Originally Published - May 6, 2014
In a recent post examining the true meaning of inbound marketing I proposed that successful marketing “has infinitely more to do with the execution than the marketing channel.” Certain channels may be better suited to particular messages, audiences, and industries, but every single marketing channel can be a conduit for delivering value. And cold calling is no exception.
Stop Using the Right Tool the Wrong Way
During my junior year of college I had an internship with a broker-dealer who managed companies’ 401(k) plans. For less than minimum wage I analyzed the performance of financial securities, took care of various administrative tasks, and cold called businesses to find prospective clients. After several unsuccessful days on the phone, my boss could see my frustration and gave me a little pep talk.
Cold calling is a numbers game. For every ten businesses you call, you’ll speak with one decision maker. And for every ten decision makers with whom you speak, you’ll schedule one meeting. So keep at it and you’ll find success at least once in every one hundred phone calls.
Not very inspirational, huh? Expecting to fail 99% of the time didn’t exactly help my morale. Imagine rejection 99% of the time.
Knowing that you’re playing against the freak athlete that is Blake Griffin wouldn’t make you feel any less discouraged every time he blocked you. Getting swatted 99 times out of 100 would get old pretty fast no matter who was doing it.
So I decided to step up my game by adopting the most successful cold calling techniques. I learned to smile and convey confidence over the phone. I learned to bypass gatekeepers and overcome objections. I learned to follow a script and control the conversation. But even the best cold calling tips and tricks only minimally improved the success ratio.
It wasn’t until after my internship that I realized I was using cold calling incorrectly. All the experts say the goal is to set an appointment, make the sale, or see if the contact is a “good fit.” As it turns out, these objectives are exactly why cold calling maintains such an abysmal success rate. The right tool employed with the wrong methods will always yield poor results. It’s no wonder so many companies have given up on cold calling.
When used properly, the athletic cup is a very valuable piece of protective gear (just ask any baseball catcher). But when used improperly, it’s a really disgusting facemask ( just ask any mother about her son ).
Here’s how to start using cold calling the right way.
Don’t Sell Anything
A person at a busy intersection soliciting donations is no uncommon scene. But how many times have you seen someone offering donations?
That’s exactly what Doug Eaton of Oklahoma City decided to do to celebrate his 65th birthday.
Doug’s random act of kindness was a huge success because he extended value to strangers while requesting nothing in return. Consider how different the results would have been if Doug was only asking strangers to give value to him.
Marketing and sales begging for business is what has given cold calling a bad name. The right way to cold call isn’t about getting a prospect, getting a meeting, or getting a sale; it’s about giving.
Stop trying to convince others that you offer value and just give them something valuable already! Offer consumers a taste of what you can do and let them decide for themselves if they’d like to do business with you.
Think of how pleasant it would be to receive phone calls from businesses giving away truly valuable products and services with no strings attached. No hoops to jump through, just an honest, free offer to benefit the person on the other line.
That kind of cold call sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Give the Perfect Gift
I personally know sales people who strongly oppose giving away anything. They argue that making something free is a reflection of its value. It must be worthless if the price is nothing, right?
Tell that to Dropbox, Evernote, Skype, MailChimp, and others who built their success by offering solutions to real problems at no charge. The entire business model is based on free users who experience value and, in turn, become paying customers for the premium levels of service.
The tricky part is choosing what to give away. If users don’t experience enough value, then they can’t justify paying for the premium service. On the other hand, if users experience more than enough value, then they’ll see no reason to pay at all. The aim is exactly “enough” value, which is relative to the business.
I’ll use a B2C example, but understand that this method of cold calling also works with B2B.
A car manufacturer can’t give away cars (too much value), and a guide comparing the manufacturer’s cars to its competitors’ cars won’t cut it (no value). The sweet spot would be giving away a free three-day rental for one of the manufacturer’s cars that never expires. And it can be made even more fun by letting the recipient choose the car. Three days driving around in a free rental car may be exactly what prospects need to fall in love and become new customers.
Oh, and make sure prospects are falling in love with the product and not the gift. That is, the gift shouldn’t be anything other than the product (or a portion of the product). Otherwise all the value and brand affinity is misplaced.
A car manufacturer giving away $50 restaurant gift cards gets recipients way more excited about the restaurant than the car manufacturer. Plus, people can tell when their love is being bought (and usually they’ll take the gifts, but still withhold their love!). Giving away a three-day car rental gets recipients excited about the trip they will take AND the car manufacturer. And if the car really is up to snuff, then prospects will realize the value of the car during their rental experiences.
Think Before You Jump
If you had written off cold calling, I hope that you’ve reconsidered how it can be a powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal (when utilized properly!). But there’s an important caveat to heed before picking up the phone just yet.
Cold calling’s effectiveness is directly related to the gifts’ compatibility with the recipients.
The more you know about the contacts you are cold calling, the better you will be able to match them with gifts that they will find valuable. Not enough information about the audience is the biggest reasons brands should not engage in cold calling.
I know, I know. Yes, I just made a case in favor of cold calling, but that doesn’t excuse anyone from exercising some sound judgment before jumping in too soon.
Most American households travel and drive vehicles, so cold calling could actually work very well in the car manufacturer example. But let’s say the manufacturer is Cadillac.
Without knowing anything about the names on the cold call list, Cadillac could give a ton of free rentals out to people who aren’t even able to afford a Cadillac. The experience may earn Cadillac droves of new fans, but fans don’t keep the lights on – customers do. Knowing demographic information is important in matching contacts to the proven buyer personas that make up a customer base.
Of course, no amount of demographic information will be able to completely qualify cold call contacts (it is cold calling, after all), but it will help increase the chances that your investment will provide a worthwhile return.
And perhaps the most attractive feature of cold calling is that you can start by dipping in a toe, gradually deepening the commitment as you see positive results. So give cold calling an honest examination and see if it could work for you. By starting small, you can reduce risk and test the waters before diving in headfirst.
So what do YOU think? Do you agree that cold calling can still be an effective marketing channel? Or do you think it simply can’t be salvaged? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!