Where Are All Those Pay Phones?

When I broke into sales back in the 1800’s (just kidding), I would cold call door-to-door in NYC office buildings. I remember walking up to the sliding glass window, and behind the window was a receptionist wearing a headset ,and sitting in front of switchboard with cables, plugs, and wires all over the place. Every time the phone rang the receptionist would speak through the headset, and shortly thereafter insert a cable plug into an opening on the switchboard to connect the call. You can imagine how difficult it was for me as a cold caller to try and get a word in edge wise and ask to speak with the office manager. I would just get to the end of my pitch when the phone would ring again, the receptionist would connect the call, and then turn to me and say, “Who are you again”? And then I’d have to start all over. When I finally saw an opening and asked for the office manager, the receptionist would proclaim, “she doesn’t see anyone without an appointment”. Ah… the good old days.
Just to let you ‘new-bees’ in on something, 30 years ago prospecting for new business was a lot harder than it is today. You had no Internet database, no cell phones, and no email. Just shoe leather, and your undying ambitions for going door-to-door pedaling your wares.
Did someone call in an order for you while you were out ‘pounding’ the pavement, and ‘beating’ the bushes’? You’d never know unless you found your way to a pay phone somewhere, deposited a dime, and called the office receptionist to see whether there were any messages for you. I hated when I had no messages…
Back in the day pay phones were everywhere. I recall the nice bank of pay phones they had on the mezzanine level of the Metlife building – 200 Park Avenue, and the accordion  doors that would seal you into a quiet ‘cone of silence’, and that sense of seclusion.
Because I was so dependent upon pay phones to connect to my business in general, I literally mapped out the locations of pay phones in and around Manhattan where I could speak on the pay phone in silence. The wall of pay phones in the Grand Central Station concourse were only for personal calls. Way too noisy there for business calls.
I also remember the pay phone I am standing at in the above photo. It was the pay phone right outside 2 World Trade Center on Monday morning, September 10th, 2001. My sales call with Delloitte Touche on the 96th floor was scheduled for Tuesday, September 11th @ 0900, but my prospect called me on Friday the 7th, and asked that if I could come Monday the 10th instead of Tuesday the 11th. My sales engineer took the photo as a joke to prove to my boss that I was hard at work in the field. Little did I know at the time this photo was taken that because my meeting was moved up to the 10th instead of the 11th that I escaped death. My prospect was among the 2,700 people that perished that dreadful day on 9/11. I try not to think about what would have happened if I had gone to the Deloitte Touche meeting on Tuesday 9/11 @ 0900 as planned. Still freaks me out to this day…
Today, there are virtually no pay phones to be found anywhere. They have gone the way of the milkman, ice man, and the buggy whip. Looking back at the dominance of pay phones in our business world, I could never imagine at the time that the pay phone would become obsolete, but it has. Smart phones are all the rage today! No more hassles trying to find change of a dollar to make a call, or having to dial 30 digits off an AT&T calling card to make a call. Today it’s as easy as 1,2,3.
So I have decided to proclaim 10/25 ‘National Pay Phone Remembrance Day’. May all sales veterans with more than 20 years direct sales experience take a moment to reflect on how it used to be with pay phones, and how much we owe them for our early success in business.
Did you have a favorite pay phone in your territory? Tell me where…


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