Does Cold Calling Still Work?

In this day and age, many unsolicited sales calls go unanswered. Modern sales and marketing professionals are up against savvy buyers who have easy access to detailed product information on the Web and through Social Networks.

Everyone is connected to the latest information. Buyers today are pretty good at blocking your calls and emails, through Caller ID, email spam filters and they can easily send your email to its grave with a simple click on the delete button. But since so many sales people continue to follow this old school approach, it makes me wonder if in their minds they are saying to themselves…”I just know that I can get through all these defense mechanisms and land that one magical deal.”

Can they? Based on what clients are telling me, I believe the answer is no.

This question was the subject of online consultancy Software Advice’s latest Google+ Debate, “Does Cold Calling Still Work?” The panel, moderated by Derek Singleton, brought together inbound marketing and inside sales experts to debate three questions:

  • Given how the Web has empowered B2B buyers, is cold calling still relevant in the Internet Age — and are companies still generating a return on investment (ROI) on it?
  • With other lead generation activities on the rise, like paid search and content marketing, can cold calling help marketers stand out from the noise?
  • Can inbound marketing and analytics help us better decide who to cold call and when?

Here are the takeaways from the discussion, and I’m pleased to say that they jive with what I have been evangelizing for several years now.

Cold Calling is Shifting to Warm Calling

Understandably, every panelist agreed that cold calling (in its original form) is decreasing significantly in effectiveness. Furthermore, there is no excuse for business calls to be random and unsolicited anymore. In the words of Anneke Seley, Founder and CEO of Reality Works Group, “in this day and age, there’s no excuse for a call to be cold anymore.” Anneke – you are right on!

I recently read a Selling Power poll in which 47.76% of sales reps said that they were never prepared for the initial conversation with a prospect and 2.81% said that they were rarely well prepared. That, my friends means that 50% of the sales reps out there either can’t or won’t take the time to do a little homework before engaging with their prospect. And that should be enough motivation for companies to expect their salespeople to approach prospects differently. When you can turn to LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, and it is SO very easy to find out information about your prospect before you pick up a phone, why aren’t more sales reps doing it? Your prospects, by the way, are using similar channels to learn about you before committing to a call.

The group described the process of doing your homework in advance of calling prospects “warm calling.”

Only Call the People that Come to You

But Mike Volpe, CMO of HubSpot, thinks that marketers can take it one step further and not even waste time reaching out in this manner. Volpe believes that the world is shifting away from any type of outbound marketing – I respectfully disagree Mike - and that your inside sales team should only reply to inbound inquiries because you already know that they have an interest in your product or service.

Meanwhile, Volpe explains that inbound marketing tactics like SEO and PPC that are significantly cheaper than doing things like employing a great sales rep to make outbound calls. And he says it’s also a much less invasive approach to contacting buyers.

Sounds good but are all inbound inquiries created equal? I’m probably not the only one who likes to benefit from all the free informational content out there. I may have downloaded a white paper on your website, which many marketers would term an “inquiry” but that does not mean that I’m a qualified buyer. In defense of Hubspot, they are pretty savvy in terms of knowing when salespeople should engage with someone who proactively entered their world, but I would say that a lot of companies still are not at Hubspot’s level of sophistication.

Find a Happy Medium by Employing Both Tactics

Of course, there’s usually room for middle ground. And that’s where Ken Krogue, President of, sided on the debate. According to Krogue, relies very heavily on inbound marketing tactics but the leads they generate by purely inbound means just aren’t high enough value. So he turns to very targeted outbound calling after warming up contacts. To quote Krogue:

“If we [at] just rely on the Internet to bring us leads, it’s like a fish sitting in a pond waiting for the river to bring whatever it brings them. What we’ve found is that if you look at a typical bell curve, 70 percent of all the leads that come in are small. For example, we’re moving up to enterprise class companies and we have to forget about the Web bringing us those leads and have to reach out to initialize the conversation (usually through calling), then we move to a Web-based type of nurturing.”

