Is there any CIO/CTO out there who is still inclined to answer a desk phone?

Just a quick one, this time, in what may become an ongoing motif of describing some of the pet peeves I’ve developed in this role.

For years now, I’ve been unable to answer my desk phone. Or rather, I’ve been unwilling to answer it, at least for calls that I can tell are coming from sources external to my own company.

Nineteen times out of twenty, any external call is almost certainly a cold call from a software or hardware or services vendor. It’s as bad as dinner hour used to be at home, before the advent of the National Do Not Call list. Sometimes I even detect the telltale blank pause that occurs while the automated outbound dialer, robotically jumping for joy at having landed a live one, is routing the call to a real person. The caller is often obviously reading from a script, rapidly.

They want to impart things along the following lines:

  • Can they take me to lunch, or coffee, and discuss my upcoming initiatives;
  • Am I aware that they can save me many thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands, with their product/service;
  • They have a uniquely topnotch, crackerjack, CMM level 5 offshoring team, in Bangalore/Vietnam/Russia/Argentina/China/Dominican Republic etc., that can provide high quality development or tech support or QA at a mere fraction of my current cost;
  • They provide flexible staffing and have the best technical folks in town overflowing their rolodex;
  • They’ve recently talked to Executive X at my company, who kindly directed them my way, maybe even gave them my number. (Thank you very much, executive X!)

Once I’ve taken the bait (i.e., once I’ve actually answered the phone, against my normal habit), it’s at best time-consuming and at worst extremely awkward to gracefully end the call in any manner that constitutes the normal politeness I try hard to muster in the workplace. Some people simply refuse to hear no, even when repeated, even when firm. It’s almost as bad as trying to cancel AOL service. Getting even one or two of these calls, at least when it’s the persistent ones, is almost guaranteed to ruin my day.

I’ve taken to the following strategies:

  • No more external calls. Ever. If I want someone to be able to reach me, I give them my cell phone number. Not only do I have more accurate and customizable caller ID capabilities on my cell phone, it’s more likely to reach me when I’m roaming the halls.
  • I put a firm outgoing voice mail greeting on my line, in which I explain that due to the volume of calls I get, I greatly prefer receiving e-mail, especially from possible vendors. I also ask that they not leave a voice mail at all, but instead provide me with material via e-mail. And I give out my e-mail address in that greeting.
  • Then, I try (not always succeeding 100%, admittedly) to answer each and every one of the resulting e-mails that I do get from people who have called first, even when I’m expressing a complete lack of interest in pursuing their offering. It especially amuses me, though, when people leave a lengthy voice mail message, despite my request, ostensibly to tell me that an e-mail is on the way from them.

All humor aside, I do understand that sales is hard, and making meaningful contact with potential new business must be one of the trickiest things in the profession. But for the sake of my own productivity, I do have to function defensively, and preserve my time and efficiency against these repeated and often insistent encroachments.

I’ve been in this mode, exercising these strategies out of sheer necessity, for well over a dozen years now, at several companies. I can’t imagine that my situation here is really any different from any other IT executive. Which makes me wonder sometimes: just why do we still have desk phones at all?


  1. Yup, agree! And I love the last line: “…why do we still have desk phones at all?”

    I took a similar stance also a few years ago.
    1) *Never* answered unrecognized calls. (And, you’re also right, “recognition” has been way better via cell phones that PBX systems – for external callers.)
    2) *Never* listened to the complete voice mail — just pressed the “delete” function mid playback — unless, it was a genuine caller and supplier/partner with whom I already had a relationship or was interested in developing a relationship.
    3) Last gig, actually had 2 numbers: 1) that the corporate receptionist gave out / transferred people to. That number went directly to vmail and never actually rang to a real phone. 2) my “real” number that I gave out to people I genuinely wanted to be available by phone for. (Also had 2 different business cards printed.)
    4) Also developed a standard “CIO” address email (i.e. for those business services that learned to market via email.
    Never did reach Nirvana though. Was looking for an intelligent directory that would “screen pop” the resulting inbound number based on at least 2 sources: 1) corporate address book, and 2) *very* important, personal/professional address book. Otherwise, with no/little information about the caller coming through, and unless I actually visually recognized the number, the call went to vmail. Your/my tactics seem so “20th Century”; I hope someone sheds some 21st Century solutions on the topic. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  1. […] touched on this topic briefly before, but here’s a lengthier discussion on why, in general, I find e-mail to be vastly preferable […]

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