how to deal with salespeople who won’t take no for an answer

A reader writes:

I’m in a job I really enjoy, but as part of my role, the admin assistant puts through quite a lot of cold calls to me (which always turn out to be advertising calls, but disguised as other things which is why they get put through in the first place!). Usually they’re from telephone companies or software companies who want to sell new products or upgraded service. At home, I have a variety of tried-and-true techniques for dealing with these people (the most successful one being Caller ID and just not answering my phone to unknown callers – fortunately that’s possible for me!) – but in an office environment, that’s not really possible. And while I’d like to think I’m respectful to everyone who calls me, it’s a bit frustrating to deal with a salesperson who won’t take “No, we’re not interested in that product, thank you” for an answer when simply hanging up the phone isn’t an option like it is at home.

Usually I crack under the pressure and end up “agreeing” for them to “check back in a while,” which is definitely wrong for everyone.

I’m hoping for a professional and polite way to shut down these conversations before they start and stop giving them excuses to call back – and what the etiquette generally is on this. Strategies I’ve tried so far:

1. Saying I’m not the person who can make those decisions (which, while half-true, just compounds the problem since they then ask who does deal with it).

2. Saying we have our own supplier purchasing arrangements and we are fine with those (which just leads them into a dialogue about what a good deal they’re offering and how we’d be crazy not to seriously consider their offer).

3. Agreeing to “think about it” (the worst of all things to say, since it gets them off the phone but guarantees a call back).

Please, please help!

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 333 comments… read them below }

  1. WellRed*

    Being at the office does not preclude you from a quick, “Thank you, but I am not interested” and hanging up.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Indeed. I don’t get why you’d think hanging up isn’t an option. Say no thank you. Click. Done. They may be less likely to call back if you show a bit more assertiveness – personally I always say please take us off your list as suggested. I mean this nicely but the OP needs to grow a bit of a spine here.

      1. Taryn*

        It sounds more like the LW is just under the false impression that it’s never, ever okay to hang up on someone on a work call. They indicate that they’ll hang up on these sorts of calls at home, so I imagine it might be a significant relief to have Alison have said, “Oh no, you can hang up on these ones, too.”

        1. This Daydreamer*

          Yeah, the etiquette is very different for sales calls. Some of them aren’t allowed to hang up the call, which can make it awkward when the recipient feels like they can’t hang up either.

          1. Aspiring Person*

            As a former telemarketer, I was one of those people who could only hang up in a limited number of circumstances- and even then, I had criteria to keep me on the line. These were actually American law: once I got past a certain point, I was not allowed to “exit” a call without saying a required disclosure (I would even say the disclosure to a hang-up, just in case my system was wrong). Truly, I was grateful for hang-ups, because (a) they were so much nicer than the people who would rip into you for doing your job, and (b) I had a quota of how much I had to sell a day to keep my job, so I wanted to move on to a more successful call.

            In the scope of the horrible behaviour I endured, a hang-up didn’t even rate. They are not going to think you rude for hanging up, only either relieved or too busy on the next call.

            On a side note, don’t tell telemarketers to get a job. It’s not a volunteer job. It is a really crappy job everyone is trying to get out of, but we have bills just like everyone else. Only many of us were still going to the food bank, on minimum wage and kept at just the number of hours that doesn’t quite quality for full-time but to many and weird hours so you can’t get a second job. I struggle to think what was worse: telemarketing or social assistance. Both meant no food, no medical care, no life and being treated like something to be scraped off the bottom of someone’s shoe.

      2. Courageous cat*

        Agreed – this can be handled very quickly and simply without any further thought. Don’t stress too much (at all, really) about it!

    2. Jady*

      +1 here. I don’t even see the need to repeat yourself as Allison suggests. They are Always going to try to continue the conversation. One simple no-thank-you is enough in my opinion.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Agreed. They don’t need to be given a second chane. After the first “No, thank you” type response, I usually hang up immediately before they have a chance to respond.

        You have to take control, and the sooner, the better. Any time you give them a chance to continue, they WILL do so. You do NOT owe them that, nor do you owe them one second more of your time than it takes to say, “No, thanks” and hang up.

        1. Law and Order*

          Exactly right. Hang up the call immediately.

          You should also train your receptionist to do a better job screening sales calls. Asking “Is this a sales call?” when the cover story sounds fishy is a good start.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Yes, having temped as a receptionist and helped others who were in their first or second jobs, telling the receptionist/admin that it’s fine to say “no thank you, she wouldn’t be interested” and hanging up.

          2. Former Temp*

            Exactly–many years ago, I worked as a temp. Call screening, to some degree, was always part of the job.

            Temp job #1–it was for an event management company ([fill-in-the-blank]Fest in various locations). Their secretary was on vacation for a week, so I had a week job. On one day, they were doing some sort of intense planning with conferences all day long, so my instructions were to hold *all* calls that day and take messages. So I did, and only had serious push back from one caller, who asked for the CEO and when I said that I would be able to take a message but not put the caller through (or interrupt CEO), caller stated the name was then-sitting-US President. I could tell from the tone that it clearly wasn’t, but asked for a number/what the call was about. He said “He’ll know who it is.” and rang off. So I set the message to the side (this was long enough ago that all messages were written down and voice mail really wasn’t a thing–CEO didn’t have a permanent separate line, it was just one business phone with three buttons for the separate lines and a hold button). I thought there was a ghost of a chance that it might be a personal friend and this was some sort of code between them. (It wasn’t.)

            Temp job #2 was a longer term job (temp to perm, part time), and sometimes I would be answering the phones if the regular office person was tied up with something else. There were constantly calls for the owner, and these were universally sales calls (scam or semi-scam). For my benefit, office admin wrote down a list of the names of the family members and friends who were allowed to be put through (of course, those people would actually ask for him by name). So for the sales calls, the response was “And your name is?” and then “Oh, you’re not on the list, I cannot put you through.” Office admin (who answered the phone) was actually the point of contact for the legit people for various supplies, so anyone saying they were calling regarding supplies and asking for the owner was clearly not someone they were already doing business with.

    3. Kathleen Adams*

      Yep – polite but short. “I’m so sorry, but we just aren’t interested.” If up to then they’ve been polite (and transparent – I don’t have much tolerance for pretending not to be selling something when you’re in fact selling something), I might let them speak a couple of sentences after that, but if they start going on and on, I have no problem interrupting to say, “Again, I am so sorry, but we’re not interested, and I have a meeting so I have to go now. Good luck!” And then I hang up.

    4. Shamy*

      Exactly! Idk if it helps to think of it this way, but you are actually doing them a favor. I was a telemarketer once upon a time, and sometimes the polite people frustrated me to no end. We had scripts to follow, and I would try to add in little pauses for people to insert their lack of interest, and some people never would. I would go through the whole script only to be told no which was a waste of both our times. In my case, we weren’t allowed to be pushy, but we did have to read the script unless the customer interrupted us, then we could answer their questions. The more calls we make, the more sales we get, so believe me, the good ones will appreciate an I am not interested, take me off your list and hang up.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep, and we couldn’t take people off the list unless they said the magic words, so I got a pit in my stomach every time they said “Don’t call me again!” or something along those lines. Because I couldn’t stop them from getting called again unless they phrased it right, and I couldn’t prompt them to phrase it right either.

        No, I did not last long at that job! LOL

          1. Shamy*

            For my job, it was simply, please take me off your list. You can also be specific, please take me off your call/mailing list. I’m not sure what others have experienced. But again, we were a very non-pushy, non-aggressive group. We just renewed magazine subscriptions for people, so generally people were pretty polite since they already got our product.

          2. Rilara*

            When I worked as an interviewer (basically a telemarketer but we called people about surveys for non profits instead), “don’t call me” and “take me off your list” both would get us to stop calling you. Anything other than a direct request for us to stop calling (like hanging up, or saying you’re not interested) counted as a soft refusal where we would try calling you again at least one more time.

            Having to call back the soft refusals was what made me quit. I don’t miss that job at all.

        1. mrs__peel*

          I also had a (brief) telemarketing job once upon a time. “Please remove me from your list” is indeed the magic combination of words to prevent further phone calls.

          If someone just said “I’m not interested” or something similar, but didn’t explicitly ASK to be removed from the list, then they would be called back later on the theory that they might be interested at some time in the future. (To their great annoyance, usually).

          1. Shamy*

            Yes! Even my job for all its non-pushiness, it had to be those words as well. We also called back on a not interested. Although it would be quite awhile, we would definitely call back eventually.

            1. Koko*

              Yep. When I worked for a survey research firm that did telephone surveys, the DNC list didn’t apply to us since we weren’t selling anything, but we similarly called back people who said no because the more people who decline, the less valid the results are statistically due to non-response bias.

              The best callers dialed from “refusal conversion” lists – people who said no and their job was to call back and convert the “no” to a “yes.” I was put on refusal conversion after a couple of weeks on the job. So I was rewarded for my high performance by being given a job where more people yelled at me and cursed at me for calling them!

              I ended up taking a pay cut from $11 to $7.50/hour to transfer to the mail room where I could do data entry while listening to music on headphones. Worth every lost penny to not be yelled at by strangers my whole shift.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          That is ridiculous on the part of the company. “Don’t call me again” is functionally the same thing as “Please take me off your list.”

          (Not directed at you, Kelly L., of course – I know you have no control over this.)

        3. Floundering Mander*

          Having to say some magic phrase is so dumb. If I tell a telemarketer “don’t effing call me!” and hang up, that’s a pretty clear indication that I don’t want any more calls. I’d be livid if I then got more calls because I didn’t specifically say a certain phrase.

          1. Aspiring Person*

            If everyone could just say “don’t call me” then everyone would and the industry would fall apart. The essential phrase is “Do Not Call LIST” as in “please put me on your ‘do not call’ list,” or “I am registered on the State/National ‘do not call’ list.” This is the American LAW. If you don’t like it, talk to your representatives. They protect the telemarketing industry because it actually does make money.

            And people who say “don’t call me again” will be convinced in another call to take a credit card. Worse, I only called “established business relations,” meaning people unknowingly consented to my calling long before my company was hired to call on behalf of the company you had business with. Just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean it is unsolicited. This included individuals and businesses for me. I hated businesses that said “we are happy with our provider” because I was hired to call for your provider!

    5. Artemesia*

      Exactly. I don’t understand why this is a question. Why would it be any different than at home. ‘We are satisfied with our current vendor, please take us off your list.’ rinse and repeate and hang up.

      No one has to spend time on unsolicited calls and it is perfectly polite to say your piece and then Thank you, good bye and hang up.

    6. Red 5*

      I agree in most offices that would be fine (indeed, where I work now it would be fine, plus we have the bonus of having government funding involved so we can say there’s a long legal process to even be considered as a supplier, that usually gets rid of people who don’t want to deal).

      But I have worked in a place where they wouldn’t have wanted me to do that, because it was a terrible place to work and the boss was unreasonable. So it’s always a good idea to check and/or get a feel for the office culture before you start hanging up.

      1. Aspiring Person*

        I LOVED when I worked for the government. When they were evasive, I was a broken record: “I need a project name or reasonable description to refer your phone call.” That was real! I constantly had to explain what I thought was a common thing: “the person who you are trying to reach was not replaced; their work was redistributed and I need a project name to search for the new responsible person.” If you were real, you would either know the name of the project, or could say what you were doing, e.g. “I don’t know: I work for company R and am a stakeholder in a regulation,” and then I knew you were on Project CORE, who was sent to Arya.

        For sales calls, I took it on my own volition to say “no amount of calling will circumvent the bidding process, but harassing government employees can get you eliminated from consideration.” A colleague reported me for saying that. My director brought me in with her, then asked “does it get them to stop calling?” Almost every time. “Good job!” My colleague was aghast. “What? She needs the calls to slow she can do her real work!”

    7. DaniCalifornia*

      This is exactly what we do. We have many cold calls every day who will only speak to our owner. But there are 4 admin assts who pick up the phone who won’t put them through. For repeated sales calls we do this, ” Thanks, we aren’t interested, please take us off your list. You won’t get through to *owner* Bye” and then hang up.

    8. Sara without an H*

      Think of it as a courtesy to the sales rep. By closing the call quickly, you free up their time to call the next potential sucker.

    9. Ghostlight*

      This is what we do at my office where we get many of these calls to a customer service line. “We’re not interested, thanks” and then hang up.

    10. De Minimis*

      This is what I do, I had the same issue as the LW about sales calls making it past the receptionist [or in my case, when the receptionist is out of the office, which is often….]

      I’ve found if you engage in dialogue with them it’s harder to get them off the line and more of your time is wasted. I am more polite the first time I hear from a caller, but if it’s repeatedly I start just giving a “We’re not interested” and hang up.

    11. Koko*

      I remember overhearing my mom on the phone when I was a kid with a persistent salesperson who I guess was trying to get her to upgrade the windows on our house. She kept offering reasons why she didn’t want new windows, and quickly determined the salesperson probably had a cheat sheet of objections and responses he could give to save the sale. So finally she said, “Are the windows free?” He must have stumbled at that, so she repeated the question, and when he finally said no, she said, “Then I’m not interested,” and hung up.

      As an adult I have use the “is it free?…then I’m not interested” trick a few times in my professional life.

    12. 2mc1pg*

      At home I use “Remove my name and number from your lists.” The minute I figure out it’s a human and not a recording, I break in with “Remove my name and number from your lists.” No polite no thank yous, no social filler.

      They pause, and either agree to do so, or start up again.

      If they start up again, I say “Is this call being recorded for quality purposes?” Typically they pause and say yes. I then say, “In that case, confirm to me that you are going to remove my name and number from your lists.” They confirm, I say thank you and we hang up. Use their systems against them. You’re saying that you know it’s on record, and you expect it to be followed accordingly.

      It’s been some years since I’ve been in the position of taking all the toner phone calls and copier paper phone calls at work. It’s a major PITA. But I would be inclined to use a modified, more professional version of the same response. Maybe using a “Please.”

      I feel sorry for anyone who works in outbound call centers. It has to be unbelievably grueling and demoralizing. But I am not sacrificing my time or my privacy for the sake of social politnessess that the industry uses against me.

  2. Dr. Ruthless*

    I regularly get calls from salespeople. Sometimes I can get them off the phone with a clear statement that we’re not their target: I tell the people who want to know who’s in charge of the electric bill that it’s included in our rent (and I cheerfully decline to give them our landlord’s contact info). I tell the credit card processors that we’re B2B and don’t feel the need to accept credit cards.

    Paper salesmen, website developers, and people wanting us to advertise in the college lacrosse programs–I listen to them for long enough to figure out what they’re selling, and I tell them that I’m not interested, but thank you. I’m happy to cut them off mid-sentence if I need to. If they keep talking, I say “no thank you but have a nice day” as I hang up the phone.