In any Case, Marketing is Becoming Permission-Based

One point each panelist could agree on was that lead generation is shifting toward a permission-based model of marketing. This means marketing will need to evolve into being about showing buyers the value to them in doing business together, and ultimately getting them to come to you. If you aren’t demonstrating your value in a tangible way, then buyers will increasingly overlook your company; ignore your marketing efforts and move onto the competition.

It was a great discussion from thought leaders that I admire and follow. I’m curious. What are your thoughts on the evolution of outbound and inbound selling and marketing? Share your thoughts and comment below.

If you’d like to read the full article, visit the B2B Marketing Mentor

I Don’t Make the Rules

I’m not a violent gal, but I’ll be the first to admit that there are a few phrases that make me feel like choking the life out of the person who is uttering the words. I just had such an experience in dealing with a Hertz representative while renting a car on my recent business trip to Houston.

The flight into Houston was pleasant. I was feeling chipper as I made my way to the Hertz rental counter. When I walked up, there were three service representatives helping other customers. Since there was only one guy in front of me, I figured I’d be through this pretty quickly. One representative finished with her customer and then walked off not to be seen again. Given there were people waiting in line, it seemed more appropriate to serve the customer. Guess it was break time.

The other two finish up and I’m up at the counter. Things are clicking along. I hand over my driver’s license and debit/credit card. Next thing I hear is…”You are running a debit card, so I have to run your credit score. Do you give me permission to do that? Or, you can give me another card?” I said that I wanted to charge the bill to the card I had given her. “OK, but you have to give me permission to check your credit score.” She’s starting to get a little huffy, which I don’t like. You are here to serve me, I’m thinking. Your attitude is not appreciated. Then I asked, “Why is this needed anyway?” And that’s when she says, “I don’t make the rules so don’t take it out on me. You don’t need to get upset with me,” she says. My reply:  ”I’m not upset.” She calmed down. A few moments later we are wrapping up the transaction and she tells me that my car has been upgraded for free. Is that an apology, I’m thinking. Maybe. The cynic in me says she didn’t have the car I rented in stock, so it sounds good to tell me that I’ve been upgraded.

There’s more to come on this HURTz story because from the first interaction until the last one, the experience was completely sub-par. It makes me cringe to think how much money companies are throwing away because their service people can’t be bothered to be as stellar as they are expected to be. That, my friends, is an attitude that is driven from the top.

It makes me crazy when I hear employees of companies using phrases like…

  • I don’t make the rules.
  • It’s not my department.
  • This is how we have always done it.
  • That’s our policy.

Right away I know that the company that I am spending money with couldn’t care less if the experience is a good one for me or not.

I won’t be spending money with Hertz again. They might read this and say, “So what, it’s only one customer. She doesn’t rent from us much and it was only a $250 bill. Let it go.” The problem with such shortsightedness is that Hertz won’t get any of my future business, but their competitor will. And, I’m sharing my experience with all of my colleagues, who number in the thousands. Traveling is already a big hassle. The service providers who make it easier for us are the ones that earn our business. We do have a choice where we buy and reviews from others count!

Hertz, you may want to rethink your customer service, engagement and loyalty strategy. The current one, based on my experience, really isn’t working that well.

Build a “Commissions Community” to Achieve Revenue Growth

I teamed up with Selling Power Magazine to write a blog post about creating a commissions community to encourage higher levels of sales performance.

I wanted to know: Why it is so darn difficult to capture, leverage, and pass on the success methodology of your sales superstars?

For the past decade, I’ve worked as a consultant with hundreds of sales leaders from top enterprise companies and they all say the same thing: there just doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get their top producers to share what they know with the rest of the sales team. 

Over the course of my 20-year sales career in the tech industry (during which I sold $1 billion total in products and services) I’ve personally felt this frustration many times. As the landscape of sales has changed, I think I’ve finally figured out why this frustration exists. Simply put, companies and sales leaders are not going out of their way to use technology to build what I call a “commissions community.” 

To learn how to put a commissions community in to application, read the full post over at the Selling Power Blog.

