There is a lot of talking and blogging going on about cold calling and whether it is a necessary or even desired part of the sales mix. I can’t resist putting in my two cents on this discussion.
I have recently seen a couple of studies and listened to some presentations about the changes taking place in how sellers and buyers are interacting that are worth considering as we leap into the fray. In general, the trends discussed are reflected in the 2010 DemandGen and Genius.com study titled “Inside the Mind of the B2B Buyer.” One of their key findings was that more than 80% of B2B customers/buyers said that on their transactions that they had initiated contact with the seller. Only 10% said that they were contacted cold by the seller.
Personally I’m not convinced that the 80%, is an accurate reflection of the sales situation today. But that is really beside the point. The key takeaway is that it is an indicator of how your customer’s perception of the role of sellers has changed and how the actual role of sales is continuing to evolve at a rapid pace. The Internet and social media have irrevocably transformed how conversations with some significant fraction of your prospects are initiated. And, even if you, as a seller, initiate contact with a prospect, chances are high they are going to possess some level of pre-education and pre-qualification on your product and service on that first call (or they are going to acquire it by browsing your website while on the phone with you.)
What does this mean for cold calling? In an ideal world, cold calling wouldn’t be necessary. In our fantasy, marketing departments would prove capable of generating well-targeted (or “sales worthy” to borrow a term from my friend Nancy Nardin) in-bound sales leads in such large quantities, week after week, month after month, that all available sales time would be consumed with responsive follow-up. Wouldn’t it be great if the world were handed to you on a silver platter like that?
Unfortunately, that dreamy ideal world doesn’t exist for most companies. Using the figure from above as an example, even if you meet 80% of your sales goal today from prospects that originated as sales worthy in-bound sales leads, where will you find the remaining 20%? You will find them from proactive prospecting (i.e., cold calling.)
If you’re in Sales your job boils down to this: doing the hard work required to meet your goals. Whenever there is a gap between in your pipeline between the number of qualified prospect your need to meet reliably meet your goal and the number of qualified prospects in your pipeline generated from in-bound sales lead conversions, and there will almost always be one, it has to be filled in by prospect activity generated by you. This means fulfilling your responsibility as a salesperson to do what you have to do in order to meet and exceed your assigned goal. If this means spending a portion of every day following a disciplined prospecting process (i.e., doing some research to pick targets, making connections online, getting on the phone or going out and making calls) then that is what has to be done.
In my first professional sales job out of college, in the pre-Internet dark ages, I was selling big computers. Everyday involved getting kicked out of the office at 8am and venturing out to make cold calls out in my territory. I have to admit it didn’t come naturally to me. So I developed another approach. I hit upon a system of hosting a seminar in our branch office every Wednesday afternoon at 4pm during which I would demonstrate our system. I used business directories to research names of potential prospects in my territory and mailed out 10 postcards with a hand-written invitation every Thursday. I’d follow up with everyone on the following Monday morning and again on the morning of the seminar. Usually I’d end up with one or two attendees each week. Within months I had a strong, constantly renewing pipeline and was killing my numbers. After a couple years, I was getting two thirds of my business from existing accounts and referrals. But every Thursday, I was still sending out 10 postcards and every Wednesday I was playing host to new prospects.
No matter how many leads you receive, cold calling, or proactive prospecting, remains a necessity for most salespeople and most sales teams. Clearly the amount of time a salesperson has to devote to cold calling could shrink as increasing numbers of prospects pre-educate themselves online and initiate connections with potential vendors. But the role sales prospecting plays in building a strong pipeline of qualified prospects to ensure that you make your numbers is will never go away completely.
Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.