Cold Calls — Effective Sales Tool or a Waste of Time?
In the technologically advanced business world of the 21st century many salespeople and managers question the efficacy of the good old-fashioned cold call. The depersonalized nature of electronic communication — personal email, corporate email blasts and advertising, and websites — has allowed buyers to self-select. Many sales execs believe they can’t get through today’s gatekeeping technology. And for most of them, cold calling is the least fun aspect of sales. This natural call resistance, together with the siren-song of technology as the great “lead giver”, can lead sales organizations to believe that cold calling is unproductive. We disagree.
Unless your product or service is in the “industry of the year”, is leading the pack and benefits from superb marketing, the in-bound calls or web requests will only last so long. So what to do? You may be able to hire a telemarketing firm or establish an internal telemarketing team, using this as a steppingstone for a bigger sales role. But unless yours is a simple transactional sale this won’t work for more complex products/services. A big-ticket, consultative sale usually requires the salesperson to be involved from the first call.
Assuming you or your salespeople are responsible for cold calling, you can start by “warming” them up. Calls based on references or associations (e.g. “I heard you speak at…”) are most effective. Use a sales meeting to review suspect lists to find out who knows whom. Obviously, the web gives you excellent ways to get background and find connections — a networking site like LinkedIn® gives new power to sales execs looking for entrée and a warmer first contact. Newer services like Zoominfo®, TrueAdvantage® and Generate® allow you to customize information sets such as relationships and “trigger events” based on your industry, target market, etc.
As for the mechanics of the cold call itself, even if you improve your odds by calling early/late to avoid gatekeepers, start with “warm” calls to build confidence, have a script, send a letter first — and all the other things you’ve always heard — how do you avoid sounding like the 15 other salesman who called your prospect that day, and actually get an ear? Sans personal endorsements or references there are ways to improve your success rate.
By knowing your unique value proposition and the general problems that your target firms face, you can pique interest in your prospect to get them curious enough to ask you questions. For instance, when calling for our firm we state our value as: “The Collaborative helps services and technology firms bring the highest return to their sales and marketing investment, and overcome the obstacles to sales effectiveness most often overlooked.” This often generates a response of “‘Most often overlooked’— what do you mean by that?” or “what are those?” A bonus with this approach: our experience is that you’re much more likely to get a returned call if you leave this as voicemail.
A variation on this is to cite a problem or issue you know to be prevalent in your industry and to cite the names of firms that have turned to you for solving it. The next step — before launching into how great your firm/products are — is to ask permission to ask a few questions. These should be closed-end questions that elicit a lot of specific information quickly. This serves three purposes: it tells you whether or not the prospect is a reasonable fit, they’re less threatening than open-ended questions and they build your credibility as you quickly demonstrate that you know the business and its problems.
In summary, don’t overlook — or avoid — cold calling as effective weapon in your selling arsenal, even in this technology-driven age.