    1. Breda*

      Oh my god, there was a thing earlier this year (maybe last year?) where some regulation on the way credit cards are processed was changed, and we started getting multiple calls from processors every week. They all seemed utterly unable to conceive of how we could do business without accepting credit cards and REFUSED to accept that as a reason. “But how do you get paid?” Uh, checks & EFT? We work on commission from clients, we have literally zero reason to accept credit cards.

      Same with Google Maps, which I still get calls from. No, we DON’T want people to just find our office and show up, that’s not how our business works.

      1. JustVisiting*

        I had something similar several years ago. I managed a small retail store while I was in college. For some reason, we would get calls all the time from postage scale salespeople. They somehow Could. Not. Fathom. that a retail store would not want or need a postage scale. We mailed maybe two or three things per *year* from the store — everything else was handled at the corporate level and/or done electronically. Before I eventually lost patience about it, I was genuinely amused to hear people’s shocked, sputtering replies when I told them we never mail anything from the store at all.

        1. Floundering Mander*

          That reminds me of the door-to-door sales people, or the ones who hang around in the mall, who are absolutely shocked to hear that I don’t watch much TV and am not the least bit interested in a super deluxe cable package.

      2. Dr. Ruthless*

        That’s interesting, because when I tell people that we’re B2B and don’t accept credit cards, they move quickly on their way–they don’t want to waste their time on something that we’re never going to purchase. And my office works by getting irregular, very large checks from clients, so LIKE HELL I’m giving a processing company 1% of that to process payments.

        My favorite (har har) are the salesmen from Quill, which is a Staples brand. We’re a micro-business (4 people in the office), so it’s not worth it for us to figure out how to use a new office supply vendor–we buy like 3 boxes of paper a year, plus coffee and pens and stuff. Office supplies are barely even a blip on the radar. But the Quill guys come to the office (which means it’s harder to get rid of them), and then are incredulous that we pay $15 for a box of paper. I spent a while with one of them (he was nice, we were slow, and we did need more toner), and I could go through a giant sign-up process to save…$0.50 over Amazon’s price? No, thanks.

      3. Attie*

        My mom works from home and once put her business on google maps so that a specific client who had an appointment could find her. Now people keep showing up at her home unannounced, but the advantage of appearing at the top/right of the page in the info box is big enough that she puts up with it. I really wish google had some way to indicate “this is not a store, don’t just show up without an appointment”.

        1. samgarden*

          She can remove her address and still retain her Google My Business listing! It’s a thing! I don’t have my address listed on mine, because I work from home too. As per Google, she just needs to do this:

          To edit your service area details:
          -Sign in to Google My Business.
          -Make sure you’re using card view. If you’re viewing your locations as a list instead of cards, switch to card view by clicking the cards icon on the right side above your locations.
          -Choose the listing you’d like to manage and click Manage location.
          -Click Info from the menu.
          -Click the Address section.
          -In the window that appears, select Yes next to “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their locations.”
          -Enter your service area information. You can set your service area based on the zip codes or cities that you serve, or on a given area around your location.
          -Select the box next to “I serve customers at my business address” if you want your complete address to appear on Google and your business location is staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours.
          -Click Apply.

    2. Happy Lurker*

      I thought I was pretty quick, but your method seems better. Totally using your “but have a nice day”. love it.

    3. BethRA*

      We got so fed up with the “who’s in charge of the electric bill” people (some of whom got quite obnoxious in response to a polite “no”) that I started to put them on hold and just leave them there until they gave up and hung up.

      1. mrs__peel*

        My old boss at a bed-and-breakfast used to sing loudly at salespeople until they hung up. (She was particularly incensed when they called on her 800-number, since she was paying for that). I think show tunes were the most effective…

      2. Been There, Done That*

        For me, “We are already covered in that area (temp services, cleaning services, etc)” works most of the time. If they ask when they can follow up with me, “If our needs change, WE will call YOU” followed by icy silence. After a second, they hang up. Once when I had my office at home, I got a call from an was unbelievably pushy and obnoxious salesperson who wouldn’t take a gracious no. So I asked lots of questions about the products, pricing, delivery times, etc.. They thought they had a live one. After several minutes they tried to close the deal. I said not this time, thanks. They hung up in a huff and never bothered me again.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      I find that a cheery “No, thank you!” is a very useful response to so many things. Especially where it’s not actually a response to what was said, because then the recipient is confused for a minute while I escape.

      on the phone:
      “Are you the person who makes shopping decisions in your house?”
      “No, thank you!” *click*

      on the commuter train:
      “Hey, can I ask you a question?” (which will always lead to a request for $)
      “No, thank you!” (and return to my book)

      on the street:
      “Hey, can I ask you a question?” (which will always lead to a request for $)
      “No, thank you!” (as I keep walking)

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Also works for cashiers:

        “Are you a member of our rewards program?”
        “No, thank you!”

      2. Nan*

        The energy/cable/gas/internet people who come to the door.

        Does your dog bite?
        Only if I tell him to :)

        I’m sorry, we don’t use electricity/water/gas/cable/phone, we like to pretend we’re mountain men :)

        When they used to call and ask for my husband,
        Sorry, he’s out tending the sheep :)
        No, we don’t have sheep.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          I know someone who once said “He’s gone off to the Antarctic to search for penguins.” I don’t think the caller knew how to react to that.

        2. Jaydee*

          My mom would put my little brother on the phone when he was a toddler and telemarketers asked for “the man of the house” while dad was at work. He *loved* to “talk” on the phone.

      3. the gold digger*

        I think it’s in the book “Paper Moon” where they describe the first step in running a con: get your mark to say, “yes.” Which is why con artists on the street will start with, “Can I” (not even “May I!”) “ask you a question?”

        I never even answer. I just keep walking.

        1. DJ*

          “Yes, you can ask me a question. You just did, proving you are physically capable of doing so. As to whether you may ask me a question, that’s a definite no.”

  3. paul*

    hang up on ’em.

    We get calls coming through to us like that on occasion (and we have a damn IVR!). I feel no guilt whatsoever. Quick “nope” and click.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I think the problem is the OP is considering the call to end legitimately when the caller hangs up. She doesn’t realize it’s up to her to say when the call is over.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Yes, exactly. It’s your phone, OP, and your time that’s being used up. So you get to decide how much time to give them, and if that’s 10.2 seconds, that’s OK.

      2. Serin*

        These people depend on you feeling bound by the rules of polite social behavior. But it’s not a social call, and the rules of social politeness don’t apply.

        I would never say anything uncivil to a telemarketer, because they’re still human beings, but I have no qualms about interrupting them. They called me. I didn’t ask for the contact. It’s in their interest, not mine. Thank you, please put me on your do not call list, bye.

        1. Law and Order*

          “These people depend on you feeling bound by the rules of polite social behavior. But it’s not a social call, and the rules of social politeness don’t apply.”


        2. Wilhelmina Mildew*

          Two or three of my first jobs were telemarketing, so I know what it like on the other end, and try to politely tell them “No thank you” and hang up immediately. But I will definitely be rude to the ones who are rude first, I don’t mean “doing their pushy telemarketing job descriptions” rude, I mean “above and beyond what’s necessary to do their job and would totally turn me off their sales pitch even if I really was interested in what they are selling” rude.

      3. Shamy*

        This is so true, and many of them aren’t really allowed to end the call or hang up first. OP, you really do have all the power here!

      4. Kathleen Adams*

        It’s as though people think they have only two choices: they can be polite and stay on a call they have no interest in or they can be rude and awful and obnoxious and get off the call that way. But of course there are other options.
        I’ve heard people brag about how they like to get rid of sales calls – how they cussed some sales guy out…or laid the phone down and just walked away, leaving the person talking…or blasted sales callers with an air horn – stuff like that. And I’m like, “Why not just say ‘no thanks’ and just hang up? It’s quicker and easier, so why not take the quick and easy way?”

        1. Jaydee*

          My husband can. not. fathom. that my method of politely saying “I’m not interested. Please take us off your list.” works better than his method of just hanging up. I’m like, dude, did you forget that the one job I ever quit without notice was telephone fundraising? I know what I’m talking about here.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            My partner was really shocked when she saw me open the door, realise it was a sales/charity pitch and say “no thank you” without even listening to the opening line. But I was always polite about it, and it saves everyone time.

        2. Aspiring Person*

          Air horns are no joke. Our headsets are amplified and that damages our hearing. Calls are monitored but not necessarily recorded and, even if they are recorded, not accessible to the call staff. We constantly would have injuries but management wouldn’t believe us when we said it was an air horn.

          Is it really worth injuring a person and jeopardizing their livelihood (remember, we’re not insured) because you’re annoyed by a phone call? I think it is immoral and immature.

  4. Dessi*

    Exactly why I hated sales and got out of it. I dreaded calling people who didn’t want to talk to me. My last job literally wanted us to brute force our way onto a decision makers calendar.

    1. Pipes*

      I’m in sales myself and love it, but ONLY because I do no cold calling, at all! I couldn’t handle that. I renew support contracts, so every engagement I have with customers is because they have already purchased from us and have an existing business relationship. I act more like a trusted advisor : what should they cover, at what level, what questions do they have.

      The sales job comes in by getting them to renew on time and preferably lock in to a multi year agreement (which is actually a very good deal, but not right for everyone). But way easier than cold calling.

    2. Law and Order*

      “Let me make myself perfectly clear. I am not interested in your product and will not be meeting with you. Please remove me immediately from all marketing lists and do not all again.” (Add “thank you” if you’re feeling charitable.)

      There’s no need to be polite to telemarketers.

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    The other thing you can do is train your admin to screen these better. If it’s an obvious sales call, I’ll just put them on hold until they hang up.

    1. Florida*

      I have been the ales rep in B2B sales and if you put me on hold forever, I’d call back. But if you told me you weren’t interested, I wouldn’t call you back.
      If you put me on hold, I would assume you were busy that day or whatever, so you might be interested once I talk to you. But if you politely told me that you weren’t interested, I wouldn’t waste my time calling you anymore.

      It’s sort of like the difference between deleting a junk email every time you get it, or taking the time to unsubscribe from the email list. One of them works better in the moment, but the other works better in the long run.

        1. Florida*

          It always works for me. A legitimate business will unsubscribe you. In this letter, we are talking about calls from legitimate businesses, not from scams. I would handle those differently.

          1. Bekx*

            Florida is correct. I work in email marketing and our email vendor (MailChimp) does not allow us to re-add people who unsubscribed to our list. The person would have to manually resubscribe themselves to be re-added. (Yes, we can create a new list, but MC does screen for that stuff).

          2. fposte*

            In my experience, it’s still common for legitimate businesses to be sloppy on the unsubscribes (and, frankly, completely bogus on the initial subscription regardless of what you’ve checked or unchecked on the order form). I don’t know if it’s that it’s outsourced to places that don’t care, if they don’t update the lists as often as they should, or what.

            1. Bekx*

              Yes, but that’s technically a violation of the CANSPAM Act, and companies that do NOT remove you from their list can be fined for that — and have! So it’s in a company’s best interest to follow all requirements.

              I’ve encountered this before, where an unsubscribe doesn’t seem to be getting me off a legitimate business’ list and a quick “You are violating the CANSPAM Act” email to them has immediately gotten me off the list with apologies.

              1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                Yeah, I’ll unsubscribe once or twice, but if I get another email from somewhere I know I’ve unsubbed from, I just mark as spam at that point. I’ll give them a chance or two first tho.

                1. Rachel*

                  Much quicker and far more effective just to press the “report spam” button that your email service provides. Makes these messages get flagged as the spam they are when they try to contact other service users too. So, a public service really.

    2. CatCat*

      Yeah, I’d authorize the admin. assistant to nip these calls in the bud with Alison’s scripts being a guide for the admin. When I was an admin. assistant, I was authorized to do this and it saved everyone time. (An occasional one would still get through when the salesperson would just flat out lie and say they were returning So-and-So’s call.)

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yeah, that’s a good trick. The other one that gets through sometimes is sounding like you know the person. Call once, find out the manager is Robert, call a couple weeks later with “Hey, does Bob have a couple minutes?”

      2. pope suburban*

        In fact, the admin can employ the “We’re not looking to change our insurance/credit card/whatever provider at this time,” or “We’re not interested, thank you” and hang-up mentioned in the first comments. It’s what I’ve done for years. It’s not hostile or impolite, it’s not going to damage the business’s reputation, and frankly I doubt anyone involved in the interaction is going to care- they’ll just move along with their day. Even a workplace that requires their admin to be super customer-servicey is not likely to disapprove of cutting down interruptions from call centers.

    3. Garrett*

      I was going to say the same thing. Assuming you aren’t required to talk to sales people, maybe the receptionist could better screen by making sure they ask what the call is about and then sending it only if it is an existing relationship. I know that doesn’t always work, but it may help a bit.

    4. AllTheFiles*

      Or the admin can say “OP is with a client/on the phone/out at the moment, can I have them give you a call when they’re done?” The key is when they give you the info you need to follow up with “and can I tell them what it’s regarding?” The answer or lack of will tell you what they’re calling about. Some will say “no I’ll try back” to avoid this but they get the same thing every time – then admin can just apologize about how busy you are. If they get through you just say “oh, no thanks, not interested” and hang up prior to objection or say “no thanks, please take me off your list”. There is nothing wrong with this in a workplace.

    5. Not An Admin Assistant*

      Yes, teaching the admin how to screen calls will help SOOOO much!

      A lot of sales calls get directed to me (for whatever reason) that I’m in no way to make the decision on, or even have any input about. I politely tell the caller I’m not the person they need to speak with, but I’ll check if the person they do need is in the office and then place the caller on hold. I then call/message that person with “Sales call coming in – DON’T PICK UP!”, pull the salesperson back, explain “Jane isn’t in her office now, but I can direct you to her extension to leave a message.” If they push for Jane’s phone number, I politely reply that I can’t provide it, but if they leave a message for Jane, she will respond just as soon as she can. Then I transfer the call, Jane knows not to pick up, and I get a Thank You from Jane for trying to keep her time from being wasted.

      I’m not officially an Admin Assistant, but knowing how to screen the calls like this wins me a few brownie points from my boss and coworkers. It’s been one of the most valuable tools in my Office Toolbox.

      1. MillersSpring*

        Admins can state “We don’t put through this kind of call, even to voice mail. No, we do not give out direct extensions or email addresses.”

        When I get these calls/emails, I say/reply, “Please remove my name AND THIS COMPANY from your contact lists.”

      2. Red 5*

        A few of the places where I’ve answered phones have had ways to transfer directly to voicemail, so that’s often an option too.

        I also would try to screen, and do the “what is this regarding” etc. but sometimes salespeople are just tricky or unreasonable in general. The place where it was the worst (and where I couldn’t hang up on them) was also a kind of shady business, so that didn’t help.

      1. Red 5*

        Just don’t do it if they’re calling a 1-800 number to reach you. Reply All just did an episode about a particular scam that targets toll free callers (it’s a fantastic episode), but generally if the person calling dialed a toll free number, every second they’re on hold is a second YOUR business is paying for, not theirs.

