29 June 2010

B2B sales calls and squiggly pens

I learned very quickly after getting a telephone line for Catherine Hood Consulting that the "Do Not Call" Registry is only for private lines. The first day I had my phone line, I had four phone calls just from companies trying to sell me credit card machines. I've had people trying to sell me magazine subscriptions for my waiting room (I don't have a waiting room). And people trying to convince me that I should have a web site (I already have a web site). But the strangest call I had was to try to sell me pens.

About a month ago, I answer my phone the usual way when I don't know who's calling: "Hello, Catherine Hood Consulting."

The voice on the other end of the phone says, "Hey! Want to come to San Diego and go bungie jumping with me?"

I think that his guy either has the wrong number or he knows absolutely nothing about me. So I say, "This is Catherine. I think you may have the wrong number."

"No, Cathereen, I'm trying to reach you. I'm from ***** in San Diego, and we have tons of pens that we have to get rid of, so I am going to make you a fabulous offer on custom printed pens."

At that point, I realize that I had already talked to someone from his company the day before, a woman, and I told her that it didn't matter that she was calling from a very famous company (that I had never heard of) or that she really needed to get rid of pens, I didn't want to be on their calling list. Obviously, asking to be off the list didn't work.

"No, thank you," I say.

"You have no idea what a great deal we can make!"

"I have absolutely no cash right now. Nothing in my bank account at all."

"Oh. Well."

Silence. This seemed to be an argument he hadn't heard before.

"Good-bye," I said.

"Yeah. Good-bye."

They haven't called back.

I like pens. My very favorite day at University of Iowa Hospitals was the end of June, the end of the fiscal year. To use up the office supply budget, our boss let Lisa and I go down to the supply depot and buy as many different kinds and colors of pens as we could find. It was one of the best shopping trips ever, and with taxpayer money. At the Census Bureau, I loved to go to the supply cabinets and look for new kinds of pens. For me, the use of government pens while at work was a great fringe benefit of my good government job. Even now that I have to buy my own pens, I try to keep a lot of good pens handy. I like them for work and for grading the kids' homework.

The idea of custom-printed pens sounded pretty cool, but I didn't want to buy pens from the goofy guy in San Diego who didn't even pronounce my name correctly and thought I would like to bungie jump. I just kept thinking that you would have to be a really bad salesman to NOT be able to sell me a bunch of pens.

Last week, I got a free pen in the mail from a pen company in Tennessee. It's a "squiggle pen," and I love squiggly pens because they look like time series. And it was purple, and purple is my favorite color. And it says "Catherine Hood Consulting" on it, with my phone number. The point of the mailer is that everyone loves to get free pens, and to demonstrate this fact, they sent me a free pen. It was a very effective mailing --- and a lovely pen.

I am so ready to buy a bunch of purple squiggle pens, and give them away to anyone who might be able to send clients my way. As soon as I can fit it into my budget. Because who wouldn't want a free time series pen!

18 June 2010

Life in Shoes

I hate shoes. As long as I can remember, I've hated shoes.

I remember elementary school teachers fussing at me about keeping my shoes on, even on the coldest days of the winter. I had to keep my shoes on in junior high and high school --- it was part of the dress code --- though some teachers didn't pay much attention and you could slip off your shoes while you were sitting at your desk. One thing I loved about college was that I didn't have to wear shoes to class. In fact, it was common practice during the rainy season to put our shoes (and a towel) in our backpacks and wade to class barefoot.

At Yellowstone National Park in the summers of my college years, I found myself wearing shoes because I needed to in the hours when I wasn't working. Between the hot water and the boardwalks, there were very few places where I could go barefoot outside of my dorm room. In the hotel, I needed to wear shoes if I wanted to eat. But when I was working and sitting at the piano, it was easy to take off my shoes and convince the manager that I could feel the pedals better without my shoes on.

