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September 27, 2010 / Tony Arena

Is Cold Calling Death?

Is there a cure for the common cold call, or should we just let it rest in peace?

Before you start reading, let’s do a quick experiment. In a moment I am going to list four things.

As soon as you see number one, simply label your very first response as either positive or negative and move on to the next word.

Are you ready? Here we go:

  1. Telemarketing
  2. Cold calling
  3. Do-Not-Call Registry
  4. Networking

So, what’s your score? Do you think your reaction is unique or universal?

I’ve just subjected a few of my friends to this unscientific test and -surprise, surprise- the numbers 1 and 2 elicited a strong negative response.

Telemarketers are among the most hated professionals on the planet. Most people would rather have their wisdom teeth extracted without sedation, than make a couple of cold calls. In essence, cold calling revolves around fear and loathing!

Some commentators call cold calling ‘an abusive and masochistic process that damages your brand as well as your personal reputation‘. Others still believe that playing the numbers game (100 calls leading to 10 appointments resulting in 3 sales) is a foolproof system for the thick-skinned. They claim that cold callers who piss people off, just aren’t very good at their job. What do the experts think?

Mahan Khalsa founded the Sales Performance Group of FranklinCovey. He’s the co-author of “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship.”

He writes:

“When sales is a numbers game, people are numbers and each one of the numbers tends to get treated equally. After all, we don’t know which one out of ten will even want to meet with us, so we can’t afford to do the research and preparation necessary to customize the call to their company and to them as a person. And that’s exactly what it feels like on the other end. You don’t really know me, don’t know my company, don’t know what is important to us—and yet you feel you have something we want.” (click here for more from Khalsa)

John Jantsch is a leading small business expert and author of “Duct Tape Marketing” and “The Referral Engine”. He heard Khalsa speak at a conference and recently shared the following statistic in his blog:

“Cold calling results in about a 1-3% success rate for getting an initial appointment and it’s generally abusive to both parties. When that same call is made with a referral, the rate jumps up to 40% and even much higher when that referral comes from within the company.”

There you have it. As far as I’m concerned, Jantsch and Khalsa just killed Cold Calling. I don’t think we’ll have too many mourners at the funeral, do you?

As Jantsch points out, there are much more effective ways to find new customers. I must warn you, though: the strategies I am about to share with you are neither for the passive nor for the aggressive. They are not for the introvert, the modest, the lazy and the ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘wait and see’ types.

If you want to dig up potential clients, you have to become a miner. You most certainly will have to get your hands dirty and take the time to delve deeper. Here are a few gold mines that are surprisingly close to home:

1. CURRENT CLIENTS are a phenomenal resource. So: mine your own business! Satisfied customers are your best credentials and walking billboards. Please promise me to never conclude business without asking for:

a. A testimonial
b. Referrals

Tell your client:

“I really enjoyed working on this project with you. You must know a lot of people in the business. Who else do you think could benefit from my services?”

Always ask:

“Can I let Mr. so-and-so know that you referred me?”

Most of us enjoy buying stuff, but we deeply distrust salespeople. We will, however, trust colleagues and friends. That’s one of the reasons why under the radar Facebook marketing is so effective.

2. NETWORKING works, as long as you get off your butt. Don’t expect people to come to you. Anywhere and everywhere that you can meet other businesspeople face to face is better than cold calling. Local networking groups like your Chamber of Commerce offer opportunities to meet and mingle. Here’s how to make the most of these type of meetings:

  • Be unconventional! Seek out events where you might be the only expert in your field. Don’t waste your time and money talking to sad colleagues sharing horror stories at so-called conventions. Be a winner, not a whiner.
  • Spend 80% of your time asking questions and listening to the answer. It’s priceless market research!
  • Be sincere. Be positive. Pay people compliments. I know you’re good at that sort of thing. They will remember you.
  • Realize that this is about building relationships and not about selling.
  • When you receive a business card, write a few key words on the back that will jog your memory. After the event, enter the info into your database and add your personal impressions.
  • Select a few people that could benefit from what you have to offer and with whom you seem to have good rapport. Then take the next step…

3. SOCIAL MEDIA offer a great way to follow up with your new contacts. Connect on LinkedIn:

“Steve, it was nice meeting you the other night. Good luck with that new project. When I drove back I had to think of that charity you’re involved in. If you like, I can help you with a logo. I’d love to contribute.”

Don’t just send someone the I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn message. What I am to make of such a lazy, robotic approach? Are you really interested in me, or do you just want to milk my network?

A network is often the result of years of careful relationship building. Do you think you can just tap into that treasure by sending me an automated message? You can do better than that! Why don’t you buy yourself a mailing list for Christmas instead? That will teach you the value of business leads!

Please personalize. Give me a reason to connect. Have the decency to respond to someone who was kind enough to open up his/her network to you. If you can’t take a minute or two to say “thank you,” what does that tell me about the way you usually do business?


