’em come in–and they weren’t exactly very friendly looking; I was thinking in my head, “helllllllp!!!” (FTR: That place was all kinds of dysfunctional, so when let me go after 2.5 weeks, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders).

      3. SB*

        I could have used a panic button at the job I worked at in college. I worked for a small newspaper as an office assistant. Every once in a while we would get people who were missing a few marbles. One time we got a woman who came in and demanded to speak to someone in the news room. The poor woman was clearly off her rocker. She started going on about how she needed the newspaper to run a story about how her kids were stolen by the government. She then showed me pictures of her “kids”, which were actually pictures from a magazine cut out and pasted on some construction paper. She then tried to say she would pay for the story to run, and started pulling tons of wrinkled coupons out of her bag. When I told her I would the editor know about her story, she started screaming and crying. She sat on the floor like a kid in the middle of a tantrum. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t get my manager on the phone to come help me, so I just sat there praying that she would hurry up and go away.

        1. Chinook*

          Hoenstly, if you have someone unstable at reception that you can’t get rid of and is setting off alarms in your head, feel free to call the cop shop on their office line (during business hours) and/or 911. Something like this could go sideways fast and the individual is probably already known to police as they deal with mental issues a surprisingly often. In such a case, they won’t come in guns drawn but, hopefully, know what to say to get them to leave.

          Plus, she did mention her “kids” were kidnapped, right? Wouldn’t she want the cops to help?

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I just asked this question–we have secured access and I have to sub once a week for the receptionist’s lunch hour (arrgggh). I can’t believe I forgot to ask this question during my training hour. I’m usually such a safety nerd.

      5. Gene*

        A couple of years back the police showed up at our office saying that they had gotten a call from our alarm company that the panic button had been pressed. But we don’t have a panic button. After much investigation, it turns out that the water alarm in the basement had been mislabelled in their system and we had a small leak in the ice machine. So, someone here (not I) drew this on the wall. It’s still there.

      6. Jessa*

        AAM script book (cue cards, laminated even.) Along with the mug, and the cootie catcher, 8 Ball, etc. AAM needs an Etsy shop.

    2. JamieG*

      I learned that in a slightly different context (dealing with pushy applicants rather than vendors) and it really helped me deal with it. The worst was one person, after I told him he needed to actually apply before he could talk to HR about his application, started ranting at me about how my job was to transfer him to whoever he wanted to talk to – which just served to remind me that I had a specific list of instructions for hiring calls, and I had every right/responsibility to follow it. I think I may have ended up transferring him to a manager and informing the manager how ridiculous and rude the applicant was being, just so they could get his name down. But I felt 0 guilt or discomfort, since I knew that part of my job was to not waste other people’s time.

      1. Jessa*

        I remember the last time someone did that to me, I finally (politely but firmly said,) “No actually, my job is to determine who if anyone can help you and handle the call the way THAT person instructed me to.”

    3. PJ*

      We do have a code word — the receptionist pages a former employee with an unusual name. She uses it rarely, but when she does every manager on duty descends upon the reception area. It’s awesome, I tell ya. We did have to instruct the rest of the staff (non-management) not to call the receptionist asking what’s going on, because during one such emergency there were so many “concerned” (read: nosy) calls that she couldn’t get an outside line to call 911.

      1. Chinook*

        Nothing makes a receptionist feel more loved than having 10 managers/directors/partners suddenly show up to ask an urgent courier question. :)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          LOL “Is there time to get a package out!? It’s urgent!”

          “No, sorry, the courier already came today. Ready time is 3 pm and it’s 3:20.”

          “BUT BUT BUT BUT–”

          I even emailed them once a month to remind them, and they STILL waited until the last minute!

        1. PJ*

          Managers come forward to “handle” the situation, to make decisions that the receptionist may not feel qualified to do, and to defuse as necessary. And we come forward en masse under the assumption that there is safety in numbers. Given our clientele, since I’ve been here our urgencies have consisted of a client passing out, a client becoming abusive with his spouse in the lobby, and someone becoming hysterical. From what I hear this system has worked for years, and our receptionists, who can handle most situations like rock stars, feel like we have their backs when it counts.

          But truly, it’s amazing to watch the tide of management surge toward the lobby when the page goes out. Gives you goose bumps.

        2. Ruffingit*

          I wouldn’t think they’d need to say or do anything per se. Just the site of 10+ people showing up all at once is probably a deterrent, but the most senior person might say “Is there a problem here” and go from there.

  3. matteus*

    This is just my opinion, and no offense to anbody, but the whole concept of door-to-door salespeople is just outdated. Especially when it relies on bullying and a person’s eagerness to make pushy obnoxious intruders go away.

    1. Chinook*

      As a receptionist, I would have a copier rep come by once every 6 months to talk to us baout our needs. I know they never got a response because I would politely take their cards and dispose of them as soon as they left. If they really wanted us as a client, they would have done minimal research (like go to our website), found we are a national company and that local offices don’t negotiate this type of thing.

      1. Rob Bird*

        Exactly. We get calls all the time asking to speak with our advertising/purchasing/leasing/etc. agent. We are a local office for a State agency. A little bit of research could go a long way.

      2. Tina*

        Agree on the research thing. I recently had a technology company email me asking about technology needs for my company. Not sure why anyone would email the Career Center of a large urban university regarding the University’s technology needs. Do you really think our office gets to call any of those shots? Even if we did, it would be someone higher up on the authority chain, not me.

