Cold Calling is Not Dead

Sales prospecting is hard. First time outreach is not for the faint of heart. There’s a pervasive — let’s call it dislike — for cold callers. Curiously, the warring generations (Baby Boomers and millennials) both agree in their aversion to answering the phone to cold callers, whether at work or at home. 

Aside from simply ignoring the cold call, people’s manners go out the window: a ton of them answer and hang up, say they’ll call back but don’t, some even prank you, and of course, demand to “remove me from your list!”  

It’s not surprising it’s led to the belief that cold calling is dead. It’s not. But it has certainly evolved.

Prospecting is still one of the pillars of your pipeline

Sales teams can’t really afford to remove this tool yet from their prospecting toolbox. What are the replacements? Social media DMs? LinkedIn outreach? Emails? Robo-prospecting? Pre-recorded messages? 

These methods can and do work, but with mixed results — it depends on what works most effectively for your prospects, which takes trial and error.

And none of these methods have the finesse of a human on the other end of old-school cold calls. At this time, while we’re all on limited contact with people, cold calls might be appreciated and come back in style, especially when it’s done right. Everyone’s craving contact — yes, even introverts. The cold call just has to be done right. 

Think of it as a challenge to sales teams: a cold call is not for everyone. Prospecting brings out the best sales professionals who have conversation and people skills. (Side note: the best sales people also know how to listen.)

You have a script, yes, but this isn’t a template you write and send out in blasts via email or LinkedIn. This is a one-on-one conversation with your prospect. 

And unless you already have a robust pipeline of pre-qualified leads, you can’t get out of prospecting. 62% of leaders say building a pipeline is harder than closing a pipeline. And like all aspects of building a pipeline, cold calls aren’t exercises for improv. It takes planning and discipline. 

A thick skin, too, of course. Take your high from your wins and let that fuel your next dials. 

Along with good practices. 

The fundamentals of sales

Cold calls can fail, yes. That’s true for any other sales and marketing tool. According to Gong.io research, “the percentage of reps attaining quota on the average B2B sales team has steadily declined over roughly the same time frame. Once standing at 63%, it’s now down to 50%.”

Any sales tactic can fall flat. When it does, it’s not because it’s an outdated or hokey method. Witness the worst FB ads, cold emails and landing pages you’ve seen. Those are digital and current and they still fail. 

Likewise, cold calls fail when the sales rep fails at the fundamentals of sales. Dismissiveness that cold calls are outdated and dead is quite dangerous: it makes you lose sight of what made it work in the first place. 

Classic: Targeted and personalized

Targeted and personalized. These are the fundamentals of a cold call. It hasn’t changed. If your sales team knows their target personas, they nail the pitch, making their target listen and actually care about what’s being said from the preface to the call to action. They understand and personalize the value proposition for each persona’s role psychology. 

When done right, this catering to that persona’s needs peels away the prospect’s objections and builds strong rapport that leads to success.

Evolution: Multi-channel

Single channel is done, multi-channel is in. It’s the new fundamental of sales. If you want to call something dead, this is it: single-channel prospecting. Of course it doesn’t make sense if you stick to one tool when you have a whole toolbox. Using each tool by itself is outdated and inefficient. 

Prospecting in today’s age of digital transformation means you can capture your target audience’s attention before you even make the call. For example, sending an email first as an icebreaker, an introduction to request or schedule the call. 

And afterwards, too. You can easily blend traditional prospecting with modern touches: combine initial emails (or LinkedIn messages) with real gifts/gift cards and handwritten notes utilizing online delivery services and gifting platforms. 

That’s multi-touch, multi-channel outreach, and companies do see ROI in more meetings and better response rates

Think strategically and creatively about how to catch — and keep — your target persona’s attention long enough for them to be convinced to say yes. Use multi-channel prospecting with consistency throughout those channels. 

Fortunately, we now have better sales technology and AI to help make this quicker, better, more effective. Less painful on both sides of the line. 

Prospecting + AI = powerful cold calls

Prospecting means targeting very specific buyers in an account. 

This is where AI comes in: sales teams can get relevant, full-picture insights on who to call, the right phone numbers of the right people, and who exactly they are — their roles and pain points — so that the sales rep can have a personalized script before and during the entire outreach. 

AI also helps populate that list with warm, marketing-qualified leads in the first place. 

This is what differentiates winning cold calls over failed cold calls. We need to stop dismissing cold calling, and instead find and use the right tools to make every cold call an effective part of a multi-channel campaign. 

I won’t write a how-to for cold calling here. Xant has a great framework of 6 Ps. 

  • Preface – Provide an introduction
  • Personalize – Share something to build rapport
  • Position – State why the prospect should care
  • Pain/Product – Uncover the pain or explain a cool feature and key benefit
  • Proof – Reference a customer success story
  • Prescribe – Recommend next steps

And I like their wrap up of what can make or break a cold call: “Reps shouldn’t say the same script every time, and it’s often odd when reps try to bring up things that are too personal to their prospect. This limits chances for a successful lead generation.”

You can see the importance of personalization and customer data in each of the six Ps so you can stay on the fine line of impressive and not cross to creepy territory.

Your prospects want their problems solved, make money, and look good while doing that. AI can give you the insights you need to communicate how your product or service can do both for your buyer. 

But don’t force it — give value instead

You have data and insights, but use that to build connections instead of jamming a product down a prospect’s throat. That never works. Good salespeople can hold you riveted right there on the opposite side of their booth at the supermarket or on your doorstep while they talk at your doorway. That hasn’t changed. 

They do that when they speak to you. It’s the same over the phone. Cold calling is effective when done correctly, non-robotic, conversational, magnetic, non-salesy. Remember that today’s buyers have more information at their fingertips too: more than 70% of the buying decision occurs before speaking with a salesperson

Cold calling is essentially outbound, but it works best when employing inbound methodology by meeting our prospects halfway through their problem-solving process. Where are they in the buyer’s journey and what are they looking for at that precise moment when they pick up the call? 

With customer data and behavior insights gathered and updated by AI, we can give value. 

The aim is not to sell, but to give value. With research and initial outreach, cold calls are no longer cold but warm enough, with your prospect receptive to you setting the stage for the next steps in the sales funnel, as long as your SDRs employ relevant, insight-driven scripts for an effective conversation during the call. 

Operate with a mindset of a team player and a scientist

What’s clear is that cold calling won’t be effective unless a sales team has done their homework — targeting personas, targeting a cold list of prospects who fit those personas, and collaborating with marketing to get the messaging right (which should be about prospects and their pain points, not about the salesperson). 

Prospecting is a lonely job, with every SDR going through their list by their lonesome. But it’s a team effort within and across teams to share insights and test communication methods and marketing tactics that work best for their prospects. 

Dan Baird

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