Calling Evil

At work, my 40 Business Development Representatives (BDRs) have an exercise they do with me that we call “Calling Evil.” This exercise involves calling me (either in reality as I sit in a different room or in an in-person mock call) and having what I can only describe as the worst cold call of their lives.

During these calls, I behave like a truly awful human being (even worse that these blog posts suggest), and I channel every horrid reaction I’ve ever had to a vendor cold call–and then some. I tell them they’re just calling to make quota or that I’m never going to be interested. I tell them to get to the point or give them 27 seconds to make their case (or 10 seconds when I’m really feeling feisty). Amusingly, one of the harder pieces of this is making sure I give them time to make a pitch or ask questions, since I usually rush salespeople off of phone calls too fast for it to be good practice.

The first time I did this, I took the calls from my desk. I was also fairly new at my company (less than a month in, I believe). I took three cold calls, and everyone was a bit confused as to why I got three sales calls in a row. The second time, I warned everyone around my desk, but then our senior BDRs called me for a straight 35 minutes. Even though I’d warned the marketing team, they slowly found other places to do their work. Then the customer success team disappeared. Every developer magically disappeared behind giant headphones or to another part of the building. It wasn’t pretty.

After 35 minutes, I was exhausted. Our VP of Sales and one of our Account Executives had even participated, and I was so tired that I actually missed it was our VP until I gave him 10 seconds to make his pitch. As I said, “Being a horrible person for 35 minutes is hard!” After 35 minutes, we debriefed (and I apologized to the BDR to whom I was truly terrible), and I hope that they got something out of the exercise (the VP of Sales claimed that they did, so I’m going with it).

At our Sales Kickoff, we continued to have fun with the exercise. I presented a set of “Calling Evil” awards, which included:

  • Punching Bag Award: BDR who took the most ridiculous abuse (the winner was that BDR to whom I had to apologize)
  • Fishing Hook Award: BDR who kept me on the phone WAAY longer than I wanted to stay there
  • Blood in the Water Award: BDR I managed to scare to death and then attack
  • WTF Award: Most nonsensical BDR call
  • Coldest Call Award: BDR who used the word “cool” A LOT
  • Best Use of Stuff Marketing Does Award: Best use of marketing materials in the cold call
  • ALMOST GOT ME Award: BDR who ALMOST broke me (but not quite) (I gave this one to our VP of Sales)

Little did we know at the time that there’s some sound evidence behind why this is a good thing. Hard practice apparently makes for more comfort on the phone, which is great.

The unforeseen benefit, however, is the benefit to team morale. Making it through “Calling Evil” has become a Red Badge of Courage for the BDR team, and BDRs who have been through it elaborately warn new BDRs, who take the exercise as a challenge. The newest class even figured out a way to game the system by assigning me detailed personas who had no choice but to be friendly–clearly, we’re not letting that happen again!

“Calling Evil” also became a great way for me to get to know our 40+ BDRs during my first six months at the company. I also learned to do the exercise NOT at my desk! This isn’t the only exercise helping our BDRs get better at their jobs, but I do hope that getting through the worst cold call of their lives helps them to be more successful at every other cold call that they make.


One thought on “Calling Evil

  1. Thanks for the post! I think you know that I have nothing but respect for your work (yep, here it comes), but it looks like you’re doing a thing well… but doing a wrong thing.

    I’m having a hard time understanding how this is anything other than TRAINING (salespeople to be) evil: we are rude to sales people against our own better natures for the very good reason that they steal our ever shrinking time and attention. I say let them feel the discomfort they’ve caused, and react appropriately.

    Surely a big data empowered back office can help replace those cold calls with warmer (ie opt-in) prospects?

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