When André Goyette started his first sales job three decades ago, he was given a desk, a telephone and a telephone book and told to start calling people.
“That was the old-fashioned way,” Goyette says. “Hit the road, Jack. Go sell!”
What Goyette was doing all those years ago is known as cold calling, the unrefined art of slogging through a list of names either over the phone or in person in hopes of finding someone who might be interested in your offerings.
Cold calling has been around for so long that it’s become “entrenched in the minds of sales managers” as a productive tactic, says Goyette, a senior manager at BDC Consulting.
However, a growing number of experts consider cold calling a time waster that needs to be laid to rest in favour of more successful sales techniques.
These days, sales shouldn’t be about aggressively pushing a product or service on a reluctant consumer, says Goyette, who has 30 years experience in sales and marketing. Instead, sales should be about helping customers solve their problems.
First, you need to find people who need what you’re offering. In the language of the sales business you’re looking for qualified or “warm” leads. That means professionals should be working on creative marketing initiatives instead of using their precious sales time on cold calls.
“If I was looking to buy insurance, I would look on the Internet for whatever interests me,” Goyette says. “Even if you called me selling insurance, the answer would be 'No' right off the bat because you’re interrupting me, wasting my time.”
The success rate of cold calls is low, especially in an age of voice mail and caller identification. Do-not-call lists have made things even more difficult by shrinking the pool of potential customers.
Worst of all, it kills what Goyette refers to as one’s “marketing currency” by annoying prospects with an unwelcome intrusion during a busy work day or at dinner time at home.
“When you call someone and try to sell them on something, you’re in a very different position than when someone is calling you to ask you for information. That’s a warm call.”
Here are some low-cost alternatives to cold calling for finding warm prospects:
- Develop a strong website.
- Make online offers that attract leads (coupons, deals, contests).
- Produce online content that positions you as an expert in your field (blog, newsletter, podcast).
- Explore marketing through social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).
- Improve your networking techniques and attend more events.
- Seek out opportunities to appear in the media as an expert.
- Attend trade shows.
“You want some form of creative marketing that will cause clients to contact you – to raise their hands,” Goyette said. “Then you deal with those people. That’s warm-call selling.”
If you are forced to cold call, you must strive to give your calls a purpose and context, Goyette says. Don’t expect or try to make the sale during that initial conversation – your goal is to arrange an appointment.
Inform the prospect of something, such as a coming discount promotion. Then work to engage the person in a brief, focused conversation about the unique benefits of your offering, ending with a request for a meeting.
It comes to the same thing: building relationships.
“Provide valuable information. Help the client sort out a problem. Become a trusted adviser,” Goyette says. “That’s the way to make sales.”
Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.