As my regular blog readers know, before becoming a marketing recruiter I owned a B2B inside sales consultancy called "Reliable Growth."  Essentially, I taught companies like NCR and Aflac how to research, identify, and develop new business with a phone, an internet connection and a fax machine.

Telemarketing was the lynch-pin of my campaigns.

My campaigns always involved tightly choreographed, sequential steps and sought to establish permission-based relationships with highly targeted prospects over a 6-8 week time frame.  Each interaction was like a chess move.  You can see the gist of the method in this page from my old manual.  This small portion of my process is based on the un-improvable work of Jim Cecil -- the father of nurture marketing.

Needless to say, I know a thing or two about cold calling.  Indeed, I have made many thousands of ice-cold calls in my life -- and if the telephone were a slot-machine, I would be waaaay up in my winnings.

But there's rejection -- and lots of it.

After all, a cold call interrupts the prospect's day.  It's an intrusion, and most folks don't like to be intruded on.  The cold call loser focuses on this element and takes the rejection personally.  The cold call winner simply "moves through the target" (as they say in the Navy SEALS) by regarding cold calling as a numbers game.

Here are five basic truths about cold calling:

  1. You cannot wait for the phone to ring.  You simply MUST reach and touch your prospect.  After all, no one is waiting for your call.

  2. What gets measured gets done. "How was your day?"  Good question!  There's nothing as devastating to an opinion as a number.  Get yourself a contact database and track your outbound dials.  If you don't count your dials, your production will lag.

  3. The best campaigns involve multiple steps, such as 1.) calling the prospect to verify that s/he is in fact the decision maker, 2.) asking them three closed-ended questions about their current  situation -- thereby disqualifying most prospects as potential new customers, 3.) getting the qualified prospects' permission to send them a HIGHLY PERSONALIZED sales letter, 4.) FAXING the letter, then snail-mailing it the same day, and then 5.) following up no more than 72 hours later to verify their receipt of the letter, answer any questions they may have, and mutually agree on the next steps in the relationship.  To position yourself as a potential resource for institutional buyers, you must be "unintrusively persistent" in your approach:  Our society is famously over-communicated, and B2B prospects are very good at tuning out marketing messages -- especially if they "already have a supplier of what you're selling."  You must have a reliable process in place to address this reality.

  4. The most successful reps are "light on their feet" and can talk outside of the script.  Patter works better than droning.

  5. The best reps know their product inside-and-out and can put their product "solution" into the context of how the prospect thinks, how they buy (logical vs. emotional), what they fear, what makes them mad, what are their top three daily frustrations, etc.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post:

Today on iMedia, Sean Cheyney, VP of Marketing for AccuQuote, has a nice piece called 5 Ways to Screw up a Cold Call.   His tips include ...

  1. Make your own calls:  Using appointment setters can be dilutive to the brand and to the initiative.

  2. Don't insult your prospect:  Patience is a virtue.  Listen to the prospect and don't try to shoehorn your product or service into every prospect's business on the very first call.  Or as my dad used to say, "Take things a step at a time: You can't get from first base to third by running across the pitcher's mound."

  3. Be prepared and speak clearly: Practice what you're going to say and keep your message to 45 seconds or less.  While I might take issue with the 45 second time frame, I would say that your first call should have an "arc" with a beginning, a middle, and an end -- and the end should always be an open ended, "what's your opinion" type question.

  4. Know your customer: The most common way to screw up a cold call is to not know anything about your prospect's business.  Amen.  This should actually be # 1 ...

  5. It's a two-way conversation:  According to Mr. Cheyney, "If you talk at me, you'll annoy me. Talk with me and you have a shot."  Yup.

Sales reps get hung up on cold-calling (no pun intended), but an old sales manager at Aflac had it right when he told his reps "I don't care if your own mother refers you to a prospect:   If you have never spoken to the prospect before, then your first call is always a cold call."  Truer words have never been spoken.

So given the above, here's my question: "Is cold calling an effective part of your company's marketing mix?"  Why or why not??

Photo credit: The Brooks Group

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Harry Joiner is an executive recruiter specializing in integrated marketing and "new media." He has been featured in MarketingSherpa's Great Minds in Marketing series and received coverage in the Wall Street Journal's Career Journal Online. According to Viral Garden's weekly rankings, Harry's weblog is one of the top 25 marketing weblogs in the world.