    6. Secretary*

      For work, I get sales calls a lot too. When they ask for my boss or “the person who handles X” I usually say they’re not available and can I take a message, even if they’re in the room. I’ll also ask “what is this regarding?” and if they won’t tell me I don’t pass it on. I’ve actually learned a lot of the numbers on caller ID and just ignore the call if I know it’s a telemarketer.

      Also, if it’s a recorded message I usually stay on the line, because most of the time they have a way to opt out of the list.

      1. Aspiring Person*

        In a lot of jurisdictions, robo calls for this purpose are illegal. I may be a former telemarketer and I may advocate for being polite with us, but even I am a jerk for any illegal practice. I ask questions to determine if they are performing a legal campaign before I take action.

        Slightly OT, because telemarketing to businesses is usually 8-6, but some jurisdictions (like mine) have laws about how late you can call. Anyone calls me after 9pm, I immediately say “calling after 9pm is illegal in my jurisdiction; why would I do business with someone who breaks the law right off the bat?” The only response I’ve ever accepted to that was “I am so sorry! There must be a programming error. Before I let you go, can I ask what jurisdiction this is so I can inform my supervisor?”

    7. Kate 2*

      As an admin, a lot of sales people will straight up lie. “I am a client of Mr. Big”, “We have a client in common”, “We are working on a case together”, “I want to become a client”, on and on and on.

      1. Laura*

        Agree: when I did secretarial work back in the day this was often part of the job and really isn’t that hard. I wouldn’t put anyone through without checking with the boss first, and you have to be a really bad boss not to prefer me checking swiftly to me putting through a sales call to you because they lied and/or conned me. I never had that bad a boss and I saw it as a way of proving my value and efficiency to them, as did they.

      2. Aspiring Person*

        I hate those. In North America, there are laws against lying on telemarketing calls. If someone does that to me, I always inform them that they broke he law and why would I do business with that?

        Genuine telemarketing firms take that very seriously. We BEGGED management to let us use aliases, so people couldn’t demean us with our real names or try to find us online, or worse, had transitioned genders but their legal name changes weren’t official yet (I always thought that was discriminatory and hostile). However, it was illegal to not give your full and legal name… Did find out that a lot of colleagues had really awful legal names.

    8. Amber Admin*

      For sales calls I used to take messages for the decision makers. I asked the DM if it was ok to say we are not interested if they call back. It helped reduce these types of calls significantly.

    9. Lana Kane*

      In my short stint as a receptionist back in the day, I definitely weeded out these calls. A couple of key questions would be enough to determine if this was a call I needed to transfer. Since the calls were almost always IT related, I checked with the IT people to get confirmation from them on what they did and didn’t want to receive. I think it would be a good idea to give the admin staff some guidelines and empower them to end the call themselves.

  6. Hmmmmm*

    With cold call telemarketers I had an unusual amount of success with “I’m really sorry this is your job. We both know that this isn’t how people buy stuff anymore, right?” Nothing stops a sales spiel like giving a salesman an existential crisis.

    1. Hmmmmm*

      I am also a fan of “Sir, this is an elevator emergency line” because sometimes they do call elevators.

      1. NextStop*

        Oh yeah, here’s a story about that happening:

    2. Sarah*

      This is… amazing. I will definitely use this. Telemarketing is a terrible job and I hate hanging up on these people, I would much prefer this “let’s be real here” approach.

      1. Hmmmmm*

        The only trick is doubling down on the “it is genuinely impossible for you to make a sale this way from my org” if they mistake your pity for an opening.

      1. Jesca*

        When I was like 10, I once pretended that I was arguing violently with someone in the room while on the phone with a telemarketer. And then when my horrified (and slightly amused) mother realized what I was doing, she tried to grab the phone. I then pretended that my mother was actually trying to kill me while still on the phone with the telemarketer. (I threw in some really unbelievable stuff about satanic cults and feeding pigs beer and whatever haha I don’t know). I worked in a call center once in my life for like 2 days, and I feel horrible for my behavior as a prankster 10 year old! LOL that job was awful!

        1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

          That’s great!!!! My kids are endlessly amused when I answer the home phone “Thanks for calling Joe’s Hoe shack. You got the dough we got the hoe”. And then I don’t say a word. There’s always this moment where you can hear the person on the other line breathing (and I’m sure they’re wondering what the hell?!?) before the caller clicks off. I’ve actually heard my son answer the phone this way too.

          1. Eloise*

            Oh my gosh, such a Dad joke. My stepdad’s favorite is “Joe’s Pool Room, Eight-Ball speaking. Shoot.”

            1. JanetM*

              I once watched a friend answer the phone, “Head Office, God speaking,” then blanc and continue, “Oh. Uh, hi, Mom.”

            2. PlainJane*

              My husband’s favorite: Joe’s Funeral Home. You stab ’em, we slab ’em. Cracks me up every time.

      2. pope suburban*

        I have been known to do this with them, and with the people who claim to be with your credit card company. These are wholesale identity-theft rackets, and often they prey on people who are already vulnerable, like elderly people who may not be conversant with technology. It’s a terrible thing to do and I hope the people participating in it *do* feel bad about that, and stop.

      3. LJL*

        I reduced my husband to hysterical tears of laughter when I did this very thing. He thought I was reading the riot act to an obscene phone caller!!

        1. Not a regular.*

          My dad’s go-to was always “Joe’s bar&grill, Sam speaking” … then my sister’s friends would hang up :)

    3. AllTheFiles*

      During my one week stint in telemarketing I had gone through my spiel with a guy on the phone who had a great response. He politely told me that I was doing a great job but asked to speak with the owner of the company. He took the time to tell that guy that his business was shady & gross, to remove him from the calling list, and to stop making employees do this, among other things. Twas amazing.

  7. Slow Gin Lizz*

    What about a vendor who won’t stop calling you but you might actually be interested in buying their product? Specifically, I’m having multiple calls with consultants about upgrading one of our systems and their parent company insists on calling me after every one of my calls with these consultants even after I’ve told them that I am not the final decision maker nor is our decision going to come anytime soon. It’s really aggravating and it’s gotten to the point where I don’t really want to hire one of their consultants even though I did like both of them. If I ignore the calls they keep calling back or emailing even though I’ve told them I have nothing to report just yet but I’ll let them know. I don’t want to just hang up on them like you suggest (I’m plenty good at that) but I’m getting very tired of their nagging calls that are, to be honest, counterproductive. Anyone have any advice for this situation?

    1. Blue Anne*

      Tell them that you might have been interested and you genuinely liked them, but you hate being nagged and it’s counterproductive. Many decent salespeople actually will take this under advisement if you’re straight with them.

      1. Agent Diane*


        Their aggressive approach is at risk of losing them the contract, and they need to be aware of that. It’s probably already lost them contracts, in fact.

      2. DecorativeCacti*

        Yes. When the parent company immediately calls back, “We’ve been considering your X, but frankly we are looking to go in a different direction because I’ve repeatedly asked you not to call or email me. I’m concerned about your business practices and how that would affect us if we do go with you for X. Please do not call or email me again. I will be in contact with Jane when we make a decision.”

      3. Floundering Mander*

        Ugh, I hate these tactics. I once had some people come around to give me a quote on getting some work done in the house, but it was vastly more expensive than I had in mind (like quoting me over 5k to install a bathtub). I told them exactly why I wouldn’t be going ahead as soon as I got the quote but they would. not. stop. calling. They even sent sales reps to the house to try and intimidate me into signing up with some financing plan. We finally had to complain to the authorities to get it to stop and it took over a year.

        I guess these tactics must work with someone otherwise they’d stop, but it is so irritating.

    2. sometimeswhy*

      I use a version of the unsolicited sales call script. (It’s actually what I use for basically all sales calls whether we might want their product or services in the future.)

      “We don’t accept unsolicited sales calls. Please feel free to mail us information on [your product/servies]. If we’re interested in your [product/services] in the future we’ll be sure to reach outthankssomuchyouhaveagreatdaybye!”

      That last bit said as one word with no breath in between and culminates with hanging up.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        I’ve ALSO had a vendors who we actually use call constantly for “feedback” and drop in for visits. My script starts with “If we need your product/services, we’ll reach out but we generally prefer a more laid back relationship with our vendors.” and ends with “If you do this again, I will look for alternate sources for your product/service. Please tone it down.”

        nb: I’m the purchasing authority for my group and we have word-of-mouth sway with other similar groups so there’s an implied level of monetary threat there that carries some weight.

          1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

            I think all visitors to the office should bring hot food. Or cold food. Or food. I just filled out our annual company survey and now am kicking myself that this wasn’t one of my suggestions. ;)

            Seriously though any sales rep who does a “drop in” needs to be shown the door.

          2. Chameleon*

            I’m spoiled being from a lab environment. Any vendor show that doesn’t come with hot coffee and gourmet donuts will never, never get a sale. And no one ever has any qualms about going in, grabbing a donut, and leaving without a word.

    3. nonegiven*

      The decision will be made by others, on my recommendation. I will probably choose the company that stops the annoying calls.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Thanks everyone! Good advice (though I need to check with my supervisor to see if she’s on board with me doing this – I suspect she will be).

    5. J*

      Ugh. I have this exact same problem. A vendor that we have used in the past for giveaways will not. stop. calling me. I have told her, more than once, that we order giveaways very infrequently, and that we will contact her when we need them again, but she continues to call every couple weeks. It’s to the point that I no longer want to use her, because she is so relentless. Since I have already told her directly, twice, not to call, I’m not sure what else to do. So I just put her into my voicemail and never call back.

      1. Ducking Hill*

        Is it worth calling her company and asking to be put through to her boss? Because I have had some success with reporting pushy salespeople to their superior and/or asking what the process is for making a formal complaint about their bad behaviour.

        It can be a risk – if they get defensive, they might decide to blacklist *you* – but since you’re already considering never using them again, I think that risk is worth it for you.

    6. Aspiring Person*

      My favourite was when my Mom said he was harassing her and how dare he do that to an old lady, then hung up. We were laughing because she’s not old when the phone rang. I exclaimed “dang, it’s not an autodialler! He’s calling back!”

      My Mom picked it up on speaker, and he immediately yelled “you hung up on me!”

      “Yes,” she replied, “and listen to this: I can do it again!” And hung up again! That really got us laughing!

      The company did have an autodialler to call days later for a survey regarding customer satisfaction. She put in a complaint about the guy.

  8. Decimus*

    I’d think something as blunt as “I don’t accept sales calls. Good bye.” followed by a hang-up would be more than polite. You’re working. This isn’t a social occasion. And you neither have a business relationship nor want a business relationship here.

  9. Solidus Pilcrow*

    I’m always amazed by the number of people who feel held hostage by a phone call in their personal and professional lives. You have the power to hang up! No, you don’t have to listen to that robo-call. Yes, you can cut off that charity solicitation and ask for your name/number to be removed from their database. Yes, you can say you’re not interested. No, you don’t have to converse with the person that drunk-dialed you at 3am.

  10. anonomous*

    You don’t have to wait for salespeople to give you permission to get off the phone, just say ‘no thanks’ and hang up.

  11. Blue Anne*

    In my office we have invented a woman called Pam. Pam does not exist, but everyone in the office knows that salespeople who won’t take no for an answer should talk to Pam.

    “I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak to Pam about that, she does all our purchases of office widgets/teapot handle paint/internet contracts but she’s on vacation right now.”

    Occasionally people actually call back for Pam and we let them recite a message no one writes down.

    1. Esme Squalor*

      One day, your company will hire a Pam, and she’ll be so confused as to why she’s being inundated with sales calls right out of the gate.

      1. Jaydee*

        I really want to be the hiring manager or HR person on boarding Pam.

        Boss: “So, Pam…that’s a lovely name… have you ever considered, you know, changing it?”

        Pam: “????”

        Boss: “Like, for example, what’s your middle name?”

        Pam: “…um…Jane…?”

        Boss: “Well, that could work, but we do have a Jane in accounting and a Janet who is one of the senior managers, so it might get confusing.”

        Pam: “Why would I need to change my name?”

        Boss: “Oh, right, that is a really weird request. You see, we tell all telemarketers that ‘Pam’ handles whatever their calling about. So you’re probably going to be getting all the telemarketer calls.”

        Pam: “Yeah, Jane will work just fine.”

    2. Old Cynic*

      One place I worked as the Telco manager years ago we created a fictitious employee, Norman Smithers, and gave him a voice mailbox. We created a great “away from the desk announcement,” which I can’t retrieve from the depths of my memory unfortunately. Anybody and everybody transferred unwanted callers to Norm. It was always great to get someone claiming they were just speaking to Norm the other day….

        1. Law and Order*

          Not genius, because it keeps the telemarketers calling, and thus wastes the time of your receptionists answering the phone and transferring them.

    3. oranges & lemons*

      Similarly, my office has a fictitious intern who is a general-use scapegoat for anything that goes wrong. “Oh, sorry, Ian the intern was handling that project. He must have screwed up again.”

  12. BRR*

    I’ve had very good success with something along the lines of, “Thank you for reaching out but product X doesn’t fit my organization’s needs at this time. If anything changes I’ll reach out to you.”

  13. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    This is one thing I miss from a long ago job: When salespeople would call about improving my “business,” I would tell them, “You’ve called the private chambers of a federal judge.” The line almost always cut out. I miss those days.

    But the most important thing for me was getting comfortable with cutting people off. I used to feel horribly rude about it, but then I realized: I’ve been very clear that I don’t want to talk, and the salesperson is being rude by (a) talking over me; or (b) completely ignoring my request. So my best advice is to be very firm but polite and to hang up. Sometimes I’ll use variations of Alison’s scripts along with, “I’m hanging up now.”

    1. mrs__peel*

      I used to work in a federal office of administrative law judges, and kept getting calls from creditors for an employee who had the phone extension before me and apparently owed a lot of people money.

      Telling them where they were calling and threatening legal action if they called again was AMAZINGLY effective (and fun!)

  14. Noah*

    The problem here is that LW needs to be better at saying “no,” not that they won’t take no for an answer. After they don’t accept “no,” it is okay to say, “I’m going to hand up now,” and then do it.

  15. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, no. Hang up. You don’t owe them your time. You tell them, we’re happy with the vendor/service we have, and hang up.

  16. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    You need to have your Admin Assistant do her job better! She should be screening calls better so they’re not coming through to you in the first place. Make sure she is aware that she has your permission to probe more deeply into the reason for callers calling, and politely decline to put them though if they are sales calls.

  17. Salesperson*

    In a former life, I worked in B2B sales. Prior to that, I sold timeshare so I got some excellent sales training and experience.
    Alison’s scripts are great. You don’t want to say, “Not interested,” and hang up immediately. Once you say, “No thanks,” give the person a chance to respond politely, such as, “OK, well have a good day.” If they don’t respond like that, and instead keep pushing, then on their second question, you can hang up. That way, you are maintaining your boundaries, but being polite as well. (You have a right to maintain boundaries and protect your time. But that doesn’t mean you have to be rude.)
    Another part of this that Alison got right is just saying, “We’re happy with our current supplier.” If you answer their questions, they know how to use that to their advantage. If you offer an objection other than Alison’s, such as “I’m not the decision maker”, they will have a response to it. Most sales reps are very well trained.
    Alison’s scripts are perfect.

