It’s Time to Reinvent the Cold Call

Guest Post by Melissa Vigue

June 17 I was recently reminded of the Jerry Seinfeld method of dealing with unsolicited sales calls – ask for their number to call them back – when a prospective vendor called my cell phone after hours on a Friday night. While I did not resort to that – and was afraid the vendor might oblige – this did spark heated discussion at the agency and we did a bit of research.

According to the National Sales Executive Association, 80 percent of sales occur between the fifth through 12th contact.  So it’s no wonder that as the AOR for a number of Fortune 500 clients, we receive an inordinate number of cold calls and emails each week from newswire, database, monitoring, and tchotchkes vendors, among others. Yet being on the receiving end of these calls has made us wonder… is there a better way?   

The issue at hand is that many of these are not targeted directly to our or our client’s needs.  Many are very aggressive, and in some recent cases, contain errors in the communication, such as the names of other agencies they have sent the same email to.  Here are just a few recent examples of how these types of communications alienate and infuriate the very account managers companies are trying to sell to.

  • One contact calls the same two people (who sit next to each other!) each week on the same day at the same time with the same pitch – and gets the same result. “Thanks, we’re all set.”  It is important to note that most of us have been receiving calls from this contact for nearly 10 years. A most recent gaffe involved referencing a past project that happened to be a fiasco and almost resulted in litigation. Does anyone wonder why we don’t engage in his pitch?
  • A production company specializing in video news releases, satellite media tours, etc. was recently asked to no longer contact our staff. Why?  Because in addition to making broad assumptions about shrinking budgets, he was calling every Friday from different phone numbers to lure unsuspecting account people into picking up the phone.
  • A recent email from another distribution outfit opened with, “Pardon me for being so direct…” Need I say more?

Is this really how these vendors want to be perceived? In order to succeed on behalf of their clients, agencies need partners, not vendors. We get it, we really do. Targeting potential clients for new business and pitching a story to an editor requires that initial call too.  Here are a few things we try to consider before a pitch, cold call, follow-up call, etc.:

  • Be courteous and respectful of the recipients’ time. Ask if it’s a good time before launching into a pitch.
  • If they say “No, thanks. We’ll call you if a need arises,” they probably don’t have a current need. But if you respect it, they will really call if the need arises!
  • Do the research first.  Learn about the company and person you are calling, and think about how you can add value.
  • Be a resource and be able to offer insight into the industry landscape and trends.
  • Uncover the pain. What unmet need does your prospect have?
  • Bring some ideas to the table (or at least offer to try), not just “We provide XYZ.”

Finally, in a slumping economy – or for that matter any economy – we all need each other.  It is crucial that we forge win-win relationships and work together to provide solutions; otherwise you might be on call 112 before you realize it’s just not working.

13 thoughts on “It’s Time to Reinvent the Cold Call

  1. I like what one previous poster had to say: “Cold Calling is prospecting.” This is so true. If more sales professionals would take this approach, cold calling would be more effective and less annoying.

  2. Steve, At first glance what you said makes complete sense to me. It’s all about impressing your prospect with brilliant primary research and insight about their customer. What about credibility? I am not talking about the credibility of the agency or firm. I am talking about the credibility of the person picking up the phone and calling upon a prospect. I don’t care who you work for when you make that first call to a prospect you begin with near zero credibility and in many cases less then zero credibility. If that is the case how remarkable is your brilliant insight if it is not believable? A few years back you wrote about an account executive who was able to get in contact with JetBlue CEO David Neeleman. The response from David was “We don’t need outside PR counsel. Never did. Never will.” Perhaps (as I believe you suggested)he was short sided? I ask you to consider this perspective. Being CEO of JetBlue David is bombarded by PR Firms offering their brilliant insight & services and he did not want to waste time with with another account executive who has no credibility. If he thought your account executive was remarkable he would not have given such an outlandish response. I could be wrong but think about the upside if I am right.

  3. Excellent points, Robert. But, I respectfully disagree. It’s all about primary research and uncovering unique insights from the prospect’s customer and how he or she perceives the world. It’s not about us or the prospect. It’s about the prospect’s customer. Uncover insights with that target and I’d agree one would have something remarkable with which to cold call.

  4. I respectively disagree. We are surrounded by remarkable (defined as worthy of notice or attention) and that is why so many people are using facebook, blogging, tweeting, etc. The challenge is before you pick up the phone to know what is remarkable to your prospect. It’s not about you and your accomplishments. In fact it is too early in the process for it to be about their needs. It starts with searching for clues about what is remarkable to your prospect and then creating curiosity.

  5. Steve, The solution to reinventing the cold call is easy to understand but extremely difficult to execute. Simply put, “If you are not remarkable you are irrelevant.”

  6. I’ve seen it there also and quoted in lots of laces on the internet but the “National Sales Executive Association” organization does not seem to exist?

  7. You said this in your post
    “According to the National Sales Executive Association, 80 percent of sales occur between the fifth through 12th contact.”
    I can’t find the “National Sales Executive Associate” or a reference to where this stat is to verify. Where can I find it?

  8. Thanks for the insight from the flip side on this. We completely agree that the art of sales, just like PR, comes with experience. The goal here was to shed a little light on the fact that in order to succeed we need to work together. I have also tried your tactic and unfortunately as sales teams feel the increased pressure to sell, it doesn’t seem to be working anymore.
    We would be much more receptive to these initial conversations if the person on the other end of the phone could demonstrate some knowledge of the industry or a particular client or a potential need, etc. A little research goes a long way. We work very hard with our staff to teach the value of a targeted pitch, whether it’s to a prospect or a reporter and while no one can ever be sure they are 100% on target (we’re all human!), we try. In fact, that’s our company positioning – understanding the business of our clients’ business.

  9. As a sales professional of 23 years, I can verify that some sales reps do give us a bad name and do the things that you list. I probably did a good deal of it when I was starting out. Sales, like PR, is a profession, and it takes time and experience to learn the effective techniques of the trade.
    I’m sure plenty of journalists have been “cold-called” by PR folks, and I’d wager some of those may have even come from someone at your firm (at least to the journalist’s perception).
    The cold call is and always will be a part of commerce, whether it’s to sell a product, service, cause, idea, story, politician etc.
    Cold calling for products and services isn’t selling, it’s prospecting, finding potential clients to engage in the selling process. Once a prospect is found, that’s when it will take five to 12 calls to make a sale. It usually takes a lot more cold calls to find one prospect.
    I used to always take and engage in cold calls from my sales brethren, but even I became tired of lame cold calls. Here’s the effective way to handle the ineffective cold call: “Joe, we’re using XYX to handle that need right now, and I’ve got to tell you, we’re very happy with them. Keep me in your files and call me back in six months to check in.” That politely signals your intentions, ends the call and who knows, in six months your needs may have changed. Half the time you don’t get a call back anyway – that rep has moved on to a different job because he wasn’t an effective cold caller.