Social Media Marketing is Not Selling

On a conference call recently, I was reminded of how often people confuse social media marketing with how to use social media over on the sales side of the business. I can understand why this happens. Just yesterday, I received an email from a company who is selling social media training and their blurb says that they can help you to increase revenue. But when you look more closely, the program focuses on helping you put a social media marketing plan together. That kind of messaging has confused people. Make no mistake about it, marketing and sales are different disciplines and how you apply social media to each of those disciplines is also different! Before you assume that you’ve got social media covered because someone in your company is responsible for social media management, be sure to look carefully at what they are doing. I’ll make a big bet that the focus is on marketing and not selling.

The American Marketing Association defines marketing in this way…

“Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Wikipedia defines sales in this way…

“A sale is the act of selling a product or service in return for money or other compensation.”

While sales and marketing should have the same goal of generating sales, revenue and profit, the two departments are approaching the goal in very different ways. As a salesperson, I’m the one who meets with prospects, crafts an actual solution to their business problem and negotiates and closes deals. Marketing is doing none of that. Their efforts are largely campaign driven and while their role is vitally important to the process of generating revenue, they are not actually selling anything.

Social media can be applied to the sales process on the front-end of the sales cycle. Using tools like LinkedIn and InsideView, the focus is on network and referral building, prospecting for new opportunities, conducting research that leads to identifying key business initiatives (or drivers) that may be the trigger for why your prospect should by from you, better pre-sales call research and more. In other words, using social media to drive sales opportunities is not marketing to build broad awareness, it is being used specifically to get to the right person with the right message at the right time, thus shrinking the sales cycle and moving more quickly to close.

On the sales side, I’m not giving away an iPad to generate “likes” on the company Fan Page. That’s marketing. As a salesperson, I’m using social tools to:

-Create a targeted list of potential prospects to pursue

-Dig into my prospects LinkedIn and InsideView profiles to learn more about them. I’m looking for the best point of connection. Who do I know that they know? What have learned about their company or their industry that might lead to securing that first meeting?

-Participate in groups where my prospect is likely to be and then contributing to discussions to create visibility for myself and demonstrate my expertise in my field.

-Do detailed homework before the first meeting. I’m learning as much about their company as I can, which will demonstrate to my prospect that I understand their business.

As you think about how to put social media to work for your company, remember that you need to focus attention on both the sales and marketing side of the business. And always keep in mind that the goals and practical applications of social media for sales versus marketing should compliment each other, but the “how” you use the tools will be different and serve vastly different purposes.


4 Obvious Prospecting Tips for Your Twitter Profile

Yesterday I shared how sales professionals can optimize their LinkedIn profiles to become more “connectable” with prospects. Today I’ll share my tips for optimizing your Twitter profile so that it’s easy for people to get in touch with you. Remember: Buyers are impatient. The more barriers you put up, the more likely they are to move on to your competition.

Here are four changes you can make right now to your Twitter profile to capitalize on prospecting opportunities:

1) Add your phone number to your profile headline.

Some people might disagree with me on this one. The concern I’ve heard most often is that in doing so people leave themselves open to be stalked by salespeople with something to sell. Thinking as the salesperson that I am, I want you–my future customer–to call me if that’s your preference. Besides, you can use a service that lets you easily monitor incoming phone calls. I use Google Voice.

2) Arrange to have an email sent to you from Twitter whenever someone sends you a direct message (DM) on Twitter.

I don’t converse via DM often, so I find this particularly helpful in responding to people who choose to use DM to communicate. Heaven forbid that someone I’m connected to has an interest in purchasing my services and decides to use DM to reach me, but I don’t see the message for days or weeks.


3) Arrange to have an email sent to you from Twitter whenever you get a mention or an @reply in a Tweet.

It is likely that you’ll see the message more quickly via email and then you can quickly respond online or by reaching out to the individual directly.

4) Have an email notification sent to your inbox or your mobile device whenever you get a new Twitter follower.

Schedule time into your day to check out the profiles of people choosing to follow you. You never know when that might turn into a sales lead!

By the way, on November 15, I will present “Sales Meets Social: Identifying and Reaching High-Profile Prospects: at the Sales Strategies in a Social & Mobile World Conference. Perhaps I’ll see you there?

