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Digging Deeper

People often assume that getting a toll-free number that isn't working is a lot like negotiating and purchasing a domain name that's already registered. Unfortunately that's not the case. Most people don't get toll-free numbers with the expectation of selling them. There's no book value and no one to assist with the process. There's also no whois type of database with the number owner information in it. If you do reach them, they'll usually look at you like you have three heads and have no idea what to do so their default answer will be NO!

I usually give people two analogies to explain this. For guys I tell them it's kind of like trying to ask out a married woman. For women I say it's like trying to buy a house that's not for sale. But it's actually closer to the guy's analogy because in real estate you can look up and see who owns a house or a piece of property even if they don't answer when you ring the bell.

There is also a book value and they were expecting at some point to sell the house or property. They know what it would cost to purchase another equivalent one and to move and there are people to help with all of that. None of that is true for toll-free numbers and that's why it's so hard. It's more like asking out a married woman. It's a long shot at best, and something you really have to do yourself. It's extremely hard to get someone to leave the person they're with to go with you, so to speak.

I really am giving away insider secrets

I built my business as a consultant for large advertisers getting the hard to get vanity numbers for them, for thousands of dollars.  But as my business and capabilities evolved over time and we developed better tools and automated the type of research we did, the business also evolved.  Instead of getting a couple numbers a month for several thousand dollars each, now we get a thousand numbers a month for a one-time fee of fifty bucks each.

We're a resporg (responsible organization) now so I have to be more responsible, which ultimately means that I can’t do much of the consulting that I used to do. That also means I can now give away a lot more of the really best secrets and insider information.  There really isn’t anyone else doing exactly what I used to do, as a consultant.

Most people in the vanity number business don't want you to know any of this. The phone sharks who get away with a lot of crap and charge huge rental fees every month, certainly don't want anyone to know how to do any of this themselves. Regular phone companies act like there's no way to go beyond the little bit they do, and there are no cracks in the system so they aren't much help either. But there are business owners out there who may be able to use this information to get great brand name numbers with this information and my goal has always been to help as many people as possible get great vanity numbers so that’s what I’m doing!

We’re real estate agents not bounty hunters

People often ask if we can go further and do all of the leg work and negotiation to get you the number you really want.  We really want to help you (as if you couldn’t tell that already) but in short, the answer is generally no for several reasons.  It takes more time and effort than most people realize.  We do a good job as real estate helping to find good numbers that are possible, but can't chase one specific number that's NOT possible like a bounty hunter. There are regulations against hoarding and brokering which means nobody can legitimately do this for you. That doesn't mean you can't do it yourself but nobody reputable does.

You can dig a little deeper

Get a backup
The first thing to do if you’re going to dig deeper is to get a back up number because you have deadlines and this is very unpredictable. You don’t even have to activate your backup.  You can just reserve it for 2 weeks while you pursue this (just email us to reserve a # and hold it for a couple weeks for you at No Cost).  You just don’t want to get most of the way through and have things hit a snag without having a backup number ready or at least on reserve that we can activate for you at the last minute.

Dial the number
The next thing to do is so simple people sometimes overlook it. Just pick up the phone and dial the number. If the phone number doesn’t go through that does NOT mean it’s available, any more than if you put a domain name into your browser and it doesn’t pull up a web page that, that means the domain name is available to be registered. The only thing you can really know for sure by dialing a number/entering a domain name is that if it does go through to someone or to a website, that it’s definitely not available except from that end user. The biggest difference between domain names and toll free numbers is that there’s no “whois” type of central or open database with the owners information. The owners information is kept by each phone company and is not public or given out very readily.

TIP :  There are a couple toll free directories you can check for any customer information.  They don’t have a very high percentage of numbers listed but there is a chance it might be listed.  Take a look at GoTollFree.com, AnyWho.com as well as InternetTollFree.com as well as goggling the number.

What to look for when dialing the number

If the number is answered, skip to contacting the customer below. The best numbers to research and dig deeper into are usually the numbers that don’t go through to any active customer because it’s easier to get someone to give up a number that’s not in use than to get them to give up a number they’re actively using (or advertising). Ironically the ones that are easy to get through on are the harder ones to get and the ones that are harder to get through to the end user are really the best ones to pursue.