      3. Colette*

        My work e-mail address is on the web with someone else’s name (Charlie) attached. I get e-mails to “Charlie” all the time – pitching IT services (fictional Charlie is a director of IT), asking me to lunch, promoting conferences. It’s bizarre – but fast to delete.

      1. De Minimis*

        That is, agreeing with matteus.

        I think what keeps us safe from most solicitors is that the facility is located in an isolated rural area.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I pity the salesmen though. They’re probably told not to accept no as an answer.

      What a crappy job. I would hate it sooooo much.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        They ARE told to not take no for an answer. In their training, they go through loads of scenarios that will “lead them to the sale!”

        They’re worse than Amway.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          and let’s face it – it always comes down to price and this is an internet age. No sales pitch is going to counteract the fact of “I can get this product cheaper from an online retailer”

    3. Andrea*

      Yes, this. I’m sure it’s a job that practically no one wants, though.

      We have door-to-door salespeople in our neighborhood from time to time. Once, when I was polite to a man selling cleaning supplies but refused to buy from him, he threatened to tell my neighbors that I was racist because I didn’t want to buy from a black man. I told him to go ahead. (He tried that with the next neighbor, too, but that neighbor called the cops and they were here in less than two minutes.) Shortly after that, since there seemed to be an awful lot of these salespeople, I bought a custom-made (on Etsy) door plaque that says “No Soliciting, No religious queries, Girl Scouts welcome” and it has almost totally eliminated the problem, though I really didn’t expect it to.

      (I was a Girl Scout. I always support and buy from Girl Scouts. All other children can get off my lawn.)

      1. JoAnna*

        I once had a door-to-door security system salesman tell me (after I declined his pitch) that it was obvious that I “didn’t care about the safety of [my] children” since I hadn’t purchased his product. He was already walking away at that point, otherwise I would have made a point to copy down all his business information so I could call his company and inform them why I would never, ever purchase their product.

      2. De Minimis*

        It was carpet cleaner, right? I don’t know what that is about, but I’ve heard of that sales tactic in multiple locations throughout the US.

        I don’t recall if I mentioned it here, but a friend of mine who was in sales for a few years [long ago] said they used to go after any place that had a No Soliciting sign, because they figured that person might have less “door resistance.”

      3. Claire*

        ATT came to our apartment 8 times over the course of 48 hours, until I finally went down to tell them to knock it off.

        1. De Minimis*

          That happened to us once, we had checked for availability on their website and the next thing we knew, multiple salespeople were showing up on our doorstep. We ended up going with cable.

          1. Claire*

            Time Warner has a VERY strong market share in my area, so ATT is apparently randomly canvassing to try to steal people away. I already compared both before I moved, and TWC had the better offer by far (we have just internet, no cable or phone service).

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Before the election last year, I was getting knocks on my door about every two hours in the evenings when I was home. I would come home and there would be piles of candidate information tucked into my door. On halloween I saw more canvassers than trick-or-treaters. Gahhh. So happy when it was over.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I have a sign that says that looks like this:


        People walk right by it. I guess the words I used were too big. :P

        1. Poe*

          I love this sign SO MUCH I CAN HARDLY BREATHE. If I ever have a lawn to get off, I’m going to steal this idea.

    4. Rana*

      When I was teaching, we’d get textbook people sometimes. Some of them were there to ask if you wanted to sell them yours; others were there to promote their publisher’s latest offerings. All of them were pretty polite, but I can’t remember ever adopting a textbook (or selling one) purely on the basis of their visit. Maybe some of the older professors appreciated the “personal” touch? It always seemed rather inefficient to me.

      1. college teacher*

        I really like the visits, because they force me to keep up with state of the textbook. I get free textbooks which is great, but I think the reps should be more knowledgable about how their books are being used in other institutions.

      2. Chinook*

        The textbook people thought you had the budget to buy new textbooks? Really? The only time I saw new ones was when the school burned down. I told the students to cherish the moment they cracked them open, to inhale the new book smell and to write their names carefully on the name plate. They did this too (partially because we went a month without texts and I had taken to reading a novel outloud to them and making notes on an overhead pointed on the ceiling because I was in a teaching space with a divider that went up half way, 2 walls with windows and a concession stand on the 4th wall.)

        1. college teacher*

          I am sorry that the conditions are so terrible!

          Don’t college students have to buy their own textbooks? Unfortunately, many of our students do not think books are necessary. I meet with the students individually and ask them about study habits in the first meeting and recommend that they buy the book and read it.

    5. Ruffingit*

      As late as 2010, I would field some calls from reps for the Yellow Pages who wanted to sell us ads in the phone book. I always thought “Does anyone actually use the yellow pages anymore? We have this thing called the Internet now…” :)

      1. Editor*

        There are three different companies that deliver yellow page listings to my home. A couple of them make follow-up calls to confirm delivery. I am not sure if any of them provide white pages for individuals, although most books have a white pages business directory. It’s a horrible waste of paper, and when I last asked, there was no way to opt out.

      2. Lora*

        Me. When your drain line from the toilet makes a horrible noise, then ALL THE GROSSNESS comes bubbling up from the floor, you ain’t gonna do a leisurely search on the intertubes. First Yellow Pages ad that said “Bonded & Insured” and “24-hour service” actually turned out to be really great.

        There’s some local stuff like that, you can’t really find on the internet. You have to just go there. Little mom-n-pop stores, car junkyards that have used parts for sale, don’t really have a lot of Internet presence. There’s a fantastic old-timey hardware store two towns up the road from me, which has everything I ever need of a hardware store, plus Carhartt barn coats and sweatshirts, but if I google all I get is Lowe’s and Home Despot. They are about three pages back in the results.

