Cold Calling Is Dead

What to do instead

Written by Matthew Cook

When was the last time you were cold called and were actually interested in what the caller was selling? I’ll bet it was a long time ago.

Cold calling has been a standard sales tool for decades—and, if executed well, has proven to be a powerful way to land customers. But that era is over. These days, the effectiveness of calling people who aren’t expecting to hear from you has plummeted. In fact, cold calling is dead.

Plenty of businesses remain diligent practitioners of this technique. But the hard truth is that cold calling’s usefulness has fallen to the point that it’s no longer worth doing. Here are the two key reasons for this landmark change:

It’s dead easy to avoid cold callers: Consumers and businesses now use voicemail and caller ID so widely that they prevent salespeople from connecting with their intended target. And my experience suggests that even when cold callers leave a message, fewer than 10% of people return those calls. That’s a big change from the days not long ago when people used to answer their phones routinely because they didn’t want to miss an important call—which gave salespeople a good opening.

Companies that are still making cold calls have adapted to this change by dramatically ramping up the volume of calls made. I recently spoke with a VP of sales who said that each of her reps now makes 120 cold calls per day—twice as many as just five years ago. But she admitted that these 120 calls yield far fewer sales than 60 did those few years ago.

Customers are in control: Even if you’re lucky enough to get through to your intended target, chances are they have no interest in what you’re selling. That’s because the Internet has fundamentally changed customer buying behaviour. The buyer now controls the selling process, which has profound implications for sales and marketing.

People buy from companies they know, like and trust, not because your sales rep has cold called them.

Consumers follow companies on Twitter, decide what they “like” on Facebook and look to other credible sources such as blogs about whom and what they should be listening to. When customers speak to salespeople, they come armed with loads of information about the company, product or service—sometimes even about the individual rep gleaned from LinkedIn. Prospects look to more objective third-party sources in their purchasing due diligence, such as comparative product charts customer reviews on Facebook or Twitter. Prospects are emphatically saying to companies, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready to be sold to.” Because consumers don’t want to speak with salespeople until they’ve done this preliminary research, they have little interest in engaging with a cold caller.

Read Adapt or Die: The Revolution in Marketing

The above changes are so profound that it’s crucial that you adapt your sales and marketing to how consumers and businesses buy today. Here are the key elements of this new reality.

Sales and marketing are no longer separate

The delineations between marketing and sales have not just been blurred but obliterated. Rather than marketing being responsible for generating leads and handing them off to sales for conversion, sales and marketing are now completely intertwined. Companies at the forefront of adapting to today’s market have a single sales and marketing unit that manages throughout the entire sales cycle, including repeat business and customer satisfaction. In other words, they approach marketing from a sales perspective.

The key to success in this new era comes down to being able to reach people with your message and giving them the authority to declare when they are ready to buy. This is a massive shift in the world of selling. By nature, salespeople are not patient and are used to controlling the pace and path of the selling process. Yet this is the behaviour change necessary to be successful in the new world of selling.

Buyers come to the table extraordinarily well informed

Think about this for a minute. If you were buying a new car 20 years ago, here’s how the process would look like:

  • First, you would locate a few dealerships, probably from the Yellow Pages.
  • You would then go to the dealerships in your area and tell a salesperson you were interested in buying a car.
  • You would find a model and colour you like and take a test drive.
  • You would then negotiate a price and, if you were satisfied with the deal, drive the car off the lot.

The interaction with the salesperson and the dealership started when you walked in the showroom. Now let’s take a look at that same process today:

  • You would use Google to search for the automaker websites, then do research on the make and model, colour and features.
  • You would probably search for pricing from multiple local dealerships.
  • You would go to social media sites to get reviews on the different manufacturers and models and hear customer comments about their experience with the car.
  • You would read blogs from credible sources discussing the pros and cons of each model.
  • You would take a virtual test drive of the car.
  • You would likely read online reviews of the service at local dealerships and choose the top ones to visit.
  • Only then would you go to a dealership, armed with all of this information about exactly which model, colour, options and price you are willing to pay.

The salesperson has lost the authority to sell until the customer has all the base information they need to help them make a buying decision.

Where does that leave the sales rep?

How much of this interaction is done with a salesperson? Only the last three and a half feet. The role of the salesperson is to further inform, educate and confirm that the solution is best for the customer—or to suggest a different one if the salesperson thinks there’s a better choice.

Companies need to stop trying to interrupt their prospects with cold calls and instead focus on offering them what actually interests them. We need to educate, enlighten and entertain our customers and potential customers, and have them reach out to us when they are ready to buy. Because people buy from companies they know, like and trust, not because your sales rep has cold called them.

Related: How to Win the New Sales Game

Matthew Cook has 17 years of sales and sales management experience, primarily in the financial services and staffing industries. He is founder of SalesForce Search Ltd., which was No. 4 on the PROFIT HOT 50 ranking of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies in 2010 and No. 19 in 2011.

More columns by Matthew Cook

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