Cold calling is alive—at least when you look at the number of posts proclaiming its death. Also, judging by the number of “cold calls” I get every day.
It’s unfortunate that a discussion about cold calling has to start with definitions and semantic disclaimers. Unfortunately, the most of the discussion are based on whatever definition or stereotypes one chooses. Usually, the definition and subsequent discussion is based on supporting whatever it is the author is trying to sell. Whatever the reason, we can’t have meaningful discussions about cold calling without a common framework of what cold calling is.
Social selling, many marketing, many inbound advocates leverage the stereotype of cold calls: A random, untargeted, unresearched, poorly prepared telephone call (or even a cold email), focused on pitching products. Based on this definition, cold calling needs to be killed! I couldn’t agree with the positions of people using this definition of cold calling more. Typically, these cold callers talk about the 100s and 1000s of calls they make–but they don’t talk about results, they just believe in quantity and are focused on dials. The data, both research and anecdotal, is horrible. It’s a waste of time on the part of customers and sales people. It drives customers away and poisons the well for others.
There are others who praise the cold call—I’m actually one of those. We revel in cold calling because it produces results. But the problem is, our definition of cold calls is very different than the prior group. I have to make a certain number of cold calls a week–that is actually reach and have conversations with people. I know if I don’t, I won’t make my number in 12-15 months. Each person in our organization has to make a certain number of cold calls each week, for the same reasons.
These are people who we’ve never met or spoken to. For the most part, they aren’t expecting our calls and we are interrupting their days. But that’s where the commonality with the other group ends. Each of our calls is very targeted. We know our sweet spot, we focus exclusively on our sweet spot. They are deeply researched. Since we focus on certain markets, we are deeply knowledgeable in those markets—as knowledgeable as the targets of our calls, in some cases more knowledgeable. But we research the companies and the individuals deeply. We want to know as much about them, their companies, their priorities, and challenges as possible. We won’t make the call until we have an idea of what would be compelling and valuable for them.
As a result of that focus and research, we have an extraordinarily high “connect” rate. Earlier today, I completed one of those calls. I had originally planned a 15 minute conversation. But the customer wanted to keep me on the phone discussing his issues and how we could help for over an hour. And we have our next meeting scheduled!
Some of you might be saying, that investment in time is too much, there must be a simpler way!
Think about it for a moment. Yes, over time we’ve build deep knowledge in markets and industries. Yes, each call is focused on an issue that we are deeply knowledgeable in (for example right now my calls are focused on complexity and its impact on sales performance). So I don’t have to spend time researching any of those things, I’m already well prepared and knowledgeable.
Because we know what we are looking for, our customer research (enterprise and individual) takes about 30 minutes.
For roughly 30 minutes of research, we have virtually a 90% conversation/engagement rate within 3 attempts. (We do complement our calls with relevant email messages).
For those who are dialing madly, during that same 30 minutes, they may have made 100’s of dials, but their connect rate may be very low and their engagement rate is measured in fractions of percentage points. As a result, while we make far fewer calls, we produce great results.
Many of my peers, evangelists of the cold call will say the same thing.
Our disagreement with the “other camp” is really based on disagreement on what a cold call is.
So let me try to define it:
A cold call is a conversation with an individual you have never met or spoken with before. It is an unsolicited and unscheduled call–one they are not expecting, and an interruption of their day.
But a cold call is carefully targeted, carefully researched, carefully prepared. A cold call is never made until we know the value we can create for the customer.
That “stuff” we are subjected to by people masquerading as sales people—the untargeted, unresearched and unprepared call is not a cold call. It’s a waste of time.
Finally, high performing sales people, making high impact cold calls, never rely strictly on cold calls. They use whatever channel and method available. Inevitably that leads to the social selling argument—but I’ll save that for another post.