        1. De Minimis*

          I agree, also Yellow Pages are a lot more useful if you live in a smaller town.

          Although I still don’t know why I need multiple editions of it each year.

  4. JoAnna*

    Our office building is managed by a property management company (i.e., our company rents one of many offices in the building itself), and they have a strict no solicitation policy. In situations like the above, whoever encounters the solicitor is supposed to call the property management office and ask for “Jon,” which means, “Please send security to this office to escort out an unwanted solicitor who ignored the obvious ‘no soliciting’ signs.”

  5. Rachel*

    This is one reason to love my office building’s set-up, even though it was annoying for our interns. Our elevators don’t work without a tap card. You tap the scanner, then press your floor, and it knows which floors you are authorized to go to. If someone gets in the elevator without checking in with the doorman, the buttons just don’t work. They get to ride the elevator up to wherever it goes, and ride it back down to the lobby. The doorman can authorize you to go to any floor, but they call us before they send anyone up.

    Since we’re a relatively young and casual office, that means my coworkers and I have the small joy of informing the people who think they’re too good to check in at the desk – who are almost always in full suits and looking at us a little funny like we’re in the wrong building – that they need to go back down and check in with security.

    1. Pussyfooter*

      People with scheduled appointments are making it all the way up to your office without checking in? Does your staff emphasize the need to stop downstairs and check in when setting the appointments, or are the visual cues easily missed downstairs? Maybe that’s why you’re getting weird looks from scheduled clients? (If they are not scheduled, they need to graciously suck it up and go back down : )
      ps. What’s the point of security downstairs, if they’re letting these people up to your office anyway?

      1. Rachel*

        They’re not going to our office! I work in a 40-something story building, we only take up half a floor. We are always on top of telling people to check in – when I interviewed here, it was made clear that I absolutely had to check in with security when I arrived.

        1. Pussyfooter*

          Hmmm, so these people don’t even realize they’ve arrived in the wrong office, because they don’t know they aren’t in control of the elevator buttons. Funny.

          I still have the impression that the building security measures do not automatically stop them before they get to the elevator. An unhinged person going to the wrong office wouldn’t make them any less unhinged!

          1. Rachel*

            I just realized why this didn’t make sense to you- I didn’t explain that this conversation usually happens in an elevator, as the person furiously mashes the button for whatever floor they want to go to! And then I happily tap my card, press my floor, and ask “Are you visiting? You need to check in at the front desk” as the elevator is whisking us up to my floor.

  6. ThursdaysGeek*

    I don’t understand how the salesman thinks this is the best use of his time. He spends a lot of time waiting for a potential sale instead of leaving the card and going back out and spending that time on more likely sales.

    1. Thomas*

      This is a good point. On some level, a salesperson should be thinking, “I’m not going to make any commission doing X. Why am I doing X?” Because if it doesn’t lead to sales, a smart sales person would know it’s a waste of his or her time as well.

      1. quix*

        Which raises the next interesting question. Is it working?

        It’s working for someone because if it didn’t work for anyone, no one could afford to be doing it. In my limited experience it’s usually a shady third-party contractor using pushy tactics to sell overpriced stuff. I did that for a couple weeks selling home improvements ‘on behalf’ of a big name store before I figured out the company was as shady towards its salesmen as it was towards its customers.

  7. Marie*

    I used to work in a place without anything like security, and a bunch of softies on staff, so I got a lot of mileage out of repeating something three times (“we’ll call if we’re interested”), then the third time add “and I don’t want to repeat myself again” to the end.

    Only one guy pushed beyond that. I asked him to repeat and spell his name, email, and number, wrote it down, and said, “I’ve just made my manager a note. We will never purchase anything from you, now or if you work elsewhere in the future, and I’ll email your business right now to let them know why we won’t purchase from them now or anytime in the future.”

    That guy came back a week later! He was training in a new sales person, and appeared to have zero memory of the last time. The other sales person looked horrified.

    1. Pussyfooter*

      He was being trained? or was he the trainer? How did you handle the return visit?

      also…I’m stealing this: “repeating something three times (“we’ll call if we’re interested”), then the third time add “and I don’t want to repeat myself again” to the end.”

      1. Marie*

        He was the trainer! The woman he was training looked like she was fresh out of college and was getting her first taste of what a really bad job looks like. I had such sympathy for her and kept trying to shout RUN with my eyes.

        He came in and started up his spiel, and I just stared at him with my mouth open, then finally interrupted him to say, “You were in here last week, you told me all the same things, I told you to get out of my office.” And he denied it! He went hmmmmmm, then said, “No, I don’t think so,” so I showed him the business card of his where I’d written, “NEVER ORDER FROM THIS MAN” on the back, and recounted what I’d told him word-for-word, and he just shrugged and said, “I apologize if you were offended…” and went right back into his sales spiel! The woman with him looked like she wanted to die.

        I tried interrupting him once or twice more, but he just glazed over and continued the sales spiel as if I wasn’t talking. The whole thing was so bizarre that this time, I engaged my “standing at a bus stop” skills instead of my “assertive receptionist” skills and just gave him a very neutral face while he finished his spiel. I said, “I’ll pass it onto my manager, thank you, I need to get back to work now,” and he thankfully left, trailing a very horrified new trainee behind him.