There are also numbers that you should avoid.  Any number that says “Resporg Locked” is held in a higher security status and is NOT going to be available.  I know those are often the best numbers and you may think that you don’t care if it’s a little tougher, if it’s not impossible you can do it.  Unfortunately those should be considered impossible and you should stop wasting any time on them and move on.

You should basically look for any numbers that don’t have any detectable end user, especially phone company intercept messages, including recordings that say a number is disconnected, not in service, invalid or unable to be completed as dialed. Also add to this group numbers that go to fast busy signals (as opposed to regular busy signals which mean the ring to number is in use or busied out). You should also avoid numbers that say they’re blocked or not available from your calling area, as those are usually in use in another part of the country or Canada.  And most of all, avoid numbers that say Resporg Locked.

Finding the Organization Responsible

Use the lookup tool on the top of the page at TollFreeNumbers.com to see the phone company for most numbers. If it's not shown email us and ask us directly. We definitely want to help you but please start with the online tool before just asking us to look it up for you. That's why we've worked so hard to give you the best possible tools.

Getting customer information

I used to have a private investigator and offer this service but it’s gotten harder and sometimes the investigator doesn’t get the information or gets the wrong information (which can happen).  That makes me look bad and it is harder to manage as things grow.  Try it first yourself so you know what you're dealing with and then seek professional help if necessary. If they don't have any customer information you can try to get the number from the phone company. But just because the person you talk to doesn't find or give you any information that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It probably just means they couldn't find anything, not just that it doesn't exist even though they may say it that way.

Calling the phone company

The best approach is usually to just act like it’s your number.  If they ask for a business name, I usually say I’m not sure which account it’s under.  We’ve merged or started so many companies and just give a generic name or initials.  Sometimes you can guess at the type of company it might be connected to based on the purpose of the vanity number, especially if it’s a generic or popular term.

Ultimately you’re looking for a company name.  Then with the internet you can find some possible cities and get them to confirm or correct the city.  Once you have the name and city, you can often get everything else via the internet and one more call can confirm that too.

You’ll need to call multiple times, and you’ll find some people will be more helpful and responsive than others.  It’s also very important to write down at least the first name of anyone you talk to, the office or city they’re in, as well as the time and date too.  This will be very helpful for you in several ways.

Also don't accept the default negative answer many phone reps give. If you can't see it in their computer they will usually just say it's not theirs or it doesn't exist. That doesn't mean that's the final answer. It's actually a good sign if they don't see it. That doesn't mean our data is wrong, but you might have to change gears and try to get it from them rather than the old customer.

Locating the customer

The next step once you have some customer information before you call them is to research them a little.  You don’t just need to find them, you need to know as much as you can about what they’re like, and what their interests and goals are.  You’ll want to know this for a couple reasons.  If the number is in disconnect and it is related to their business, they may just reactivate it and keep it, so exercise some caution especially if it sounds related.

If you want to get them to give up the number it helps to know who they are and what their hot buttons are.  This is especially true in a negotiation like this for something that has a soft value like a toll free number does.  That means there is no book value so the price will vary a lot more depending on their attitude towards you.  So it’s even more important to establish a relationship and even a friendship if possible than it is for most other negotiations.

Contacting the customer

The first question to ask when you call someone about their number isn’t anything about their number, or who to talk to.  The first question you should ask unless you already know, is what is their website.  That is an easy question for anyone to answer and it gives you access to a lot more information than anything else you could ask.  Their website will tell you if that number is one of their main phone numbers as well as how big they are and what they do.

Be careful if a disconnected number is relevant to the owners business, because you don’t want them to decide they need it and just reactivate it.  It’s also very important not to sound too desperate or like it’s so important that you’ll pay a lot more for it.  That’s also why you want to take your time, to some degree, in this process and not rush.

