Are Cold Calls Dying?
Just the thought of picking up the phone and performing into a super confident, trust me I know what you need, seasoned salesman is a tall order to perform, especially on your first day in a new company. But this is what bosses want and expect, with or without training, purely on the basis of a 'trusted' CV, or convincing rhetoric of a recruitment agent.
This style of "roll the dice" recruitment to drum up new business has worked for many years and continues to do so in certain environments where businesses have limited budgets in a busy world with so much digital noise, meaning keep calm and carry on is often the easy and only answer.
Today though, this approach is dying year on year, just like print has been since the digital age. Is the reason because salespeople are less competent or skilled? I don't think so. The key change has been the customers role and how they behave that is killing off cold calling from the sales playbook, and with constant regulations being modified to protect the consumer it's actually becoming illegal in certain cases.
So what can the salesman and small business owners do to get ahead of their competitors?
Death of a Salesman
Sadly the image of the salesman has not aged well. From television shows to stereotypical meme's, the salesman's strategy has become so polarised over the years it's become satirical comedy, as far back as the TV show Only Fools & Horses. Since 2000 after the internet boom, so much has changed the business landscape of selling. From modem's, VPN's, Wifi, websites, Mobile phones, just to name a few, which has meant less and less human contact is needed to enable business' to perform.
Messaging apps (or texts), voice message and email has officially killed off voicemail where in the past at least the sales guy could leave some attempted sales spiel to gain some level of personal connection. Now it seems totally acceptable that the customer or client can express their level of harassment and irritation at the caller depending how pushy they are.
During the 1980's the cold caller thrived on an engaging audience, but this audience has now grown old and maybe this is why cold calling still exists. I heard a story recently through a close friend, and this is true! of a an 85 year old woman was told on the phone she needed to go and purchase an iPhone Voucher Card with £50 credit on from her nearest Tesco store immediately in order to pay an overdue parking fine (which to you and me already makes no sense) or risk the police getting involved. She got in her car drove to the nearest Tesco in a panic only to be told by the assistant at Tesco who took her phone and quickly closed the call by saying "the police are being called" and the recipient quickly hung up the call. Which brings me onto another reason the cold call is becoming a dinosaur - Scamming. What better way to kill off the cold call than killing off trust in your occupation.
Whether in B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer), the client has so much digital noise surrounding them they want to be approached and served on their clock when it's convenient for them. As demand for attention continues to increase in the digital age, customers are responding when they want to, not when the seller tells them to listen. Which if you think about it makes sense. So cold calling salespeople have become an unwelcome intrusion on people's time. Compare how much of your attention you allow for a traditional television ad (30 seconds) compared to a Youtube ad (Skip in 3 seconds?).
Mobile Phones have not helped the cold caller. There is a temptation to answer a call amid the daily mundane chores of your lonesome desk than being out and about, on the go where you are generally much more engaged with the journey of your purpose, unlikely to answer a call from an unrecognised caller.
PA's, receptionists, secretaries are all much more savvy to spot a sales call early and shut it down before it can get to the big cheese. A way round it may be to bend the truth of who you are to get through the gatekeeper but then the big cheese will only be annoyed at your trick and the gatekeeper will certainly not give you a second chance. Today, it's all about "is he/she expecting your call?" - "well, no or I would have called him direct and skipped you!" - you get my point. It becomes a dead circle of an event where everyone involved just gets irritated.
In 2020 since so many people are now remote working, cold calling sales strategies become even more ineffective since serving a sales territory filled with many small accounts or widely dispersed home-based buyer contacts can be very time consuming and unproductive.
The Cold Call Killer
Internet Marketing and Inbound Marketing are tools in today's sales environment where customers prefer to initiate contact with retailers and vendors. Part of that can be in response to aggressive sales techniques of the past, "don't call us, we'll call you". Selling and serving customers by letting them initiate contact is referred to as inbound marketing.
The internet has meant clients can find service information 24/7/365, even initiate contact via email, chat bots and online submission forms. Clients can purchase at 3am without a salesman in sight (we hope), and without the business needing to even be open!
The internet has forced innovative marketing and sales techniques whether we like it or not.
As far back as 2013, FCC (Federal Communications Commission) TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) rules went into effect against cold calling by phone and text messaging. FCC TCPA rules (article from Klein, Moynihan, Turco LLP) state the following:
Unambiguous prior written consent must be obtained prior to making any telemarketing calls or text messages. Calls that are auto-dialed or use software to bring up phone numbers, or are "robo" pre-recorded calls, are specifically targeted in the rules.
The "prior business relationship" exemption no longer applies. Companies used to be able to justify cold calls by stating that the consumer had done business with them before.
This changes also affect companies that sell "up to date" data lists. These data lists are hugely doubtful over their worth in my opinion as they date so quickly, plus Linkedin will offer a more up to date analysis which is free to view.
The future's bright
Content marketing is creating blog posts, reports, articles, videos, checklists and other helpful resources to address the information needs of customers and prospects. The goal is to become the go-to expert in the industry or target market which can lead to sales inquiries. Online reviews are another way for people to check authenticity and trust of a company.
All resource and content is now provided on the Internet (apart from highly skilled resources) which has empowered the consumer as opposed to the salesman. However, offline content such as printed materials, public speaking or seminars can also be powerful alternatives to cold calling. These should now be treated as supportive materials, not the first line of defence sales presentations.
Internet advertising has become more crowded and competitive, making it too expensive for many smaller businesses. However, it still represents the best opportunities if managed carefully. The skill of the salesperson that stood out in the 80's is still relevant but it needs to be targeted at the right approach and time in the marketing process, not shoot, aim, fire at entry point.
Even though social media and influencer advertising is hot right now, people still read their email. Collecting email addresses is still a key factor in marketing but It should be opt-in, meaning that interested people voluntarily enter their email address to receive emails from a company, and to do this you must make some advertising content where they want to opt in! Providing an incentive to sign up such as a free ebook, report or discount can be effective. This makes email marketing a perfect partner for content marketing strategies. The free content lures them in and the email marketing keeps them in.
Interestingly, many of the relationships built online move offline at events such as conferences and meet ups. With so many digital platforms out there it can be hard to know where to start tracking and targeting these possible clients that want your product. All the information you need is online somewhere but you just don't know how to access it. After all, when we spend money we expect a return on our investment and marketing should be no different. The ultimate goal is to gain new business, not to question why you are not getting any.
This does require allocated research, time, effort and strategy which is why Digital Bridger continues to do what we do: connecting companies to their desired audience in a crowded space.