        I did know another receptionist who kept a binder that said NEVER ORDER FROM THESE VENDORS in very big, bold lettering on front, and if she had to tell somebody to leave three times, she asked them for their business cards and let them watch her put them in the binder while she said, “We’ll keep you on file!” chirpily.

        Anyway, to the OP, there’s just no way around it except by conquering your inner “but I can’t be rude!” and telling them to leave, NOW. You can do it with a binder or a smile or a tactic or by calling the biggest person in your office to stand around intimidatingly, but you just have to do it. When I was a receptionist, it never stopped infuriating me, but I did eventually start to see it as a sort of boon. I used to be an extremely passive, shy person, and being rude (actually just assertive, but it FEELS so rude if you’re not usually that person) helped me practice that skill for other places in my life. Once I could tell a solicitor, “GET OUT OF MY OFFICE” without blinking, it was a lot easier to tell other pushy people I met in life to back right on up, back right on up, back right on up and I don’t want to repeat myself again.

        1. Pussyfooter*

          …..laughing……*gasp gasp*…..still……laughing……

          Made My Day!………*still catching breath*

          People can be such a pain to deal with, but become so entertaining in retrospect.

        2. Lily*

          I absolutely love the NEVER ORDER FROM THESE VENDORS binder and the way that the receptionist can send a negative message in such a positive way!

          Do you have a good way to tell people that you are not going to answer their emails anymore?

          1. Marie*

            Yep! Stop answering their emails.

            Optional: tell them you are going to stop answering their emails.

            Also optional: If you can, set up something on your email to automatically redirect their emails to another folder. Read through it every now and again for a laugh.

            1. Lily*

              I am boring and tell them that I am not going to tell them X again, but I was hoping for a cleverer response.

              I have a folder marked “idiots” where I get comic relief.

              1. Marie*

                Nah, if your intention is to end an interaction with somebody, the only way to do it is to end the interaction. If your intention is to amuse yourself, clever responses are the way to go.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          Oh my damn, what an idiot. I hope that poor trainee quit and found a better job!

          I did know another receptionist who kept a binder that said NEVER ORDER FROM THESE VENDORS in very big, bold lettering on front, and if she had to tell somebody to leave three times, she asked them for their business cards and let them watch her put them in the binder while she said, “We’ll keep you on file!” chirpily.

          I LOVE THIS!

          What I always did was let my mouth go slack and do this brainless twit look and say in a high-pitched voice, “Gee, I don’t know who handles that, and the manager is at lunch. Could you leave a card? I can give it to him when he comes back…”


  8. Kerry*

    I agree with this…but I’ve also been the HR director in this scenario. A good receptionist is worth his weight in gold, and I felt like I didn’t want to force that person to deal with too many weenies unnecessarily. I’d come out and get rid of the idiot myself, because although I hate interruptions, I feel like solidarity with a good receptionist is more important.

    Also, it was sort of satisfying to say to the salesboob, in front of the receptionist, “Help me understand. He told you we don’t meet without appointments. Why are you thinking he’s lying? Because treating the receptionist poorly doesn’t make me want to buy your product.”

    1. Chinook*

      Kerry, I love you! That is exactly what anyone called by a receptionist to eject a salesperson should say.

    2. Ruffingit*

      Kerry for the win +10000000!!! Backing up your receptionist is ten kinds of awesome and pays dividends forever.

  9. Jen HP*

    I had a salesperson who was so bothersome that I ended up calling the company and asking for her manager. After explaining to her manager how problematic she was for me & our receptionist, the unwanted visits, calls and emails stopped.

  10. Anon*

    I love that I’m able to say “I’m sorry but we are a University of X state institution and thus are required to abide by procurement rules. You can find out bidding information on our website. Added to that IT/Logistics/Main Office makes the decision on the use of a particular vendor, not me. Sorry. Kaithnxbye”

    Little research goes a long way vendor people.

    1. JMegan*

      I actually did make that whole spiel once – “purchasing decisions are made in another office, I have no authority here,” etc. Plus I was able to add “and we’ve just signed a five-year contract with your competitor, so I really can’t help you.”

      And the guy *still* insisted on coming in! I was actually bored at the time, and genuinely didn’t have anything else to do, so I figured at worst it would allow me to kill half an hour.

      I repeated my “I really can’t help you” speech several times on the phone, and then again when he arrived for the meeting. And then again several more times when he was there, whenever he asked “would your company be interested in X?”

      Seriously, buddy. I know that not taking no for an answer is a key skill for salespeople who make cold calls, but on the other hand there does come a point when you really should take what the person is saying at face value, and stop wasting your time.

    2. Yup*

      “Little research goes a long way.”

      I used to get weekly cold calls from vendors who would demand by name to speak to the founder of the organization — a fairly public figure who had DIED ten years earlier.

      1. Anon*

        “OK, I can put you in touch with the founder. But it’s going to take a while: the psychic is really hard to get on the phone, and once you’ve got her there’s this whole ritual. Oh, do you have access to a goat? The psychic requires a sacrifice, and we find that goats work the best. A chicken will do, but sometimes that makes the founder talk in this thick central European accent. Hello? Hello? Are you still there?

        1. FRRibs*

          Depending how annoying they were, I may have offered another suggestion for how they could speak with the deceased.

    3. Jess*

      Yes! I don’t get a lot of foot traffic, but often get soliciting phone calls. For things like phone contracts etc., all those decisions are made by our head office, which is what I tell the caller.

      My favourites are the ones who then ask me for the phone number for head office. I take a sadistic amount of pleasure in telling them that if THEY are calling US, surely they should know enough about our organisation to have that information all ready?

