Cold Calling Is Still Dead
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Cold Calling Is Still Dead

Cold calling stopped being a viable lead generation option years ago. But for some reason some companies hold onto it like it’s an art form. It’s not. It’s futile.

I argued the point in 2009, Cold Calling Is Dead: There Are Better Ways to Generate Leads. This is one of my all-time most popular articles, and the argument still holds true today.

Cold calling works, but not for lead generation.

Cold calling is slow and inefficient

Cold calling is like walking.

Walking is a great mode of transportation to get around a dense urban environment, or to explore the wilderness. But if you need to cover a lot of territory, there are faster modes of transportation.

Planes, trains and automobiles all trump walking when you need to travel a distance.

There’s a place for cold calling, but not when you need to reach a large audience and generate a steady supply of sales leads.

Cold calling is futile for lead generation

A well placed cold call can be highly effective to open a strategic account or engage a targeted buyer, but that isn’t lead generation. That’s using a cold call for strategic business development.

Let’s define lead generation:

Lead generation is a process of generating interest or inquiries in your products or services, and creating sales leads that could convert into sales for your organization.

Effective lead generation programs are multifaceted, and engage the largest audience possible of current customers, past customers, potential customers, and referral partners.

You could have your sales people cold call the database monthly for lead generation, but you’ve got to ask if that’s the best use of their time? And more importantly, are there more effective ways to engage your audience?

Ask your customers what they want

If you’re still hesitating if cold calling should be used, ask your customers:

  1. Ask your customers if they appreciate your sales people cold calling them.
  2. Ask your customers if they gain value by being interrupted with cold calls.
  3. Ask your customers if they hold your company in greater esteem for cold calling them.

If the answer is “Yes” to all three questions, then by all means keep cold calling. But if you hear “No”, it definitely requires rethinking the strategy and finding better ways to engage your prospects and clients.

  • Ray Ruecker

    I like your material but respectfully disagree. I don’t think cold calling should be 100% of your strategy, but it shouldn’t be 0% either. I’ve landed several clients through cold calling leveraging social media.

  • Sticky Branding

    Thanks Ray Ruecker. I love counter perspectives. How do you combine cold calls with social media? Is it the final step in the process when you notice engagement?

  • Ray Ruecker

    We target carefully which is important. But I’ll send an intro email first, then follow up with a phone call. I’ll mention they’re a 2nd or 3rd degree connection of mine on LinkedIn and it opens doors often.

  • Sticky Branding

    Very cool. Ok, now a semantics question. Is that cold calling, or is that business development? My view of cold calling is ‘smiling and dialing’, and trying to telemarket as many firms as possible. What you’re doing sounds like business development, and has research, prep and process versus a ‘cold call.’

  • Ray Ruecker

    I would guess a little of both. We don’t smile or dial 100 times a day or even 50.

  • kwlinc

    I have enjoyed a very successful career using “cold calling” as a strategy. However the greatest  leverage I brought to the table that opened doors was the brand I was selling. It was recognizable & well known to the retail community.
    If your representing an xyz brand with no marketing effort behind it then it becomes a very tough battle. I’ve experienced this as well & had to resort to discounting.
    We all know where that will lead to if there’s no pull from consumers.

    • @kwlinc you are nailing it. The difference is the brand. If you have a compelling brand it’s a lot easier to capture a prospect’s attention, and engage them in a conversation.
      Your comments all resonate with advice I give to rookie sales people, “choose brand.” The best products to sell are the ones with a well defined brand, positioning and value proposition.

  • MichaelTingle

    Warm calling is more effective.  I completely agree with you and this article.   I use this example ”  Imagine if your Doctor called you and asked if you are sick or if your Mechanic called you and asked if your car needed repairs.  What are the chances that you needed their services?  Probably zero.   Using SEO and inbound marketing to warm up the calls is the best and most effective strategy.   Get people when they want to buy.

