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Are Sales People Afraid Cold Calling Will Die?

by David Brock on February 22nd, 2018

My apologies, up front, I have been trying to resist plunging into yet another discussion about cold calling.  The proponents of cold calling (I’m one) and the opponents of cold calling are about as likely to reach agreement as the Democrats and Republicans in Congress are.  We each tend to be staunch in our positions, showing zero flexibility in looking at another alternative.

I had committed to extricate myself from these discussions, because they don’t seem to accomplish much.  But here we go—-again.

What provoked me is a very thoughtful article by Daniel Disney on LinkedIn:  Are Sales People Afraid Cold Calling Will Die?

My knee jerk reaction is that too many sales people are afraid that cold calling won’t die! 

I don’t disagree with Daniel’s premise, but I think we need to look at this issue in a different context.

One of the biggest issues I see with sales people is anemic pipelines.  They simply don’t have enough high quality opportunities to achieve their goals.  They will cling to the very worst quality deals, hoping, through some alignment of the stars , they can close those deals.  I’ve seen sales people with deals that are years old and haven’t moved in their pipeline, clinging to the view, “I’ll close it someday.”

Challenge them to abandon the deals and to start prospecting, they all of a sudden scurry around pretending to look busy.

Management succumbs to this, saying, the world’s changed, we need demand gen, we need inbound, we need professional propsectors, we need to free up our people’s time so they can work on qualified deals.

But they still don’t have enough qualified deals and, as good as it may be demand gen, inbound and an army of talented SDRs isn’t feeding them with enough opportunities.

Sales people have to prospect!  Sales people have to cold call.

One of the problems I have with Daniel’s argument is the theme, “Customers prefer to engage digitally.”  That’s absolutely true.  Customers are letting their fingers walk through Google.  They are searching our web sites, they are looking at alternatives, they are participating in discussion groups.  They are self educating, as they should, through the web.

The data is overwhelming–not just at the beginning of their journey, but throughout their buying journey–even when they are well through their buying cycle.  As a result, we are responding.  We are investing in SEO, Influencer marketing, websites.  We are trying as much as we can to “show up” in the customers’ digital journey.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult with the sheer volume and noise on the web.

Customers are getting frustrated, they are limiting their search, they cast narrower nets, just to manage the information overwhelm.

But it’s a reality, digital sources, self education is increasingly important in their journeys.  Sales people are getting engaged later and later in the cycle.  They were 53%, now 67%, by some surveys, 90% through their buying process.

And sales people wait, and their pipelines are still anemic…..  but God forbid we change the process, the customer has to be at least 67% through their journey before we engage them.

In addition to the anemic pipelines, there’s another problem–as big for the customer as it is for sales.  Sometimes, they don’t know what they should be looking for  (I’m trying to write customer journey lyrics to the soundtrack of “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places…”).  We may miss opportunities because they don’t know what they should be looking for, what the right questions are.  They may be going an entirely wrong direction.

We need to reach out, we need to intercept them earlier, we need to help them better define and understand their problem, to help them ask the right questions and challenge us with the right issues.

We can’t wait for them to find us, we have to reach out to find them.

That shouldn’t be difficult, we know our ICP, we know our target personas, we should be able to reach out find them, engage them  (Oops, I’m back to making an argument for cold calling and prospecting again).

But there’s still a problem with that, we’re only addressing a very small part of the opportunity—customers who have recognized the need to change and are committed to taking action.

But the majority of the market hasn’t even recognized this.  That doesn’t mean they don’t need to change–and with some urgency.  They just haven’t recognized the need.  They may be so busy fighting the alligators, they’ve forgotten the swamp is filling  (Bad news if we sell pumps and swamp drainage).  They may just not be aware, or peacefully oblivious.

We can’t wait for our customers to start their buying journey.  Not only is it important to us, it may be vital to them.  We create the most value with them, when we help them discover new opportunities, new ways of doing business, more effective ways to grow and achieve.

As Brent Adamson says, “It’s our job to make the pain of doing nothing greater than the pain of change.”

Oops, I’ve stumbled back into it again, it’s cold calling and prospecting.  If people aren’t looking, if people don’t recognize the need to change, they won’t reach out to us  (Dugghhh).  The only way we can incite them to change is reaching out to them.

We owe it to them and we owe it to ourselves to find these opportunities and engage the customer.

The one final complaint I have about these arguments is the literalness with which we view the term, “Cold Calling.”

There are those who believe it’s blindly calling someone you know nothing about  (that’s their interpretation of “cold.”).  We never should do this–we always need to be calling target personas in our ICP.  There is no excuse not to do a few minutes research on the company and individual we are reaching out to.

Then there’s the concept that cold calling is on the phone–and the predictable argument, “Millennials don’t do phones–at least voice to voice.”

When I was just starting in sales, I talked to an “old timer” about prospecting and cold calling.  He said, “When I was your age, I went door to door, office to office…..”  For him, cold calling was not about the telephone.  Fortunately, for me, there was the telephone.

We can’t define cold calling by an implementation technology.  But rather we must adopt the technologies and techniques we need to engage people who may not know us, who may not be looking, and getting them to imagine new possibilities.

Some of it will still be door to door (I recently wrote about those results), some will include direct mail, some will include the phone, some will be messaging, some will be social.  In most cases, we are better off, leveraging multiple channels simultaneously.

Unless you have more qualified opportunities than you know how do deal with, and always will, we will always be required to reach out, interrupt, and engage people in conversations about their business and how to improve.  It is irresponsible to do nothing, point fingers at marketing, or make excuses.

Regardless, of the technology and channels we choose, cold calling is alive and growing.


Afterward:  I wish this is the last time I have to write something like this.  Inevitably, it won’t be.

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  1. Dave, there are a dozen reasons why cold calling is important and necessary, you’ve done a great job at articulating most of those.

    I call BS on the rationale that it’s marketing’s job, it’s a demand gen function, it’s the SDR/BDR job, we need to have our most skilled people pursuing high quality opportunities, etc., etc., etc.

    There’s one reason “why not”.

    It’s too…damned…hard.

    Too many sales people don’t want to cold call because it is hard.


    • Rant on! In our rush to make things easy, we’ve lost the view that this isn’t easy, for us or our customers. It probably shouldn’t be easy, it’s hard work and we have to be committed to doing the hard work.

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