      I’ve only had a few who have been pushy enough for me to say something like “I’ve already told you ‘no’. I’m going to hang up now.”

      (When I DO get walk-ins, they tend to just be odd people off the street rather than vendors. I happily have a manager who sits in ear-shot who will come to remind me about That Important Meeting I Need To Go To NOW.)

  11. Anonymous*

    Don’t forget that threatening to call the police and calling the police are always options. Trespassing is a crime.

    1. Marina*


      If you feel threatened, and that absolutely includes people not leaving when you tell them to, and you don’t have onsite security or they don’t respond, please feel free to call 911. It’s not an overreaction.

    2. Mike C.*

      I was about to say the same thing.

      The best part of this plan is that when the police arrive, you can hand the officer the business card you just received.

    3. Brett*

      And if you are at all uncertain if the situation is enough of an emergency to call 911, you can always call the nearest police precinct/station at their non-emergency number.

      This often goes to the same call center as 911, but in the non-emergency queue. The call will still be dealt with the same way, without the issue of whether or not it is a 911 emergency.

      1. fposte*

        Though not all police stations have a non-emergency number. Seems like something that should be universal, but it’s not.

        1. SAF*

          We used to have a non-emergency police/fire number. The city went back to one unified number because they found people calling the non-emergency line when they really had an emergency. They didn’t want to “bother the police” or “make a big deal of it.” The emergency folks decided they preferred to do their own triage.

      2. SAF*

        Some places that may be true. That is NOT true in the District of Columbia. Call 911 for all your police/fire/EMT needs. They will triage.

  12. Tina*

    An alum I worked with was in a job where they were encouraged to do aggressive selling, though I believe it was all over the phone, not in person. Like you, someone called the manager to complain about one of the sales people. Except in this case, the manager laughed as soon as they were off the phone, and told the guy to keep it up. That’s when the alum decided it wasn’t a good fit for her.

  13. evilintraining*

    Ugh. These people are awful. I once temped at a small company at which account execs (with whom they did not invest) would regularly try to get through to the owners to present their super-fantastic investment ideas. All were from out of state (big red flag for my guys), and all pretended to already have a relationship with them. Any receptionist/assistant worth her/his salt knows who you are and what you want and will not let you past the front door. Don’t even bother.

  14. Katherine*

    I like AAM’s script, though I tend to be a little more forceful with my wording to unwanted solicitations. If you know the answer is no, it is best to be upfront with that. These people purposely try to use any ambiguity in your words to try to edge their way in. My job involves reception and I am a petite, young-looking female, so it is already harder to establish credibility. I try to get my point across by changing my demeanor, not acting “friendly” and saying “We don’t allow soliciting in our office, as you should have seen by our sign.” If they try to persist, I say “You need to leave, now.” Once you have told them to leave, if they stay they are trespassing. This works on most persistent salespeople. I have not had to actually get nasty with one yet, but I am willing to!

    1. Pussyfooter*

      I kind of had a gut feeling that you could be more direct than Alison’s script. A *LOT* of this is tone/attitude. You can be absolutely direct without being angry/rude/mean. Sit up straight with hands in a calm position, look them full in the face w/direct eye contact and say “I’m sorry but I can’t do that for you. I can do X or Y, but I can not do Other Thing for you” Repeat aaaand keep Repeating in a calm, firm, slightly sympathetic tone.
      (I actually use this on irate people demanding wild things, but variants will work on anyone you need to say NO to. They may huff at you and raise their voice for a sentence or two, but it’s always worn them down within a few minutes–for me.)

      1. JamieG*

        I agree. Alison’s script is great for when you don’t feel too comfortable being direct and firm, since it’s still super polite and not very confrontational, and it escalates very gradually. But I’d say there’s definitely room to be more of a hardass, if that’s something you feel comfortable with.

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly what I was thinking. The script is great and very polite and works perfectly. But I’d have jumped to security way earlier if needed, and it’s never been needed. I guess my MO is polite but unambiguous speech so I can’t imagine it going on that long.

          I’ll ask nicely twice – after we have an issue.

  15. Brandy*

    I work in a medical office so drug reps are on a never ending parade through here. It’s annoying but they usually take no for an answer and if we’re lucky, bring lunch even after hearing no.

    1. Job seeker*

      I have a friend that is a drug rep. but I personally hate the fact as a patient they can just barge in and put your appointment behind. This is a pet peeve of mind when I am waiting for a appointment and I see one just go right on through.

      1. Pussyfooter*

        Job seeker,
        I thought it was normal for them to schedule office time or a lunch conversation with the doctor, rather than interrupt the work time. Heaven knows I’ve spent tons of time in all sorts of Drs’ offices, and I’ve only seen a drug rep drop his card off and speak to a receptionist. Maybe this is your doctor/health network/region?

        1. Liam*

          When I worked for a group of veterinarian’s offices, the medical reps never set up appointments, even when I asked them to call/e-mail in advance. Hell, I would have appreciated if they just let me know what DAY they were coming. It was super annoying when it was my last day at that office for the week or I was trying to get payroll done and had to carve out 30+ minutes to listen to their spiel.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            OK, I was flipping through the comments rather quickly, and I thought you wrote “ventriloquist’s office”. Made me stop dead in my tracks.

            I wish I were a ventriloquist, especially at the office!

