Is cold calling a sales method of the 20th century?

The cold call was the sales method number one for years. The customer got a call (seemingly out of nowhere) to get convinced of a certain product or service. With today’s number recognition and digital communication channels, the method seems to have overstayed its welcome.

However, before I get to my argument, I would like to clear the term „cold call“ to avoid any misunderstandings. Given that „cold“ implies that the call or email is the first contact between customer and sales, modern laws throw the first wrench into this classic sales method.

Cold calling is outdated (and outlawed)

Sales used to be able to simply get the contact data and call or email the customer without their knowledge (or even appear on their door steps, unannounced). Nowadays, this method isn’t even legal in Germany (and generally in the EU) anymore. Customers need to actively approve the use of their contact information for sales and marketing purposes. That means, the customer usually knows that they might get a call or an email (or a visit).

With the new EU-wide GPDR (General Data Protection Regulation) this will be law for every company that uses or intends to use customer data from citizens of the EU, no matter whether the company is based in the EU or not. For more information on the GPDR, you can go to the official site.

For a modern cold call, the customer therefore needs to have handed over their data willingly for that specific call, which renders the call more „lukewarm“. That in itself is not necessarily a negative development but sales and marketing have to be more creative to get the customer to sign off on contacting them. Usually, this happens by offering interesting content, webinars or other assets that the customer  desires in exchange for the contact data (and the promise that the contact data will only be used for things that help the customer with their problems).

Cold calling results are underwhelming

But even without the legal necessities, cold calling has reached its prime long ago. In a not so recent study from 2012, the Baylor University found out that for every successful cold call, the sales agent needs to make 209 calls (PDF). Only one third of all calls reach the contact and the overall success rate is only 1,7%. If our sales agent is really busy, he can create one lead in one day. I doubt that any company is happy with these numbers.

The reasons for these abysmal numbers are easy to explain from my own experiences:

  • I usually get these calls during work hours (or way too late in the evening), which means that I am not prepared and have other things to do. I have no time or need for a long sales conversation on any day of the week unless I have an actual demand. If I had one, though, I would make sure to make an appointment myself.
  • „Cold“ also means that the sales agent does not know enough about me to make an educated call. The probability that his offer matches my current needs is usually very low.
  • Additionally, the communication handbooks most sales agents have in front of them are tedious for the customer (me) to hear because while he is explaining all that is good about the product (without asking me any questions what I want), I am just waiting for him to finish up, so I can politely end the call.

I am not suggesting ending all cold calling strategies immediately and forever. But there are a few sales methods that are more modern and convenient for the customer than the typical „Hello, are you interested in …“-conversation.

3 alternatives for your cold calling activities

  1. Social Selling

Social selling is the cold call of the 21st century. The biggest advantage lies in the fact that the sales agent has not just the name and the contact details of their customer. Since social selling means using social networks to connect with interesting prospects, customers and partners, the sales agent can get necessary information on almost anything:

  • social media profiles give insight into the profession, hierarchy, interests and how active the contact communicates.
  • especially networks like LinkedIn offer analytical tools to keep an eye on interesting prospects and interact as soon as their behavior indicates an interest in a product or service.
  • contacting someone via social media is less intrusive than a call or a visit but still can feel more personal. The contact has control over the time and form of communication and is more likely to develop a relationship.
  1. Marketing journeys

Even to this day email is one of the favorite communication channels of customers and prospects. Because an email can be replied to at any time, the receiver has the control when to engage with the sender. But instead of simply using the cold calling tactic on another medium, we instead use customer analytics, progressive profiling and targeted content for differing customer segments and interests:

a.) Customer analytics: analyze the customer’s behavior (click and open rates, interactions on digital channels, etc.). That way, the customer for example only receives emails if they respond well to them.

b.) Progressive profiling: with each new interaction and each submitted form (that naturally changes according to the info the CRM or marketing automation system has on the customer), the data on the customer grows.

c.) Targeted content: with every new information about the customer, the communication can become clearer, more relevant and individual. From automated emails to personal calls, the customer journey grows into a truly unique experience.

d.) Customer segments: customers will be put into segments according to their interests, activities and behaviors. Each segment receives a different style of communication whether it differs in content, frequency, type or depth. That way, customers that are interested in analytics but prefer live events, won’t get any recommendations for white papers but instead invites to seminars or after work meetings.

  1. Acting event-based/trigger-based

Thanks to the magic of customer analytics, the customer’s behavior can be analyzed in a way that certain actions or behaviors immediately trigger a notification for sales. This trigger can be set by sales beforehand and can either consist of one specific action or event or it can be based on a score (small events and behaviors that add up to a trigger).

As soon as sales get the message, the agent can decide whether to call, email or contact the customer in another way. Depending on the trigger, sales can thereby:

  • prevent a churn or cancellation
  • initiate a sales communication
  • reward a customer for positive behavior (loyalty, positive feedback, etc.)

The advantage: instead of approaching the customer without having any clue whether he actually wants to be approached, sales can contact the customer when they have shown clear signs of a need or necessary action on behalf of the company.

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