  • In the old sales model, the focus was on closing a deal ASAP. The new paradigm is: How can I help you? It’s not about getting. It is about giving. Don’t expect to get any referrals if you’re not prepared to give any referrals.
  • The old model was built on dialing rate and breaking through respondent resistance. In the new world you would never force a relationship. Be patient. You can’t expect to reap the rewards if you’re not willing to sow the seeds and tend to your crop. Yet, too much fertilizer is overkill.
  • Use social media to get to know your contact as a person, not as a prospect. Once you’re connected, they’ll get to know you too.

4. FREE PUBLICITY is a perfect way to introduce yourself to the community. Your neighborhood paper is starving for copy. How often have you seen the headline:

Local author signs new novel at Barnes & Noble

How about: “Local voice talent lands gig on national TV”? These stories don’t come out of a hat. You have to create that BUZZ. How do you do that?

  • Write a press release about your latest accomplishment. Make sure it’s written in the third person. Otherwise it comes across as rather self-gratifying.
  • Fax your statement. Unlike emails, a fax can’t be deleted or filtered out. Snail mail doesn’t have to be opened immediately. A fax shows urgency.
  • Get in touch with the host of a radio show highlighting businesses in your area. You could be her next guest.
  • Hold or sponsor a contest and make your service the prize.
  • Prominently participate in your community by donating time and expertise. Don’t settle for a behind the scenes job. Be the spokesperson!

5. BECOME A KNOWN EXPERT by offering free talks or by writing a blog or a column in your paper. Get your name out. If people don’t know that you exist, they will never hire you. A few pointers:

  • Make sure that what you have to say is relevant to your audience. Come up with a catchy title for your talk. Instead of “Creative writing 101” try “How to sell your first short story.”
  • Speak no longer than 20 minutes and stay away from Power Point; then take questions. Engage your audience. Don’t bore them with a sleepy slide show!
  • Give everyone a freebie at the end with your contact information; put out a mailing list and follow up.

6. PEOPLE YOU DO BUSINESS WITH don’t need to warm up to you. Your car dealership, your accountant, your lawyer, that studio you work with, even your hairdresser, caterer and photographer are all part of huge networks. Why bother grooming a business in Baltimore when you have these resources in your back yard? Unless -of course- you live in Charm City.

Here’s the key: start sending these people some business today, but don’t do it because you expect something in return. Do it because they deserve it. And remember: make sure the friends and colleagues you refer drop your name.

What if -at first- nothing happens? I’d say this to you: Delays are not denials. This is not instant oatmeal. Besides, the old-fashioned type tastes better and it will give you more sustenance.

You can’t manipulate people and turn them into your puppets. What you can do is model certain behavior, hoping it will rub off. If you’re a parent or a teacher, you already know that this works. And if nothing happens, nothing’s lost. You have gained valuable feedback that allows you to fine-tune your approach. Focus on finding businesses that share your philosophy.

Old paradigms are like dragons: they are hard to kill. Once you cut off its head, a new one appears. People who have bought into the presumed strength of one sales system, aren’t easily sold on something they aren’t even willing to try.

I know for a fact that I can’t convince you of anything. I don’t even want to. Make up your own mind, but do me one favor: don’t diss these strategies out of hand. Try them out. Experiment, knowing that no system in the world works one hundred percent, all the time. Don’t even treat it as a system. Before you know it, a system becomes a formula, a procedure and a routine, taking us right back to square one.

Feel free to disagree. Contribute to the comment section below. Nothing attracts blog readers like a bit of controversy. Share what has worked for you and why. The only knowledge that’s worth something, is knowledge that is shared and put into practice.

In that spirit, allow me to share one last story with you. This time, it’s personal.

This is my wife and I love her dearly. Not only is she beautiful, wise, warm, intelligent, witty, strong, creative, a fabulous musician and teacher… she also puts up with all of my quirks. People always ask me: “You are so lucky! How did you meet her?” The honest answer is: online!

Looking for love online is no easy thing. Right now, there are millions of lonely hopefuls longing for some eHarmony or the perfect Match. And all of them will tell you they like long strolls on the beach; someone with a sense of humor who loves kids and has a steady job.

What would you do to find Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful among millions of internet singles?

Would you type a zip code into a matchmaking search engine; pick a 100 mile radius and start calling every single prospect within that area? You’d probably face verbal abuse, accusations of harassment and maybe you’ll go on a couple of first dates. Still, how would you know these people are a good fit for you? Yet, this is the old cold callers way of (mis)conducting business.

Instead, why don’t you begin by asking yourself these questions:

– Who am I?
– What’s important to me in a relationship and why?
– What do I have to offer?
– What kind of person would be a good match for me and why?

Based on these answers, it will be much easier to come up with a unique profile and zoom in on people with potential.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this precious platitude:

It’s not about finding the right partner.

It is about being the right partner.

One last thing.

Before I put my online profile up, I did some serious soul searching and I answered the questions above to the best of my ability.

The end result?

I did not find my wife…

She found me!

Paul Strikwerda © 2010

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