door to door
Hand knocking on the door

By Cliff Ennico

If you are a regular reader of this column, or if you have seen any of my videos posted on, you know that I am no fan of “cold calling” as a way of generating business.

When you are “cold calling,” it means you are stuck with inventory that probably no one wants, and are willing to tell people anything to get rid of the stuff. It’s a waste of your time, and an insult to the people you are talking to.

There are times, however, when “cold calling” can be effective.

Last Sunday, I was working on my column when the front doorbell rang.

As I descended the stairs, a loud series of bangs emanated from the front door, which started shaking on its hinges. Somebody needed to speak to me in a hurry.

When I opened the door and looked out, I didn’t see anybody. Then I heard a small voice from around my kneecaps say “down here.”

I looked down and there was a 7 or 8 year old girl – blond pigtails, thick glasses, you know the type – staring at me. Before I could ask her who she was, she launched into her pitch:

My name is Melanie, and I’m raising money for my school selling microwave popcorn. My Mom and Dad are the So-and-So’s [name withheld for privacy reasons] who live three doors down from you. How many boxes do you want?”

I admit I laughed out loud – who could resist? Of course I bought a couple of boxes, and I need microwave popcorn like a fish needs a bicycle.

So what worked here? Why was this pitch effective? Here are some tips for the cold caller wannabes out there:

Send the Right Person. Who can say “no” to a cute kid? If the parents had accompanied her, it wouldn’t have been as effective (although now that I think about it, how did I know the kid really did live down the street?).

Earlier in the week I opened my front door to a young man trying to raise money for a local charity. He was well over six feet tall, with a big bushy Civil War beard, a shaved head with a tattoo, an earring, and clothes that looked like he just stepped out of a mosh pit. Frankly he scared the bejeezus out of me – I wasn’t going to buy anything from someone who looked like that. Of course, if he had dressed TOO smartly, I would have thought he was a religious solicitor and would have slammed the door in his face, so maybe there’s no “happy medium” there.

Get Right to the Point. I absolutely HATE it when a salesperson begins a conversation by asking “How are you today?” I realize numerous sales gurus advise that getting the customer to say “yes” over and over again makes a sale more likely, but frankly it’s baloney. I don’t get friendly with total strangers. I respond by asking “what are you selling today?” and then gently close the door before the answer comes.

The little microwave popcorn girl didn’t waste my time – with no filter, she told me in no uncertain terms why she was there.

Play on the Customer’s Guilt. The little girl didn’t need to tell me what microwave popcorn was, or how delicious it was. She realized (or was told) that it isn’t about the popcorn, or her school. She knew that if I ever wanted to speak to my neighbors down the street ever again, or ask a favor from them, I would have to buy some darned popcorn.

Studies show that you are much more likely to donate to a charity if the solicitation comes from someone you know rather than a total stranger. While it’s still irritating, not wanting to offend the person you know is a tremendous motivator.

This also explains why, when you are at the checkout counter, the cashier asks “do you want to add a dollar for charity?” in a loud, clear voice. She knows everyone on line is staring at you, and that the fear of embarrassment (who wants to be seen as a cheapskate who doesn’t believe in paying it forward?) will force you to cough up the dough.

Don’t Ask for the Sale; Presume It. The popcorn girl didn’t ask me if I was interested in buying the popcorn. She assumed I would buy, and that the only issue was how much I would buy. Entire books have been written about this closing technique, but to this world-class “cold caller” it came almost as second nature.

Under the right circumstances, “cold calling” can work. I frankly can’t wait to see the popcorn girl trick-or-treating this Halloween. I predict she has an excellent future in sales. I also can’t wait to see her face when I put three bags of microwave popcorn into her sack (before giving her the real candy of course).

Cliff Ennico ( is a syndicated columnist, author and host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at COPYRIGHT 2016 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. Follow him at @cliffennico.