    • @MichaelTingle great point Michael. If the sales process is driven by a trigger event cold calling will be very challenging. I like your mention of warm calling. Sometimes a call is that required tool to take a lead from the digital realm to the real world.

  • How do you spell raspberry? Not the delicious edible red fruit, but the noise someone makes with their tongue when the want to express playful disdain for a statement or idea.., is it  “plplplplllllppbbrrr…, pleh” or “pllllpplllpppllll”…, ?
    I’ve stated many times, given a strong and clearly defined value proposition and a very clear understanding of the high priority pains I’m solving, that I can get anyone in any organization to talk to take my cold call.  CIO of Intel, check.  VP of World Wide Manufacturing for Black & Decker, check. Senior managing partner and CEO Deloitte, check.
    The point is not whether it’s a cold call, e-mail, banner ad, web site content or a good old fashioned flyer sent by snail mail, the point is “does the person you’re communication with, care about what you’re communicating about?”
    There’s a whole other discussion regarding the efficiency and cost value of each method or vehicle for communicating with your target audience, but that’s not the topic of today’s discussion.
    Any method of communicating poorly with your target audience is dead, because the Internet has made a plethora of really good information easily accessible to any target customer who wants it.
    So can we please just put the whole “cold calling is dead” red herring conversation behind us , and instead start talking about “how do you figure out what your business does, that can translate into a clearly defined competitively differentiated value proposition, that addresses significant compelling pain of senior decision makers in your target customer organizations…, ” and then I’d suggest typing it up and sending it out in a nice fax…., and see if the lead gen results aren’t actually better than some of the current product/company me, me me, content, that some folks are posting on their blogs, in social media and twitter.
    So what do you think Jeremy, cries of a dinosaur, or voice of reason now that the dust is settling after the meteor .., ; – )
    P.S.: I’m no paleontologist, but I’m reasonably confident that a dinosaur couldn’t make the raspberry sound…,
    Regards, Jim Barnet

    • @jbarnet I dunno Jim. I’m pretty sure T-Rex is a raspberry aficionado. Those short arms and big mouth made it genetically predisposed to raspberry greatness.
      I agree with you. Brand trumps distribution. If a sales person doesn’t have the right value proposition, it doesn’t matter how they introduce their services.
      I also think you’re pointing out the heart of the cold calling debate. The firms that are drawn to this form of lead generation are lacking a well defined value proposition. They need to get in front of a prospect and pontificate, because nothing else is working.
      So I claim, “voice of reason.” :)

  • Alberto Gonzalez MBA

    Congratulations on bringing the issue back Jeremy. In your original article you were writing about “demand creation” which I find very interesting. I strongly encourage you to expand on the issue because we have learnt on the path not to take and it would be good to learn more about the path to success. For example you state that demand creation is multi-faceted, could you ellaborate on some of the facets?

    • @Alberto Gonzalez MBA thanks Alberto. I will work to post some more content on demand generation over the coming weeks.
      There are fundamentally 2 parts to demand generation:
      1. Path of Search: be in the right place and the right time when your clients are looking for services. (Usually driven by search marketing or referral marketing.)
      2. First Call Advantage: build and scale relationships so you are your clients’ first call when they’re ready to buy. (Usually a content marketing and database process.)
      It depends on the industry, but choose the tools and programs that best fit your business and your clients.

    • @Alberto Gonzalez MBA you right dear….

  • RickOstofe

    Sure cold calling works. So does standing at an intersection and begging for money. Somebody will hand you some money. That doesn’t mean I want to do it . I would if I was starving. When you cold call you say loud and clear, “I don’t know who you are and haven’t a clue if what I want to sell you, you need or want, but listen to me anyways because I need a sale and no one I’ve sold to will give me a referral”. At least take the time to make it a warm lead call. Show your prospect that I have researched enough about you and your company that what I have to present may be of value to you.

