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

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...

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