Cold Calling: Destined For Failure

The following is a true story that happened to me in my office last week:

It’s late in the afternoon and I’m immersed in a project when the phone in my office rings. I pickup, and low and behold – it’s a sales call. Not really too much of a shock, I get sales calls all the time. Today, it wasn’t the cubicle-farm brand of sales call, when he begins speaking it’s quiet in the background (the typical big-boiler room type telemarketing centers are loud). Plus it’s clear this guy isn’t reading from a script, he’s got his pitch down and is ready to take it on any tangent possible.

Now, I’m polite and I know the guy is just doing his job, plus it’s a local number and I like local businesses, so I let him pitch me. He goes into his long-winded pitch on printing services, why his company is the best, and why we should schedule a meeting with him so that he can come to my office and show me samples of how “amazing” his company’s printing services are.

Mistake number one was the long pitch – simplicity and conciseness counts when making any kind of pitch (PR, sales, job, etc.). But I was amazed he wanted to spend even more of my time (and his time) to come to my office and show us printing samples.

I stopped him right as he started going into his spiel on wanting to ‘set up a date’ to come into my office to demonstrate the quality of their services, and then started to question him. The conversation went something like this:

Me: That’s wonderful you have such fantastic printing services. The printing service I use now does too – perhaps something more compelling for me is interface. When I have a project, I can easily use my current provider’s website where they have a great intuitive setup where I can upload the file I need printed quickly and easily, provide specific instructions, and not only are they bright enough to get it right every time, they deliver it to my office, free!

Salesman: Well we deliver the finished product free as well…

Me: And your web site’s ease of use?

Salesman: Well, we work based on email…

Me: Really, and you think that’s more efficient? Hey what is your company’s web site, I’d love to take a look…

Salesman: Sure, it’s (insert website URL here – I’m not outing them publicly) but you should know we haven’t updated it in forever…

Me: (While checking out the site) No wonder you guys are having to make sales calls, your web site is, or at least should be, the ultimate sales tool and it not only looks out of date and disorganized, it lacks any sort of functionality.

Salesman: You sound like a marketing guy…

Me: Bingo. Look, you sound like a nice guy here’s some free advice – why don’t you guys consider redesigning your site, using SEO and SEM to boost your page rank, get higher in Google search, and get to a point where customers are calling you seeking services. I mean, even if you didn’t want to go through all that effort, you could use something as simple as a Google AdWords campaign to drive traffic to your site. People don’t want to be called and sold on services, they want to find you. And you’re not findable – I just searched Google for local printers and you don’t come up, yet all your competitors do. Who do you think everyone is using for printing solutions? Probably them because they are so easy to be found. People want services on their terms, when they are ready. By cold calling, you’re gambling they need something. If they don’t, you’re simply interrupting them. I don’t think you can survive in the future doing this, the return for making all these calls can’t be anything great. If you guys really are as good as you say you are, your web site needs to tell that same story. You need to be cohesive in what you’re communicating.

Salesman: You’re right…we’re really just unsure of how to tap into that world.

Me: Well you have my phone number – here’s my email address, contact me when you’re ready.

Salesman: Thanks, appreciate the advice, I will bring the idea before the owner. I’m actually our VP of marketing.

Me: Have a good day.

Now, ignoring the fact that I did turn around the sales pitch on him, doesn’t this whole interaction seem antiquated to you? Certainly it does to me. In a world where I can search for exactly what I need, read other people’s recommendations and experiences, read professional reviews, see what is suggested by other businesses, etc. am I really going to start using a new vendor based purely off a cold sales call? There’s no way.

The future The present way of doing things is entirely more efficient than blind sales calls. You need to develop an integrated strategy that has touch points across all platforms for your marketing efforts. Follow-up calls are fine, and I don’t see any harm in integrating them into your plan. But a cold telephone call cannot be your first interaction with someone. That is a surefire way to get hung up on, and a complete waste of marketing dollars.

For a locally-focused business such as a printer (or any type of vendor for services) a better strategy is to develop a usable and friendly web site, be clear and concise, and use SEO and SEM to get to the right people. Even use advertising to supplement your strategy such as search based ads on Google and in your local business journal, places that make sense for you. Don’t ever get sold on spending ad dollars somewhere if you aren’t 100% sure it’s a fit for you. Mail out circulars to local businesses, you’re a printer so this actually makes sense! Make them something funky, artistic and avant-garde, something that people won’t throw away. Get creative and do a magnet, calendar, bath sponge, whatever – but have it be a talking piece. Mailing something makes sense for a printer, something different may make sense for your business, you have to get creative.

You could even develop a local printer’s blog showcasing some of the exceptional work you’ve done – I’m sure your clients will love the free exposure (get permission first, of course). Then get it linked from some of those local businesses you have a great relationship with that will be happy to showcase your work. That’s exposure you can’t put a price tag on.

You see, the possibilities here are endless. I could create pages of ideas and strategies for a local printer, or any business that will probably be less work than cold calling and offer a continued, steady stream of returns. That’s something cold calling can never do. In today’s market, it is completely outdated.

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