Solve the Right Sales Problem!

Sales executives are feeling the pressure to ensure that sales quotas are met and that pressure often leads to fear, desperation and a focus on short-term sales results.

Don’t get me wrong…achieving monthly sales objectives are important. If there are no sales then ultimately there is no business to run. I’ve been a sales professional for close to 30-years and a business owner for almost 10, so I get it. Consistent revenue flowing in the door month after month is a must. Here’s what worries me though. This short-term focus leads many sales reps to ignore some of the basic fundamentals of selling in a social sales world. I know this because of the steady stream of unsolicited sales pitches I receive on a daily basis.

Don’t Abuse the Medium

A phrase that I’m fond of using is “Just because you can, that doesn’t mean that you should.” As the world of sales continues to evolve and transform as a result of the widespread use of social media, many sales professionals need to take a crash course in online etiquette. Sending potential buyers a spam sales pitch is akin to a cold call only worse. With voice mail, your message leaving time is typically pretty short, but when you send email you can go on forever about how grand your product is service is and believe me…many do.

Relationship First, Selling Second

If sales teams aren’t producing consistently, perhaps the answer isn’t in pushing them to “work harder”. Let’s face it folks… activity should never be confused with sales effectiveness. Insisting that your sales reps make 100 cold calls per day is activity, but is it truly effective? Though many old school sales folks will respond with a resounding – yes, cold calling works – the reality is that cold calling doesn’t work and adds expense to the sales cycle to boot. To me, it seems a bit delusional to think that calling 100 strangers whose business you know nothing about will lead to anything meaningful from a sales perspective. The same goes for sending your peeps out into the world telling them to “go bang on doors”. Seriously?

Social media provides a unique opportunity for today’s social sales professional. Instead of banging on doors, sending spam email or calling 100 strangers, why not put that time to better use? To improve your sales close ratio, what if..

  • You created a target list of the top 50 companies that you want to do business with and you used tools like LinkedIn or InsideView to learn more about their people and their business BEFORE making that first connection.
  • You looked for ways to do something of benefit for the prospects that you are targeting without asking for anything in return? Use LinkedIn to share industry presentations, articles, white papers or perhaps send a sales lead their way.
  • You understood that you get ONE chance to make a solid connection and a great impression. Don’t blow it by sending people the same old boring sales spam email that you just sent to everyone else.

Fix the Right Thing

When sales are off, please avoid the temptation to insist that your sales people just “do more”. Doing more of what already isn’t working will not lead to different results. Einstein defined that as insanity.

If you want different results – do something differently!


Sales Persistence Pays

On a recent webinar with Renee Walkup, we were discussing ways to get people to return our telephone calls. The answer is pretty simple really. Consistently get back on the telephone. Yet, surprisingly, many people will often give up after just one or two calls. I’ve met countless people who complain that they never receive a call back and when I dig deeper, I discover they called their prospect just once. Really? Frankly, it can take as many as 7, 10 or 15 calls just to connect with someone. Given how pressured people are in business these days, that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense to me is why people give up so easily.

Using the telephone as a component of your social sales process is often forgotten these days. In my opinion, too many people with something to sell are hiding behind email. Just this morning, I received a sales pitch from someone that I don’t know. We happen to share a LinkedIn group, but beyond that I have no idea who they are. Still, I’m receiving their sales pitch as the very first connection with me, not to mention that their message was all about them. So what? What’s in it for me? This spam approach is a surefire way to lose a sales opportunity before it even begins. I’m not sure if “phone phobia” is about fear of rejection or because someone thinks that sending a mass email is easier than picking up the phone. But in my experience, once you have a qualified lead (I emphasize qualified) in hand, using the telephone is a great way to move the sales process forward more quickly.

Let’s face it, sales success is about follow up and follow up is tough. As I write this post, I’m staring at a stack of business cards that are screaming at me to connect with the people I’ve met this last week who expressed interest in my services. So, I get it, especially if you are a smaller business where most of the hats are being worn by you.

