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Unsolicited Email, Cold Calling, Prospecting, Nurturing……

by David Brock on November 2nd, 2011

So this is what’s happening this morning.  I start the morning looking at email.  Craig Rosenberg of Focus.com has posed an interesting question:  “Isn’t sending an unsolicited email to someone the same thing as cold-calling them?”  There’s an interesting discussion with thoughtful responses from people I respect.  The responses are trending to “Yes it is the same, and it’s bad practice.”   Hmm, interesting…..

I keep going through my email.  Today I received two emails that are a direct result of my attendance at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco last week.  They are just layered on the other emails I am getting from exhibitors and sponsors to the conference.  Supposedly, thought leaders in sales and marketing best practices.  I never “opted in” or expressed any interest in follow up information from them.  I think they, perhaps fairly, think that since I attended the conference, I would be interested in these “Dear Occupant” emails.  I’ve learned this is a hazard of any conference I attend.  For several weeks afterwards, I get the “Dear Occupant, it was great to see you…..”  even though I don’t recall meeting them.

I delete those, and keep going through my email.  I’m still getting those emails from that marketing company—two a day.  I don’t recall opting in, but I did once comment on their blog.  I may have asked for a white paper.  None of what they send me is meaningful content, though they think it is, it doesn’t seem to be tailored to my interests, but they have never bothered to determine my interest or disinterest.  But I get two emails a day from them, I suppose they think it is nurturing—that’s what they talk about all the time–along with putting together meaningful content strategies tailored to the recipient.  Hmmmm……….

I continue through my email, I know I missing others from similar marketing and sales companies–I’ve already set filters/rules to move them into my delete folder (somehow my unsubscribes aren’t working).

Then, I start looking at the email coming in from LinkedIn.  Just got one from a recruiter I don’t know, but he and I are members of the same group.  He’s asking for my help in identifying candidates for a search he’s doing.  Earlier, I had another from someone who wants to re-do my web site.

Then I go back to the Focus discussion, reread the answers and think…..

I think about what I do.  I prospect vigorously.  I do cold calls.  And (drum roll please), I send unsolicited emails.  I also engage in unsolicited conversations–I speak with people I meet at conferences.  I want to get to know them, learn what they do.  I’m interested in people, but I’m also interested in finding people that might use my services.  I speak with people in airplanes, at the gym, other place.  I initiate lots of unsolicited conversations.  People opt-out by ignoring me or walking away.

People engage me in unsolicited conversations as well.  If it’s interesting, I’ll participate, if not I won’t.  I just got off the phone on something that was completely unsolicited, but very interesting and well worth my time.

I do unsolicited calls into organizations.  I call the switchboard and ask, “Who has responsibility for this…..?”  “Could you connect me with that individual?”

So I think this whole issue of unsolicited is really a little unrealistic and silly.  All of us do things that are unsolicited–whether we are the solicitors or the solicitees.

I think a large part of the job of a great sales person is to do something that’s unsolicited–not to wait for the customer to approach you, but approaching them with new ideas, opportunities, and ways to help them better achieve their objectives.

I tend to think the issue has nothing to do with whether the contact is solicited or unsolicited–though if a person is interested, you should respect that.  I think the core issue is being unprepared, uninformed, totally blind, or totally irrelevant.

Nothing we do should be unprepared, uninformed, blind, or irrelevant.  If I am, making a cold call (and I’m not really interested in debates on the differences between cold and warm calls, let’s just call them cold calls.), it is always well researched.  If I can leverage an introduction, or reference, it’s better.  I research each call vigorously, I use all sorts of web based tools, I talk to people in similar jobs and industries, every cold call or contact is carefully researched.  I do the best I can to anticipate what the target person might be interested in, and how I might connect with them.

Likewise, I send unsolicited emails, not  10’s or 100’s of thousands or millions with preposterous schemes or offers.  I carefully segment the groups and people I send emails to, I research them and try to reach them with information that is meaningful and relevant.  Apparently it works, I get reasonably good open and response rates.  I also get unsubscribes which I honor, though those rates are less than 0/1%  (Yes, I know some people just delete or add me to their spam filter).  Yes, I know I’m probably violating CanSpam.

What about the stuff, I have opted into, the stuff that “technically” I have agreed to have inflicted on me? 70% of what I get is irrelevant.  90% of the frequency is too often.  Do I really need to be nurtured with a “Dear Occupant”  (Technology allows us to substitute a name, but to still send a Dear Occupant note) email every day?  I’m not making a decision, the stuff they are inflicting on me is not so time sensitive that I need it inflicted on a daily basis.  Is this really nurturing, or is it permission based SPAM?

Where do resources like Jigsaw (with the full weight of SalesForce.com and their Data.com offering behind them), or companies like ZoomInfo, Insideview and others fit into the whole solicited/unsolicited picture?  In various forms, they “broker” email addresses and “guess” at those they don’t have.  Why are they doing this, how will they be used?  It would be naive to think that people aren’t leveraging them for unsolicited contacts.  I’ve used them to find the email address of a person that I have wanted to contact–I’ve used them to identify people I’ve wanted to contact.