    1. DivineMissL*

      I used to work for a telemarketing company (not calling, in the offices). First, we have to remember that they are just doing their job, so rudeness or playing games is not necessary. They are either on commission or have a quota to hit; so while they have to be persistent, they don’t want to waste their own time either.

      Telemarketers/salespeople have a scripted response for EVERY answer you will give them, so whatever you say is pointless. The best way to handle it is to say politely, “No thank you, please put us on your do-not-call list. Goodbye” and hang up. Let them move on to the next call; you’re doing everyone a favor.

      1. Mike C.*

        A few points –

        First, we have to remember that they are just doing their job, so rudeness or playing games is not necessary.

        I do my job without annoying people and without trying to trick them into bothering their coworkers on your behalf. Why can’t you extend to use the same courtesy?

        Telemarketers/salespeople have a scripted response for EVERY answer you will give them, so whatever you say is pointless.

        So not only are you and those in your field bothering random people at random times, but you actively and categorically refuse to listen to what they are saying. Why shouldn’t people be mad or rude when folks like you call?

        1. Florida*

          I’m kind of amazed at the animosity toward salespeople (not just your comment, but related to this whole post.) I don’t know of one company on the planet that exists without selling something.
          “Why shouldn’t people be made or rude when folks like you call?” Well, the same reason you shouldn’t be mad or rude to the janitor who is cleaning the bathroom. The same reason you shouldn’t be rude to anyone. Because people deserve respect. Are you saying that you can’t figure out how to say no to a salesperson without being rude. If that’s the case, read Alison’s post again. She offers a very good way to say no without being rude.

          1. Dessi*

            Oh Florida, you are so spot on :) people like Mike C need to understand that we dislike making those phone calls as much as the receiver dislikes receiving them. I have a job and had to make rent. What the eff else was I supposed to do? Not make the calls and get fired?

            1. Mike C.*

              If someone paid me to bug you at random times, and I did it because I had bills to pay, would ok with that? Would you be happy about it? Would you mind that I spent time and effort trying to convince otherwise when you know you aren’t interested in me bothering you?

              Just because an endeavor makes money does not justify the externalities associated with it.

          2. Mike C.*

            First off, a jainitor is doing something very important – maintaining sanitation and providing important upkeep to an area. Salespeople just call my phone at the time of their choosing, inturrupting whatever it is im doing, being evasive about what they actually want and ignoring repeated requests to stop calling.

            Again, I ask a very simple question that you’ve ignored – why is it that I can do my job without intruding on others but they cannot extend to me the same courtesy? Why is that so much to ask?

            1. Optimistic Prime*

              Salespeople do very important things, too…they sells goods and services. I work at a very large technology company. My job is only possible because there are other people who sell our goods and services to make the money that enables my company to pay my salary. If nobody was out there trying to get people to buy the stuff we make my job would be obsolete and I would lose it.

              Do you work for a company that provides goods and services to others?

              why is it that I can do my job without intruding on others but they cannot extend to me the same courtesy?

              That’s like asking “Why is that I can do my job without writing a single line of C++ but the software engineer next me can’t?” or “Why is that I can do my job without using a phone but the receptionist can’t?” I’m guessing it’s because your job doesn’t require you to contact other people to ask them to buy things from you.

              1. Mike C.*

                Yes, I do work for a company that provides good and services and I am certain that we don’t cold call people to do so.

                What you and others don’t seem to take into account is that just because someone is willing to pay you to do something does not justify any and every externality caused by that work. Salespeople are not entitled to my time nor my attention and folks need to stop acting like they are. Getting paid to do it doesn’t make it better.

                1. SacredGround*

                  I too have worked all my adult life for companies, large and small, that sold goods and services. All of them employed marketing strategies to do so. None of them employed telemarketers.

                  I did do some brief stints with nonprofits who did do charity solicitation calls, which I don’t have a problem with. And I don’t have a problem with political opinion surveys either. I briefly worked in a call center for a survey research firm and I know how much and how deeply that work sucks. I know how rude people are and how soul-sucking it is and how obscenely low the pay is and absurdly poor the working conditions.

                  So I get it. Don’t be rude to the caller, it doesn’t help anything, won’t stop the calls, but it it does make some poor jerk’s crappy job a little crappier. By wasting their time (and your own!) you aren’t changing anything for the better but you may be making the difference between some near-homeless (or actually homeless) person clearing their quota for the hour and NOT GETTING PAID AT ALL for the hour if they don’t. So their minimum wage crap job won’t even clear minimum wage for that shift. For what? So one can vent? Get a chuckle at their expense? Because it’s literally at their, not their employer’s, expense.

                  Maybe one might think that by making the crappiest job crappier, nobody will do them, the companies won’t be able to fill positions, they’ll go bankrupt, hooray! No. It doesn’t work that way. The jobs get filled by desperate people. There is no shortage of desperate people. And since the work tends to select for people who are accustomed to being treated poorly, their employers tend to abuse them. NOBODY does cold sales calls if they can do ANYTHING else.

                  Ok, scratch that: some do, and do them well enough to scam enough people badly enough to make a fair living, because they’re con artists or sociopaths, but since you can’t tell the scammers and the desperate apart over the phone, just be polite and end the call. It may not do any good, but it does the least harm.

                  Being rude to a telemarketer is kind of like spitting on a panhandler. Panhandlers are annoying and intrusive as well, but they’re also desperately poor people in need. Or they’re cons, scamming. Or they’re simply doing the only “work” they can do, and it isn’t easy standing on a corner all day, because they’re otherwise unemployable for any number of reasons. But since you don’t know one way or another, one may or may not give anything but one doesnt spit on them, right?

                  The only solution to stopping cold sales calls is to outright ban them, though that’s probably not possible in the US. They serve no socially useful function and do waste a great deal of people’s time and energy. And are hugely annoying to the general public. And they cost businesses money, tying up phone lines, distracting from real work when their people have to go to such lengths to avoid them. And it’s a marketing strategy that works best on the most vulnerable/ignorant/naive customers and extremely poorly on everyone else, so really, how honest or reputable is any company that uses it?

                  It’s not like there aren’t other ways to sell goods and services that aren’t intolerably intrusive to the point of being a public nuisance.

              2. Mike C.*

                Also, can you tell me what valuable service a cold calling salesperson is providing me by contacting me?

              3. a different Vicki*

                What I as a customer don’t need is deceptive or overly pushy salespeople. If you have a worthwhile product at a reasonable price, tell me so. Don’t lie and claim that I bought a case of soda from you last month, or that you’re returning my call about your product if this is actually a cold call.

                It’s the difference between an electricity company sending me a letter saying “if you sign up for our service, it will cost so much per kilowatt-hour” and the people who go door-to-door claiming to be from my existing electricity vendor and/or saying they “just need to see my bill,” copying down the number, and using that to sign me up without my permission.

                Basically, I want to do business with people whose attitude is “I have something people want, and will pay me for it” rather than “how much can I get from the marks?” or “I am entitled to your time and money.”

    2. Mike C.*

      Ok, here’s the thing that just pisses me off about folks who work in your industry.

      I didn’t invite you to call me. I didn’t invite you to interrupt me. I didn’t invite you to try and sell me something I’m not interested in. I’ve got a limited time on this planet and likely a million things I’m trying to prioritize over wanting to talk to folks like you. You even talk about how we should treat you so as not to be rude.

      Do you not realize that cold calling people in an effort to make money for yourself is rude? That trying to trick people into getting you closer to a deal through tactics ranging from being vague to outright lying, er “by being well trained” is slimy and in many cases downright unethical? Many lie about who they are or the relationships they hold with our coworkers in an effort to try and make a sale and the rest of us just have to put up with it. Not to mention how often my own cell phone rings because folks like you don’t pay attention to the Do Not Call list and hide their information.

      Look, I’m trying to be as generous as I possibly can here. I get that everyone has bills to pay and has to make a living somehow. But why do you have to annoy the rest of us in doing so?

      1. Florida*

        I can speak for everyone who worked in B2B sales, but the people that I called DID invite me to call them. They filled out a little form for the specific purpose of getting more information. Sometimes they later decided that they didn’t want that information, but that’s on them. How is it that unethical or trickery?

        “Look, I’m trying to be as generous as I possibly can here.” Really?

        1. Mike C.*

          If you aren’t making cold calls and you aren’t ignoring people when they tell you to bug off then I’m not talking to you. But you ignore multiple industry practices that include cold calling, lying about relationships with coworkers that don’t actually exist, contacting numbers on the Federal Do Not Call List and obscuring or even fabricating caller ID information.

          Why again should I be happy to put up with that? I don’t call you at work or at home trying to sell you things.

      2. SRB*

        I get the animosity towards cold *calls*. I hate the *calls* too. Plus, I doubt they work well enough to justify the cost.

        The thing is, the *people* making those calls? Chances are, they aren’t the ones deciding on cold calling as a strategy. They don’t decide “hey, it would be really great if our script made sure that we could never hang up unless the other person hung up first because we love wasting our own time!” It’s the manager, or the manager’s manager. Or their manager. Someone far enough removed that it doesn’t cause them pain and who is paid well enough that they can employ a stupid, expensive, and obnoxious strategy with fewer consequences. And it’s up to the callers to do it or get fired.

        Unless it’s a straight up scam (hi guy from the “IRS” that called me awhile back), and it’s just someone calling random numbers to sell chocolate teapots, I assume this really isn’t what they “always wanted to be when they grew up”, they’re just paying the bills, their boss is making them do it, and it’s best for everyone including myself to just say “Not interested, take me off the list” and hang up.

        1. Mike C.*

          I get that it’s tough when owners/managers/companies use front line employees as human shields against bad behavior – this also happens in tech/customer support roles as well. And honestly I’m not looking to yell and scream at someone. But the fact remains that someone calling me to make a deal I didn’t ask for is imposing on my time and my attention. It’s an imposition to drop whatever I’m doing and either figure out who’s calling me or take a chance with a “Private Number” or worse, spoofed information.

          We just shouldn’t be acting like it isn’t rude to be called in the first place.

          1. sstabeler*

            I don’t disagree that cold calls bug me (my mobile phone company fairly regularly calls me trying to sell me a new phone and/or upgraded service and I’ve got into the habit of simply refusing the call- particularly since 99% of the time, it’s during a time when I couldn’t answer anyway.) HOWEVER:
            1) some outbound call centers (outbound is when they call you, inbound is when you call them) actually employ trickery to get employees to work there- and the employees that fall for it are often the ones that are desperate. (Not to mention that the ones who aren’t desperate usually quit quickly)
            2) IIRC, you have to work a certain amount of time at a job to get unemployment if you quit. It’s fair to say that most people that work in a call center probably don’t have enough saved up to support themselves until they find another job. Hence they need to stay at least until they can claim unemployment if they quit.
            3) It’s an absolutely shitty job. (having to meet targets that are often unrealistic, get yelled at if you don’t meet them, expected to eat at your desk, then get straight back to calling customers, allowed only something like 30 seconds after you hang up to type up any notes (or record any sales) before you have to call the next person…))
            4) You should really blame the companies, not the actual telemarketers. Yes, including the ones that keep pushing- more often than not, they actually HAVE to. (As in, at the worst of these places, the customer has to refuse several times before the salesman is allowed to hang up- and they DO check. You thought calls were recorded to allow them to keep an eye on customer behaviour? Nope. it’s usually more to keep an eye on the salesmen to ensure they are sufficiently pushy to satisfy the higherups.
            5) It’s fine to be somewhat curt- just don’t get rude.

        2. Ellie Bee*

          This. A lot of people who make these calls don’t love the approach. They are doing their job as it is expected of them. I think many of us have at one point worked a job we didn’t like in order to be able to pay bills and keep a roof over our heads. Yes, they are “calling in an effort to make money for themselves” as Mike C. put it, because the majority of people go to work in an effort to make money for themselves. Unfortunately people need money to stay alive.

          I understand the animosity towards the calls, they are annoying, but I don’t understand being hostile towards someone who is just doing their job, and doesn’t actually make the decisions about how the calls work.

          1. Mike C.*

            I focus on the money making aspect because many people are justifying the act of intruding into the lives of others simply because they’re getting paid for it and their boss told them to.

            Neither of those are good reasons.

    3. Law and Order*

      I disagree. As someone noted above, telemarketers are counting on you not wanting to be rude.

      Once you say, “I’m not interested. Please remove me and this company from all marketing lists and do not call again,” don’t give them a chance for a comeback.

      I also disagree with saying “we’re happy with our current supplier.” You have no obligation to justify your refusal to do business with telemarketers. All that does is encourage them to check back in six months that you’re still happy with your current supplier.

  18. EmilyAnn*

    Courtesy is sometimes about preserving relationships. Cold-calling is an awful way to get sales and experienced salespeople will tell you this. Stop trying to preserve a relationship that doesn’t exist, and hang up. Stop trying to be courteous!

  19. Betty (the other Betty)*

    Sometimes being blunt is necessary:
    “My company is not interested. I don’t want to waste your time, so take us off your call list. Thanks.” (click)

    Or if your company might be interested: “Company policy is to not buy anything from unsolicited phone calls. What is your website?” (Because most legitimate companies have some sort of website these days, right?)

    If they say, “What is your email?” You can just repeat, “What is your website?” If they keep pushing, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway, so just hang up.

    1. Law and Order*

      ““Company policy is to not buy anything from unsolicited phone calls. What is your website?” (Because most legitimate companies have some sort of website these days, right?’

      All that does is signal that the telemarketing call will yield a visit to their website, and a potential sale.

      1. Aspiring Person*

        Telemarketing companies don’t care if you are going to the website. Most of the time, telemarketers work for a telemarketing company (it is cheaper to train a telemarketer on your product and use their equipment than it is to buy your own equipment and train people in sales and the laws).

        Telemarketers only get credit for what they personally sell. Period. No one will know if a website sales is because of a call or another marketing method. You asking afford a website does NOT encourage them to keep calling. They keep calling because they didn’t get the sale and the law says they can call back.

        I would get so upset when a line would disconnect and I had been closing a sale. The system would randomly assign a callback and hey would be brought immediately back to closing, but then I would get no credit (and thus possibly no pay) for my work in winning that customer over.

      2. Aspiring Person*

        And, BTW, we knew that people would sign up for credit cards and then never activate them (it still ends up on your credit rating, BTW). We would constantly complain that an inactive card is a liability (cost money to process) but a used card is profit (if you pay it off every month, CC companies make money through fees the store/service has to pay to accept CCs). Our managers didn’t care: we got paid for closures, not customer behaviour with the card.

        My friends and I clung together in part because we cared that our customers actually understood what was going on, but a couple of people felt they only had to meet the legal standard and nothing more. As with anywhere, there are varying qualities of workers, and top performers are not always the producers of quality work.