      2. Brandy*

        Oh that would peeve me off big time! I have never worked in an office where they were given free access to the physicians. The gatekeepers kept them in check and only allowed them to leave information and samples. If the physician was interested in more, we would get back to them. Sometimes they wanted more and sometimes they didn’t want anything else. If the front office staff could get lunch out of it though, you better believe that happened. :-)

  16. SB*

    Gah, I HATE sales people, or anyone being pushy. Luckily our building (being a laboratory) has very tight security, so we don’t get people who just drop by. But, I do get e-mails and cold calls all the time. The boss has a misleading title, so a lot of these sales people are barking up the wrong tree. What really cracks me up, is I will tell them he doesn’t have responsibility over that particular area, and to please contact so and so who does. It never fails, the next week the person always e-mails or calls back hoping to “follow up”. I just want to scream.

  17. Allison (not AAM)*

    I’m kinda wondering why a paper vendor would want to talk to an HR manager – he’d be better off going to purchasing/procurement… He probably does a LOT of waiting!

    1. Tina*

      At some companies, HR actually does handle that kind of stuff. I know that was the case at a financial firm where I worked.

  18. monkyjunki*

    As a receptionist when you walk in my front door. I deem if you are accepted in or not. The staff does not have the time to deal with salesman. I know this sounds aggressive , but it is my job. Oh and Kerry thank you, receptionist are not always looked upon as a worthy job.

    1. Anonymous*

      That’s exactly who I thought of! It reminded me of the episode where Dwight and Michael deliver gift baskets to former clients trying to win them back.

      1. jesicka309*

        There’s another episode where they have a salesguy sitting in their reception area for a long time too, if I remember correctly. :)

  19. Nichole*

    This is so not ok. Even at Dunder Mifflin Paper, one of the most dysfunctional (fictional) offices ever, whenever you see them show up in person for a sale, they appear to have an appointment.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That. Is. Awesome. I’m so bookmarking that. I like that they included a picture, so you can see what it looks like.

  20. ChristineSW*

    What a great script Alison! I’m not that great at being firm, which made it quite the challenge when I had any sort of front desk duties at various jobs and volunteering over the years. In fact, I’d say that it could be useful with ANY situation when a customer or other visitor won’t take “no” for an answer. A lot of times, I was never entirely clear on specific policies regarding unscheduled visitors, such as someone coming in looking for a job (as was the case in the long-ago job I described above in response to Chinook) or someone with a disability walking in looking for resources (recent volunteering). Every employer is different, but this script provides a good general framework.

  21. Jane*

    As an undergrad intern at the DA’s office, I covered for the receptionist during her lunch breaks. Learned real quick how to put on a “bother me, and I’ll throw you out” from questionable individuals.

  22. Ann*

    We had a former client who wanted to see one of the attorneys and refused to take no for an answer. He was sitting on one of the chairs in our reception area for quite awhile. The finance manager (over 6 feet tall) came out and very calmly told the man that he could sit there until 6:00 when the office closed and if he was still there at 6:00, we would call the police. The guy sat there for about 45 minutes and then left.

    1. Aisling*

      I’m not sure why size would be an issue… I’m 5’1″ and in my office, I am the one who generally calls the police for disorderly clients (I’m not a receptionist; we don’t have one). I’ve told you twice, I repeated it a third time, now I’m calling the police. People usually leave once I pick up the phone, without my even having to dial, but I have called the cops a few times to deal with people (usually men) who think I’m a pushover because I’m small and female. No sir, I am NOT.

      1. Jamie*

        Size shouldn’t be an issue in this day and age, when anyone can pick up a phone…but instinctively it is for many people.

        People tend to be more physically intimidated by tall/big men and not as much shorter/smaller women. Even kids and animals respond differently to a male voice – it may be wholly subconscious, but we still have some evolutionary triggers left over.

        1. Aisling*

          Which is very true. And probably why I tend to be the office badass – if I didn’t, people would truly be trying to walk over me all day long.

        2. ChristineSW*

          I’m with you Jamie. I’m only 5 feet tall and look and sound pretty young for my age. I also used to be really thin too–then I got married :P There’s no way I could easily convince a stubborn visitor to leave, no matter how hard I try!

  23. anon o*

    This is related to something that’s been annoying me lately – have you all noticed a trend in offices with locked doors/no receptionist? I have a few offices I visit (don’t worry, I have an appointment, I’m legit) and there’s basically no way to get into the building other than sneak in when someone’s leaving, or hope someone walks by and can let me in, or track down the person I’m meeting on my cell phone (and they’re never at their desk). It’s not the biggest deal in the world but my boss has a terrible blackberry addiction so he usually leaves his phone in the car (in order to avoid temptation during the meeting) and he’s found himself stuck a few times!

    I’ve also stood around outside in the cold/rain/heat desperately redialing someone’s ext. I’m talking about huge companies with offices all over the country that can’t cough up the money for a person at the front desk. Times are sure tough.

    1. ChristineSW*

      My professional association’s chapter office is at a building that is locked at night and on weekends, but there is no receptionist (their previous location was the same way, but did have a security person on duty, at least in the evenings). Sometimes meetings are held during those odd times, but someone still has to meet you at the door! I guess they can’t override the system.

  24. Celendra*

    Two tactics I’ve found effective in getting rid of unwanted salespeople that will hopefully help the OP.

    A. “No Solicitors” sign discreetly placed near the front door. This allows you to say “I’m sorry, as the sign (out front, on the door, on the window) says, we do not allow soliciting at our business under any circumstances.” (discreet placement also allows you to annoy it if it’s a new sandwich shop in town that wants to give you free food!)

