Tech enthusiasts joke that if Alexander Graham Bell had known about the telemarketing and cold calling he was about to unleash on the world with the invention of the telephone, he never would have released it.
Ten years ago, we declared, “Cold calling is dead.” Inc. has called it “a waste of time,” and sales blogs devote serious real estate to talking salespeople through their hatred of cold calls. Thousands of existing businesses, however, were built on the backs of cold calls, so it seems unrealistic to declare the entire exercise “dead” in modern-day business.
But a Keller Center Research Report studied real estate agents’ efforts at making cold calls and found that only 28 percent were even answered. For every 330 calls made, one appointment was set. It took nearly 7.5 hours to complete 209 calls, so that meant it took a day and a half of cold calling to snag one conversion (in this case, an appointment).
Similarly, Salesforce’s B2B research revealed that some lead channels perform better than others when it comes to cold calling. While referrals convert at nearly 4 percent, lead lists convert at a paltry .02 percent. Leap Job reported that only 2 percent of cold calls overall result in an appointment. It all hardly seems worth it.
But what would take cold calling’s place?
While some products have long been part of a “planned obsolescence” platform — here’s looking at you, computers and smartphones — wholesale tactics are now falling by the wayside. Old-school marketing methods are moving aside so data can take their place. Door-to-door sales are taking a backseat to e-commerce. Brochures are making way for digital newsletters.
But cold calling wasn’t intended to fit this mold. Security breaches, social media, and other modern technological developments have made people more private, and with that privacy comes a reluctance to engage with unknowns. Complicate this with the fact that technology has also delivered us features like caller ID and voicemail, and it’s easy to see how efforts at making one-to-one connections have found themselves dethroned.
Sales, however, is all about building relationships and fueling business growth through personal connections. If cold callers can’t reach people on the other end of the phone line, how can they use their charisma and knowledge to convince prospects to find out more?
The truth is that sales is shifting to a new dynamic, one that still capitalizes on one-to-one connections but uses methods beyond verbal communication to establish them. It’s smarter for businesses, too: Many of technology’s developments over the past two decades allow brands to scale their efforts, resulting in a bigger bang for their buck. Marketing automation and personalization have joined forces to eliminate the lack of camaraderie plaguing so many old-school marketing materials, so spray-and-pray tactics feel a lot more like “spray to play.”
Here’s where cold calling is moving next:
Email: Smart salespeople don’t put all their eggs in one basket; they use an integrated, multi-pronged approach to sales: calls, emails, social media, and more. “Email produces, of those methods, the highest-quality meetings because when you send an email, people have to open it, read it, think about it, and reply — there’s no time constraint like there is on the phone, when you might catch them off guard,” says Jeff Winters, the CEO of Sapper Consulting.
Winters says cold calling results in in-the-moment pressure, which can result in lower-quality meetings. Emails give leeway, allowing people to consider and commit to a sales pitch; they’ve indicated thoughtful intent to move forward. Email, he points out, can result in fewer calls, but they tend to be of higher quality — eliminating so much of the work required of the 330 cold calls to close one appointment.
Social Media: Social selling is the other side of the cold-calling coin. Like cold calls themselves, social media outreach demands a lot of time and effort to pay off. The difference is that social selling tends to be more visible, meaning the initial efforts — and the public interactions that play out on social media — are seen by many prospects at once. That means influence spreads further faster, and people develop brand impressions based off others’ conversations. That’s not even taking into account DMs and other private conversations.
“Unless you’re still living in the world of selling via a phone bank sweatshop, then you understand that cold-calling is really more about warm calling or contacting people who already have some sort of a knowledge of you or relationship with you,” explains Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter. “In this context, social media is a great vehicle; however, it still takes time and must be done in the context of a marketing strategy. To spend time tweeting away hour after hour or playing around visiting everyone’s Facebook page is not going to get you anywhere but broke.”
Inbound Marketing: Access to online research has, in some cases, rendered salespeople themselves obsolete. After all, if people can find the answers to their questions on a website or via a chatbot, they have no need to speak to a live person. In fact, a Demand Gen report found that 70 percent of a B2B buyer’s journey is completed before making contact with a sales rep.
This requires collaboration with the marketing department, in most cases, but companies are increasingly leaning on retargeting, personalization, and cookies to track what prospects are searching for and considering. Building campaigns around gathering their attention during the research phase undoubtedly attracts more person-to-person interactions for sales professionals, closing the loop for those who have struggled to get people to pick up the phone.
If Alexander Graham Bell had known what he was unleashing, perhaps he would have put the cold-calling genie back in the bottle. But if salespeople — and customers — hadn’t suffered through cold calling, they may not have pushed to develop all these platforms that do cold calling’s job better than it ever could.
Editor In Chief at ReadWrite
Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.