  20. Edina Monsoon*

    I work in sales and sometimes I know that the person on the other end of the line is never going to buy my product in a month of Sundays, however all of our calls are recorded and I cannot put the phone down without having pushed for a sale or a call back, if I did my boss might listen to the call and I’d be in trouble. So I really appreciate it when people say straight up that they are not interested and no I may not call them in 2 weeks. It makes my job so much easier than the people who can’t say no and so I have to say I’ll give them a call in 2 weeks when we both know they’re not interested.

    My boss has a policy that unless they say NO we have to keep following up. It’s stupid but once in a blue moon one of the people you think is just too polite to say no does eventually buy from you after the 50th follow up call.

  21. Not Yet Looking*

    Agreed with the above commenters and with Alison. I also want to mention, we used to have a trick at my last office for pushy salesmen. We would “Transfer them to Facilities” or say “Let me transfer you to someone who can assist with that.” We didn’t have a Facilities department, but we did have a non-answered “purgatory” voicemail number. Anyone who was clearly a salesman, or who was asking for facilities or “the person who does your purchasing” would go straight to that voicemail. Once or twice a week the receptionist would listen quickly to the messages to make sure a valid message hadn’t been dumped in there by accident.

    1. Florida*

      You are not the only person who has a solution like this. Someone else said they transferred the calls to Pam (who didn’t work there). I don’t understand this.
      Can you imagine if you went to a store and asked where they keep X, and the clerk said, “It’s on aisle 15.” and the store has 14 aisles. Wouldn’t it be more helpful for the clerk to say, “We don’t carry X.”?
      I don’t understand why you (and other commenters) think this is a better way to handle it then to say, “We aren’t interested, but thanks.”

      1. hbc*

        It’s different because (most) customers will not sit there and argue with you that you must have X here, and why are you being so difficult not giving them X, they saw X in the store last week, or show up next week asking if you have X yet. But lots and lots of cold-calling sales people will not take your word for it that you’re not in the market for X on the first or second or seventh pass.

        1. Edina Monsoon*

          If they really won’t take no for an answer then I’d suggest asking to speak to their supervisor and telling them to take you off their list.

          Everywhere I’ve worked if the person we were calling told us not to call back then we weren’t allowed to call them again, but that could be because of data protection laws in the U.K.

          1. Law and Order*

            You don’t give them the option not to take “no” for an answer. You say, “I am not interested in your product. Please remove me immediately from all marketing lists and do not all again.” Hang up.

          2. Aspiring Person*

            You would NEVER get to talk to my supervisor. A customer could threaten to sue and still they wouldn’t take a call. A customer tried to say he was going to drive up to my university and kill me, and the only thing my supervisor did was hand me the standard “threat of bodily harm” form. Yeah, the customer had managed to identify where I went to school and they still don’t care.

      2. Optimistic Prime*

        I’m not in sales but I was wondering the same thing. Re-routing salespeople to nonexistent people or fake numbers seems to be counter-productive. What is so hard about simply saying “No thanks, we’re not interested, please don’t call back” and hanging up?

        1. Edina Monsoon*

          Yeah, honestly if you do the fake coworker or on hold forever then they’re probably going to call back because you haven’t said no and you haven’t said don’t call.

          Companies pay for the names and telephone numbers so they have to keep following up the lead otherwise they’re wasting company money, their boss is going to ask why they stopped following up and ‘they put me on hold’ isn’t enough to justify not calling.

          I once had a boss who went through all my closed leads and listened to the calls and made me justify why I’d closed leads who had hung up on me after I’d introduced myself, he said for all I knew the line had cut out (it hadn’t!).

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        But you said upthread that you have an answer to everything, so “I’m not interested” wouldn’t work!

  22. k.k*

    Another way to think about it: You are doing them a favor by hanging up quickly. Most of these call are likely from people that have call and/or sale quotas. If they have to get in a certain number of calls per day, hanging up lets them get to the next on quicker. If they sales quotas or work on commission, they don’t want to be wasting their time on a call that has zero chance of a sale. So really, getting them off the phone fast is the most polite thing to do.

    1. Jen Erik*

      Yes – a really successful business man once put it to me that way. He said if you’re not going to buy anything, in the end you’re only wasting their time by politely listening to their spiel. I’d always thought about it as being nice to someone who had a thankless job, but from his perspective, far from being nice, I was costing them the chance to make a sale elsewhere.

      Framing it that way really helped, and I’ve never had a problem ending a call since.

  23. Janelle*

    Rude or not, after 20 years of these calls I just hang up once I realize it’s a sales call. Rude, yes. However when I have to take 100 calls a day for actual work related issues I just don’t have time. I used to do the same and say call back or hear them out. Cold callers know this is the norm for their business. They don’t take it personally nor should you. If I addressed every cold sales call I received I’d still be on the phone as I type this. It just isn’t an option.

    1. Janelle*

      Oh. I could also get into the cold call guy who ended up staking me. Let’s not even get into that one.

    2. Snark*

      Fundamentally, I think cold calls are so disrespectful of my time that I would love to do this, but if you hang up, I find they just call again and again and again.

      1. Mike C.*

        At that point I just start demanding to know why they think they’re entitled to my time and attention. I already have issues with ADD, I don’t need additional distractions in my life. I know this sounds rough to a lot of people and I’m generally nicer if you call my work phone but these sorts of distractions are a giant pita, and not the kind that gets served with hummus.

      2. JD*

        Hmm on my phone its my name on on my laptop JD.

        Anyways, I once hung up after a guy went into his pitch. He called back so I didn’t answer. He called back like 20 times. Finally I just was picking up the phone and hanging up after one ring as my office phone rings quite a lot of times before voicemail. Finally I speak after like the 25th time and say “you need to stop calling me this is ridiculous”. His response “stupid bitch”. Too bad for him I used caller ID to get his company and had a nice chat with his boss after that. Boss told me flat out that he would be firing him. Apparently boss could see an instant log and saw he called me all those times.

        So between that nut job and my actual stalker sales guy I just don’t give two cruds about offending anyone on the phone who is wasting my time trying to sell me something.

    3. Mike C.*

      Same here. If some salesperson thinks they’re entitled to my time and attention at the moment of their choosing they need to reassess their understanding of the situation. It’s so incredibly rude.

      If I want to buy something, I’m smart enough to know where to look. If I’m not buying from you then start making stuff I’m interested in at prices I’m interested in paying. Otherwise get lost.

      1. Wilhelmina Mildew*

        I used to work telemarketing when I was young, poor, and unskilled, and I agree with you 100%.

  24. Rat in the Sugar*

    At my work I’m always too busy to talk to sales people whether I actually want their product or not, so my response is always the same: give them our general Accounting email for the department (I work in Accounting) and tell them to send us details so we can review at our leisure. Then I never answer their calls again unless I’m actually interested–and often not even then, I’ll still ignore the call and then respond by email cuz ain’t nobody got time to take calls during month-end close. This is more difficult to manage when someone else is initially taking the calls, but maybe you and the admin could create your own ignore list together and she’ll stop sending them through?

    Also, a tip for sorting out the scammers–I always ask for the caller’s name and number first. Legit sales people give it to me without hesitation and then I tell them to email us with the offer. Scammers will give you a quick “NoI’llcallbacklaterbye” and then the number gets added to my ignore list.

    The only success I’ve had with telling people we’re not interested is when they’re trying to offer collections services or one of those programs to let us take credit card payments–our main customer is the US government, and they give up pretty quickly when I tell them that.

  25. Kay*

    We have a dummy voicemail set up at our office for this purpose. We get a ton of telemarketing and sales calls, both industry related and non. And, let’s be real, they never take you off the list and the calls keep coming. So whoever answers the phone to a sales call tells the caller, “oh, you need to speak to so and so.” And dumps them directly into the dummy voicemail.

  26. ArtK*

    “I’m sorry, but I never do business with unsolicited callers. *click*” That’s my go-to line.

    I’d suggest teaching the admin that line and how to recognize this kind of call. If you can tell it’s a sales call, the admin can learn to tell as well.

  27. grasshopper*

    Sales calls are Goldilocks situation.

    Some people delight in being rude – hanging up, indefinite hold, being forceful to the person making the sales call, lying about a non-existent person, etc. This does nothing to stop the calls, which will aggravate both the person who receives the call and the one making the call.

    Some people are too afraid of being rude. The ones who think that saying “call back later” means “no” (it doesn’t). Or who give reasons which are just objections that any trained salesperson will overcome and consider the conversation still active. Again, this does nothing to stop calls.

    The just-right solution is as suggested to say “no thank you, please remove us from your calling list.” You can politely provide the sales caller with a clear direction so that they won’t call back, letting everyone do their jobs effectively.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I’m surprised at all the people describing convoluted approaches to this — putting them on indefinite hold, sending them to a fake voicemail, etc. Just say no thanks and hang up!

      1. ArtK*

        One of the things that traps people (and the salespeople capitalize on this), is the idea that it’s rude to end a conversation without agreement from the other party. It’s very freeing to realize that you don’t need the other person’s permission to hang up and you *aren’t* being rude. Especially true in a business situation where etiquette is different. “No. Thanks. Bye. *click*” isn’t a rude exchange in business.

  28. Winifred*

    I work in a church office and we constantly get tele-sales calls. I just say “Please take us off your list. Thank you. Good-bye.”

    I’ve gotten two drop-in sales people, one a Staples scam (“we’re Staples, but cheaper than Staples!”) and the other a copier salesperson we did end up buying a copier from.

    The most annoying call is from Comcast Business, which we would LOVE to have as our ISP, but they don’t have service at our address. Why they keep calling, I don’t know.

    1. Been There, Done That*

      A bldg complex I used to work in got frequent drop-in salespeople because there was no central security or reception. One guy sold ostentatious wall plaques. He pitched them as just what an office needed to look professional and prosperous. When I said we weren’t interested he got pissy (great sales tactic) and informed me that my boss would not be happy with me for letting this stellar chance escape to improve our image and our business. Ha! We never had visitors, we were based in another state and that office was a sales outpost. We dealt with local clients by phone or in person at their locations. We could’ve been working out of a cardboard box for all they cared.

  29. PersephoneUnderground*

    Yep, also let the receptionist know when a salesperson gets through who it was and that she can tell them you’re not interested next time. Also, train her to in answer to “is __ there?” say “And who may I say is calling? With what company? (actually note names) And what is the call regarding? (if really vague, say) Can you be more specific?” Then, use the “consult” feature on your phones if she actually thinks it might be legit to talk to you first before she puts the call through “X is on the line for you, said they’re calling about Y, do you want the call?” then if yes she transfers, if no she puts them in voicemail or otherwise screens them. That also gives you a chance to say “Agh, they called last week and we’re not interested, tell them that.” so she can just tell them you’re not interested and not to call again.

    At any point she can kick them to general voicemail or screen them out if she’s sure from the answers that they’re a vendor call.

    If she’s 99% sure the person was a vendor, ask if they’d like to leave a message, and non-legit ones never will. Outgoing call centers can’t even receive call-backs so that screened all of those out. Worst case, a legit call left a message with me and I passed it on, so they didn’t get accidentally screened.

    Sorry to write it out so long-hand, but I was an admin fielding 90% sales/vendor calls for 2 years and this system worked nearly perfectly for me!

      1. bohtie*

        I love the implication that a man couldn’t possibly comprehend and/or follow instructions that are written to someone who uses she/her pronouns. It’s like those “Tissues… FOR MEN” ads come to life.

    1. Stardust*

      I’ve used this type of line of probing and it works really well. Those are the best questions to figure out if it’s a sales call or not. If I think it’s just a solicitation call, I’ll also take a message “and if we are interested, we’ll call back.” I was also notified that I did not have to tell the name or email of our staff/officers so I could also suggest they send a brochure through the mail.

  30. Professional Cat Lady*

    I can usually cut off sales calls by telling people that we’re a non profit and we’re not interested in whatever they’re selling. (usually business loans, for some reason.) This especially works when they ask to talk to the business owner.

    Once, though, I got a salesperson to hang up on me! They kept asking for the person in charge of our cable bill (which could be two people – accounts payable or our director of operations who makes decisions, and who is my direct supervisor). My supervisor happened to be in the office that day, and didn’t want to get on the phone, but I also didn’t want to give out her information, so I just kept asking why they needed to talk to someone. They kept repeating that they needed the person “in charge”, so I asked if it was a sales call. After about ten rounds of “I need to speak to the person in charge” — “is this a sales call?” — “If you don’t know who that is I can call back” “is this a sales call? I need an answer so I can direct you properly.” they finally hung up on me. (but not before at least one “i know you’re just the secretary why don’t you give me the person in charge, sweetie” comment).

    I think they thought I was just dumb, but it was mostly a stall tactic and a “tell me what the f*** you’re actually calling about so I know how to react” tactic, and it worked.

  31. Amber T*

    Oooh I love the whole guilt trip – “but don’t you want to save money/have better services/be better??” I just say no, and see how they respond. Trips them up every time.

    I’ve posted about this before, but I’m a former receptionist/first gatekeeper of the sales calls. The polite ones who took no for an answer I never gave any problems, but the pushy ones? I was like a cat with a mouse. Assuming I didn’t have guests waiting/other calls coming in/any pressing priorities that couldn’t wait three minutes, I played the game where I tried get them to hang up on me. Legit miss it sometimes.

    The toner ones were easy – they’d call up and ask for our printer’s serial number, I’d ask which one (we have dozens of printers), and 90% of the time they’d just hang up. If they just said the nearest one, I’d put them on old while I “searched.” (To be fair, this originated from me not realizing it was a sales pitch, and I did actually search for the serial number, but they had hung up before I came back.) Oh the rest of the stories I could tell…

    But yeah, I wouldn’t feel bad just hanging up (which is what I ended up having to do most of the time anyway). I would train your admin to get more info – name and company at the very least, and if the caller seems sketchy answering either (dear lord the amount of times I asked “where are you calling from” and they said “my cell phone” or some other asinine answer), that’s her cue to hang up. Depending on the regularity you receive (legit) calls, I’d even advise just having her say you stepped away from your desk and send them to voicemail… that way if a legit call does come through, you get the message quickly and have an alibi (oh I was getting coffee, ran to the bathroom, met with my boss, etc.).

    1. Annie Admin*

      Former receptionist here! I hated the toner people… they almost got me once. I started just asking “who are you with” and they would always hang up.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        It’s funny she used that as an example–the toner call is a known scam. I always just hung up on them, but one day I was feeling frisky, and it went like this:

        Me: Good afternoon, XYZ Company.
        Her: This is Linda, with customer service on your copier! What’s the serial number of your machine?
        Me: Oh, we don’t use a copier. We use carbon paper.
        Her: ……………….
        Me: Bye! *click*

    2. Floundering Mander*

      I love telling them that you’re not interested in saving money. Usually it’s true: sure, I could save $5 per year but it’s not worth the hassle of changing existing contracts to do so.