Sometimes just finding the right person within a large organization can be a pain, too.  Start by asking the receptionist for his or her help.  Try to reach the corporate office receptionist if possible, not someone in customer service because they may be trained and able to help on regular customer service things, but they probably don’t even know who the right person to talk to is, let alone have the power to connect you.  There’s no certain title to look for.  It’s more a function of whoever will deal with it for you.  You also have to realize that this isn’t a priority for them.  So try not to contact a retail chain in their holiday rush or a resort in their peak season.

Try the Soft Approach

If it’s in Disconnect, never mention the word sell.  You’re just asking them to “waive the disconnect period,” so it can be reused.  It’s easy to blame it on the inefficiency and bureaucracy of big phone companies.  Everyone believes and can relate to that.  Blame it on inefficient and stupid phone companies and give them a nice thank you.  I like to send gift certificates for a restaurant because everyone loves food.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t think they ever had it.  Toll free numbers are invisible and customers don’t usually know every number they have in a large organization.  Even a small business owner doesn’t look at their phone bill very carefully.

If you posture it as just waiving the disconnect period it’s a lot easier to agree to than to “sell” their number. You don’t have to set a “price” if you’re not buying the number and they don’t feel like they’re really giving anything up that way either.  If the number’s not disconnected at least when you dial it, you probably can’t use this approach and you’ll have to do a regular negotiation.

Opening Customer negotiations

The first reaction of a lot of please is to say No, it’s not for sale or we can’t sell it.  That’s natural because you’re calling them out of the blue and asking for something strange, not to mention for them to give up something they feel they need.

The first step in the negotiation is to find the right person.  That may be simple if it’s a small business or individual, but in a large organization that can be hard to do.  The good side of that is that t are several doors in many large organizations.  Unfortunately, even when you think you know this, you can still get tripped up by someone else getting involved at the last minute.  There’s no magic trick to approaching an owner.  If there was, it would be meeting them in person, being extremely honest and sincere and as I already mentioned, knowing their hot buttons.  After that the next most important tip is to take your time.  The more rushed you are the more you have to pay their price or whatever they want for it.

Posture affects the Price

When evaluating toll free numbers I usually give 2 prices.  One is if the buyer approaches the seller and the other is if the seller approaches the buyer.  And in the first case the price is usually about twice with it would be in the second case.  You can meet in the middle though if you take your time and are willing to walk away from it if you have to.

This brings us to 2 more important points.  First you should know what your options are (see The 800 Search Process), because just knowing them can save you money and make a tough negotiation a little easier.  You don’t even need to pay for the number if you find something available with our website.  You can reserve it for free for 15 days just in case you need it, although there’s a good chance this will take longer than that.  (Tip:  We usually try to keep reservations for 30 days though, to give people a little more lee-way.)

You should also consider having multiple numbers for tracking purposes anyway.  So you can always use more than one number anyway, whether its for your cell phone, a fax or a secondary use or for tracking the response to a particular advertising.  End user negotiations have at least a reasonable probability of failure so it’s important to always have a backup plan.

The second point that comes from the higher price if you approach the seller is to try to get them to approach you.  This isn’t easy and can be tricky but it can work well if you have a third party contact them and offer to sell their number.  If they’re interested, you could wind up getting the inside information.  They’ll be more honest about what they ultimately want for it and the whole negotiation will go a lot easier with your nephew acting as the intermediary.  This should probably be under advanced tips because this definitely isn’t your standard approach, but it does have it’s place.

Pricing Negotiations

The pricing or evaluation of toll free numbers is more difficult than it is to evaluate most other assets.  That’s because not only is there a limited number of major transactions, but those transactions are always done in confidence and aren’t reported to anyone.  So there is no book value of definitive price list for toll free numbers.  That’s why I always explain that how you approach the owner and their perception of you is very important, and why the logical justification and rational behind whatever price you ask is so critical too.

Several factors go into the price of toll free numbers.  The biggest I already mentioned which is the value both the potential increase in response from using it in your advertising and the existing calls which may be lost (if it’s the exact name of the buyer or if its the ‘800’ version  of a number the buyer is already using).  Another consideration, depending on the situation is the cost of the seller to give up the number.  If it’s in use, even with a small local business, it’s going to cost them something to give up the number.  They may have to reprint cards, stationary, brochures and catalogs, repaint trucks and redo advertising which may be lost.

