Selling the notion that "cold calling is dead" to most sales people today is frankly as hard as selling water to a very rich and thirsty person in a desert. Type the phrase "cold calling is dead" into your favourite search engine and rapidly learn that the practice of calling a business that hasn't invited you to do so, is not only obsolete, but verging on unethical.
This seemingly conventional wisdom about cold calling, reinforced by some of the most powerful marketing machines on the planet, is certainly great news for investors in the growing army of SaaS (software as a service) providers that are telling us how to sell more, faster, and without having to engage in the crude and archaic practice of telephone prospecting. Its also great news for the brilliant and introverted software engineers that reluctantly find themselves being both the CEO and VP of sales at small businesses across the country. Their collective sigh of relief is palpable.
Few millennials who inhabit sales floors where the predominant sound is fingers strumming keyboards and music seeping from headphones will shed a tear for the death of the dreaded cold call. You will likely be preaching to the converted if you suggest to a head of marketing that the best way to increase revenue is through social media and marketing campaigns that generate warm inbound leads. The case against cold outbound telephone prospecting would seem to be well and truly closed.
So, if you're the leader of a small to medium-sized business and want to increase your bottom line, surely the smartest thing to do is cancel your organization's long-distance phone package, increase your marketing spend, and start educating your employees on the best way to discover the proclivities of their prospective customers through social media and professional networking sites?
Against a rising swell of opinion to the contrary, I would like to propose that not only is cold calling alive and well, but that when executed brilliantly and augmented with insights that challenge the status quo, it is the most powerful, cost effective and expedient way for a B2B focused organization to grow. While I am a big proponent of demand-based strategic marketing and also invest in premium lead-generation services from the largest professional networking website in the world, the fact remains that if I could have only one tool in my sales tool box, it would be the telephone. And I can assure you, I wouldn't be sitting there waiting for it to ring.
Elite sales professionals in the 21st century are world-class teachers. They reframe their customer's thinking by teaching them what they don't know, but should. They don't lead with open-ended questions in order to learn about their customers' needs, they lead with hypotheses of customers' needs, informed by their own experience and insightful industry research. Elite sales professionals build a pitch that leads to their solution, not with it. They focus on selling the significance of the problem that their product solves, not the product itself.
If cold calling is the act of picking up a telephone and asking for a nameless person that holds a generic job title, in order to deliver a canned product pitch, then I would argue that it was not alive in the first place. What frustrates and concerns me in equal measure, is the notion that world-class phone prospecting no longer works. My experience, and that of my friends who regularly deliver 200-plus per cent of their sales targets, continues to be that the telephone is an immensely effective tool to rapidly reach carefully targeted prospects.
Skilled cold callers immediately acknowledge that their call wasn't expected and respectfully deliver a line that catches their prospect's attention. This invariably earns them an additional 60 seconds to deliver a succinct and carefully crafted pitch that provides a new perspective on a relevant problem. They are immediately delivering insight, and therefore value. The best salespeople understand the value of every minute of their work day, and they focus on connecting with prospects that meet a predetermined ideal profile.
If the thought of cold calling terrifies you, seek out someone that has mastered the art and do everything you can to learn from them. You will likely find them breathing the rarefied air at the top of their company's sales organization.
Ben Firman is co-founder and managing director at 80-20 Growth Corporation, a company dedicated to addressing the Canadian sales skills gap through a 90-hour sales talent identification, assessment and training process.