Sales and marketing

Is Cold Calling Dead?

In reality, this title is just clickbait.  It’s certain to draw all sorts of attention with pundits on either side of the issue.  Inevitably each shaping their “pro” or “con” arguments based on what they are trying to sell.

And every time we get into this discussion, we immediately dive in taking and defending positions without even defining terms to make sure we are talking about the same thing.

Before we can even answer the question and have a reasonable debate, we have to define, “What is cold calling?”

If we think of cold calling as:  Unprepared, random calls to pitch products to anyone who is foolish enough to pick up a phone—it certainly is not dead, at least judged by the volume of telephone, email, LinkedIn, Twitter and other solicitations I get.  But if this is what cold calling is, it should have been KILLED decades and centuries ago.  It is simply a waste of time and resource on everyone’s part.  It’s the functional equivalent of emails promising fortunes from deposed Nigerian government officials.

Reframing the Conversation

If we think of cold calling as:  Calls to someone we have never met before and whose day we are interrupting unexpectedly, BUT, it is well researched (both from an enterprise and individual point of view), it is to a customer well within our sweet spot, it is focused on the customer issues–and probably never even mentions a solution.  Further, it’s goal is to educate, provide insight, get the customer to think differently and to learn how they could improve.  In this case cold calls are what top performers do constantly, separating themselves from everyone else, creating true value and leadership for customers.  Cold calling, executed this way, can be one of the best ways we can serve our customers, as well as grow our businesses.

Some choose to define cold calling in terms of technology used.  “The cool kids don’t use old school technologies like the phone, snail or email.  All the cool kids are using social media and social tools.”  This is just a technology or implementation issue.  We can be equally obnoxious, ill prepared, and clueless using social channels as we are in using old school channels.  Or we can exercise great leadership and insight in any of these channels.  Use of a tool doesn’t inherently make the engagement better or worse, it just broadens our reach and enables us to create crap at the speed of light.

There are those who want cold calling to be dead–because it’s hard work!  You have to know your stuff!  More importantly, you have to know the customers’ stuff!  You have to know who they are, what drives them, what they are missing, what they can do better, how do engage them, how to be impactful and create value–and each customer is different, so you have to do this work for each and every cold call.

People in this category will cite endless statistics about negative customer reactions, falling response rates, and other data to argue against cold calling.  Oddly, they never look at the data from Value based, insight driven, well researched cold calls.  Their agenda is to prove cold calling is dead, so they can avoid doing the hardwork.

Some choose hedge words, “We shouldn’t cold call, we should warm call……”  Those of you who have followed me for some time, know my mind immediately goes to, “Does that mean we should only be calling on people in the tropics or desert climate–or perhaps we should be sitting in the tropics when we make those calls…..”  Sorry I couldn’t help myself.

No, the warm call advocates say, “You need referrals, you need introductions, you should never call someone that hasn’t been introduced in some way.”  Others say, “You shouldn’t surprise them, you shouldn’t interrupt them, you should stimulate them to reach out and ask.”

Well sure!  I’m not going to turn any of those down.  If I can get a referral or introduction, I’ll always leverage that.  If I can have someone reach out, it’s always and easier starting conversation.  We’d be fools not to take advantage of that.

But what happens if you aren’t getting them?  What happens if you don’t have enough to deliver on your goals?

You have to close the gap, as a result you have to cold call!  It is unacceptable to wait for the leads, the requests to talk, the introductions. Spending hours a day on LinkedIn, trying to navigate the path to a “3rd order link,” getting an introduction and moving forward is a waste of so many people’s time and takes too much time.

We need to leverage everything we can in our prospecting.  Our networks, referrals, burning hot leads, warm leads—anything that enables us to engage the customer.

Inevitably we will always need more (I have not met any sales person in the last 5 years who is complaining of too much opportunity and too many qualified leads.)

Aggressive Cold Calling (Done Correctly)

We should be using cold calling as aggressively as we can—by that I mean the prepared, well researched, value driven cold calls. We should not be uncomfortable calling someone we don’t know and who doesn’t know us.  We should not be concerned with disrupting their day.  It is our obligation and responsibility to reach out to these people to teach them, to let them know, “We’ve spent a lot of time analyzing your business, we think there are some tremendous opportunities you are missing…  We think you can grow by this amount, we think you might improve your operations by that amount, there is a way to improve your ability to serve your customers……”

Will everyone be interested, absolutely not.  But the yields on this type of cold calling are orders of magnitude better than the blind, thoughtless calls.  Customers appreciate them because they are about them–specifically.  They learn from them and while they may not be ready now, they might be ready in the future, welcoming engagement at the right time–and then you’d be having one of those “warm” calls.

Unless you are the sales professional I have never met (I’ve met 100’s of thousands) who has  too many qualified leads, cold calling is what will save you and enable you to make your numbers.

With top sales professionals, cold calling is thriving, alive, and kicking! And the people doing it effectively are kicking a**!

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more of his blogs here.