A third factor in what other equivalent numbers have sold for.  Unfortunately this is difficult to say the least because these transactions aren’t reported and it’s also hard to say what is really equivalent.  Even similar numbers in different situations sell for very different prices.  The bottom line is that there is no market for numbers so there’s no good market value or equivalent.  Just like the expression says beauty is in the each of the holder and there are definitely a lot of “squatters” that think their number is worth a house when they couldn’t get a clunker of a used car for it.

TIP:    Offer to let them keep the number in their area for a period of time, to reduce the expense of giving up the number.  That can be a good way to get over an initial objection.

Know when to talk Money and how not to

Often the first one to name a price loses.  If you say 50K and he might have been willing to take 25K, he’ll still respond and say 75 to see if he can get it.  The seller needs to feel confident that he or she has gotten all that they can get for it from the buyer.  (That’s why it takes time for everyone to get comfortable with the deal.)

Sometimes it’s good to start the bar and the discussion low.  But you also need to make sure you sound serious or you could get the door slammed in your face.  So make sure your offer is enough to make a difference to them and show you’re serious or you could get the door slammed in your face.  So make sure your offer is enough to make a difference to them.

A rule of thumb I often use is that if it’s under 5 to 10 thousand, even for a personal number or a very small business without a lot of use, its not serious because it won’t make enough difference to be worthwhile.  The more they use and advertise the number, the bigger they are, and the more generic and obvious the value of the number is, the more you need to offer to even be serious.

Negotiating with Shared Use companies

Most of the things I’ve detailed here don’t work as well on a shared use owner/squatter.  They know these things and they only want one thing, money!  But the time thing will definitely work with them, because they will always ask a lot more than the lowest they’re willing to release it for.  And NEVER agree to renting a number unless you have the ability change phone companies or you’re willing and able to just walk away from the number at any time.  Because otherwise they can raise up the usage, and/or the monthly fee to anything they want after a few years when the contract runs out.  And believe me, some companies will definitely take advantage of you!

What numbers to Pursue

One of the most important things you need to figure out in the process is the understanding of what numbers NOT to pursue.  This can be hard advice to follow, but it’s definitely harder to ignore it and waste all your time and effort pursuing a number or numbers that aren’t possible.

The simplest rule to give you is NOT to pursue numbers that are Reporg Locked.  Those numbers are “locked” for a reason.  I realize that eliminates millions of the best numbers, but it is what it is.  And it’s hard enough to pursue numbers that you do have a slight chance with, pursuing ones you don’t have any chance with just isn’t worth it.  So don’t waste your time on the ones that are “Locked”.

Why do Numbers get lost?

You’ve probably noticed that although the domain name industry is fairly similar in many ways, the toll free system is a little less open and transparent than domain name.  (OK, maybe it’s a lot less.)  There is no whois lookup for toll free numbers the way there is for the domain names and the phone companies aren’t supposed to give out the customer information.

There is also no cleaning mechanism for toll free numbers or automatic process to return unused toll free numbers to the spare Available status.  Toll free numbers have no physical presence so when an account gets disconnected if it owes money, it may get sent to collection and all the toll free numbers on that account may get put into a holding status.  Then whether they pay the bill or not, the toll free numbers are usually just left there.

Cutting In Line or Rescuing numbers

When a number gets disconnected it goes into an aging process.  One of the main purposes of that period is of that the customer has a chance to notice that it was disconnected before someone else gets it.  Most of the time, by the time it gets disconnected, the customer doesn’t know, doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist any more.  (The exception is Sprint which puts numbers into disconnect very time the customer is late with their payments and creates what we call yo-yo numbers.)

The bottom line is that the customer has the right to get the number back before it comes out of the disconnect period, and they can sign it right over to you.  You can then reactivate it and transfer it away before the number comes out of the aging process and any else has a chance to get it.  That’s what we call “Cutting In Line” because you’re not waiting for it to come out and taking a chance of losing it.

