Use Caution When Dropping Names

  By Frank Risalvato  |    Wednesday August 23, 2012

Category: Expert Advice, Recruiting


Way back in the middle of one of my first telephone sales and telephone marketing training seminars, the instructor made a point to highlight the importance of having names you can drop to get from one gate keeper to the other during telephone calls.

He said you should “always have a name” you can drop as a referring source which would, according to his theory, boost your chances of getting up the next rung in the hierarchal chain of command in hopes of dealing with the key executive decision maker.

He went so far as to give a dozen or so examples during mock sales calls.

“John Summerfield said I should talk to you because you handle most of the hiring.”

“Karen Baskin said you’d be the person involved with the controller hire.”

Or “I heard you hired Matthew Simanski through a recruiter 3 years ago and wanted to introduce you to our services since we have worked in that industry sector for 21 years”

The problem with this approach is that it can backfire just as often as it stands to facilitate your reaching your intended decision maker.

Dropping a name can be a double-edge sword that swings both ways. It can snap back and cut you if not used properly.

As a respected family elder used to tell me “Never buy a double edged axe. Always buy a single edged axe. Double edges are dangerous and can hurt you or someone standing behind you”.

The application to recruiting would be never use any tactic that could backfire. 

I have been aware of at least 3 verified instances where I never received a return phone call specifically for dropping a name. I even lost an entire account I already had from doing so. In my mind, the name was of a highly recognized individual with impeccable credentials. The person had a track record that included a period of time overlapping with my target prospective client. Ipso-facto I concluded it would help. But instead it backfired.

Frustrated by the fact I was dropping all the “right names” of what I thought were people my prospective target client would be impressed by, I become more confounded.

In each of the cases I did not realize until two or three or more years later why the name dropping backfired. While I thought my client target would be impressed, I came to find out he secretively thought the person (whose name was dropped) was a complete buffoon. 

Yet person “A” (the referring individual) thought he or she was highly respected by person “B” (the client I was attempting to develop a relationship with).

I never knew why until two or three years later when I finally spoke to my target client (by introductions of other means) and the person came right out and said Oh so-and-so, what a dumb hire that was. That was a waste of $200k a year salary I was paying him.

Go figure.

So now I’m more cautious about piggy-backing off of names regardless of how impressed people are with their own achievements and standing. I may not even make the call unless I have two or even three referrals collected in my arsenal so that if one turns out to be a dud I still have one or two others.

There was also an instance where I was trying to impress the corporate HR director of a large conglomerate. She said “oh we don’t use recruiters for divisional hiring.” I said “We already placed a controller for that division by the name of so-and-so. He came back and hired a director of finance and a budget analyst. I was calling you to see if our solid track record could be applied to other business units”.

Well that ended my relationship with that company! Turns out I was placing all these people unbeknownst to H.R. at the corporate parent level. So what did I do by my attempt to “boast” and publicize our work at a higher level within the organization?

I did a splendid job at getting my company cut off completely. That single phone call and name dropping cost me about $360,000 over the next 2-3 years being as that one single account was good for well over $100k/yearly without even having to work hard for them.

Had I kept my mouth shut I could have had a few more hundreds of thousands of fees for a few more years that one single client was good for. Instead, it was so-long client.

The morale of the story is: People are not going to be impressed by the same contacts or achievements you feel ought to impress them. Use care before dropping anyone’s name during a client marketing or prospecting phone call.

Within two years after bidding farewell to the corporate world in 1987, Frank Risalvato was earning $21,000 average fees with multiple hires juggled monthly. In 1991 he woke up in the middle of the night thinking “enough” and founded the search firm he continues to operate today which has undergone various transformations during the years.  

His “Maximizing Search Firm Successrecruiting training book is the first ever published for the purpose of educating clients on the proper business practices and etiquette (which we all know clients desperately need a course in!) He’s happy to help answer your questions and is probably sitting at his desk in shorts when you call him at 704 243-2110 and

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