For years there's been books, blogs, and articles circulated around the topic of "Cold Calling is Dead." Every week articles are flying around on Cold Calling's lack of ROI. I can't help but voice my complete disagreement with this when I see it, not only is it not dead but the effectiveness of it has increased over the years as it is the fastest way to find an opportunity.

One customer study showed 80% of large deals (>400K) closed from a tactical cold calling programs. An accident? No.

Why the opposing claims? Because what is being lumped into the definition of a "cold call" is actually more accurately defined as a "bad call."  And with the poor hiring profiles and technical fluency of many (both outsourced and FTE's) that operate in the "telemarketing" space, there is a high concentration of "bad calls" going on.  Those have always been a waste of time.

What is a "bad call?" 

I'll give you a perfect example....not too long ago, I got a call from Suzy or Sally or someone I have no recollection of her name. She called my cell, and said she was with an F500 tech firm and I had downloaded a whitepaper on something-maybe I did, maybe I didn't. It didn't sound like something I did but "go on..." She then asks me my title, I asked if she had it already...she did, she said CEO. I asked her why she asked if she had it? She said CEO's don't normally answer their phone. I said this is my cell, so there is a good possibility I would answer. I asked if she had internet access and she did, so I asked if she does a quick search on people that have C-level or VP titles before she calls, she said no. Then she asked if I can send her to someone that does our networking and security management. I said "wouldn't you want to talk to me directly since it's my company?" Her response was a broad sweeping statement she read to me about security planning and network management this or that...and if I want a meeting. I said what you just said could represent about 100 different things. I asked if she wanted a tip for her next call--I said "we have spent the last 6 minutes talking about how I couldn't possibly be a CEO because I answered my phone, then when we established I'm the CEO you want to talk to someone else, the thing you want to talk about is such a broad sweeping statement that it could mean 100 different things and now I have to go. So you had a CEO on the phone you could have spoken to, and it has turned into nothing for your customer (they were an outsourced firm, I asked.) Next time, I would search who you are calling first, have something crisp to say that would be interesting based on their role, and when you have the person that's writing the check on the phone--don't make the first thing you ask for how to get to someone else." That is an example of a bad call.  I get them all the time, and rarely is one something I would pursue a further dialog with.

Companies that outsource/hire often look for the economy option because the stakeholder personally doesn't like getting calls, so they don't want to invest a lot in their call campaign, which actually  ensures they have bad calls made on their behalf.

Often, front-lines are staffed with people without any critical thinking skills, they are unable to real-time navigate and map what prospects say to engage and uncover opportunities. They are not adding value but can actually do damage to your pipeline.  This applies for FTE or outsourced resources, putting very junior people with very under-developed communication skills is going to cost you deals you could have had with a better front-line engagement model.

A customer of ours once said "I could never make cold calls..." I asked if they call people they don't know...they said they do all the time. I said that's what we do, we make business calls.  A business call is normal, people in business expect and welcomes them when they add value. There is tacit permission given to make a business call as an executive because part of their role is "doing business." If they weren't open to solve their challenges, they would not be doing their job. 

All the gobbledygook out there around cold calling, ROI, metrics, and activity measurement are often mapped to the results of efforts like the bad calls above--but did those ever work?  What is likely the cause of the appearance of a drop of ROI in bad calls is really the ability to have more accurate and granular measurement. Also, today's prospects are much more empowered to cut people off faster, and the sheer volume of poorly skilled front-line business development outreach going on in B2B has created a scenario where prospects are harder to reach. Often workflow is broken and applying methods from 1996 to today's unavailable buyers, so it gives the appearance the entire "medium" of calling isn't working.

Measuring the results of actual business calls made by people that know what they are talking about still show it is the #1 highest resulting activity companies can do.

Bottom line, if your first touch is someone that isn't a peer-match in conversation, understanding specific problems prospects face, and can think on their will impact results poorly. 

What is the fix?

  • Better hiring. Make sure you aren't putting inexperienced people in the position to be the first experience prospects have. You want people that can uncover opportunities in a very short window of time, speak fluently with senior level stakeholders, and understand the environment they are calling into. I can recommend some staffing consultants that help with hiring, ping me if you need to connect with any.
  • Understand the purpose of cold calls. Cold calling uncovers opportunities, it tee's up engagements for the direct teams, it cuts through the noise of emails and SEO and all the things that drive prospects to the conversation. If you are uncovering millions of dollars of pipeline in your outbound effort and are not seeing it close, the problem could likely be downstream and sales operations needs to uncover the issue. Is it a sales execution issue? Product issue? Nurturing issue? Whatever it is, follow the breadcrumbs to see where the breakdowns occur and deals are lost. 
  • Have a process. Many times outbound calls are based on a list that wasn't vetted, reviewed, scrubbed. Calling into prospects that wouldn't be viable under the best of circumstances isn't going to get the results that a structured effort delivers. Have a model of data vetting that narrows your focus to viable prospects before you even pick up the phone.
  • Training. Many internal ISR's are trained on products, problems as marketing departments see them, features, etc. They are not trained on the psychology of buyers and how to engage with people with the same effectiveness as a face-to-face meeting. Understanding the undercurrents going on during a call goes a very long way to better connect and progress deals in the pipeline.

What are a few of the characteristics of a "business call?"

  • Peer level. The person doing the calling needs to engage as a peer, not talk up to, or talk down to, the prospect.  They should have command of the discussion and be able to articulate at the same level (or better) than the prospects. They should not have any confidence issues speaking with senior executives.
  • Agile. The person calling needs to be able to real-time map what the prospect says to a meaningful discussion that uncovers opportunities. They are not locked into a script, or an objective, i.e., if there isn't a meeting we don't want it. Having it all about a meeting, disables the discussion to turn into something meaningful. If the purpose of cold calls is narrow and activity based, the workflow and business development processes will be broken. 
  • Rich. A business call builds excitement for prospects, not create sales resistance. A business call is about "business value." It's about how problems are solved, provides a vision for the solution, allows a prospect to build a mental framework for how this can work...and in turn, they want to know more.
  • Informed. Many cold calls are made by people that have very under-developed critical thinking and problem solving skills. Ask interviewees if they have a system for educating themselves? What are the last 3 business books they read? How to they educate themselves in a new space? What are some examples? How do they discover account information? How do they use what is in the public domain to leverage entry to an account? Many times, a high sales performer in B2C is completely unable to reinvent themselves into a B2B sale. Make sure the hire can sell in your space, your sales landscape, to your buyers. It doesn't have to be a 1 to 1 match of products, but a sales environment selling printers in volume to a commodity buyer in procurement is very different than selling a supply chain platform to an IT organization. Make sure their success maps in theory to yours. 

These are just a few of the elements to consider.  Investing the time to build the model that works for your company isn't easy, but it pays off and delivers a measurable impact to revenue.