Enterprise Software

Don't cold call prospective clients

Chip Camden explains why he doesn't think cold calling is the best way to contact a prospect and suggests more helpful modes of communication.

In a recent discussion on TechRepublic, I gave my #1 tip on making cold calls: don't. Most prospects will resent the intrusion, and you don't want to build a relationship on resentment. More importantly, the callee will suspect your motivation. If they don't know you, they'll assume that you don't know them. If you don't know their business, how do you know what problems they need to solve? That leads to the suspicion that you're just trying to sell them something, rather than to solve their problems.

Most of these objections melt away if you have any sort of prior relationship with the prospect. Perhaps you met them at an event, chatted in a forum, or best of all you did business with them previously. Even a recommendation from some third party you both know can help color your approach as helpful rather than predatory. These calls aren't really "cold" -- though they can be pretty cool.

"Helpful" should be the word that defines your message. Here are some phrases that say that:

  • I've heard you may need some help with...
  • I thought of you when I heard about...
  • It's been a while since we talked, how are things going?

Contrast those with the following:

  • We can provide you with enterprise-class buzzword*...
  • Did you know that <insert alarming statistic here>...
  • Let me introduce myself...

What's wrong with the statements in the latter group? The first one blatantly plays to the know-it-all role. It implies that you know what's best; the prospect would be stupid not to engage you. Now put yourself in the prospect's shoes and realize that this message, coming out of the blue, is offensive. The prospect may soothe their ego by assuming that it's false, too -- and that all you really know is how to cook up a big pot of buzzword soup.

The second statement plays on the universal fear of having missed something important. Fear can motivate, but it can also provoke retaliation against the messenger -- especially if the prospect begins to suspect that you're just creating new problems for them so you'll have something to solve.

The third statement in this group says in just four words, "I don't know you or anything about you. Let's talk about me." We should avoid talking about ourselves unless asked. Focus on the prospect and what they need instead. Don't try to sound impressive -- it's usually obvious that you're trying.

Once you've got your message straight, there's still the problem of intrusion. Think about how often you've gotten an unexpected phone call while at work, and it made you happy. Now think of all the times when it interrupted an important conversation, derailed a train of thought, or in a panic-filled multitasking monsoon it was the wave that finally broke the levee. We should only use the telephone for urgent matters and scheduled meetings, in my opinion -- and a cold (or cool) call is neither. Start instead with an email or other form of asynchronous communication, and then schedule a time to talk. Showing consideration for the prospect's time is an important part of being "helpful."

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

14 comments
Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

Cold-calling is hugely time consuming, and typically offers little return. If you're trying to drum up business though, as the article mentioned, it's best to have a reason for calling the prospect--other than wanting them to buy from you. There are a bunch of ways to do that, but they're invariably based on providing some value to your prospect. About a year ago, I decided to automate my marketing so that clients seek me out instead of the other way around (I talk about some ways to do this on my blog), but setting up that kind of automated marketing can take time before you start seeing results. Although it's not difficult to set up and doesn't require tons of time, the results can be substantial. When I used to do more active marketing, I had good success with a few tactics: -->Answer questions in forums for your niche, and provide detailed info and/or instructions. A day or so later, you can call to follow up with the person to see if they had any questions. That way, you're helping them on an immediate problem, and starting a more personal, non-virtual relationship. You can also use the phone conversation to ask them about their other top-priority problems that you might be able to help with. -->Conduct webinars on topics that you know your prospects want info on. Again, you're providing value to them, and starting a more personal relationship--getting the prospect to know you and demonstrate your credibility. -->Provide free downloadable resources, like a pdf or an instructional video. Give away value so prospects know you're credible and can help them. You can then follow up and ask for feedback on the free resource. Greg Miliates StartMyConsultingBusiness dot com

JJMach
JJMach

How many times have you been vaguely interested in reading about a new product or technology on the website of a company where you need some sort of account to get access to the catalog or white-paper. The next thing you know, your phone is ringing: "I see you're interested in our *******." This sort of cool-call gives engineers like me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. I've had a talk with a number of callers about this to specifically ask my account to be flagged with "Don't call him, he'll call you." I understand they want to drum up business. You're not going to do that if you make your potential customers feel like wherever they go on your website, you're stalking their every click and keystroke. "Big Brother is Watching You"

omb00900
omb00900

I first encountered the phrase "cold calling" back in the late 1970s, Nice try, though!