    3. Aspiring Person*

      One time, I tried a market research job instead of telemarketing (again, needed job that would flex for school). I was in the middle of a survey with a bakery owner when his friend walked in on the business. I heard every word of their conversation:

      Friend: Oh, important call?
      Owner: Just doing a survey. Should be done in a minute.
      Friend: Why are you doing that?!? HANG UP?
      Owner: Why? I’ve given her 10 minutes already. Might as well finish.
      Friend: Why would you do that?
      Owner: She was nice. I’ll be nice back. It’s not like I didn’t have fifteen minutes and she probably needs my time more than I do.
      Friend: HANG UP THE PHONE!
      Me: I hear you have a guest. Do you need to attend to him? I can schedule a callback for a more convenient time and we’d resume at the same question.
      Owner: Nah, I cannot convey how unimportant this guy is right now. You need me more. Can you repeat that last question?

      For market research, it is imperative that your voice remain emotionless. I had to use my cough button (mute) to contain my laughter at him saying that about his friend! The lesson? More of us are actually nice people if you extend us the same courtesy. I’m not saying let us talk when you don’t want it – that doesn’t help either of us – but there’s actually no need to be rude when it is a legal telemarketer.

      Especially in the States! If you hang up, we’re not allowed to call you again for four hours, and most calls are picked up in the zone where 4 hours means the next call is outside of legal calling time. Likely, we’re not calling back until earliest the next day (and don’t call back before a scheduled time, if you’ve agreed to an appointment).

  32. Liz2*

    I have been blessed as an admin with a lot of execs with unusual last names. Makes it almost too easy to screen who really knows the person. But the admins job is a gatekeeper, make sure they get assertiveness training. I have often fallen on the sword and said “Sure, put me on your list and send your stuff!” just to get them off the phone and I can delete their spam.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      And train the receptionist/admin NOT to give out names to any cold-calling “can you tell me who is in charge of photocopiers in the building?” etc. I say this as someone who’s temped telesales too

  33. Michele*

    I had a sales person call me. When I told them I wasn’t interested in the product and hung up, they called back and proceeded to scold me for hanging up and that I had a bad attitude!

    All righty, I’ll be sure to pass you on to my boss now!

    1. ArtK*

      I get a lot of unsolicited calls for contractors. I normally tell them that: 1) I’m on the national DNC (not that that works at all); and 2) I never hire from cold calls. I’ve had more than a few chastise me, including call backs to cuss me out.

      My favorite(?) was this: His (repeated) response “You need to get outside of yourself.” I asked him why should I do business with someone who ignores my explicit request to be left alone. “You need to get outside of yourself.” I still don’t know what he meant.

      Really annoying? I got three calls in one day. One from ” Home Center”; one from “The Home Center”; and a third from “Home Center of “. I’ve looked it up — there is no such place near here. Next time I’m asking them for a physical address and local phone number, just to be annoying back.

      1. Laura*

        The “outside of yourself” bit is brilliant. I would have kept asking, earnestly, how exactly I should do that.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      This happened to me too, though he yelled at me while I was still on the phone, after I told him the person he needed to talk to was out in the field and he would be back in the office tomorrow. “LOOK HERE YOU MY TIME IS MONEY AND” I hung up on him.

      I told the field manager about it and he was PISSED. At the guy, not at me!

    3. Aspiring Person*

      In the States, that is illegal for a sales/information call. Fine for politics, but a sales call needs to give a minimum of four hours between calls if a person picks up (autodiallers don’t let you call back when they hang up on you. If you got no response, you can call back whenever, but more autodiallers are programmed to give four hours between calls, period).

      And legal telemarketers do follow the law, if only because our systems are pre-programmed to do so. It would drive me nuts when someone would pick up and said “[target] is available in an hour, can you call then?” No, I cannot. I’d ask for their availability for another day but often the gatekeeper didn’t know.

  34. Murphy*

    As everyone has said, you can definitely hang up on them! They don’t get to trap you in a phone call. It feels different in a work context, but as long as you’re calm and polite about it, it’s really OK. You can even add to Alison’s script, “No, thank you. Have a good day. I’m hanging up now. Goodbye.”

  35. Amber Rose*

    Ohhh, reminds me of Mymood!

    Boss man told this guy to stop calling us because we weren’t interested, and he responded with, “No, that is not my mood.” Now every time we get a stubborn telemarketer, we say Mymood is on the line.

    You can be a little abrupt with people who won’t listen to courtesy. Courtesy first, of course, but after that well. They kind of bring rudeness on themselves.

  36. Sara, a Lurker*

    I’m in marketing for a nonprofit, so I get a lot of cold calls offering advertising, much of which is well out of my price range. I’m a big fan of simply cutting to the chase in these calls, because you never know. Once a publication offered me an inside front cover ad for a few thousand dollars because an advertiser dropped out at the last minute. I said that I’d really like to but my budget was more like a few hundred dollars. They gave me the space for a few hundred dollars.

    If I know I don’t have the budget now but might in the future, someone taught me the elegant phrase “all our advertising dollars this period are spoken for.”

    If I don’t have time, I just say to send me a rate card but please don’t call me back, I’ll call you when my budget is approved. If it’s a limited time offer, I’m sorry, I can’t make take advantage of that offer right now. If we are happy with the services we already have, or I don’t have use for the services, I say so. It’s in both our best interests for me to be polite and direct. Those poor cold callers may have just been handed a list or told to call everyone in a particular job role in a particular area. It’s annoying, but it’s also a crap job and I can afford to be a little human.

    1. M*

      If I know I don’t have the budget now but might in the future, someone taught me the elegant phrase “all our advertising dollars this period are spoken for.”

      Funny enough, my go-to phrase for calls soliciting charity giving is very similar: “We’ve already allocated our charitable contributions for the year.”

  37. The Old Taylor*

    I actually think it’s more politely to quickly and firmly end the call.

    You know you aren’t going to buy anything. Oftentimes, salespeople are not allowed to end the call until you do, and are reviewed on the number of calls/sales they make per hour. It’s in their best interest (as well as yours) that you end the call promptly and decisively, as it’s part of their job to push.

    1. Aspiring Person*

      I agree that it is more polite. It was also my preference when I was a telemarketer.

      Is it irony that I ended up converting to a religion that says I cannot engage a salesman if I do not make it clear that I am not going to buy? (Some dominations of Christianity and Judaism, with similar rules in other religions) Well, technically scripture says store keeper, but most of us interpret that to mean all sales staff. The point was that you don’t have a right to waste the keeper’s time because she needs a sale and should get to move on. If only everyone had that attitude.

  38. gator32301*

    B2B sales guy here! First off, if the first thing out of salesperson’s mouth is the pitching of a product, I’d just as soon want to get them off the phone ASAP too.

    Secondly, as someone that deals with cold call barriers on a regular basis, I would caution in using some of the provided examples. If you’re a forward thinking organization, you just don’t have a “we don’t take unsolicited sales calls” policy as that is the primary means for learning about new products, technology, cost efficiencies, etc. Unfortunately salespeople know this tactic is generally false and most will not be undeterred.

    Stay away from excuses about being happy with the current vendor or it’s not something you’re interested in as they’re fairly nebulous statements and will only continue to leave the door open. My suggestion would be truthful (to a point of course) about why you can’t talk. Provide a very quick rundown of projects/topics that are “monopolizing your time” and that even at their conclusion (in 3,6, 12, etc months) you can’t even guarantee you’ll be able to talk then. While this may be perceived as nothing more than a blow-off, there is at least a grounding in reality and you have a better chance of limiting future calls.

    1. This Daydreamer*

      I would think most “forward thinking organizations” are perfectly capable of doing their own research and don’t want their hard working employees to be plagued by repeated sales calls. And there’s no reason why I should tell an unsolicited caller why I’m too busy to take the call.

      1. gator32301*

        you’re right, nobody should have to do anything. but as you know the purpose of this thread is to discuss ways to best deal with cold calls, not just what one should be expected to do.

        and sure, if all you need is a commoditized product like copy paper, then you certainly can do research on your own. but to preemptively shut the door on unsolicited contact when virtually every industry is positively impacted by new technology is counterintuitive in 2017.

        1. Mike C.*

          Dude seriously, no one wants to buy what you’re selling. Not here in the thread or when you call.

          Respect the fact that you’re imposing on others and end the call when they tell you they aren’t interested.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      “If you’re a forward thinking organization, you just don’t have a “we don’t take unsolicited sales calls” policy as that is the primary means for learning about new products, technology, cost efficiencies, etc. Unfortunately salespeople know this tactic is generally false and most will not be undeterred.”

      Most forward-thinking companies use the internet. Also professional conferences and the like for industry-specific vendors rather than random people attempting to sell us office supplies.

      1. gator32301*

        there’s a pretty big difference between the vendors you have at an industry conference and those selling hole punches. why have the same blanket policy for both?

        also, if businesses primarily bought because of conferences and trade shows, that is where sales budgets would go. but they don’t; the reason why there is still cold calling today is because it is the most efficient and cost effective to do business for both parties.

        and i guarantee that the overwhelming majority of people (gatekeepers or decision makers) that wish cold calling would go away work for an organization that has either achieved success because of unsolicited sales efforts of their own or want to do more of it.

        1. Kelly L.*

          “and i guarantee that the overwhelming majority of people (gatekeepers or decision makers) that wish cold calling would go away work for an organization that has either achieved success because of unsolicited sales efforts of their own or want to do more of it.”


          1. gator32301*

            it means that virtually all companies both sell things and buy things, and those that are productive don’t wait around passively for it to happen. there’s a reason why companies like Google, Apple, etc still have outbound sales teams even though they’re the most well known companies in the world.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Yeah, my organization doesn’t passively wait for people to call them on the phone; we look up information and network with other organizations who do the same thing to ask about new products, technologies, and services. Depending on cold calls would be a bizarre way to plan for new purchases.

        2. Wilhelmina Mildew*


          I used to work telemarketing and dude, just no. And you are fooling no one here with your marketing pitches for the glory of telemarketing.

      2. OtterB*

        What SarahTheEntwife said. There are lots of ways of learning about new products, technologies, etc., that don’t require me to waste my time with random arrogant cold callers.

    3. Katelyn*

      Most forward thinking companies are identifying their own issues/weaknesses/problems and then proactively searching for people who offer that solution. I have never had a cold-call salesperson correctly identify a single problem that my organization was facing at the time, let alone have a solution that was appropriate and cost effective.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Exactly. And if it’s me specifically answering the call for my organization, which it often is, why would I want to do business with someone who hasn’t even bothered to look up the publicly-available information that I am about seven layers below anyone with the authority to make purchasing decisions?

      2. slick ric flair*

        there’s a reason salespeople cold call and cold email- it works. If business could exist without sales, we would live in a different world, but almost every B2B organization has salespeople of some kind, and at some point a new business connection by definition has to be ‘cold’ to ever move beyond that. If networking/conferences/internet research were as powerful as claimed, they would be bigger, but they aren’t.

        It’s fine not to want to receive cold calls, but the hostility in this thread is really weird and over the top IMO

        1. Florida*

          This. If the world could function without salespeople, they wouldn’t exist. But every product or service has to be sold.

        2. Mike C.*

          It’s not weird at all if the folks in sales would simply consider not harassing others instead of their own paychecks. Some vague sense that “it works” doesn’t justify treating strangers poorly.

        3. Been There, Done That*

          I have nothing but respect for professional salespeople. The operative word being “professional.” People who berate me for declining their call, ignore my instruction not to call me again, etc., are not professional.

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        +1 – and most large forward-thinking organisations have procurement systems/tendering processes to make sure they’re getting the best value for money – a random cold call SHOULDN’T work, because the business should be comparing offers.

  39. RL*

    I get about 20 cold-call style emails a week from salespeople, occasionally phone calls too but I have a direct line and I screen them (none of my clients or colleagues use my desk phone, I’ve never had a legit work call come through on that line). The tactic that just boils my blood – seriously gets me SO ENRAGED – is the “casual conversation/buddy” style. I don’t know why this is so popular, does it work with ANYONE? I get murderously angry when salespeople pretend to know me, pretend to have met me, pretend to have already talked to me. I got one this morning.

    “Hi __! It’s been a while since we met and chatted about this so I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. We have some new ___ that would really benefit ___ [my company, which is a gigantic global organization with over 50,000 employees]. I know from our conversation a while back that you’re the person to discuss this with, so I’m going to set up a meeting for you, me, and ___ [my CEO’s name LOLOL] to talk it through. When’s good for you? Talk soon!”

    A. we’ve never met, I work with internal clients only and don’t go to conferences, sales meetings, or meet with external people EVER. there’s a 0.00000 %chance we’ve ever met.
    B. Your product is completely unrelated to my company, and my work
    C. I am about 9,854 people removed from the team who would make decisions about purchasing – so far removed that I wouldn’t know who to put you in touch with, how to put you in touch with them, what country they live in, or even what their role would be called so I could look it up in the directory (if i wanted to help you out, which I don’t.)
    D. I’ve never met the CEO and never will, and neither will you, you moron

    1. Kelly L.*

      Or the “incessant name-dropping” variety. They’ll pick up my name pretty early in the call, and then start dropping it like crazy. “How are you doing today, Kelly? Kelly, I’m calling today, Kelly, because we have a great opportunity, Kelly, for you to synergize your deliverables, Kelly. Now, Kelly, would that be something you’d be interested in, Kelly?” By the time they’ve stopped to take a breath, I’ve started hating my own name.

    2. Ally A*

      I work for a center within a large university so we get a LOT of “small business” calls. I love that I can just say, this is the University of Wherever. All of our purchasing is handled through the University. No I cannot connect you to the person “in charge”.

  40. steve*

    I’m conflicted about this for a few reasons.

    I used to have to cold call for a sales job, in fact, I’ve made over 10,000 cold calls. It sucks, it’s no fun and people are rejecting you without even hearing you out. And receiving sales calls is annoying, I never answer my personal phone if I don’t know the number and my work phone I try to avoid answering because it will be a sales call. I know both sides of the coin, and it sucks on both sides.

    So here’s a few things to consider:

    1. Is it possible you might benefit from learning about the thing they are offering? I’m not saying you should spend time with everyone, but maybe there is something of value you can gain from speaking to a sales person.

    2. Perhaps an e-mail wouldn’t be as annoying. Tell them you prefer to communicate over e-mail, and you can more easily avoid or communicate with these people at your leisure. Who knows, maybe one day when you’re trying to solve a problem, their solution will be right.

    3. Teach your admin the right questions to better screen callers.

    4. Just send them all to voicemail, anyone who needs something from you will leave one.

    1. UGH*

      I get sales calls/emails but have no purchasing power or influence over purchasing or software adoption for the massive corporation that I work for (in a small tier of a business unit where I work on designing internally facing marketing projects). I get dozens of emails & calls week asking me to adopt a new software for my company. I don’t know who sold my email address to 3rd party lists but they got my title wrong because it’s (changed for my privacy but very much like this example I’m making up) “Design Manager, Marketing Efforts for Internal and Corporate Charity Projects.” I lead a team of 1 and have nothing to do with purchasing software. Somewhere, somehow, I got listed as something much more important and technical than what I am, because I’m constantly being asked to adopt new programs for use with the “large team of developers I manage.” That’s like 5 levels above my paygrade.

