Does cold calling work?

Jon CunninghamBusiness Development, Cold calling, Sales, Telemarketing, Telesales

Writing a cold email

Does cold calling work?

The debate’s an old one: is there value in cold calling – does cold calling work? If so, how and when should you employ it as a technique?

Even as far back as 1991, when the Mk3 Fiesta XR2i seemed like a cool car, the first web site was built at the CERN labs and Apple released their PowerBook, this article, first published in Inc Magazine was defending cold calling despite “the marketing sophisticates” saying cold calling was dead.

Fast-forward nearly 25 years and The Guardian published an article entitled “Behind every cold call is a person hating their life” – just one of many articles you can now find on the internet that suggest cold calling doesn’t provides value: some say it’s dead, it has a 1% success rate, x% of salespeople hate it…

So, given this somewhat negative press, why on earth would anyone, anywhere, ever consider making another cold call?

Well, despite all the statistics to suggest otherwise – it can actually work wonders…

Does cold calling REALLY work?

Yes, really! I’ve been cold calling for the last 20+ years, and it’s a bit like other marketing in that there’s a lot of bad press but again, like other marketing, if – and I know it’s a big if – you deliver intelligent, considered messages to the correct audience with sensitivity – it works.

In fact, cold calling has been instrumental in the success of numerous businesses I have worked with – starting relationships that have translated to valuable business with some of the World’s best known brands.

Why does cold calling have a bad reputation?

Given that I’m insisting that cold calling can work – why does it have such negative press?

Here’s some thoughts…

Cold calling has low barriers to entry

There is no need for formal training, certification or qualifications – if you have a phone and can speak, then you’ve already passed the qualification process…

And since anyone can cold call – they do  – and I regularly get very poor sales calls from people who are clearly inexperienced, unrehearsed – and often incredibly unprofessional.

Even those that can make a convincing enough pitch, frequently have no skills in objection handling or logically solving any challenges presented to them.

Enthusiasm trumps thoughts

Enthusiasm is a great trait for cold calling – but it needs tempering with consideration for the audience and what constitutes the best messaging and approach to them.

I’ve had many calls where the telemarketer is unable to concisely articulate what they are offering – often because they don’t want to admit that they’re trying to sell something in the first place, leading to complex explanations for the reason for their call.

STOP! There is no shame in promoting/selling a product or service; every business has to do it – one way or another.

If your product or service can deliver value to the person you are calling – provided you can create an opportunity to articulate that, and articulate it well – the person has no reason not to thank you for ‘selling’.

The wrong goal

I recently received a call from someone trying to tout a print solution that could help us ‘save a fortune’.

As it happens, we spend very little on printing and I clearly explained this to him – but he kept pushing, suggesting that he schedule a meeting the following Tuesday when his manager would be in my area…

Nothing I said could take him away from his fixation on trying to book a meeting – even though the likelihood of conversion was ~0%.

I suspect that this individual had been incentivised on booked meetings – regardless of whether the prospect actually had a need for the solution being offered. (However, it does also showcase another issue – not listening.)

Not listening and babbling

I get it; salespeople can work themselves into a tizzy:

They’ve finally got a handle on what they’re going to say, they’re perhaps nervous; the prospect may say no – what are they going to say? Who’s going to answer? What might they ask – and what if they’re rude?

Perhaps they’re now so wound up they just want to spill their beans – get a quick yes or no – and get out? So when the prospect answers, they launch into the pitch and are determined – determined at all costs – to finish it.

Perhaps they worry that if they take one breath – just one – the game will be lost; the prospect’ll say ‘Not interested’ and hang up.

So they don’t stop and fail to listen; big mistake!

And the outcome is…

There are a number of potential issues here that can alienate prospects; low levels of communication skills, poor relevance, poor delivery and poor timing can lead to incredibly poor outcomes – and corresponding stats and soundbites – making a bad name for cold calling.

And although there are clearly issues at play – and in many cases, good reasons for these stats and soundbites – you can probably select any marketing method/channel and find stats that suggest it doesn’t work: take advertising as an example; despite 81% of those surveyed in a Kantar survey saying that they are ambivalent to, or actively dislike advertising, the spend on advertising in the United Kingdom has continually risen since 2009 – from £11.4bn to £18.9bn in 2017.

It seems to me that what people say doesn’t necessarily translate to a lack of commercial success – as I mentioned above, cold calling has been instrumental in the success of a number of businesses I have worked with.

So why, when and how?

Why should I cold call?

It works – but it’s not the holy grail…

I would not advocate doing cold calling in absence of all else – like any marketing activity, it’s really worth making a objective assessment of the ROI it’s delivering and pitch it against other approaches. Put your money where it delivers you the best return.

There’s also no one size fits all – how does it fit your business, how ‘reachable’ is your audience, how might it land with them – and in the age of SAAS companies and clever tech solutions, can you actually find a number for them?!

When should I cold call?

Taking into account any relevant regulations within your jurisdiction, develop a clear strategy on when to use cold calling.

Back in the late ‘90s / early ‘00s, cold calling was my go to, but these days we tend to use other avenues to generate interest – and adopt cold calling to drive answers and provide in-depth insight and qualitative information.

With the possible exception of conferences and exhibitions – where your audience may be in the same place at the same time – I am not aware of a better way to have good quality discussions with your target audience at scale than by using cold calling.

How should I cold call?

Start with a plan – here’s an example of what that might look like:

  • Sketch out a profile of your ideal target audience – work out the businesses and roles that will have an interest in your product or service – what defines them.
  • Consider this audience; what are their pains – what will resonate with them?
  • Pull together what you do, what makes you different, what makes you interesting when compared to your competitors, the pains you solve for the audience you have profiled, etc.
  • Develop a methodology to approach them, what’s the best way, time, number, message?
  • Consider common objections and questions you will likely be asked – make sure you have good quality responses to these.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

In summary

Cold calling can work if you align the value you can deliver with the audience you want to reach; if you take time to consider how to approach such people, cold calling can produce outstanding outcomes.

If you want to discuss how to approach your ideal clients, I’d be happy to chat about this!