For graduate school, I moved to Iowa where I spent most of the winters wishing I could go barefoot, and most of the summers walking around campus barefoot. I got a lot of stares. Maybe it's the farming culture there, but there were not a lot of people going barefoot in Iowa City.

My first "real" job after grad school was in the Reproductive Testing Lab at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Shoes were required because I had to go in the labs sometimes, and it wasn't safe without shoes. I also sometimes had to interact with patients, and my boss thought if I was barefoot, I would look like an escapee from the Psych ward. However, after less than 2 months at that job, I broke all five metatarsals in my right foot. I was in a cast---a fate worse than shoes. After the cast was weeks wearing a board strapped to my foot. It would have been torture for me a few months earlier, but after weeks in a cast, it felt good to be able to wiggle my toes.

At the Census Bureau, I found out with pregnancy #3 that I was quite famous for being constantly "barefoot and pregnant." I wish I had heard about those comments earlier because I might have worn shoes more often. But then again, I was so uncomfortable when I was pregnant that I might not have changed my habits. After I became a manager, they made me take classes in topics like alcohol and substance abuse. The instructor told us that one of the signs of someone with an alcohol or drug problem was that the person would walk around barefoot. The people in the class that knew me all look in my direction and laughed. The instructor was not amused when he realized I had come to class barefoot.

Bud Pautler told me that I should always dress for my next promotion. It was because of that advice that I did start wearing shoes more often, though it was still very difficult to keep them on all day long.

Then I start my own consulting business with an office in a corner of the house just a few steps from my bedroom. "Aaaah," I think to myself, "I never have to wear shoes again."

But running a business from home is difficult, especially with kids in the house. To help me get a handle on keeping the house running even when I had a lot of work to do for clients and the kids, I started visiting the web site of house-cleaning guru The Fly Lady. I liked her advice, and my house was staying cleaner. Then I read her article on "Getting Dressed to the Shoes," and it put me in a quandary.

She says that she used to work for a "direct sales cosmetics company." The sales staff were told that they couldn't make any phone calls to customers unless they were completely dressed, including dress shoes. The company claimed that everyone will act differently in dress clothes and shoes. "The customer can tell when you don't feel good about the way you look." After that, as much as I still hated shoes, I decided that I should dress for work, including shoes.

Not everyone agrees with The Fly Lady. One of the comments on mothering.com said that the advice about wearing shoes keeps her off The Fly Lady's web site. She said there was only one reason to wear shoes at home if you are a stay-at-home Mom: If you spend too much time cleaning, your babies might attack your toes when they want attention.

On the web site Productivity501.com, in the article "Stop Squandering Time At Home," the author says that taking off your shoes improves productivity because you spend less time cleaning floors and carpets. I'm sure that The Fly Lady would say that if this is a problem, then get some shoes for the outside in the mud and snow and other shoes to wear inside.

Gretchen Rubin says in her article on shoes that when she was in law school, her roommate told her about a study that said grad students "who put on their shoes each morning were markedly more efficient than those who padded around in their stocking feet." Unfortunately, she couldn't find the study. Neither could I when I tried to Google it back then or again today.

The Fly Lady says that we need to wear professional shoes or at least lace-up shoes. That is a no-go for me. After my second round of broken bones, my ankle is so swollen that there are very few lace up shoes that are comfortable for me. I wear crocs around the house and open-backed dress shoes to church, but my dress shoes look similar to my work shoes, and probably none of them would pass muster with The Fly Lady.

The danger in crocs or sandals or flip-flops is that they are easy to kick off. I get dressed in the morning in a simple dress or in pants and a nice shirt, and I put on my crocs. But there are so many times when I go to answer the phone and realize that somewhere along the way I've lost my shoes.

Today is one of those days when I have several clients, colleagues, and contacts who have said that they will be calling, so I'm making an effort to keep my shoes on today. Hopefully, the people I talk to will appreciate my professionalism. Maybe they'll say to themselves, "I'm not sure what it was exactly, but Catherine sounded different today. Maybe she's wearing her shoes."