    B. I’ve found that part of me effectively communicating “You gotta GO” has been in body language. After the first “No” is ignored, standing up and coming out from behind your desk, walking with your arm out as THOUGH you are going to touch them (but not actually touching them – a subtle sweeping gesture TOWARDS the exit) and repeating your no along with an “I’ll see you out. Have a nice day!” has done the trick. This also allows them to not loom over you or camp out in a chair since you’re both standing and your arm is now a “line” that is keeping them from the rest of the office.

    Hope that’s helpful to you!

  25. Jamie*

    I’m about to extoll my own awesomeness…but our receptionist loves me the most because of all the people in our office I am the only one who will consistently do three things:

    1. Inform her if I’m late, out of office, or leaving early.
    2. Inform her of any visitors I’m expecting – names and scheduled times.
    3. Inform her of my meetings along with times and a list of attendees.

    Okay, I’m not sure “loves me” would be the operative phrase, but I’m sure she appreciates not having to hunt for me or others meeting with me, and knowing unequivocally who actually has an appointment with me and who is trying to slide under the velvet ropes to gain access.

    Actually, I’m not sure she appreciates it because she’s never said so…but I will go on assuming she does.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That is indeed awesome. At the very LEAST, #1 should be something everybody does. I can’t tell you how many times I transferred calls to several someones at Oldjob and had them ring back because the doofus in question had left early without telling me. At one job I had, it was required–but no one ever bothered even then.

    2. Pussyfooter*

      How much do you charge?
      I need 1 boss and several superiors trained to do this
      (sit! stay! communicate! ). They don’t even inform everyone when they go on preplanned, multi-week trips!

  26. Marie*

    Oh, and those of you who have staffed a front desk and had a No Solicitors sign, did you ever this?

    “As the sign says, we don’t accept solicitors.”
    “Oh, I’m not selling anything, I’m just telling you about a business opportunity!”

    I literally laughed out loud and said, “Seriously?!” the first time I heard that one.

    1. Pussyfooter*

      I quit a cold calling job after 3 days.
      I was told it wasn’t sales because we were “just offering them free information” (newletter). I was supposed to know how to sweet talk my way past upper management admins in offices whose structure I knew nothing about. Zero training, and I was the only employee in this rented office. Hated it. Couldn’t really *do* it. What were the owners thinking?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I think those things are a giant scam. If you say “Yes,” then you get a crappy printed newsletter with information you can find online for free and a subscription bill for $350. I’ve had to report some of them to the Attorney General’s office.

  27. Anonymous*

    I usually call it “crushing their hopes and dreams”. No one gets past me, and since I often fill in at the front I’ve gotten it all. The best was a young pair of ladies promoting salon services. They swore that they had been here before and everyone loved it. They actually used the “the lady that worked here loved it” bit. (You know that time? That thing that happened?” I was impressed by their commitment but crushed their hopes and dreams of a sale.

  28. WWWONKA*

    I have never had trouble with a sales rep but I have had lots of problems with delivery people. I have chased them off the property and have told their managers they were no longer welcome on the property. I have also called the police for an extremely irate truck driver who escorted him off the property. When you deal with people all kinds of situations come up. You have to be the one in control of your domain.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Yeah. Were they expecting a tip, maybe?

        This sounds so odd. We want to know more about the circumstances.

  29. Kerr*

    One of the tougher things to learn as a receptionist – for me, at least – was that it was sometimes OK to switch from “nice, polite, helpful” to “unhelpful, firm, rude”. As a front-line customer service employee, it can be hard to make that switch, especially if you’ve been trained to be accommodating and friendly to everybody. Doubly so if you’re unsure whether your manager will have your back if you stop smiling and tell someone to leave.

    People like this are people that you can be decisively unhelpful, and even “rude” (by ordinary wanted customer/vendor standards!) to.

    1. Pussyfooter*

      Just to add a thought here:

      Some people seem to feel that frankness is the same as being mean. Others aren’t upset hearing a frank comment. Be aware that there are two camps on this issue and that you can behave completely politely and fairly to someone, and they may still take it as rudeness. (Most won’t.)

      Don’t get caught up in trying to guess what will please each stranger. Just focus on keeping the message simple, direct and calm. After all, if you liked someone and they were making a mistake, one of the *kind* things you could do is bring it to a stop. It’s the same logic as: kids don’t like being yelled at even when it keeps them from getting run over.

  30. The Lone Sales Person on AAM?*

    I always feel the need to defend sales people and point out how offensive it is to make blanket “I hate salespeople” type comments, or “Ugh that must be the worst job in the world.” I am a salesperson and I love it. You may wonder why we could cold-call someone not as high in the organization or someone who isn’t likely to be a decision maker – it is because we are hoping that one of the 80 calls we make that day will lead us in the right direction. So, if you want to get us to stop calling you, give us a name and good contact info for someone who may be the right person! Easy enough. Or, tell us to stop contacting you all together. Most salespeople will abide.

    Additionally, salespeople have to push for meetings. It’s not a gimmicky “Don’t let them say no” (at least in my industry- nobody has ever given me that advice). It’s about collecting information. We meet with you not so we can talk at you and product dump on you, but rather to have a conversation about what’s going on in your world. (Again, YMMV but this is the direction in general of sales organizations). It might seem a silly approach to someone outside of sales, but think of it this way – if I have a chance to talk to the CIO or VP of Procurement, even if we don’t identify an opportunity to work together now, I have still gleaned valuable information that can help me understand their organization as a whole.

