Cold Call Fail

Of all the business prospecting and marketing techniques, cold calling is probably the most reviled. It's a thankless task for those who must perform it, and profoundly irritating and bothersome to those who must answer. Why, then, do so many companies rely on it? Isn't there a better way?

The short answer is no. Current marketing surveys still point to cold calling as the most highly effective way of expanding business opportunity. Legal service agencies, information technology agents, stockbrokers, licensed leasing offices, stock and real estate brokers, translation services, business consultants and many others rely on cold calling to grow their influence. Not that there aren't better ways.

The way people interact with media is changing and the way people perform their jobs is shifting as well. Not to shift the way we reach those people in the wake of this seismic activity seems folly, and yet companies plod ahead with outdated techniques that the number support still work. In our present age of social media, promotional tools through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are more pervasive - and arguably persuasive - ways to infiltrate a client base through smart, customized advertising. This sort of social infiltration is passive enough not to annoy and ubiquitous enough not to avoid.

Google is innovating in this arena. Custom ads target specific people via their favorite sites. Such ads ramp up a little more with each year, but they're getting smarter, and as they get smarter, we see them as less invasive. Cognitive dissonance has also kept users from realizing that there are more ads than ever before. Ads and solicitations are just more skillfully woven through the places we love to visit. Add in the fact that ads drive revenue, which keep many sites and services free, and we all begrudgingly make the ads a necessary part of our lives.

Cold calling's quaintness may seem archaic in the age of Google, but I suppose that's the point. Cold calling is effective because it's not passive. It's active, and it's highly effective at appealing to a company's sense of its own importance - e.g. this person felt we were important enough to visit us directly. Cold calls also appeal to peoples' sense of professional responsibility to a company that has taken the time to reach out - e.g. this company took the time to call/visit us, so we can give a few minutes of our time. Lastly, cold calling is person-to-person contact. There is so much that can be gained by making a personal appeal, by making the ultimate customized, specialized marketing pitch. Personalized ads are already here, but they aren't personal enough, and that's where real people come in.

So... why do so many of these people screw it up? The short answer is, their bosses do, by not preparing them for all the psychological pitfalls of entering another person's professional domain. If you're a salesperson, and you are not taught to be respectful and professional but instead taught to agonize over your own numbers, you won't do well. Companies who don't train and yet still demand immediate results without guiding or leading methods and execution will always command a mediocre sales force (at best) and an army of weirdos and psychos (at worst).

I'm convinced that cold calling is a method whose success depends entirely on its execution. In my ten-plus years fielding cold calls and every kind of sales technique under the sun, I have rarely encountered anyone who does it very well. Most cold callers have absolutely no idea what they are doing. They have absolutely no valuable sales training, nor do they understand the reason they are being asked to call and visit. They botch every step of the process, and for the life of them they can't understand what they're doing wrong.

The few who get it right are few and far between, and even those people rarely stick the landing.

Here is a list of some mistakes cold callers make:

1. Ignorance

You'd be surprised how many people stumble over my number on a list, or simply blunder up into my suite with no idea what the name of the company is or what we do. They treat knowing who we are and what we do as an afterthought. Remember how cold calling is a personal appeal to the sense of pride a company has in its work? How, then, is you not knowing anything about us going to help you earn our confidence? Just yesterday, a new rep came up came up to our suite and told me he 'literally had no idea' who we were. He was just 'exploring [his] sales territory.' Good for you. Explore away. Now get out.

2. Deception and Obfuscation

Most cold calls don't begin with what is arguably the most vital step in any business relationship: the business card exchange. If you don't have a business card, I'll settle for marketing materials. I'll settle for the name of your company. I'll settle for your name. Extracting this information from most cold callers is a painful, difficult process. You see, it's a secret. They're not supposed to tell you.

I can't tell you how common it is to be greeted by a cold caller who doesn't give me his name, or the name of his company, or what services they're offering. Instead, I am approached - either via a phone call or an unannounced visit - by someone who immediately launches into wanting to know everything about my company but is reticent to say anything about his. This tells me a few things: first, he has no confidence in his company or in his ability to represent their products and services. Second, he's been instructed by his boss not to tell me the company name or what they do unless I commit to something.

