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The Cold Truth

For a recent assignment, I had to make 50 to 100 cold calls a week. That’s actual conversations. Here’s a composite of how I fared, using a moderate degree of industry expertise, strategic phone sense, and charm:


15% - No interest, goodbye

21% - Polite no-thanks in seconds, not long enough to hear my accent

15% - Will pass info on to someone else (who may or may not work for the same company and who may or may not be born yet)

30% - Tolerant listening but minimal interest, inviting me to send materials (no environmentalists, for sure)

13% - Some degree of interest and continuation of the dialogue with a follow-up plan

4%   - Serious interest, but the stars have to align for it to happen

2%   - Eventual buyers  (now part of my family, if they weren’t previously; there go my Giants season tickets)


An executive once told me make 100 cold sales calls and you’ll get two buyers. Judging from a recent Meetings & Conventions survey asking meeting planners their opinions on unsolicited sales pitches, I can only conclude our industry is a tolerant, reasonable, interested and understanding bunch. The story, headlined “Planners Peeved by Cold Calls,” indicates about one-third of the survey base felt unsolicited pitches from suppliers were “somewhat useful” and that the amount of unsolicited material is “just right.” Hitting .333 could win you the American League batting title – I’d take that in a heartbeat in the Cold Call Derby. No peeving there.


The M&C survey was followed by an interesting LinkedIn thread last week. Some people lamented the need and effectiveness of cold calls; some sympathized with decent, hard-working salespeople just doing their jobs and earning a living; some grimaced at salespeople “jumping right into their pitches” at networking events. While salespeople understand the preference to build trust, rapport and relationships, economic pressures and difficult managers asking to name names sometimes don’t allow time for the plusher and more politically attractive consultative sell.


Of course, there’s cold and ice cold. With cold, the caller has done his or her homework, understands the target, and hopes to engage via some thought-provoking intelligence that extends the typical 12-second abort by a minute or two. Ice cold means hiring interns to slice up the database from A to Z, deliver a scripted message, and sprinkle in the truth when convenient.


If all cold calls could be delivered to understanding people like Matt Judge of TRS LLC in Indianapolis, gauging from his LinkedIn comments, the concept wouldn’t get such a bum rap. “How can anyone choose to be offended by the normal conduct of business?” he asks. “One of our best business partners came from cold calling our company last year and me having enough sense to listen. We are both making more money because I didn’t get offended.


“I have made countless cold calls. If there is no match, I quickly thank them and move on. Conversely, if someone cold calls me and there is no match, I will say, ‘I’m going to help you out – we’re not a prospect so I’ll let you move on to something more productive.’ ”


Cold calling is the basest form of sales. At a time, perhaps around the Truman Administration, it was the best we knew to generate results – along with the three-martini lunch and, sadly, an inappropriate joke. Today, thought leadership, business “partnerships” and multiple stakeholders in decision-making have made the process less numbers-oriented but hardly numbers-irrelevant. Think of how many organizations still demand call reports in order to monitor their sales teams and apply statistical probability to how much business they can expect to write. (Side note: An editor once asked me, “Wouldn’t business be much better if all the time you spent writing reports, doing budgets, and figuring expectations was channeled into more time spent focusing on customers and doing actual sales?” Of course it would. We’d be doing a lot better, but there wouldn’t be anyone, let alone ourselves, to tell us if that’s good enough.)


Is it any less threatening to approach a stranger at an industry networking event and start a conversation? I would hope so -- you’re both there to network, even if suppliers outnumber buyers by 2 to 1. That’s why there are more industry networking events than days on the calendar, and why technology companies left and right are creating applications for event participants to break the ice and reach out to other attendees before the event ever takes place.


Meeting planners may complain about too many cold calls, as the M&C survey attests. But what if the cold-caller can hang around long enough to ask the question, “Are you happy with your current service or vendor?” Your answer may trigger an unplanned discussion or assessment that actually improves processes and helps your business. Now how cold would that be? Warms the heart to think about it.

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