Rescuing Numbers

Cutting In Line, basically refers to numbers that are in the aging process before coming out of disconnect.  They are good numbers to go after because the owners if there were any recently, clearly have little or no need for them.  They are also easier to find than numbers that are technically active but aren’t used any more. Cutting In Line only refers to numbers that are in the aging process since there’s no place to line up for numbers that aren’t in the aging process.

Rescuing or Recycling a number is when you reactivate a number has been stranded or lost in the phone company cracks.  You can track it down and get it reassigned either from the old customer or by the phone company.  It’s generally easier for a customer to go through the old customer but you may sometimes be able to get a number directly from the old phone company if they really don’t have any customer information left for it.

You can use both the same paperwork and the same customer approach, for an 800 Rescue as you would if you were Cutting In Line.  The fee to process that is the same.  The only exception is that if the number was actually your number.  Sometimes issues may come up in which you wind up having to rescue your own number.  We do that for half of the price of a regular Rescue or Cutting In Line because we don’t want to be making money off of other people’s mistakes.

Considering all your options

Again this is why you want to use the Keyword Lookup a lot to make sure you have ALL the options on the table.  You have to realize that you’re making an important decision that can make a difference in the ultimate success of your business.  And it’s hard to make that decision without all of the facts spread out in front of you.  The number you wanted isn’t “Available”, at least not readily, so you’re going to have to make a decision as to how much to pay and how far to pursue it.  It’s much easier to make that decision when you know what other options you have or don’t have.

The Mechanics of Transferring Numbers

If you are successful in your negotiation, the next step is the transfer.  Many phone companies will give you different answers about transferring toll free numbers.  That’s partially because there are a couple different approaches to the transfer for different situations as well as because they don’t do it very often.  So I’ve put together a summary of the different types of transfers.  This can get a little tedious and everyone obviously doesn’t really need the details of every type of transfer so I’m just summarizing the different types on this page and you can get more information (soon) on the different processes.

To transfer a number you essentially need to change two things, the customer information and the phone company.  It generally helps to understand that and look at them as two separate items.

There are six different approaches:

1.  Barebones – “800 Rescue” or “Cutting in Line” – this number only approach is the least invasive and simplest night terms of paperwork, but is not as good for more serious transactions.  This is the best solution for the minimalist, recycling old numbers approach described above.
2. Small Easy – Negotiated with comfort and under 20K – This number only approach is also easy for the releasing party, and doesn’t require lawyers, or complicated transfer agreements.  It’s good for the majority of negotiated transfers unless you have no comfort with the other party or if the $ is too high to do without lawyers.
TIP:  Meeting in person can make this more doable, although it can certainly be done remotely via FedEx too.
3.  Full legal agreement – Bigger Safer Negotiated without comfort or over 20K - This is also a number only approach for bigger transactions or when lawyers are required or appropriate.  It means preparing legal agreements and takes more effort, which is appropriate in larger transactions or situations without any comfort.
4.  Transferring the Whole Account – One simple approach when the releasing party doesn’t have much else on the account is to just transfer the whole account.  This simplifies the process and paperwork, but is only able to be used when the releasing company doesn’t use the phone company providing the toll free number or much else.
5.  Purchase the Whole Business – You can always buy the whole business to get the phone number you really need.  This obviously requires the correct situation, but can be a safer way to go if all else fails.  1-800 FLOWERS was bought this way and has proven to be worth the 2 million in cash and 7 million in debt that it cost.
6.  A Friendly Resporg – Having a friendly Resporg that’s willing to release the number and expedite the process for you can definitely help and make it go much more easily and safely.  But that refers to the releasing party’s resporg, not the acquiring party’s Resporg.  So please don’t ask us to do that for you unless it’s already on our Resporg.

Like I said at the beginning we can't just do this all for you. We really do want to help you but unfortunately it's harder than you're expecting. So get a backup and know ALL your alternatives. If you have any other questions post them here or email or call us at 1-800 MARKETER and we'll do our best to help you or at least point you in the right direction. I've done this for 20+ years and love and really do want to help you as much as I possibly can.