“Hi, Mr. Sanchez, how are you?” the caller asked.

The caller ID showed, “Metro Life.”

Raul Sanchez, our administrator, answered, “Ah, not good, I’m still bleeding, I’m afraid.”

I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window. The metaphoric bleeding had begun before lunch, which was too early for me. Our little company gets a lot of sales calls–about a third of them are from insurance companies. No one screens our calls, we answer them all. You call us, you get us.

Raul cut off the speakerphone and continued, “Yes, the oozing still continues. The doctors are hopeful, but no luck so far. You are so thoughtful to ask.” His tone implied imminent death and restrained pain. I wondered what this sales person would say. Sometimes the answers are funny. The first sales call of day had flown in.

Another sales call bites the dust

This little piece of insincerity irritates Raul and me. I blow it off as mindless telephone protocol, but Raul has turned it into a quixotic campaign to discipline witless sales people. He’s not winning, I notice.

Salespeople, by corporate fiat or a vacuous need for politeness, must ask the person who answers the phone the condition of their well-being.

Raul once theorized that insurance agents were really doing a quick check that he was able to come to the phone–evidence that he may be able to pass a basic physical–but I disagreed. What probably began as a simple telephone courtesy protocol has become a cynical tip-off.

Somewhere in Alabama, the fountain of politeness and civility, someone’s mother told her children that all cold calls must begin with a request for health status. However, if you were looking for your shipment of garden supplies, skip the health check and ask, “Where the hell are my petunias?”

I imagine cold callers drilling through their morning list of calls and getting voice mail or hang-ups most of the time. When Raul, a living being, answers they infuriate him with the cold, dead fish of “How are you?” He was so close, but now he’s far away.

The irony is that Raul really needs term life insurance. He has a nice wife, three cute kids and a mortgage. All 5 depend on him. Our company’s freebie life policy won’t even pay off the mortgage. He should talk to the sellers, but they irritate him with their phoniness.

We know you probably don’t care

When our customers call us they don’t ask how we are–probably because they don’t care. They want to know when our factory’s goods will arrive and, this time, please, send the correct color. No warm-up questions like, “How’s the weather in Texas?”

Our customers don’t care if Raul is really bleeding from some orifice. They want to know if he can still run the forklift out to the loading ramp. Whether he left a trail of clotting blood on our concrete floor is not on their minds.

Six months ago, our little company signed up for a wellness program. Our health insurance company said it would reduce our rates if we participated in a program to make us runners, walkers and healthy eaters. Sure, we said, anything to save money.

Last week the wellness nurse called to tell us, individually, how we scored on our physical exams.

“Hello, Mr. Cullen,” she enthusiastically said when I answered the phone. “How are you?”

My worry alarm went off immediately. Here was a nurse holding my lengthy physical exam results in her hand and she is asking how I am. Did she want to know if I could detect the tumor blossoming in my lower colonic tract? Was the growing, mind-dulling pain increasing daily? Were my hands showing any palsy yet?

“You tell me,” I said. “How am I? Should I book the round-the-world tour before being placed on the ventilator?” I must have sounded authentically concerned.

“I guess that is a pretty stupid thing to ask,” the nurse said. “I can see how you would be upset with such a question. I don’t think I’ll say that again,” she apologized. Smart lady.

The nurse understands (now) that the fluff introduction has a lot of negative baggage. But sales people don’t; and the people who write the scripts for the sales people don’t get it either.

You have 5 seconds, get moving

I have a friend who is an expert in cold calls. He has made a lot of money selling things. He says you have 5 seconds to tell someone what it is you sell, and why your product is the best. Get to the point, he says. Fast.

He wrote a better introduction to sell to Raul. “I’m with Metro Life. Are you worried about not having enough life insurance for your family? We have some great starter packages.” Good question, good offer. Tell me; I want to know.

Another intro might be, “Metro Life is a specialist in providing insurance for small business owners, especially in life insurance.” Another good opening remark, I’m interested since we are a small business and living on the cheap. What do you have?

So the next time you call Raul, tell him how much term life you can supply for about one hundred dollars a month. He needs it. You’ll probably get an order.

Or, you can ask him how he’s feeling. He’ll tell you about the jar attached to a chair that is collecting his oozing blood. Yuk!