Hot Drinks vs Cold Calls
In a vain attempt to relive my recent vacation to Utah, I’m taking a break at Starbucks, typing on my laptop, drinking Dirty Chai Latte. According to a Powder Magazine article which I read on Facebook, the “Susie’s Special”, Alta’s version of the Dirty Chai Latte was first served at Alta Java by mistake, when owner Susie Howard, when learning the ropes as a barista, took the instructions “every latte gets two shots of Espresso” too far when making a Chai Latte and created “Susie’s Special”, which went on to become Alta Java’s best seller. The memory of this article, which I read on my recent ski trip, was my Siren call to Starbuck’s. Leading up to my break, using my IPhone, I listened to a self development podcast using the Bluetooth connectivity in my car, captured a business card using Evernote, and accessed schedules and contacts across a few different platforms. The spirit of all this wonderful modern technology and its impact on our lives, paradoxically inspired me to pick the most basic, antiquated, and arguably obsolete Sales skill, the cold call as a first blog topic.
My title is Account Manager but my job role can aptly be described as “outside sales”. Outside Sales means going out and meeting with customers to sell a product or service. Those transactions result from a variety of steps sometimes including a cold call. For purpose of this discussion, I’m talking about a subset of Cold calling, namely showing up at a potential clients place of business, out of the blue, and trying to sell something. “Something” could be an onsite transaction for goods or services, setting an appointment, or finding out a contact name to follow up with. Cold calls can also be made by phone, but that’s not really what I’m thinking about here.
My first outside sales job, 18 years ago was selling pagers. The training plan consisted of making 45 cold calls a day. Again, showing up at a business, asking for the decision maker, and at the very least, leaving with that person’s business card. You would then take that card, staple it to an index card, and place it in a card file box. Each contact would then receive a follow up letter requesting an appointment, and the card file became a database for phone prospecting. That process was extremely time extensive, exhausting, and I honestly can’t remember it being that productive. In fact, I was only at that job for about 6 months before being fired for not making quota. Without getting into resentments, I’ll just say that looking back it gave me some great experience and a good story to tell on future interviews.
I think one of the things I was doing wrong was, to paraphrase John Wooden, “confusing activity with results“. I was making sure that I was doing my 45 cold calls a day, but at the expense of neglecting to move opportunities forward. I remember putting off writing proposals and often just shutting down all together at the end of day from pure exhaustion without taking the steps to follow up or prioritize my efforts. I made all my calls but wasn’t making enough sales, which ended up in me having no job.
So there is an example of spending too much time on cold calls. But can you spend too little? In the modern age of Social Media and email, does showing up to a prospects office with a brochure with a business card stapled to it have its place? I think so. I’m currently about 2 months into a new sales position and I don’t have the pipeline or customer network to fill up my whole day closing sales. I have time for cold calls, but that being said, should I be spending that time doing something else like making phone calls, sending emails, or making more contacts online?
The key benefits I see of making time for cold calls are that the gatekeepers have a lowered strength to quickly dismiss you, an opportunity to craft a more succinct sales message, learning objections, and practicing handling them. Generally its harder to shut down someone in person that it is over the phone or to just hit the delete button on email. We humans have an empathy switch that turns on when we see nonverbal cues like smiles. The gatekeepers seem less eager to shut you down cold. So, you may not be able to make as many prospecting interaction this way, but if you can achieve more results, it may very well be worth it. Also, you do have the opportunity to make a quick sales pitch, conveying key points that you think will interest the prospect, and hear their response. This in valuable in learning what the real hot buttons for your product are, and using them to make subsequent sales pitches more effective. It’s like role playing, but even more effective because you have a real customer, even if it is just a gatekeeper, who has a million other things on their mind and just wants to get rid of you so they can move on with their day. You have to say something to grab their attention and get them to focus in on you. In my last job, I sold wound dressings. During cold calls, I would place the dressing on the gatekeeper’s hand, allowing the to literally feel the features and benefits, but most importantly grabbing their attention away from snapchat, twitter, or whatever else was more important than my lifesaving wound dressings.
So I still work some cold calls into my schedule. I try to have a few appointments every day, and also work in a few cold calls between. I rarely spend a whole day cold calling like I did in Pager Sales, or even Copier sales, but I still do them. Even if the numbers of calls made to dollars sold don’t quite add up compared to email, phone, or internet, the experience and learning are something that is difficult to quantify. It’s certainly more productive that sitting at Starbucks blogging.