“Bob” is not the real name of the person in this story. But the rest of the story is true.
“Good afternoon, Bob [last name]’s office.”
“Hi, this is Craig Weber from Celent. Is Bob in?”
“Uh, yes, he is. May I ask who is calling?”
“Uh, Craig Weber?”
“Oh, right. And you’re with?”
“Celent. [pause] We’re an analyst firm, and you all are clients.”
“I’m sorry, how do you spell that?”
“Celent. C-E-L-E-N-T. Celent.”
“Right. And you say we are clients of yours?”
“Yes, Bob has engaged us for our subscription-based research service.”
“Bob did? Are you sure? Did he, like, sign the contract? I don’t remember seeing that.”
“Well, I don’t know offhand who signed the contract. But he sure brought us in. We’ve known Bob a long time. We’ve done a lot of work for him through the years.”
“OK, well what’s this call about?”
“I need to talk to Bob about a consulting project that he emailed me about.”
“OK, well, that’s fine. Sorry for all the questions. I just can’t put anyone through to Bob without making sure who they are.”
As vendors, we get this reception from executive assistants a lot, from insurer clients and non-clients alike. It seems that the vendor community must be hounding the heck out of insurance execs, so much so that there are virtual bouncers protecting email accounts and very inquisitive personal bouncers (EAs) guarding the phones.
It is understandable, for sure. Out of 100 vendor calls to an insurance exec, how many would prove to be immediately valuable if the connection were made? Two? Five? It’s a low number, even on the best of days. But the first problem is that it’s definitely not zero.
There are two other problems with this arrangement. First, it is a minor inconvenience for the people within related entities, like Celent and Bob’s company. But more importantly, it has created a mindset where if Bob doesn’t go exploring—and he is probably so busy in his day to day that he will not go exploring often, if ever—then Bob doesn’t maintain a good feel for new and interesting things that are going on in the industry. A world view that is completely inward facing is a real issue.
I don’t have a great solution at the ready. Issuing secret verbal passwords to business partners? Having execs use fake names on the company’s automated switchboard? No, life is complicated enough already, so adding another layer seems like a bad idea. But there is clearly a cost when every conversation begins with a game of 20 Questions. In this, the age of information overload, we all need to find a way to stay in the flow.