You’d think the top executive at a marketing and design firm would be happy to receive calls from prospective customers—and at the rate of two a month.
But he’s not. Quite the opposite, exactly. “This is a very competitive business,” explains the service-business founder, who started out more than three decades ago. “And that’s a tactic that gets used quite a bit. New printers want to know what we charge for printing. Others just want to find out why you are successful, what makes you click, what makes you work.”
Such callers may pretend to be coffee shop owners, pasta-sauce makers or any other form of small business owner. “Or they act like reporters,” he adds, suspiciously.
In reality, he says, they are rivals who are “trying to find out our prices and services.” How can he be sure? Here are some of the clues he’s learned to pick up on:
They ask about pricing right away. “This is a very custom-oriented business,” he says. Before they’ve even described the job in any detail, the mystery callers ask for a price list or whether the company requires customers to pay a minimum price. “Market yourself on price, and you’ll be the first one to go out of business,” he says.
They dive deeply into detail. “I ask them to email me,” says the executive, who adds that the majority of “cold-callers” freeze up after that. Otherwise, he mostly just listens, dodging their very specific questions. “They begin asking very industry-specific questions,” he says “And they want to know who you’ve worked with in the past.” They may ask about gaining access to the “native file”—a document which contains the original format of a design—of a certain design they’ve seen. “They say they want it for one purpose,” he says, “but they want to use it with all kinds of stuff.” Two gents who called, he says, asked such meticulous questions that he figured out what they were really up to: designing a site that would compete with his. “I kind of had fun with them, then I just hung up,” he recalls.
They disappear after one call. In one case, the executive says, the caller was so persistent that he went along with it. Soon, he found himself on a global conference call with what turned out to be a legitimate—and desirable—customer, as he learned after doing some research. Alas, the next call was also the last. “The main person called me back and said they thought our stuff was too cheerful, too playful,” he says. “I guess they want to bore their customers to death.”
— Josh Hyatt