Here are 3 things that you need to accept about the sales process; otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

  1. People are busy. Your prospect has their own work to tend to. It’s not personal, and it is your job to stick with it. Follow up and remaining visible are critical.
  2. You aren’t the only game in town. Hate to put it so bluntly, but all of us have competition and they are just as hungry for the deal as you are. Remember that you need to find ways to stand out - be memorable. By the way, your competitors are probably giving up pretty quickly themselves. If you don’t - you have the edge!
  3. A sale rarely happens immediately after a first meeting. People buy from people that they know, like and trust. Building a relationship takes some time.

Let me put it into perspective…

In Dan McDade’s book, The Truth About Leads, he points out that 45% of “qualified” leads will close within a year. He goes on to say that:

  • 10% will close in 3 months
  • another 16% in 6 months
  • another 19% within the year

That suggests a big sales problem if you are giving up after a couple of phone calls. I find that it’s a delicate balance between closing business now and nurturing the sales potential that won’t close until later down the road.

Look at it this way…if you give up too quickly, you are guaranteed not to close the sale. What have you got to lose by continuing to stay in touch?


6 Tips for Creating Social Sales Success

As technology continues to influence the way in which we do business, social selling can be thought of as a model that allows sellers to attract, interact and close business with buyers online by tapping the conversational power of the web. This new approach – when done right - leads to higher sales velocity, volume and profits.

Getting Started

As with any business initiative, it is important that you don’t shortcut the process. Utilizing the appropriate social media tools to improve sales performance represents an investment of time and money. Though many of the social technologies you might choose to implement are largely free, people will need the proper training to ensure their success.

1. Begin with a strategy and tactical plan.

This doesn’t need to be a long drawn out process, but it does require slowing down long enough to think through:

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What will be the best technology to support what we want to accomplish?
  • What type of training will be needed on both the technology and new communication approach?

Sales executives should schedule a social media planning session with their teams. Make sure that everyone on the team has the same understanding of what and why you want to participate online. Discuss how you will measure and track results. Following that initial planning, discuss progress, lessons learned and share best practices during regular team meetings. This will help to keep everyone on track.

2. Secure management buy-in, at all levels, from the beginning.

Many sales executives are unfortunately, still living in yesterday’s business world. They either see social media as a passing fad or a threat to their view of how the sales process works. Fear of what they do not understand keeps them rooted in outdated approaches to acquiring new customers and serving the ones that they already have. Bring in outside help to properly educate your management teams on the business value and benefits to using social media.

3. Invest in training.

The old saying “you get what you pay for” applies here. Don’t assume that your sales people can figure out the technology on their own. Rather than clicking buttons, do they know how to use the tools to drive a specific sales result; i.e. lead generation? Your sales team members probably understand how to invite colleagues to join them on LinkedIn, but do they know how to create dynamic lead generation lists that they can use for their prospecting efforts? Do they understand how to create a compelling profile? Inadequate training is guaranteed to deliver lackluster results. Make the investment. It’s worth it.

4. Do not expect immediate results.

There is no quick fix! You need to put a plan of action into place that is followed regularly and tracked along the way. Expecting an immediate ROI is highly unrealistic and will lead to sales people rushing the process. Sales management needs to maintain a focus on the bigger picture. Building a solid brand reputation online takes time, participation and patience. By the way, the same philosophy holds true with traditional offline networking too!

5. Train, Track, Monitor.

Give your sales people the proper technology training, educate them on your social media usage guidelines and help them set goals that are then tracked and measured. Remember that ROI can be measured in many ways. It might be measuring sales revenue, number of new leads in the pipeline, shortened time from lead to sales close or increased sales percentages with existing accounts. Monitor the progress of your people by the results they achieve.

6. Invest the time.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your social sales success. Not having time for social media is a common sales complaint, because to often the perception is that using social media is an “add-on” to an already packed day. The reality is that there is wasted time on the calendar of every sales person in your organization. Meetings with non-decision makers. Networking events that fall flat. Chasing down leads that are poorly qualified. Too many internal meetings. The question to ask is “What can I let go of that will bring me a greater sales return if I used that time for social media instead?”