      In my case, there is literally nothing of value that these people have to say to me. They bought my email address, the company that sold it had me incorrectly targeted, and now I’m just constantly harassed by requests for my time in an area I know nothing about or have any power over. None of my colleagues get these emails, not one person. I get 4-5 a day at least.

    2. Courageous cat*

      I can’t imagine what value could be gained by listening to a telemarketer, honestly. If I wanted a better ____, I’d probably be doing the research on my own once I realized I needed it. I get that you might have a bias since you have done it before (I probably would too), but I still think the vast majority of the time they’re more disruptive than at all useful, so it’s worth looking at from a more pragmatic point of view.

    3. Bea*

      I will admit that I have responded to a cold call a couple of times. However they’re for services that I already have, so that’s a plus and it’s for something that doesn’t “hurt” or cause any issues to change. Such as freight carriers. However I’ll never use one of those garbage freight quote scams, dealing with fly by night carriers *shivers* no thanks.

      But really it’s both sides that need to just work with one another. Don’t take it personally when people hang up on you, don’t scream at the person, if someone thinks maybe they’re interested, sure hear them out and do what you want. But nobody owes a cold caller an ear. I’m on the clock when I answer that work phone, why am I having my boss pay me to listen to a sales pitch when I’m supposed to be doing things that make him money…sure sometimes changing vendors save money but that’s usually something you’re going to know in advance and it’s a very easy “no we really do not want to change office supply companies, I get everything I need of Amazon ffs!”

  41. Vicky*

    I got calls like that daily at old job where I answered the phones. I used to be like LW – until I just started hanging up after “hello” was followed by a sales pitch. I see no reason not to – there’s no consequences. If you’re being interrupted at work with nonsense calls I think hanging up is fine. honestly realizing I could just hang up on that kind of thing (in work and life) was very liberating.

    Why exert emotional labour for a sales call?

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      Well, but unless it’s an actual robot calling, there is a human being on the other end of the line, a human being doing a rather unpleasant job. I don’t owe them much, of course, but I do owe them a minimal amount of politeness, or so it seems to me. So I’ll invest the amount of time it takes me to say “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested. Goodbye!” before I hang up. It takes literally 5 seconds and is quite effective.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Common courtesy isn’t really emotional labor, or at least, not much. “No, thank you, we’re not interested. Good-bye!” isn’t really time consuming or difficult.

        I used to know a woman who worked in a telemarketing shop — she was a teacher trying to keep some income coming in during the summer holidays. I try to think of her and adjust my tone accordingly.

        1. Mike C.*

          As someone with ADD, switching focus is actually quite difficult. It takes me a long time to get settled, get distractions out of my way, and get into a groove and be productive. When that happens, I can do amazing work for my employer.

          When someone calls me out of the blue, that’s all shattered. It’s stressful and I have to start the whole process over again, all because someone wanted to try and make a buck off of me.

      2. Wilhelmina Mildew*

        I used to work telemarketing and I was glad when people hung up immediately, because it meant I could go right on to my next call.

  42. October*

    My biggest sales call issue (thankfully this only happens once in a while, but I still haven’t found a great way to deal with it):

    At my workplace, I’m in charge of work done with a niche type of software that only a few people on staff also use. We like it and are happy with our current provider. There are other companies providing the same type of software who will contact us by phone and email. For this stuff I’m the decision-maker, but salespeople will spam everyone in the org for whom they can find contact info (including me).

    I’m happy to politely tell them no and end the contact, but one of many coworkers in different departments will sometimes give them mixed messages, which only encourages the sales person to keep fishing. Okay, so I realize this is just as much a coworkers/internal communication issue as anything, but it’s frustrating. Sometimes when we’re being aggressively spammed by one of these companies, one of my coworkers will reply to a sales email and copy me as the person to talk to, as they would with any regular business communication.

    Or (even worse) a senior-to-me coworker who doesn’t understand much about my job will fall into their trap, and send the sales person back to me or tell me to get back in touch with them (i.e., “October, this guy says his software is cheaper/better than what you’re using – you need to talk to him”). Then I have to explain to that senior-to-me person that there are x, y, and z functions we need that the sales person’s product won’t do, etc.

    So yeah, maybe the issue is just that I have frustrating coworkers? : )

    But seriously I wish there was a definitive way to say to a salesperson: a) I am the final decision-maker about the product you’re selling and b) Please take not only me, but everyone here off of your list – you won’t get a different answer from someone else.

    I really don’t want to have to send an all-staff email out when I shoot down one of these salespeople, but I’m starting to think I might have to.

  43. Fleeb*

    Never answer questions about who your current suppliers are, the type of equipment you have, or any specific information they’re asking for. Scammers will get the info and then have someone else call back with it to make you think they’re your supplier. Then they add a huge markup to whatever they’re sending you.

    1. Bea*

      I wish this was taught to anyone ever tasked with answering phones.

      It’s like those collection notices that arent bills but some AP rookie didn’t get the memo and they send money to the crooks.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      This, and if they ask you a yes/no question, DON’T ANSWER IT YES. They can record your yes and use it against you. “We have you on tape saying yes to 75 boxes of gopher deodorant!”

      1. Wilhelmina Mildew*

        OMG this happened to me in the mid-90s, when I called a supposedly free tarot or astrology or something like that frivolous entertainment line (it wasn’t charged by the minute, I had worked 1-900 chat lines in the past and knew aaaalll about how that works.) They had you answer some simple, innocuous pre-recorded question that you could only answer yes, and then the call took forever- because what they were *actually* doing was signing people up for some exorbitantly priced long distance service, charging your entire call to it. I got my next bill with an ASTRONOMICAL charge for that one call and absolutely freaked. I called my phone company, and they were the ones that told me, it’s not us, it’s whatever company is listed on your bill. And when I called this scam place up, they tried to insist that I had agreed to this, they even had me on tape! Which they had of course, altered so the innocuous question they had ACTUALLY asked was replaced by, Do you agree to sign up for this long distance service?
        I went BALLISTIC. I yelled that they had scammed me, that I had answered yes to Question X, not Question Y about long distance, absolutely would not pay & they could sue me over it, fraud, dishonesty, I want a supervisor- I don’t even remember everything I screamed at them, but it worked, because they fixed it IMMEDIATELY and I had no further problems.

  44. crookedfinger*

    It’s confusing to me that anyone would think they have to behave differently to telemarketers when they’re at work vs. at home. I mean, you can’t always ignore the call at work, but you’d have a similar response if you accidentally picked up one of their calls at home, yeah? Unless you’re screaming obscenities into the phone at home, there shouldn’t really be a big difference.

    1. Elsajeni*

      I think part of it is that you may not be the decision-maker at work — I know for sure whether anyone at my house is interested in changing our electricity provider, because there’s only two of us and I’m the one who makes that decision. But I have no authority to decide what office-supply vendor we use at work, and no real idea a) who does have that authority or b) whether this caller’s offer is something they’d actually be interested in. So I hesitate to shut them down with as much finality as I would at home.

  45. HRTripp*

    I mainly get sales emails. I typically ignore the first email but if they get more persistent I’ll respond back. Usually, they want to set up a call but I’ll respond with ” Thanks but we’re not interested at this time. If anything changes in the future I’ll be sure to reach out and we can schedule a call then”. That usually gets them off my back and when I respond I delete my phone number from my signature so they don’t try to call me anyway :)

    I got one email this morning from a sales guy stating ” I saw your post and wanted to reach out…” Knowing I didn’t post anything anywhere I responded, “what post are your referring to” and I haven’t heard back lol.

  46. ZVA*

    I’m a sales rep, and I have to say, the “won’t take no for an answer” types give us all a bad name…

    I’m perfectly happy to take no for an answer; in fact, it’s the answer I expect most of the time! That’s the nature of what I do.

    If you’re super happy with your vendor & don’t want to switch, great — I might ask if I can send you a sample for reference in case your needs change, then check back in 6 months or a year. If you’re not the person I should be speaking with, I’ll ask if you can direct me to the right contact, and then I won’t call you again. Anything else is a waste of my time and yours.

    Long story short, I prefer the prospects I call to be honest & to the point, like Alison’s scripts—which OP shouldn’t be afraid to use. I know sales has a bad reputation (as many of the comments here attest!), but it’s a challenging & rewarding job that I (who once was the shyest child you’ve ever met) have grown to like and my company (which I’m proud to work for) wouldn’t exist without it… all this to say that not all sales reps are what you think! But I do think an honest, polite, and firm approach is the way to go regardless.

  47. Bea*

    I delighted my team when I came in and told them that I’ll save them from sales calls since I’m the manager. Then I pointedly told a few aggressive reps that they aren’t welcome to call here any longer. Even companies I’ve worked with as vendors have gotten told to limit their sales calls.

    My favorite memory is the asshole who called right back after I finally said “no.” and hung up. I sent it to voicemail and he left a message saying “oooooh cant answer the phone eh, you people are so rude.” yeah sure to make it’s my fault and not because your high pressure questions and inability to say no is why I dumped the call!

    Being professional is important because there are others who may walk in that you do care about thinking poorly due to not knowing that it’s a sales call. Otherwise I just go to town on anyone who keeps calling.

    PLEASE REMEMBER toner and paper scams are a thing still. Do not ever let anyone give you a quote,do not give them the copier information they’re fishing for.

  48. Gandalf the Nude*

    One of the truest, simplest joys in life is to shut down or hang up on a cold caller. Indulge in it whenever possible.

  49. Workfromhome*

    I don’t suppose you have a purchasing department or something similar? I agree that its perfectly acceptable to say no thanks and then say I have to end the call and hang up…but if there are reasons you cannot then….
    If you have a purchasing department or similar you can say ” You have not reached the right person I’ll dorect you to our purchasing department you may leave a message with your contact information and they will contact you back if interested” Then you can let purchasing know not to pick up and let it go to voice mail.

    Or “I’m not the right person give me your email address and I’ll pass it on to our purchasing department and they can contact you if interested. No I cant give out their information “. If they persist say that’s all I’m permitted to do if you don’t wish to give me the email I’ll need to hang up”

    Hiding behind a process or your limited authority can be very useful. If you are firm and polite about it you have every right to end the call if they refuse to abide by the limits you set.

  50. jmm*

    Help your admin asst beef up his/her phone screening skills. My boss and I came up with a plan for sales reps’ phone calls — I ask them to email her with info about their product/service, and if she’s interested a meeting or phone call, she will direct me to set something up.
    Many sales people have to meet call/contact quotas – this procedure helps them meet their quota and helps my boss screen products at her convenience.

  51. Krystal*

    Recently there has been a big rise in telemarketing calls to the point where they are calling several times a week. They used to be maybe once a month. Usually it is an automated voice recording and I just hang up on that but the real person is not much better. I even waited for a pause when the real person was done speaking and said “No thank you, I am not interested” and she just started talking again as though she didn’t even hear me. Not even a ” Give me just a minute”. I hate the idea of just hanging up on someone but when they act like that they sort of give you no choice. It is like they are being pressured to make the call last a certain amount of time no matter what.

    1. Ducking Hill*

      As someone who worked (briefly) in a call centre, you are often given a script to follow (literally a “Good morning/afternoon/evening, sir-or-madam [delete as appropriate]” sort of “You MUST recite this word-for-word!” type script) , and targets to hit (no. of calls, length of calls, etc).

      And you know, when you’re working for the McDonalds of sales teams/call centres, they’re not paying you enough to care, so you just recite that shit verbatim. It’s also a form of rebellion through total blind obedience – you know these tactics aren’t ever gonna work, and you’re kind of miserably happy about that?

      They’re also viciously self-selecting for sociopathic tendencies, because anyone with a working brain, functioning empathy, ethics, and any kind of moral framework just won’t even want to hit their targets using their “successful sales tactics! [TM]”

      (I sat next to the Employee of The Month for the last six months running; he was a human tire fire in a garbage dump, and he “won” his calls (& EOTM awards) by lying, cheating, dishonesty, lying, misrepresention, and lying – did I mention the lying? It was honestly one of those ‘I don’t know whether to call the police, or write an academic paper about your dysfunctions’ situations.)

  52. LeisureSuitLarry*

    Why isn’t “no thank you” followed by hanging up an option? I’ve worked in office settings for almost 20 years, and I’ve lost count of the people I’ve hung up on after simply saying “no thanks”. Honestly, there have been a few times that I didn’t even give them that. Once I heard who they were and what they wanted, the next thing they heard was a click and a dial tone.

    But, okay, let’s assume that you can’t hang up on them. Here’s a script for you: “Thank you for your interest in becoming our chocolate teapot supplier. We are satisfied with our current chocolate teapot supplier, but if you give me your name and number we will contact you if that changes.” From that point, you give them an opportunity or two to give you their contact info, then you hang up.

    I still prefer just hanging up on them.

  53. peachie*

    A lot of these calls redirect to me, and I’ve found the best and quickest way to shut them down is with “Oh no, we JUST switched web hosts/signed a new lease/ordered a literal ton of promotional products, so we’re definitely all set. Sorry for the bad timing, have a great day!” In my case, that’s usually been true, but even if it’s not, the attitude of “I know you’re just doing your job and I don’t want to waste your time” has always ended the conversation quickly and cordially.

  54. Snark Maiden*

    We had a terrible salesperson who lied to us repeatedly about having a “contract open” with the accounting department (this was for a credit card processor) and then when we finally told them we were not interested, after giving them the passive runaround (indefinite hold, call back later) the sales person proceeded to SPAM call us repeatedly over and over, threatening to sue us and trying to tie up our phone lines.

    Another time I said a cheery “No thanks we’re not interested,” and cut a different salesperson off mid sentence after they tried to push even harder, only to receive a follow up call that was them saying “Fucking bitch” and then a hang up! There’s no point in worrying about how rude you may seem because they are often playing by a different set of rules and aren’t afraid to escalate to obscenities even if you are polite about declining. Alas I couldn’t call them back and demand their manager, because they were using a fake caller ID. I hope they got papercuts for a week, though.

  55. designbot*

    My default these days is to be like “ooh, we’re just in a really tough time right now with all the work coming in! I don’t think I’ll have a chance to think about anything like this for a few months,” and then promptly rush them off the phone. Usually they’ll send an email followup instead of calling, which is much easier to ignore.

    1. Been There, Done That*

      Reminds me of a friend who did telemarketing briefly before she started college. They sold toner, and one place told her, “We’re not buying anything anymore, we just declared bankruptcy!” Now I wonder if it was to get the telemarketer off the phone.

      1. Aspiring Person*

        You’d be surprised how often it is true. We’ve Googled.