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Everything seems to revolve around how we define others with how we define ourselves... and why others might not like it. This certainly fits the theme. How does one say "give me some business" without sounding demanding or greedy? Focusing on the benefit for the recipient doesn't work, it only makes it all a bit more threatening, either raising doubts about the viability of the recipient's business as it is, or adding an "or else" to the request, or forcing the other person into a mutually face-threatening situation (the introduction can be the most impolite polite thing to do at times). Interesting, I have to think more on this. Thanks!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I note that all three of your suggestions involve giving first. That's the basis of building any relationship of mutual trust and support.

mongocrush
mongocrush

Every time you click on a whitepaper here at TechRepublic you receive a call from someone offering to help with whatever you downloaded. SSSHeesh, I hate that so much that I stopped looking at whitepapers here at TechRepublic.

rodd.holman
rodd.holman

I agree completely. I'm not a consultant, but I am a consumer of consultant services. I can deal with cold calls, even though I don't like them. They usually are not successful with me. Howerver, these creeper calls are extremely offensive. Any website/vendor that requires my phone number before letting me view content is forever put in my "NEVER will I do business with you" bucket. If I'm just looking that doesn't mean I want someone targeting me for a sale, and calling me about my web browsing. That's disturbingly sick. If I'm interested, put some OBVIOUS way for me to get more information at MY request.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The larger point here is to treat prospects the way that you would want to be treated, not like a game animal to bring down.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Lately I've been focused on the human interaction aspect of doing business -- treating each other like friends instead of marks. I'm open to any suggestions you have for moving further in that direction.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

"Cool" is intended to be in contrast with "cold" (and also a play on its slang usage).

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Here's a quote from Rosenberg : http://www.cnvc.org/Training/nvc-chapter-1 [i]"We perceive relationships in a new light when we use NVC to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. As NVC replaces our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimized. When we focus on clarifying what is being observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging, we discover the depth of our own compassion. Through its emphasis on deep listeningto ourselves as well as othersNVC fosters respect, attentiveness, and empathy, and engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart. Although I refer to it as a process of communication or a language of compassion, NVC is more than a process or a language. On a deeper level, it is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking. There is a story of a man under a street lamp searching for something on all fours. A policeman passing by asked what he was doing. Looking for my car keys, replied the man, who appeared slightly drunk. Did you drop them here? inquired the officer. No, answered the man, I dropped them in the alley. Seeing the policemans baffled expression, the man hastened to explain, But the light is much better here."[/i] So what are the real, deep needs involved when looking to reach an accord with a prospective client? In my own limited experience, I think there's a need to be seen as a resource by the other, as one that is helpful, one with whom it is good to work... I may be overlooking things, though. But that's not enough, there are also the proposed needs of the other party: What does a client need, deep down, below all the concrete, short term chaff? Maybe reassurance? A knowledge that they're not alone in their situation, that there are people they can call on to help them, when they feel out of their depth? That someone has their six when they feel vulnerable or feel that they must leave their comfort zone to prosper. I guess that's a start, but I'm really just starting to turn my thinking this way.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I think humans in general want to be able to trust one another for mutual support, but we also have a defensive mistrust in order to avoid being taken advantage of. It's a necessary balance, but between consultant and client we should try to move the relationship towards the trust/support side of the equation. Of course, we can only do that (for any non-trivial length of time) be being genuinely trustworthy.