The world of sales has changed.  If you are not integrating social media into your sales and marketing plans, you are setting yourself up for decreasing sales and increased competitive pressure.

How long can you afford to wait before you get started?

Don’t Get Booted from the C-Suite

Anyone who knows me also knows that I am NOT a fan of cold calling. Perhaps it had its place in sales history, but I wonder. Was it ever truly successful? No one likes the process really. Not the sales people being told by management to do it, or the unsuspecting prospects who are receiving the call. Frankly, I just don’t get why there is still such a large contingent of sales people out there who insist that cold calling is a viable sales approach. So, all I can figure is that they must be selling a product or service that is largely transactional in nature not requiring a lot of buy-in from senior management.

Calling High in the Organization

In enterprise level selling, which requires you to gain access to the relevant senior executive(s) in the organization, cold calling isn’t a smart strategy. Why? The traditional approach is to use a canned product/feature script that you rattle off to everyone you call. Executives aren’t interested. And, invariably you are coming to the party way too late anyway. Do you even know when the senior level executives get involved in the buying process?

Even if you can get the right executive on the phone at the right time in the process, is your call addressing their needs or yours? I think that most of us can agree that typically sales people are focused on their own agenda - getting that appointment or sale. The reality is that executives don’t buy features and benefits.  It isn’t that those things aren’t important, but a senior executive wants to know how what you sell solves their business problems on a much bigger scale. In order to know what problems they are facing, sales people need to do their homework. That’s where social media fits in.

“Executives are increasingly using the Internet to inform their views, but they do not type in the category because early in the process, they’re not educated enough to know where a solution will come from. Instead, they search based on the problem confronting them.” –Selling to the C-Suite.

For the naysayers who believe that social media doesn’t have a place it the world of B2B selling, take note of this quote. Executives ARE using social media to source information about products and services that can solve their problem. Moreover, using tools like LinkedIn can give you incredible leverage during the sales process. Gain competitive advantage by better targeting and qualification, as well as planning for that all important conversation when you connect with the senior executive you have in mind.

To get to the C-Suite, planning and research are key. Have you done yours?

You want to get married? We haven’t had a date yet.

At Selling Power, Founder and Publisher Gerhard Gschwandtner penned a brief online article about meeting buyers at the right time. He suggests an ideal scenario in which our sales hero enters a coffee shop and just happens to start up a conversation with a buyer who needs exactly what he has to sell. It got me thinking about the importance of timing in the sales process.

It is the dream sales situation, isn’t it? You meet a buyer at the exact moment that they have a thorny problem to solve. You just happen to have the ideal solution. You get along instantly; they want to hear more. There’s no haggling over price. This buyer is desperate to eradicate the pain and solve the problem. He’ll pay practically anything. You zip on over to the buyer’s office to complete an agreement that is approved by legal in minutes. Oh, and they cut you a check in advance to get the process started. A few short hours after that fateful coffee shop meeting, you walk away with a six figure deal.

Uh huh…let’s get real.

It rarely works this way in the real world. In the real world, we meet people all the time that would benefit from using our products and services. The problem is that we know it, but they don’t yet. It’s tempting to want to convince them, right now, that a problem is looming on their horizon. But timing is a tricky thing. Jump to fast, push too hard and too soon…bye, bye sales opportunity. When it comes to using social networking tools to expand their sales reach, I’m certain that this is a lesson that many sales people are destined to learn the hard way. Some, no doubt, already have.

Stay visible.

Technology provides limitless opportunities for the sales people who recognize that timing is everything in sales. When the buyer is ready to buy, these savvy social sales people want that buyer to think of them first! That’s why they remain focused on the bigger picture. Core elements of their process include building strong networks and cultivating sales opportunities by providing “value” in advance of the sale. That value can be anything from targeted information that benefits the buyer in their job, white papers about trends in their industry, relevant blog posts or connections to peers in their field.

To succeed in the social sales world, sales people (and their management!) need to accept that no one gets married without being courted first. Be patient and take the time to court your prospective buyer until they are ready to walk down the aisle. How you approach the courtship will say volumes about what happens after you both say, “I do”.