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tibor shanto

Zombies have made a comeback, though you could argue they never went away, from Night of the Living Dead to World War Z and points in between (who could forget Shaun of the Dead?).

What do zombies have to do with sales? One reason I have a soft spot for the undead is that I'm still a firm believer in cold calling and its importance to any business-to-business prospecting and client acquisition regimen. But on a regular basis some pundit will proclaim as loud as possible: COLD CALLING IS DEAD.

Next thing you know, it comes back to life, minus the rotting flesh.

In the past I have challenged "no more cold calling" messiahs to debate the issue, only to have them turn down the opportunity. I suspect it's because many of these experts are pandering to the crowd and they are offering little more than the sales version of those late-night infomercial ab-firming machine peddlers.

What set me off this time was a piece on titled Cold Calling is Dead, Thanks to LinkedIn, which makes the same mistake as previous attacks, namely they are aiming at the wrong part of the beast. The author states: "LinkedIn is the single most powerful sales information tool on the planet. It makes it so you don't have to cold call … ever!"

Well, that's only half true. Successful cold calling consists of two dynamics. Yes, LinkedIn is great and it has dramatically improved the ability of sellers to be informed and better prepared for engagement. If you're not using it, you are missing out. But what makes the cold call scary for many is not the information dynamic, it's the execution. It's that last nerve-wracking step where you have to interrupt someone, then transition to a conversation – a point the soothsayers always fail to address, but without it, just being informed will help little.

No matter how informed and ready you are, unless you are on someone's calendar, the moment you call you are an interruption and therefore prone to being rejected. This is true even when you are referred, unless the person referring you initially contacted the person you are calling. The real reason people want to avoid cold calling is the awkwardness and fear of rejection – just look at the comments on the Forbes piece.

With demands on people's time, no one can afford distractions. Faced with the choice of completing work or being interrupted, they will choose work and "reject" the caller. Managing the rejection makes good cold callers, and that's the case to a much larger degree than how informed they may be. Even if you – like all the salespeople using LinkedIn – say something truly compelling, you need to deal with that primal instinct and reaction.

Great salespeople always had good networks, good sources of information, and the ability to engage around an issue, but they also knew the first hurdle is the dynamic. Unless you master how to manage and navigate that initial moment, you're never more than halfway there.

The numbers

DiscoverOrg recently surveyed 1,000 IT decision makers at Fortune ranked, small and medium-sized companies. It shows how outbound – today's euphemism for cold – sales calls and e-mails affect and "more importantly disrupt vendor selection."

"Seventy-five per cent of IT executives have set an appointment or attended an event as a direct result of outbound email and call techniques." Further, "nearly 600 said an outbound call or e-mail led to an IT vendor being evaluated."

An opportunity that only happened due to cold calling.

Last month I presented at a gathering of owners and principals of IT-related dealers, ranging from $3-million to $10-million in sales. I asked how many of them had LinkedIn profiles, and less than 10 did. There's a lot of money in that void.

The reality is that effective prospecting and buyer engagement should never come down to one approach versus the other. The greatest success comes from leveraging an integrated approach. The one versus another is usually promoted by those who don't understand one, so they sell the other.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He can be reached at . His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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