Cold Calling is Dead

It’s the worst question in sales and marketing today: How do I get better at cold calling? Spoiler alert: Cold calling is dead. Stop wasting your time with it.

Here are the better questions to ask: Why do sales teams keep on cold calling anyways, including hiring trainers to help them get better at it? And how can we make better use of what’s replaced it?

The truth is that cold calling has been in a death spiral for a long time. Travel back to the 1960s when Theodore Levitt wrote his highly influential piece, Marketing Myopia, in the Harvard Business Review. The gist of his argument: your business does better by concentrating on meeting the needs of your customers rather than on selling products. To illustrate, he pointed to early 20th century industries that were disrupted by change. The business of selling buggy whips only made sense as long and people needed buggy whips.

Today in the 21st century, that same risk and that same logic applies to how to sell as to what to sell.

Cold calling made sense in an age where a telephone call or door knocking were the only ways you could connect with buyers directly. But relying on cold calling today to boost sales makes about as much sense as pulling out a typewriter to send someone a letter. Sure, you could still do that…but why would you?

Only one percent of cold calls lead to appointments, and only a third of that one percent even leads to a sale. Virtually all sales now—that’s 99% or more—happen because the buyer’s already formed a connection with the seller before a call was made.

Beware learning the wrong lessons from change

So, why do some businesses today keep on cold calling, expecting better results? Because sales leaders who’ve been successful in the past are condemned to the success trap: a mindset that tells them “since it worked in the past, it’s got to work in the future.”

It’s also why companies today continue to waste bucket loads of cash on cold call training. Just like the buggy whip maker, they’re stuck living in the past rather than asking what needs to change to keep meeting the needs of customers in the future.

As I have argued before, be on the lookout whenever someone defends a business practice by saying this is just the way selling is done. We don’t live in a world where cold calling works anymore: so stop pretending as though we still do.

Resistance to new ideas is an old habit

Lack of sales data analysis is another reason why sales managers are stuck in the past. Most sales managers still aren’t trained to interpret that kind of information properly. Instead, they glance at the numbers, see a decline in revenue and conclude that more cold calling is the solution. They revert to what they believe always worked in the past for them. They react emotionally rather than using their head.

In fact, that decline could be caused by changing market conditions, new competitive pressure, poor conversation skills, poor closing skills, a reduction in average order size, or a higher than normal customer defection rate. Proper sales-data analysis will show you this conclusively: cold calling won’t. Rather than jumping to conclusions, the best managers analyze the data and look for profitable fixes. They act on facts rather than revert to beliefs. And they certainly don’t fixate on a solution that has less than a one percent success rate in today’s marketplace.

Incidentally, I see this behavior happen most often when a top seller has been moved into a sales leadership position without first giving them the training they need to perform. It’s entirely avoidable and that’s tragic.

Resistance to change has a cascading effect. Sellers fill their funnels with any lead they can find (even bad ones). Sellers make bad deals with clients to drive-up closing rates. Marketing plans can’t keep up with required leads. Sellers don’t trust leads and don’t follow up with them. What a mess!

I’ve even seen situations where sales managers set absurd targets in isolation from the sales quota for a specific number of calls, and then get frustrated when goals aren’t met! It leads to all kinds of terrible outcomes.

The worst scenario of all—one that we all saw with the Wells Fargo fiasco in 2016-2017—is one where sales targets get set so high that sellers resort to made-up opportunities and creating false sales.

One industrial supply company I know had a sales team leader who insisted the only way to get new leads was by doing a door knocking campaign. This makes no sense when you live in age of high security in which buildings are locked down and where sellers have access to a multitude of communications methods and tools.

What you should be doing instead

Look around you. This is a digital age and you need to be ubiquitous. Develop the following skills:

1. Create account management plans

For every one of your accounts, develop a data profile that tells you exactly what your year-to-date sales are and where new opportunities can be found. Use that data to develop individual action plans to accelerate growth. Selling more to your existing customers is smarter, cheaper and far more profitable than finding new customers by cold calling.

2. Get referral training working for you

Recognize the immense value of having the power of word-of-mouth working in your favor. As I have explained in detail in my book, Nonstop Sales Boom, this is how you get your secret sales force working for you 24/7. This should include writing engaging case studies and business cases where your prospective customer can see themselves in the solution you created for a client.

3. Grow your network online and offline

Your ability to network should be geared toward you being ubiquitous in the marketplace in the eyes of your customers. Be everywhere and be useful. That’s how the best podcasts, posts and how-to videos in sales get traction. People share good ideas and ignore self-serving content that reeks of “salesy” language.

4. Get better at listening

Better communication comes first from being a better listener. A key area to grow this skill is in facilitation training. It will test your listening skills intensely and force you to grow quickly. It means being able to ask better questions—especially probing ones—that get at the heart of what your customers really want.

5. Be a better writer and persuasive storyteller

A competent writer will tell someone a story. But a great writer who has mastered their craft will move your customer to action. Be that second kind of writer. Persuasive, clear writing is no longer a nice-to-have skill. It’s a must have. Work hard at your craft and hire a professional to help you improve your message, boost your output and increase your broadcasting reach.

6. Create brand rapport

This is crucial. Since branding defines how you feel about a product or service, it’s vital you spend time thinking deeply about how you want your customers to feel about doing business with you. To create brand rapport, you define your ideal buyer, define the problems they have that you will solve with your product or service, and anticipate every kind of experience they will have while doing business with you. All with an eye toward creating a positive experience they can count on repeating.

To sum up: cold calling is a relic of an age that’s well behind us now. Stop pretending otherwise.

Needs have changed. The ways we sell have changed.

Old habits are among the last things to go before accepting these facts in life and in sales. It’s up to you to let those go.