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If a salesman contacts a low-level employee directly and asks if they are interested in their products what should said employee do?

Some suggestions:

  • Politely decline?
  • Forward the contact details of the procurement department?
  • Discuss the matter with the manager?
  • Inform the legal department?
  • 8
    Were they trying to pump you for information, find out who had purchasing authority for that product, figure out whether your company needed their product, or just "understand your needs" (salesspeak for fishing around about how to soft-sell)? Did your company have any existing relationship with that company or salesperson? – smci Jan 5 at 16:14
  • 5
    Specifically, was the salesperson actively trying to induce the employee to violate their NDA, disclose to them the orgchart or budget, or not? And does the product have any relevance to their business, or not? Were they just a remote VoIP caller randomly calling numbers without any relevance? – smci Jan 5 at 16:28
  • 4
    The answers will depend largely on whether the salesperson is a low-grade scammer/lead-generator, or from a reputable company which actually sells products your company might conceivably be interested in. The first you just get off the phone as fast as you can, for the second you might or might not make some notes of who they are, what they have to say, and relay to the appropriate person in your company (without necessarily telling the salesperson anything). – smci Jan 6 at 19:24
  • @smci I agree with the spirit of your comment, but I feel like the problem is that scammers are often adept at not appearing scammy. If someone is legitimate, it's likely they'll be following legitimate protocols already, or at worst they'll be able to contact the appropriate resources without a random low-level employee's help. – dwizum Jan 7 at 16:57
  • @ChrisE discussing the matter with the manager isn't a response. – Mikael Dúi Bolinder Jan 10 at 17:11

10 Answers 10

214

For an unsolicited sales call?

I am not the appropriate person to address your request, and I am not at liberty to divulge information about other departments/employees. Have a nice day.

Then hang up, and carry on with your workday. Treat it the same as any robocall you get on your personal phone(s). If there's a legitimate reason for them to make contact with your company, they'll do it through the proper channels, not by calling a random "low-level" employee.

This is probably nothing more than a cold call. But there is also a possibility that this is an attempt to get information about your company, information which outside parties shouldn't have. Do not give out any information. If you're feeling generous, offer to take their information and forward it to people above you. Whether you actually do so or not...that's up to you. Maybe ask your manager what the proper thing to do with it is.

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  • 1
    One could also say: please leave your contact detail, I will forward these to the relevant department. – Sascha Jan 5 at 5:21
  • 7
    As a variant on this, you can direct them to send their query to a specific email address that your company keeps for that kind of thing. "I'm sorry, I can't forward your call, but if you'll just send your email to procurement@companyname it'll be looked at by the appropriate people." – ObscureOwl Jan 5 at 18:02
  • 10
    @Sascha No, that’s exactly what you should not bother to do. It’s literally spam — just hang up and forget. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Jan 6 at 2:05
  • 2
    @ErnestFriedman-Hill Presumably, emails like that are publicly available anyway. – corsiKa Jan 6 at 2:22
  • 13
    @corsiKa if the email is publicly available, let the caller find it on their own. These calls are nothing more than a more disruptive form of spam. – alroc Jan 6 at 4:18
43

I am going to assume you got this via email. If on the phone, politely hang up by saying that you are not authorized to have those kinds of conversations and need to get back to work.

Ignore it

The salesperson is either lazy/stupid or it could very well be something more sinister. The sinister part is the problem. When I worked at a bank, it was not uncommon for salespeople to contact employees to be obviously phishing for information.

There are so many questions that can be asked on their own and be harmless but when paired with the knowledge from another employee who was asked different questions, can reveal a great deal of corporate information, even if it was just the internal email address of someone senior or what specific technologies we currently used. Even asking about things as innocuous as birthdays and spouses could lead to substantial damage.

As a low-level employee, it is near impossible to gain by engaging with such people. Just don't.

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  • In general, you'd check how likely it is to gain, but also how likely it is to lose. – gnasher729 Jan 5 at 15:49
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    This is definitely the correct answer IMHO. There's absolutely nothing to gain by replying. Treat it as spam, delete, move on. – berry120 Jan 5 at 17:21
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    This: "The sinister part is the problem." For this reason it might make sense to report such calls/emails to the company's security department, if there is one. Some companies even have a formal policy, so check with your manager if you don't know what the company policy is in this regard. – njuffa Jan 5 at 18:38
38

Tell them nothing. Not about the business, not even your name.

Couple years ago, a salesman cold-called Joe, our naïve Facilities guy. Pried out seemingly innocuous info about our fluorescent lights of all things. Joe didn't see a problem answering, because it's not exactly a trade secret, and Joe wasn't committing to buy anything.

Next thing you know, a shipment of F40T12 fluorescent tubes (our size) shows up, with a nonsense P.O. and Joe's name. The gift shop accepted them, assuming Joe ordered them. And later, a bill. And more lights. And more bills. And finally the accountant realizes we're on the crazytrain here, calls Joe, who denies ordering any of it, and puts the kibosh on this. After $9000 of invoices were paid. That's 1% of our budget.

It's no accident when they want to talk to you

The scammer looked at public data about companies like us, looking for companies small enough that it is likely we had poor internal controls.

That's what that's all about. They want to glue your name to some bit of info about your company that will let them ship undesired goods or otherwise scam the company. Or work a scam later, like call someone else, drop your name, and then have surprising knowledge about your company to make it all seem legit.

Historically, you'd see this scam with copier toner or thermal fax paper: Someone would cold-call and ask "I'm with your regular office supply, could you remind us, what's the brand of your copier? And your name is?..."