Most cold callers are trained in the art of obfuscation and subterfuge. Most cold calls - in my experience, probably close to 98% of them - are from people whose first goal is to hide their true intention for calling on me until they have enough information from me to pester my company in the future about products and services we may not even need. This may work on a lot of people - and the numbers reveal that it does - but all it does it put me on my guard that the company approaching me is shady, knows it's shady, and want to sucker punch me with their true intentions once my guard is down. How awful.

3. Psychological Assault

The first few moments of a typical cold call exchange consists of a series of questions designed to break down the defenses of the prospective client; to get them to give up personal information in order to establish a premature relationship based on a false sense of trust. They get you to tell them everything about you and your company, while they stay silent about theirs; consequently, you come to feel a sort of twisted sense of obligation to them. I don't fall for this, not ever, but a lot of people do.

Questions consist of the following - and yes, I've been asked each and everyone of these:

"What is the name of the person in charge of your equipment leasing, hiring department, financial decisions, marketing department, legal department? How many employees do you have? How many managers do you have? What sort of business do you do? What is the serial number on the back of your fax machine? What is the personal extension of everybody at the firm? When does your copy lease run out? Who do you currently use for your window washing services? What is your name? What is your title? What's your middle name? How tall are you? Are you circumcised? When was the first time you had an impure thought? Who are your next of kin?

Ok, so I made up those last three questions, but you get the point.

They ask, and ask, and ask away, but if you ask to know one thing about their business or what they do, they take offense. I had one caller once ask me my full name, and when I asked him to give me the name of his company, he shot back: "What - you don't have a name?" I answered by saying "What - you don't have a company?" He cursed at me and hung up.

4. Soul-less Data Mining

I genuinely get it. I do. If you're a salesperson, you have a thankless job. You are expected to come back at the end of each long, grueling day with a stack full of business cards, or better yet, a stack full of signed contracts. Your bosses are morons who don't understand how draining it is to irritate so many people each day. If you don't bring the numbers, you don't get paid. If you don't bring the numbers, you are let go. I could never do what you do. I'd fail at it. I'd break down at the end of each day, begging for death. I've had a few salespeople - all of them men - break down crying in front of me because I wouldn't give them a business card. That's how much pressure they're under. So, I get it. I'm not a heartless bastard, but I have a job to do as well, and that job involves protecting my company from harassment.

That said, if you're here to collect data from me, treat me - the person who you're extracting the data from - like a human being. Don't treat me like a means to an end, or a moron. Don't get irritated if, in the service doing my job - protecting proprietary data from the likes of you - I happen to get in the way of yours. Look at it this way. You and I are not that different. We both have a job to do. So why not be open and honest? Why not start the conversation by acknowledging that the other person's time is valuable? Why not tell me who you are and what you're here to sell me? Why hide all that from me? That's all it takes, and yet so few ever bother. They're so stressed about getting what their boss demands that they don't think.

The few that do show such thoughtfulness have always been given an opportunity to present their pitch to me.

5. Arguing

I am astounded at the number of callers who, after hiding their identities from me, try and insult, berate and strong-arm me into giving them mine. Is there a statistic somewhere that says bullying prospective customers works? There must be somewhere, because a sad majority of cold callers take 'don't take no for an answer' way too far. I can understand a sales rep treating the customer dismissively after the contract is signed, but beforehand? Does that really work? Again - the numbers bear it out, and that's just sad.

I even try to be honest with cold callers. "No," I say, "we just signed a three year lease on our equipment, and we have no reason to revisit or terminate that contract early." A good salesperson would accept what I say, then find an opening anyway.

They'd say: "I understand that's your company's position right now. However, if in the future you encounter any problems with your current vendor, or slow service, and you really need someone to work for you, please keep us in mind. We're here, we're local, and we'll be happy to fix your problems." Then I'd leave some really great marketing materials with them, thank them for their time, and leave smiling.

Of course, it may be just me. I don't like people who use deception to try and manipulate me when I'm trying to work. I also don't like bullies and people who not only think they're smarter than me, but ignore all evidence to the contrary.

I am receptive to people who are straightforward and honest with me about what they want. When I'm at work, the last thing I need from anybody is to run through a minefield of dishonest and deceptive practices. I get it - it's your job to sell me stuff. But if you really must try, can you at very least be human with me? Can you cut the deception and the obfuscation and just talk to me like a fellow worker? You'd might be shocked by how far something as simple as respect for me, my job and my company goes.


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