I remember getting a cold call from Dropbox one day. They had done an analysis of accounts that used our corporate email address as a primary login for personal accounts. The volume of storage we had hosted in personal accounts was astronomical. Terabytes of data, just sitting there without anyone being the wiser… well, except Mike from Dropbox that is.

I was an individual contributor in marketing and didn’t really know what to do with this information. This was a problem that hadn’t even been identified by my team. I went to my main contact in our security group and basically dropped it into his lap and said “I think we need to fix this.” I left the company before a resolution was found, but I remember him looking at me in sheer horror that his peers had done this.

I tell this story because there you are, sitting at your desk. It’s early Tuesday morning and you’ve got your coffee in hand. You’ve scrolled through your Slack feeds, Twitter and LinkedIn and are now going through email to see how the day is going to play out. Then, the phone rings. You answer without checking caller ID. It’s the dreaded cold call and you’re silently berating yourself for answering the phone. You know better! And now, you’ve completely missed what the caller is saying and you’re faced with accepting a meeting to be polite, declining and possibly missing out on something you need or sticking to the middle of the road and asking for a call back next week/quarter/year when you’ll “have more insight into the business needs.”

What if you could prevent this and turn each prospecting phone call into a value added interaction for both parties? It’s possible, but not without work at the front end.

The first step is making internal business innovation accessible to the masses. That means being open and sometimes vulnerable to your teams. Acknowledge if there are gaps in processes, areas of “could be better” and so on. Encourage teams to present solutions to problems they face on the daily. Maybe Joan in accounting has a hack that she’s been doing for the last 10 years; because once upon a time, she was told there was no budget for that and so she built a workaround. But now, Joan is getting ready to retire and the solution she developed is so outdated that new tools can’t work with it. Instead of throwing your hands up in frustration about Joan going rogue, put it on a list of “Problems to be Solved” and ask for solutions from the team. Maybe someone saw a LinkedIn post or listened to a podcast about just this. Or maybe, someone just shut down a cold call, because answering “we don’t have time/budget/interest” is easier.

Once you have injected encouragement into your teams, make your list readily available. Put it on SharePoint, upload it to Trello, make it a Google doc. Whatever you have to do, share your business needs with the people who keep your business running. Do this outside of your marketing approved strategy document. This is meant to support the strategy and vision and is a living document, not something that only gets taken off the bookshelf once or twice a year.

Now that you’ve got a list of problems that are seeking solutions, start breaking down silos and incorporate your accounts payable and procurement teams. If you don’t already have a list of requirements for new vendors in an easy to digest format, create it. If all new vendors need to provide a W9 form and accept payment terms of Net 120, make sure people know that. If an invoice can’t be paid without a purchase order (PO) number and creating a PO number requires the vendor to log into a portal to create a profile, arm your teams with that knowledge. Make it easy to understand.

The more people know about how the business works, the more they can optimise their contributions. In my experience, it’s when employees go rogue to solve problems and do their own thing that we start losing value and waste time on inappropriate solutions. As much as process is loathed by some, it’s required by most. Keep it simple and keep it relevant.

Next, assign realistic values to the problems. Is it something we want to solve this week? Or can it wait until next fiscal year? How much budget are we willing to put towards this? You don’t have to be completely transparent here, especially regarding budget, but give an indication. Use a legend. If addressing the problem Joan has been working around is a top priority for your division, rank it #1 and $$$ for how much budget you can spare. If someone calls with a solution to problem #43 which is flagged as a fiscal year 2021 priority, your team can honestly state that it’s not a priority at this time and provide a timeline on when it might be more relevant to call back.

This helps guide people when they’re interacting with sales representatives. The next time a cold call comes into your front line they can correctly redirect the call to the right team. That team can then quickly pull up the problem list, look at the top priorities and take control of the call by asking “can you solve this?” If the caller can’t, they may let you know about another problem on the list they can solve. If nothing else, they should at least appreciate the speed at which they got to an informed influencer or decision maker, the ease of communication and if not remove your business from the call list, at least update their contact information so your whole company doesn’t get the same phone call. Finally, your team will feel empowered and may even begin to reach out to potential solutions providers in their own network.

To recap:

  1. Establish a company wide list of problems that are keeping your staff up at night. Include who is accountable. Make it collaborative. Make it easily accessible.
  2. Work with support teams like Accounting and Procurement to ensure there is a 1 page guide on how to work with new vendors.
  3. Prioritise the list of problems for each fiscal year and what quarter you anticipate funds being available to solve them. Have a consistent legend and global understanding of what each code means.
  4. Enable your front end teams to respond to inquiries with confidence.