The Cold-Call Debate
There is a nine-step appointment-getting system in my book, The Accidental Salesperson. The system includes seeding a prospect with articles and then sending a letter. The letter introduces you and tells the prospect you are going to call. Finally, you dial the phone and call the prospect. It takes about 10 business days to work this appointment-getting system.
A reader recently emailed me: "I want to use your system. My boss wants me out cold calling in order to drum up business right away. Can I balance cold calling and your system?"
Is there still a place for cold calling in sales today? That's debatable.
A debate is a regulated discussion of a proposition between two matched sides. That means there should be a pro side and a con side. One of the great things about debating is that you may be asked to take either side of the argument. So you have to think of reasons to support both sides.
One time, a salesperson from the Wisconsin Business Association strolled into my office and asked for the owner. He was selling an $85-a-year membership to his association, which lobbies on behalf of small businesses at our state legislature. That $85 a year is a minor sale and requires no consultation or customization, so cold canvassing may be the ticket for this kind of selling.
I felt uneasy with his approach. He didn't identify himself, and he had walked into our office and past our reception area. I realize why many companies now have a security guard in front and require all visitors to sign a guest book and wear a badge.
There seems to be a case for cold calling if you have a small item to sell and a prospect (a small business) that might benefit from your product or service. Taking that a step further, you might cold call if you have a small goal. I remember one time when a salesperson called on Sarah and me to say he was required to demonstrate his product to 50 businesses in a day to introduce a new technology that had just hit the market. "It takes seven minutes, and I have to leave as soon as I make it so I can get to the next demonstration," he told us. The salesperson demonstrated the product, we indicated an interest, and he followed up later and sold us a unit.
Lee Boyan is the author of Successful Cold Call Selling. His idea is that you should treat every call like a cold call. You should do this even if dialing up a current customer. Here's his reasoning: "Customers are usually preoccupied at the moment you approach. You must help them make the transition from what they are thinking about to what you want them to think about."
Every time the phone rings today, I am working on something else. The caller must get my attention and convince me to quit thinking about what it was I was immersed in.
Lonnie Treat, a product manager for Moore North America's western regional headquarters, advises against cold calling.
"Too many reps haven't researched my company," he says. "Go to our Web site and read the announcements and product offerings. Look at your offerings to see how they could help me. Then call me with a value-added proposal, or at least start a discussion in that area.
Cold calling isn't what it used to be. You need to have a valid business reason for dialing the phone or walking in the door. Companies who turn salespeople loose to cold call without a systematic approach are apt to lose sales and salespeople in the process.
Improving your lead-generation system to find prospects who want to talk to your salespeople is the place to start.