Lately, I’ve received quite a few calls on my cell phone from people who ask, “May I speak to the owner of the business?”

I’m not surprised that my number popped up on some call list, probably shared by one of the companies I’ve done business with in the past, or through some larger database of corporations. I’m not naive enough to expect that, in the information age, no one could find me if they wanted to.

What I wonder about is how effective these calls are. I’ve never done sales or cold-calling, so I don’t know, but the percentages have to be very, very low.

First of all, I know 99%+ of the people who call my cell phone.  In the digital age, I don’t even see their numbers — I see their names, because my iPhone knows who’s in my Contacts list and tells me who’s calling.  If no name appears, I’m already wary of taking the call.

Secondly, if they were calling a larger company (there’s no smaller company, since I’m my only employee), would the request to speak to the owner work? Do business owners regularly take unsolicited calls from unknown sources?  If it’s a big corporation, good luck getting through the front lines.  If it’s smaller, like my one-man operation, asking for the owner is a big tipoff that you have no idea who I am or what I do, and I’m nothing more than a name and number on your screen.  That makes it extremely unlikely I’m going to give you any slack, even if I have some downtime in a busy day.

So, when I don’t recognize the caller’s number and they start with that “speak to the owner” question, I always reply, “What are you selling?” This throws them off the script they’re prepared to read. Sometimes they follow up, “Are you the owner?”, in which case I tell them that whatever they’re selling, I’m not interested, but I would like to be placed on their Do Not Call list.

The vast majority of the time, that ends the conversation, often with them hanging up quickly, as they have other random phone numbers to call. But yesterday, the woman at the other end asked, “How do you know you’re not interested if you don’t even know why I’m calling?”

My answer: experience.

Side note:  you can put your phone number on a Do Not Call list fairly easily.  You can sign up via the National Do Not Call Registry

You should also do it with the registry in your state.  Unfortunately, state legislation hasn’t kept up with technology, so if you only have a cell phone and no landline, you may not qualify.  Also, by law, the list can not include business numbers, so if you use your cell phone for business (as I do), you’re doubly screwed.  In Missouri, call 866-289-9633 or use this online form.  For other states, click here.