There are great tools and methods available for us to tailor our communications.  Some of the folks in the Focus discussion are among the best in thinking about these issues.  These are important issues, but let’s be neither naive or unrealistic.  I’m not sure the issue is really solicited or unsolicited, permission based or not.  I think the issues are deeper, we shouldn’t lose site of them.

Am I off base?  Should I be turning myself into the CanSpam folks?Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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10 Comments
  1. STALLION permalink

    My own story on cold calling:
    10 years ago, I worked for one of the major semiconductor firms in Silicon Valley. I was running an effort to develop a new technology and ‘cold called’ potential customers at industry conferences by going to their booths. The success rate was low, but the company I represented was very large and highly respected, so I was always received graciously and my conversation received warm attention.
    Fast forward to today: I am representing, under contract, two small but highly skilled service companies. In my first attempt at generating ‘pull’, I worked with one of the firms to produce a skillfully produced, very high quality, extremely professional emailer that I sent out to a target list of almost 200 companies (which was a laborious list to build, especially in terms of finding executive contacts at each target.) The net response rate: ZERO.
    I am now ‘cold calling’ for both firms directly at target customers thru contacts I have on LinkedIn. The success rate is still low, because the firms I represent are small and thus don’t have the clout of industry leaders; but the value each firm brings to a prospect is clear, so once I do manage to get that critical first meeting, the response is always positive.
    Perhaps the trick to successful cold calling is finding a way to plant in the prospect’s mind that THEY are the ones who are moving forward, as opposed to their feeling woo’ed to move forward. If that’s true, perhaps email mailers are a poor tool, but SEO, article placement in trade magazines/papers, and presence at a conference by way of a booth or a presentation session may be more productive.
    I welcome feedback on this.

    • Thanks for the story. Thanks for the story. I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions, I think all channels still need to be leveraged. Some may be more appropriate for certain audiences than others. The central issue, I think, is not the channel but rather the timing and appropriateness of the message. People are leveraging email, SEO, social media, conferences, etc. to produce great results. “Cold calls,” properly executed still produce results. Your point about getting the customer to want to move forward and to take ownership for that change initiative is one of the critical success factors and where sales can make a huge difference.

      Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  2. Touchdown, home run, give that man a cigar. Brilliant and more-than timely post David. Its clear you “GET” what practices that Web, Sales and Marketing 2.0 is supposed to be spawning. After not going to any conferences for a year, I went CRM Evolution (Paul Greenberg’s) in NYC, Dreamforce and IMS HUGS in Boston in August and September.

    The past 2 months has been an onslaught of calls, emails, etc that you describe. NOT ONE bothered to see that I was a consultant and should be approached as a consultant/partner/influencer.

    I feel that the behavior we are both seeing by sales and marketing alike is like a scene out of Glengarry Glen Ross and how Alec Baldwin talks about the “good leads”. I let all the vendors scan my cards because I wanted to see what they did with me in their “”lead” system.

    The behavior is even worse when you subscribe to a product trial. I had one inside rep call me last Monday while the product was STILL downloading. I was so stunned, I took the call, then deicded it was nt worth the trouble because they would be hounding me for the entire trial. I get 2 emails a day and 3 more calls … in 4 days.

    Thank you again.

    • Thanks for the comment and your reinforcing stories. Perhaps one of the best ways to evaluate Sales 2.0 vendors is to assess whether they truly practice what they preach.

      • Again, David, Bingo. I do it all the time. I just read the Focus thread and believe that the effectiveness of today’s Sales 2.0 sales rep is what you say,

        [DB] “I tend to think the issue has nothing to do with whether the contact is solicited or unsolicited–though if a person is interested, you should respect that. I think the core issue is being unprepared, uninformed, totally blind, or totally irrelevant.”

        Well said …

  3. Liz permalink

    Thanks, David, for a great article which answered my question about what the difference is between cold calling and unsolicited calling. I received an email this morning from a contact asking me to remove his name from our email list b/c I’d sent him an unsolicited email (it was an offer for a free book and was, in fact, sent to him personally and not to a distribution list). I then wondered if I was doing something wrong in sending unsolicited emails, but your post helped me realize that “unsolicited” really means that I made the first contact and he was not interested. His loss, really.

  4. David,
    This article is interesting. I find it fascinating that so many individuals hold to a double standard with regards to them making “cold calls” and accepting cold calls themselves. Many use some sort of rationalization to justify that their calls or emails are somewhat different or better than what is incoming which I find slightly arrogant and ignorant. The bottom line to me is there is some human being on the other end attempting to introduce me to something that could be new to me. They are making a living in no different of a way than any other person who has a job. Simultaneously it is an opportunity to have, if even only for a moment, an influence on someone and their day. I never turn away a cold call anymore unless I am truly busy then I ask them to call back. If its an email I tell them to call me to discuss their product or service. When they call I simply allow them to go through their “pitch” and I help them analyze it from a prospects point of view. If anything it helps them better perform their job and usually can help their attitude if they are having a rough day. Sometimes I want more information sometimes I dont and they completely respect my decision by the time the call finishes. Being in sales for years before starting my own business I learned how dramatically a stranger can affect your day and lively-hood. (shoot I have hired people from phone calls) I say make the most of that opportunity when it comes around. You never know what can come of it

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