    Also, when we go outside of the normal channels, it is because we are, again, collecting knowledge. You say we need to to research? This is how it’s done. Companies don’t post shortcuts to getting contracts with them on the internet. So we try to feel out different departments within the organization, find out any gaps or needs, and bring those to the decision makers. Often the people that make decisions have never consulted every other department to find if their needs are being met. A good salesperson bridges that communication gap and improves the business.

    I love being in sales.

    That being said… I personally would never do door to door, and waiting in lobbies to talk to the right people is sort of an old-school tactic that doesn’t generally work in today’s culture IMO.

    1. The Lone Sales Person on AAM?*

      Another thought – even if you have no purchasing power, if I address some burning need in your daily life, you bet you’ll find you have some power – you become my main advocate, and you get me in front of the right people as well as provide urgency. You’re my new best friend in that case. Admins are my favorite – because there are always things that can be improved, and Admins always know what those things are. Even if an Admin isn’t willing to openly talk to me about it, if I happen to hit on it during one of monthly “just checking in” type conversations, then I’ve succeeded in forming a relationship with the Admin. I can fix a problem they’ve been experiencing for months? Darn right they’ll help me get in.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Oh, cold calling works. It’s just that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Same with door-to-door (although you’re right; it’s a bit old-fashioned these days).

      Worst door-to-door salesman ever:

      At Oldjob, one of those candy-machine-for-charity guys came in and asked us if we wanted a Runts machine in our break room. As regretfully and politely as I could, I told him I was sorry, we all liked Runts, but our managers didn’t allow those small vending machines (truth).

      He started yelling at me and called me all kinds of names, telling me I was a horrible person, etc. I don’t know what he thought that would accomplish. All it got him was a request to leave immediately, and one of the burlier salesguys coming around the cube wall to see if I needed help. He left soon after, but I was really nerved for the rest of the day. Jerk!

    3. Pussyfooter*

      Dear Lone Sales (Ranger?),

      I’ve felt defensive about a handful of conversations on this blog where people made a bunch of generalized, unflattering comments on issues close to me. Anybody who points out the rational alternatives usually gets a little “me too” sort of comment in reply. But that’s so much less colorful and “fun” to jump in on. I expect people are just typing with the memories of “bad apple” sales people in mind–venting, really.

      You may be able to answer a question this post has raised for me, though: in negotiations/sales situations, sometimes someone really shouldn’t take the first “no” as the end of the conversation. With your sales background, do you have any advice on when to continue trying to get something out of the communication versus ending the attempt? (being a pussyfooter means I tend to be too timid :'(

      1. Lone Sales Ranger*

        It’s tough to get into the mind set of not being afraid to, sometimes painfully, move a conversation forward. For me what works is just being totally honest and candid. Don’t try “tactics”, just come out with it, know what I mean? If you’re confident and generally a nice person, usually people will still answer questions even if the opportunity is clearly closed. However, if you feel nervous about asking or prodding more, don’t do it – hang up, find a time when you’ve got some more confidence and a better grip on the info you need, and call them back later. I think someone can always tell when they’re ‘on’ – save those important calls for ‘on’ days if you can.

        In a nutshell though, the best advice given to me about sales was to just do it. Just call. Just ask. It won’t be scary at all the 5th tine you do it. I used to be really intimidated when dialing in to VPs and C Levels – not anymore! Just do it. :)

  31. doreen*

    I don’t hate salesmen – my husband’s one and he doesn’t have time to stand around a store all day trying to pressure someone into talking to him. He’s actually much more likely to tell a customer that he doesn’t get enough business from them to spend the whole afternoon taking an order (since for some reason the smallest customers want to take up the most time)

    But about shortcuts to getting a contract – I can’t speak for corporations, but it doesn’t really require a whole lot of research to figure out that individual government offices don’t decide where to buy paper or furniture and that there probably aren’t any legal shortcuts. So the salespeople who call me or come to my office to try to sell me furniture, toner, drug testing supplies,service contracts on copiers are wasting my time and theirs. Either my agency has no choice in where to buy ( furniture ,printing services and some other items must come from the prison system ) or I have no choice about where to order . I have to order from central supply , 150 miles from my location and they choose vendors through a formal bidding process.

    1. Lone Sales Ranger*

      Government, as you well know, is an entirely separate beast for salespeople. Large sales orgs tend to have entirely different sales teams for government accounts because they are so different. But for a Fortune 10 company, it takes a lit if patience, dialing around, and networking to get to the right person. You can’t just Google it. And when there is one person that handles procurement for your product, you can try for months, sometimes years, to get in front of them. This is where strategy comes in handy, such as going to people around the organization and forming advocate relationships as internal influencers.

      Gah I love enterprise sales. I could talk about it for hours!

      1. JMegan*

        I love hearing about people who love their jobs! Especially ones that most people don’t understand (like mine) or that have a negative image (like yours.) It’s always interesting to hear about what people do for a living, especially when you can learn something new at the same time.

  32. Gene*

    I think a sign next to a squirt bottle one like one would use for the misbehaving cat that says, “If I tell you to leave and you don’t, I’ll squirt you” should be on every receptionist’s desk. Accompanied with the full authority to use it as deemed necessary.

  33. FRRibs*

    I don’t get flustered often by pushy salespeople, or the infrequent “I need X number of job applications in a day to keep UI” crowd, but one salesperson I will never forget tried to sell me paper products with a two buttons unbuttoned and lean up against the desk routine. I was less embarassed by the display than by what she must have thought of me to assume it would affect my purchasing decisions.

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