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  • 25
    The main failing is paying a bill without verifying authorization. While there's some value in other employees not giving accounts payable opportunities to fuck up, the primary focus should be on accounts payable not fucking up. – Acccumulation Jan 6 at 2:39
  • @Acccumulation While true in principle, it creates a single point of failure in the accounting office. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 6 at 3:21
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica: Why? It's not unusual for them to have a four-eyes policy (don't pay until two people agree it should be paid). – MSalters Jan 6 at 10:43
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    How can you pay a bill (i.e. convince your accounting software to mark it "payable") when your system has no order to assign it to? I mean, technically. ;) – Karl Jan 6 at 15:35
  • 3
    The copier toner scammers in my city got really aggressive about a decade ago - they started physically following the (legitimate) delivery trucks from one of the local copier supply places, and watch them unload new machines, so they'd know which companies got deliveries of which machines. Then they'd call you and tell you that it was time to reorder toner for your such-and-such printer... – dwizum Jan 6 at 15:58
16

Assuming the contact isn't obvious spam, discuss with your manager.

I'm shocked none of the other answers suggest this. To me, it's the obvious thing to do. It's simply part of the golden rule: whenever you don't know what to do, ask your supervisor. That's what they're there for! This goes double for low-level employees. What might look very reasonable to a low-level employee might also be the incorrect thing to do, because one is presumably not so familiar with industry protocols and/or how the company works.

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  • Hear, hear! Probably didn't even need to be asked here (although I appreciate learning about ways people scam companies). – wildbagel Jan 6 at 18:54
  • Since each company has their own policy about what to do with sales/cold/spam calls, this is the only correct answer. I'd say that even if it is (or especially if it is) an obvious spam, still discuss it with your manager. They should know how to deal with this. – computercarguy Jan 7 at 19:01
5

Instruct them to not give the caller any information and ask to be taken off their call and email list.

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2

The answers that advise you to say nothing/ignore are good. However, if the salespeople who are contacting you are implying some sort of relationship to your company, you should report them to your manager immediately.

I was in a situation once where I was contacted by a salesman working for a contracting firm, who said he was working with my company to find contractors and wanted to meet with me to get a better understanding of what the requirements for the assignment were. I was a senior non-management level and we were in the market for contractors, so at first I assumed that it was legit and set up a time to meet with him. However, I also ran it past my manager, who knew nothing about it and had me run it past our IT procurement people. It turned out that we had worked with this firm in the past but had no current association with them, so the salesman was just fishing for information. I cancelled the meeting with him, and my company's legal department also threatened his firm with legal action for misrepresenting its relationship to us. The procurement people were pretty hot about it too (I was included in the email chain) and there's a good chance that this shady salesman had torpedoed any future business that his firm may have gotten from us.

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1

Some great answers here already.

Basically, the rule is to reveal nothing, particularly no names or contacts within the company. Although most sales calls will be just that, and not a hacker trying to social engineer their way into the company, you just don't know, and sales people get attached like leaches to anyone they think can provide a lead.

I regularly get calls from sales people trying to either sell things to me or trying to get the names and direct contacts for people who do buy stuff. Although I do purchase things for my department or myself, I don't reveal that otherwise the sales person will become a pest.

What I do is to take the details of the sales person, their website and their contact number and say I will pass them on to the relevant people. I do not reveal who those people might be! My colleagues would hate it if I did reveal them to a salesperson!

If the caller is particularly annoying, I will add them to a block list so I don't have to take a call from them again.

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0

Other than all the answers already given, I assume it is someone from the sales department of your company, someone you are familiar with or who could use in-company information to get your phone number.

When testing out new products, development and sales do sometimes need 'new eyes' to look at a product or service.
If you feel it is a situation like this, it depends on the company structure how you handle.
In the company I work for we are (rarely) asked to go to the company webshop and have a look around to see if it runs as it is supposed to do and to order items (no payment made) that have changed on the website or are new.

If the call comes at a time that is unsuited for you, you can ask your caller to come back to you at a later time or in a different way.
For us it is often a random walk past on our work-spot followed by an e-mail or something like that, when we have agreed but need more information.

If the caller is of a part of your company but not one you expect to be contacted by, you can ask them to go through the appropriate channels.

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0

I get the same on a daily basis. Most of them are purely marketing calls. I used to be polite and simply answer their questions and concerns initially. But once it became a hassle and waste of my time, I just hangs up without replying.

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  • Sounding like a standard marketing call is a great way to get all kinds of information for deeper stages of a scam. Always use the guidance of your employer for these calls, which is often to refer them to a public relations person who is trained to deal with these people, whether they are fake or real sales people. – computercarguy Jan 7 at 19:06
  • 1
    Whether it's a scam or not, I'm not sure what the point of answering questions from random strangers who want to sell you copier toner is (especially if your job doesn't involve purchasing office supplies). Any time with them is a waste of your time. – Zach Lipton Jan 7 at 21:04
-4

Take the other answers. As an exception, if you know that your name is very similar to that of a person who would be appropriate, you can tell them the correct name, but no further help. Like "I think you want to talk to Michael Bollander. Sorry, I don't have his number".

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  • 2
    Don't drop names. Don't drop anything at all, or it will come back to bite you, or worse, someone else. – Mad Physicist Jan 6 at 16:50
  • 1
    Using a common name and potentially even purposefully mispronouncing it is a tactic of social engineering and should not be responded to. – computercarguy Jan 7 at 19:03

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