        Even I’ve done it. My city was in a state of emergency due to flooding and I was packing up my home, photographing what was lost for insurance, etc. I received a call selling subscriptions to the nearby larger metropolitan hub’s newspaper. I actually screamed into the phone “I just lost my home to the flood and am cleaning up the wreckage of my life as the contaminants leave rashes all over my body. Where are you planning on delivering my paper, the Red Cross shelter? Did you guys even consider that you shouldn’t be selling to a disaster zone?!? Removing our area code for the next few days?”

        My mother came running into the room, waving her arms and yelling “hang up the phone!” When I did, she said what I did was completely inappropriate and dragged me to a local diner because “clearly you need a break from this.” While it is not my finest moment, I do still think they should have taken my city off the list for a few days. I hope she brought up my call with her supervisor.

        We do sometimes get people on the worst days of their lives. I always believed them for reasons beyond the law requiring us to take callers at their word.

  56. not gonna reach my telephone*

    Oooh! Saying no thank you is probably 60-70% of what I do, so here are my strategies:

    – “Thank you, but we’re not interested / I can’t give out any information about that / We’re not interested in making any changes to X” is my first line for reasonably polite people who are willing to back down.

    – “I don’t have anyone who can speak to you on the phone about that / We only handle these matters in writing; please email Y” is also commonly useful. Most of the time they won’t bother. When they do, you can just delete it, and if they call to follow up tell them that if no one got back to them no one was interested

    For people who are rude, or talk over me, I will just tell them no thank you, clarify that I am hanging up, and then hang up. Alternately, sometimes they are not allowed to hang up and if you’re feeling vindictive you can leave them on hold indefinitely. (I don’t actually do that, but it’s good to keep in mind.)

    If it seems they’re calling repeatedly, I make a note of the number and start to be explicit about it- “I asked you Monday to take us off your list, you’ve called every day since, we are not interested.”

    Only once have I had to tell someone we were considering reporting them for harassment– fortunately the calls stopped soon after I did. THAT was a fun one.

    My favorite instance, though, was a former boss who patiently listened to a sales pitch that slipped past, politely told the caller “I’m afraid we’re just not right for each other,” and hung up. I learned a lot about saying no from him.

    Good luck OP! I promise it does get easier as you practice.

  57. Beancounter Eric*

    Hate the calls which immediately begin with “How are you today, Eric?”….first, I doubt I know you, and I definitely do not give you permission to call me by my first name – I’m one of those people who is not particularly fond of the “first-name address” bit – generally, I just let them all go to voicemail, and ignore the sales calls.

    Want to sell me something? Send me written information. And even then, don’t get your hopes up.

    1. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

      I hate that! “How are you today” is so annoying from a total stranger on the phone, because like you really care?? I almost always reply “Who is this?” or sometimes “Why do you ask?” if I’m especially grouchy. In general though I am polite and let the caller know we are not interested and/or that particular decision maker does not accept cold calls but if they care to send a fax I will put it in the appropriate mailbox. No one ever follows up with a fax.

  58. caligirl*

    A different perspective I haven’t seen yet in these great comments is to think about security impacts. I had a caller yesterday at work say that they “managed wealth for a lot of executives at my company” and did I know anyone they should talk to…. um, no. I’m not giving names, no way. I just said “that’s not part of my job here, have a great day!” and hung up the phone.
    Bad guys are very crafty… if only they used their skills for good!

  59. Mechanical Engineer*

    Has anyone here used the Jolly Roger Telephone Company service for telemarketers? Essentially, you can switch the telemarketer call to a robot that will chat with the telemarketer for you, and will tie them up from calling others during that same time period. Since I have to use my personal phone for work, I end up on a lot of telemarketing lists (and a LOT of scam lists), so this has been super useful for me.

    Also, the calls are recorded and you can listen back to them later. They can be quite funny!

      1. Mechanical Engineer*

        Yep! Essentially you dial in to one of the “pirates” and then merge calls.

        You could do it to anyone, though (not that you’d want to use it on your friends…. but you could!)

  60. Magenta Sky*

    It’s rude to hang up on a telemarketer in the middle of a sentence. It’s also rude to make cold sales calls, and refuse to take no for an answer. Tit for tat, and all.

    I get all the cold calls here where I work, precisely *because* I will just hang up on them. I’ll give them about five to ten seconds to stop talking long enough for me to say “We’re not interested,” then hang up before they get a chance to say anything. If they don’t stop talking for that long, I just hang up. They rarely call back.

    This being a retail store, there obviously has to be some filtering by the receptionist, because the buyers get a lot of cold sales calls, and welcome them, as that’s a good way to get new products to sell. Mostly, I get people selling telecommunications services, who I can get rid of by just telling them who we currently deal with (they’re the cheapest in the business, bar none, by a lot – one promised to save us to much per line that he’d have had to pay us $5/line/month to keep his promise), and computer sales from the one of the two major manufacturers we don’t deal with, who are the most relentless telespammers in the world. They just get hung up on without a word.

    (Toner scammers – and make no mistake, anybody selling toner by cold sales call is a scammer – are easy to get rid of. Just tell them “Send me a written contract saying you assume all responsibility for the warranty on the printer that is void if we don’t use OEM product.” Or lease a printer under a lease that includes toner at no additional cost. “We’ll save you money on toner!” “Really? How much are you going to pay us to take it? Because right now, we pay nothing, so to save us money, you’ll have to *pay* *us*. Even if it’s only a penny a cartridge, we’ll take all you have. Be sure the check is in the box.”)

  61. Chaordic One*

    Back when I worked as an admin in H.R. I had to resort to similar tactics when dealing with persistent job applicants following up. After submitting application materials to whichever department was doing hiring we were out of the loop until someone accepted job offer and no one told us anything so we really couldn’t say anything one way or the other to these applicants.

    “I’m sorry, but as far I know no decision has been made and I can’t give you any time frame for when a decision will be made. Goodbye.” (hang-up)

  62. Sara without an H*

    It’s OK to say “no.” Repeat until you believe it.

    My usual MO is to just say, “We’re not interested, but thank you for calling,” and then hang up. I figure that most of the poor souls on the other end are making minimum wage, have no control over the call list or their scripts, and don’t deserve to be tortured.

    I run an academic library in a small women’s college. The sales reps I really hate are the ones who start out by calling our faculty and urging them to pressure me to buy their product — for which there is no room in our slender budget.

    Those are the ones who deserve to fry in Hades…

  63. SchoolStarts!*

    I don’t miss that part of reception at all. We were a small 40-person branch of a large 5000 employee firm. They would call looking for the “owner.” No, I would explain, if I was in the mood, the CEO of a 5000 employee firm is NOT taking your call (and he mostly spoke French). No, then goodbye.

  64. nnn*

    Whether you want to use this in the workplace depends greatly on context, but in my personal life I sometimes find it useful to deal with aggressive marketing by (politely) calling them out on social media.

    Example: “The sales tactics that @TeapotsInc has their cold callers use are so pushy and unpleasant that I don’t ever want to do business with them”

    The company may or may not care, but it’s another pathway to get the attention of the people who can actually change the company’s strategy. (And if lots of people took their sales complaints to social media, companies would have to do something about it because it would affect their reputation.)

  65. One of the Sarahs*

    I have no qualms about being assertive – and I’ve temped on the other side, for a truly stupid telesales company. So, for example, one day the job was to ring up every local newspaper in the UK and try to get the names of the person who buys IT services, so the salesfolk can try to pitch at them. Lets say there are 5,000 of these newspapers. But out of those, 2,000 of them belong to 1 massive national group, and 2,000 to another, as a starting point – and all the IT is run on a huge national level contract.

    The next level down is a group of, say, 30 papers, same thing, and so on – down to, say the last 100 that are listed as newspapers but are 1-person papers.

    So if the plan is “let’s try to sell to newspapers”, the first pass shouldn’t be “ring up all the newspapers” but have a look at how the newspapers are structured, and target accordingly, especially as selling to one of the two giant groups is going to be much more worthwhile, on the one hand, OR such a large contract would be impossible for the company. This would be 1000 times more cost effective in every way. But no, my 2 weeks there was doing this sort of thing, repeated over & over in different, stupid, ways.

    I’d say to the manager, hey, all these Xs seem to be part of bigger groups – and they’d shrug and say we’d been paid to datamine in this way, so that’s what the client wanted. So the faster the call to get/not get information, the better for me. (I lasted 2 weeks there, because it was hellish. When the bosses bring in booze at lunchtimes 3 times in a fortnight, you know you’re in a bad job)

    As a result, especially when I’ve worked in large multi-site organisations that blatantly won’t have a separate IT/photocopier/phone contract per office, and will also blatantly have a procurement policy that’s available on the organisation website (every Local Authority/Council, eg!) I have no hesitation about shutting down the “who can I speak to who deals with you X” type calls.

  66. Her Grace*

    You do not need the permission of the other caller to politely but firmly terminate the call. A simple “No thank you, please put us on your Do Not Contact list. Goodbye,” followed by an immediate hang up is not rude, especially if delivered in your cheeriest customer service voice.

    After all, you listened to them long enough to identify who they were and what they wanted, then gave an honest response. It’s not your job to see that they have accepted your reason, only to deliver it. They are not your customers, they are not your clients. You owe them nothing but the brief response above.

    That said, I am wondering, dear LW, if your boss/manager had stipulated that you must be all-politeness, which forbids you to terminate a call ‘prematurely’ (i.e. only the other caller can terminate). If this is the case, it might be worth having a word with your manager regarding the specific scripts for such calls, especially if you stipulate that some of these callers will not hang up until they get a yes, and last you checked, you are not authorised to make these kinds of business decisions. You need authorised termination scripts and permissions to terminate. Do not be afraid to use them.

    I had a job once where we had to be all-politeness, not even a smidgen of sass. That one policy alone caused most of the grief we had. I’m still traumatised thirty years later because of it.

  67. MissDisplaced*

    Does anyone get the constant robocalls asking to update your Google or Yelp listings?
    I had so many of these (like 6-8 a day!) that they became extremely disruptive. I stayed on the line and was able to get a person and tell them to put me on the do not call list. Of course, they get mad when you do that!

    As for other sales calls, I typically just say, something like “Thanks but we’re not interested in that, goodbye!” I aim to treat is much like Email blasts, and ignore. The more difficult part, as someone mentioned above, is when you really ARE sort of interested, but are either doing research or not yet ready for the product and the sales person keeps calling every week. I have to conduct a lot of software research (comparing features, etc.) and sometimes those calls are a real time suck.

  68. ms-dos efx*

    My favorite is when they start the call by asking to speak with the owner. I work at a state university, so I ask if they’d like to speak with the “owner” of the state. They almost always hang up.

    1. Zip Zap*

      I’ve gotten calls for deceased relatives. I mean people who passed away over a decade ago. I usually wouldn’t do this, but it is kind of fun to say, “She’s dead!” and hang up. You’d think that companies would do some research and remove the dead people from their lists. But they don’t.

  69. Zip Zap*

    Long ago, I worked at a call center. I have empathy for people who work at call centers. The base pay is usually not that great. You’re crammed into a small space with a lot of other people. It’s a loud, chaotic environment.

    The place where I worked did outbound and inbound. I worked on an inbound project because I didn’t feel comfortable pressuring people to buy things or sign up for things. The outbound people made more money but had to be comfortable with that, and with being very assertive.

    But everyone, at least where I worked, had to read from a script and there was close supervision. You couldn’t deviate from the script unless there was a good reason.

    When talking to people who work at call centers, I recommend either ending the call quickly so they can move on to the next one or take a break, or being friendly and making conversation. “So, where do you work? Oh, I’ve never been to Indianapolis! What’s it like there? What are you doing this weekend? Any fun plans?” Call center workers don’t get much of that so when it happens, it can be a nice break from all the other stuff.

  70. Safely Retired*

    “You are never going to sell us anything. I suggest you spend your time talking to people who might actually buy something from you.

    This is derived from the one I use for calls wanting me to invest. “I suggest you talk to someone with money.”

  71. Chickaletta*

    I use a similar version of Alison’s advice. Lately though I’ve been getting calls where once they realize they have a live person on the phone, they keep talking on and on in paragraphs without a break. The first time that happened I listed with exasperation until I could get a word in to tell them “no, thank you”. The second time I realized it was happening I just spoke over them to say “no, thank you, please remove me from your calling list” and hung up. They’re usually still talking to themselves when I hang up, fools.

  72. Student*

    Commentariate, I think some of you might benefit from knowing that telemarketers are often entry-level employees who are working off of a fixed script that they are not allowed to use personal discretion on.

    When you do complicated, weird things instead of just saying, “No thanks” next time, please reflect on these facts:
    – You may be speaking to a minor, 16-17. I have friends who had these jobs in high school, not so very long ago.
    – You are probably speaking to somebody on the bottom of the economic ladder. Even in poor areas with bad employment, call centers are notoriously terrible places to work with high turnover.
    – You may be speaking to somebody with a learning disability.
    – They aren’t allowed to deviate from the script, even if it’s obvious you don’t want the stuff they’re selling.
    – They aren’t allowed to hang up on you, no matter how evasive or hostile you are.

    Y’all seem to think these are all mid-level slick sales guys. Sometimes they are, but lots of times they aren’t. The slick sales guys are usually better at finding the right person to call – somebody who might want their wares and is in a position to make a decision to buy. The wildly random cold-calls are minimum-wagers who will get driven out of their call center job by burn-out after a year from dealing with a constant stream of hostility.

    You want to be righteous and angry at an annoying corporate sales tactic? Fine by me. Write the better business bureau, give them bad online reviews, talk to a manager to complain, don’t buy the products. You want to take it out on people who cannot do anything about it? You’re worse than the company paying for the call, in my book. Kick the company if you don’t like what they’re doing; don’t tread on the throats of their lowest-level contractors.

  73. Kate*

    Late to this party, but in situations like this I say “can you please send me more information via email so I can review?” It avoids a stressful phone conversation and often they don’t actually send an email. And when they do, it’s easier (for me) to reject them by email. I started doing this when I was in a receptionist role: “I’m not sure who the best person to talk to is. Can you send me information via email and I can find out who you should talk to?” and then when they did email I would say “actually, this isn’t a good fit for anyone here” (if that was true, of course.)

  74. Spiral Key*

    As a former telesales person (for a short while during uni) I can assure you that they are trained to keep the call going until you wear down and agree to the next step. Hanging up will be one of the only ways to end a call that doesn’t involve them getting their way.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that they probably don’t want to spend 20 minutes of their time on a call that isn’t going to generate a ‘lead’ (but aren’t allowed to give up until you give in). They have also almost certainly been hung up on several times already that day (it’s a pretty integral part of the job), and are probably grateful you don’t swear at them! So don’t think of it as being rude, just consider it as saving both your time and theirs!

    For the record, I really hate the practice of cold calling – I think it’s a terrible way to do business, but it’s worth remembering that almost no-one works in telesales unless they are really desperate for a job, so I try not to be too hard on the person on the call.

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