Notes on Productivity: How the Music Industry Does Things Right—Re-considering Incoming Sales Calls

Are you losing out on good ideas by ignoring the phone? Probably so.



When I worked in the music industry, I spent most of my life on the phone. In fact, everyone in my office spent so much time on the phone back then, we hardly wanted to talk at all when the day came to a close.

Stiff necks and tired vocal chords can do that to you, I guess.

Despite these ailments though, I picked up a few valuable lessons that I would like to share, particularly since the telephone seems to have dropped out of favor as our preferred means of communication these days.

For one, I learned the phone can serve to bring two strangers together within the same room in one of the most intimate and economic ways possible. No need to spend money to fly to their location; to set up a web conference; buy a webcam and install the dang thing in the hope that it works. . .nope none of that, just pick up the phone and you’re immediately right in their ear. Talk about communicating. I love the phone. It works. It works for business and it works for family. Don’t be afraid to pick it up and call someone, and don’t be afraid to answer it either.

Answering the phone is the the other important lesson I learned from my years in record promotion. And, this one, or lack of it, is way out of control. Today, people hardly ever answer their phone. Don’t believe me, try it. Heck, call a relative at work today. My bet is unless they recognize your phone number, they’ll let it ring to voice mail every time. If you’re in sales, you also know those voice mails won’t be returned unless there is some strange alignment of the planets AND there just happens to be a need for what you’re offering.

It’s really amazing when you think about it. People are so afraid of who/what is on the other end of that phone line that they’re just ignoring it these days. Or maybe the excuse is that we’re all too busy and don’t have time for the interruption. Perhaps. I can see how easily the day can get away from our grasp after just a few hours in the office. But is ignoring the call altogether the right answer? Is ignoring the sales rep or co-worker the solution? Hardly. In fact, it’s more likely to cause your firm to lose money, than you might expect.

Each phone call from a sales person, for example, is an attempt to expose you to a product or service you most likely don’t know exists, but could possibly benefit from. The call is placed precisely because they feel you might actually need their product or service. If they didn’t feel this way, they wouldn’t call you in the first place! So, if you’re not in a position to buy, just tell them. If you are, however, and you merely ignore their calls, then you run the risk of missing out on what might be a better solution for a problem your company deals with on a regular basis. And that, my friends, is NOT good.

So let’s take a look at this issue as it meshes with productivity: handling phone calls is just like handling paper. The old rule of “touch it once” is critical. So here’s a suggestion taken right from the “dysfunctional” world of the music industry.


I don’t care who you are, how important your job role, or how busy you seem to be, if you set call times and let everyone know who calls you when those call times are, you will be a much more happy and productive member of your team and, even, dare I say — of society.

Call times are simple to set up and a great way to not only expose yourself to new products and ideas that can help you in your job — and help your company with their bottom line — but they’re also a respectful way to deal with sales reps AND boost your own communication skills at the same time.

Back in the day, if I were to call in to a radio guy outside his call times he just wouldn’t pick up. It was that simple. So, if I needed to get a hold of him I would call during his suggested times, and not outside those times. Sometimes I might even wait for him to finish the call he was on so I was guaranteed to be next in line. Now, I realize this in and of itself isn’t always the most productive of solutions, BUT if I had to talk to him, that waiting did the trick. I could also leave a message with my priorities for the week, and he would call me back that day if he had the time, or on the next occasion when he had a block of time. It was really a brilliant system, and it worked to keep everybody in line and on task.

So here’s how call times work: Essentially all you need to do is pick an hour or two each day (or a few days a week, if its more appropriate to your schedule), and block out those times for phone calls. This time should be used for you to make calls as well as for you to receive calls from sales reps, colleagues, etc. Once you’ve set your call times, let people know about them by leaving the times on your outgoing voice mail message. You can also add your call times to your email signature file to double-up on your efforts at productivity. Lastly when you make your own outgoing calls, let people know when you leave a message on their machine (’cause they’re surely not picking up their phone) exactly when they should call you back re: your call times.

Trust me, if you do this one simple task, you will be amazed at how productive you can become, and how much you will minimize the disruption of an unexpected phone call. What makes phone calls a pain in the rear for most of us is not that call itself, but WHEN the call comes in. That incessant ringing usually comes right in the middle of something else important that demands our focus, and it’s easier to let it ring to voice mail. That’s okay, but then you’ve also set yourself up to have to go back in to the voice mail, write down notes, and then tag up with whoever it is you need to get back to. Good luck with that. That’s a waste of time.

Or lets assume you pick up the call, but ask that person to just send you a quick email with the details. Well, then not only have you now asked them to do more work on your behalf, but you’ve also set yourself up to have to read that email later and respond to it later, when you could have addressed it at that very moment. Again, not a very good use of your time.

Now in terms of sales reps, this type of time-blocking gets even better. For one, if you ignore a sales rep that’s any good, she’ll keep buggin’ the living hell out of you until she does catch you. She’ll call at night, in the morning, send you emails and direct mail pieces just to get your attention. What a drag, eh? Not if you set call times.

Let the sales rep know when they can reach you and you can bet your bottom dollar they’re going to call you during that time frame — guaranteed. So what do you do when they call? Well, how about listen to what they have to say, for one. I think people are so afraid of sales people these days that they’ve forgotten they have the right to say “no”. But listen first. If it’s something your firm might benefit from, then learn more about it. If it’s not something you need, then tell the sales rep. The last thing a sales rep wants to do is chase down a dead lead. If you honestly tell them you’re not interested, AND have given them the time to tell you what it is they offer, they’re going to do what you want most: respect your time, and go away.

Use the phone. It’s your friend. Set call times. . .and make more friends. Try it!

For more reading on this issue, visit Tim Ferriss’ writings regarding his own preference for the phone. In the post below he refers to this method as “clustering”, but its essentially the same idea. He further recommends hiring an assistant to handle calls to limit exposure to non-essential issues. If you can do this, great, but I suspect most employees of firms don’t have this luxury, or haven’t thought about how to outsource this function. If you do go this route, you would likewise need to empower your admin to make judgement calls on sales rep issues as well. Most likely she’s often the one shooing them away anyway, right!

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