  • So I think one of the issues that Rick and Michael have brought to light, is the definition of what a cold call is. Most people can relate to the call they get around dinner time with some poor soul in a boiler room who’s starts rambling off a script the minute you answer the phone and who doesn’t take a breath until they’ve told you how their solution slices, dices, cut’s through tin can’s and never needs sharpening, only to find out at the end of their script that the person they’ve called in on a liquid diet.
    I think that’s many people’s perception of what someone mean’s when they say “cold call.”  
    I call that “bad selling”, whether you do it on the telephone, on your web site, in social media or on twitter.
    “Good selling” in my opinion is in the same context of the comment Michael made, but in line with the more appropriate diagnostic approach a good doctor takes.  But in today’s day and age, most people won’t take the time to educate a salesperson about their business, nor sit through their diagnostic questions waiting for the salesperson to hit on a pain they can solve.
    What I’ve found to be consistently successful for 15 years, a year ago, and yesterday, is to really take the time to get to know the profile of your ideal customer.  Figure out what compelling pains the decision maker that you’re targeting has that you can help with, and document the questions you can ask to confirm that pain.  And then create a succinct value prop on why you can help.
    The trick is, you don’t lead with what you can do for them, you lead with the questions to confirm if they have those pains.  If you’ve profiled your ideal customer correctly and know who in the organization owns those pains, since senior decision makers spend 70-80% of their time trying to figure out how to solve problems or achieve currently unachieved goals, then if they get a call asking if they have those pains or unachieved goals, then the likelihood of them being open to engaging in a conversation with a stranger who mentions those problems is very high.
    To target one of the examples provided of how “not” to do a cold call, in the mechanic example, if someone drives a 1993 Saab 95, which Consumers Reports has documented as suffering from both long term electrical and transmission issues, and you know that Saab has gone out of business and there’s now a very limited number of businesses that can get parts or know how to repair Saab’s properly, especially for complicated issues like electrical or transmission and your company specializes in Saab repairs, if you phone that person and say “I see you have a 1993 Saab 95 and we’ve all heard the sad news of Saab going out of business, so many owners are finding hard to find a good Saab repair shop, in our 20 years experience repairing Saabs, we’ve seen that the 1993 Saab 95 tends to have electrical and transmission issues 7-10 years into it’s lifecycle, not sure if you’re having those kinds of issues or not, but if you are we’d be happy to talk to you about how we might be able to help.
    Too specific, how would I now all that information, too small a market?
    If you don’t have that kind of information about your ideal customer, if you don’t know the high likelihood issues that the customer is facing, if you can’t succinctly state how you can help, then it doesn’t make any difference what vehicle you’re using to Communicate (or as in my last post Komunikate, nice spelling Jim) with your target audience, it’s not going to resonate.
    Now whether you conveyed that information by capturing SEO searches on Saab repair shops, posted it in a Saab club social media forum, or blasted it out on twitter isn’t the point.
    Cold calling is just a current convenient lightening rod because historically it’s been used so often as a vehicle for bad selling.
    The problem isn’t Cold calling, the problem is bad selling, and bad selling will be ineffective not matter which communication vehicle you use.
    P.S.: As per kwlinc’s post, in my experience, the approach I’ve outlined also overcomes the “brand” issue. Having consistently worked for companies no-one’s ever heard and competing against companies everyone’s heard of, in order to win customers everyone’s heard of, I’ve always said it’s not because I’m such a great sales person, but because I’ve done such a good job profiling my ideals customers and talking to decision makers about pains, pains that I’ve done the research to confirm there’s a high likelihood they have, and then confirming that they have those pains, well before ever introducing my solution.
    Regards, Jim Barnet

  • cold calling…you must change your vehicle now…

  • Go2piper

    My business is based on cold-calls and verbal/vocal branding. I started Go2Piper 3 months ago and the most popular service I offer is the cold calls. So I beg to differ, cold calling is not dead.