Several years ago I started my software company on a shoestring budget. It was quite possibly the worst time to start a business, as the dot-com bubble had burst and the stock market had already tanked. We’d spent 6 months building our first product, but had no customers and didn’t know how to sell or market software. We were out in the ocean trying to learn how to swim while already neck-deep in the water!
After playing the search engine optimization game, trying online advertising, and working local connections and organizations, we were at a standstill. We had a great product with a strong team but no customers. Why wouldn’t people buy from us? Why weren’t the sales rolling in? What could we do? The answer was cold calling.
Not Just Sales!
Cold calling was invaluable to us because it got us a foot in the door of a range of different companies, and allowed us to conduct powerful market research. We literally picked up the phone and called every Web designer and Internet marketing company within 50 miles. Times were slow for other companies as well, so people were readily available to talk with us. We set up as many face-to-face meetings as possible, and used these opportunities simply to meet with other Web design firms and talk about their businesses.
Several of my staff had been web consultants before and we each had different knowledge about the industry. Sitting down and talking with other Web professionals provided a much-needed understanding of how they operated their businesses, including what their plans were, and what areas they needed help to develop.
Through cold calling we learned that a lot of Web designers wanted to focus on their core competency as graphic artists and information architects, not spend their time wrangling with different scripting languages and databases. This knowledge was the answer to our marketing problems. We decided to hone our cold calling efforts to companies that focused on design first, and specialized programming second. Once we took the time to understand our target market, we could make more efficient use of our time, and gradually make the sales that built our business into a success.
Through cold calling we were able to conduct face-to-face market research at no charge (other than our time, and the cost of driving across town). With our newfound knowledge, we continued to use cold calls to our advantage, talking with a specific market of graphic and Web designers as we introduced them to our software.
Cold calling has negative connotations among the small business community, especially as why-are-they-calling-me-at-dinner-time-to-sell-me-long-distance-services-that-save-me-$1-a-month telemarketing puts a bad taste in people’s mouths. But cold calls are actually a very positive way for companies to generate new business.
Let’s address several of the myths of cold calling, and explore some of the ways you can successfully implement this technique. Cold calling is important for every business –large or small!
When Cold Calling is Important
Three areas of business where cold calling is important are:
- generating new business
- instant market research
- developing business partnerships
Business-to-business cold calling is a necessary and standard part of the business world. Don’t think of cold calling as picking up the phone and blindly dialing the next person on a call list, but as a strategic part of business development.
Generating New Business
Who doesn’t want to generate new business? Nobody that I know! Use cold calling to your advantage. How about that big account you always wanted? Go get it! Do your research and pick up the phone to make something happen. Find the right contact person and do whatever it takes. Get in front of the decision maker, and prove you’re the best company for the job.
Instant Market Research
Don’t know if there’s room for another company to specialize in localizing English language Websites to Spanish speaking markets? Call some local companies and ask. Call across town to a factory that produces dog food and see what the firm’s business strategy is for Latin America. Cold calling gets people on the phone answering questions. You’ll be surprised at how much information you can learn in a short phone conversation.
Developing Business Partnerships
If your firm is strong at Web design and Internet strategy, and the firm down the street has an experienced background in print and old media marketing, develop a partnership.
Partnerships are a great way to team up and provide best-of-breed services to clients. They provide an opportunity for introduction to new clients and expand your company reach without costing you a dime. Isn’t it time you picked up the phone and introduced yourself to that complimentary firm in your town? It isn’t cold calling — it’s the first step towards a mutually beneficial business partnership.
Cold Calling Myths Debunked
Cold calling conjures up images of warehouses full of people wearing phone headsets racing to see how many calls they can make in an hour. The typical “boiler room” scene where a high pressure salesman swindles some unsuspecting prospect isn’t how most cold calls are made. Let’s look at the reality behind the two most common cold calling myths.
Cold Calling Isn’t For Me
Yes it is! Just because you’re the owner/manager/designer/artist doesn’t mean cold calling isn’t for you. As long as you are a partner in a company, you’re likely responsible for:
- new business generation,
- market research, and
- business partnership development
— the three mainstays of a living, growing business. These tasks need to be completed, and you’re the expert who should do them. Get past your fears of rejection and make the call!
Cold Calling is Only for Businesses that Target Consumers
Not true! Cold calling is how business gets done. I bet every company that has continued to grow over the recent economic slowdown has a team of dedicated cold callers working on inside sales and new business development. Not because they need to pay their bills, but because they want to grow and expand their businesses.
Just as relationships and current customers keep a business running, cold calls keep a business growing.
5 Tips for Cold Calling
- Be Positive
Cold calling isn’t a chore, it’s a powerful business opportunity. Be positive with yourself, your colleagues, and especially the people you’re cold calling. If you’re not enthusiastic and positive about what you offer, people are going to know right away.
- Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!
It can’t be said enough: preparation is the key to effective cold calls. Know who you’re calling, what they do, how they do it, how they differentiate themselves, and most importantly, how your offering fits their business. This point can’t be overstated. Preparation will take you far in developing business from a cold call.
- Be Yourself
While this might sound obvious, just be yourself on the phone. Don’t try to be something you’re not, in the hope that it will help you get in the door. You want to develop a long term relationship with the prospective customer. You’re going to talk with that person again and again, so work to develop an authentic relationship.
- Don’t Take It Personally
You will get rejected. Period. It’s hard at first, especially if you take it personally. Don’t! Let that rejection roll off your back, and move on. For every call you make, there are plenty more you can make. Be persistent and learn from your experience. Your dedication will pay off in the long run. If it doesn’t, you need to change your strategy and figure out what does work.
- Ask The Right Questions
You can’t just cold call someone, ramble on about what your company does, and expect them to sign up right away. You need to ask the right questions. Learn what they do and what they can use help with.
A favorite question I use to open a conversation is “I was wondering if you could help me out?” People typically want to help other people and this lowers their guard. Try it â€“ you’ll be surprised at how well it works. Once you have someone helping you, ask questions that are going to elicit an emotional response. Not yes or no questions for which the answer can be terse, but questions that require a valuable response you can use.
Good Online Resources
For more information on cold calling and business development, check out the plethora of resources available online. Here are four great online resources that can help you develop your skills:
- Inc.com – The Inc Magazine Guide to Cold Calls
Inc.com provides many professional articles to help you perfect the art of cold calling. The Web page is actually a collection of articles and has some of the best resources and information available online.
- American Express Guide to Making Cold Calls (No longer available)
American Express publishes a short guide to cold calls. The guide covers the major points and provides a couple of handy tips and tricks. Be sure to use the site as you prepare for your first cold call.
- Wemmers Consulting Sales Articles
Rick Wemmers is a well known sales consultant who has many years of experience. He publishes his own articles and newsletter that provide great ideas and information on improving sales for any company, via cold calls and other tested methods.
- SitePoint Bundle Up for Cold Calling â€“ Parts 1 and 2
Chris Yeh provides a well thought-out article on cold calling where he focuses on the preparation and script aspect of developing new business on the phone. The article is essential reading for those who are about to make their first call.
Onward and Upward with Cold Calling
Cold calling should be incorporated into the daily life of every business.
Once we understood the value of cold calling, we hired a person to do business development cold calls full time, in an effort to introduce ourselves and develop relationships with Web design firms across the United States. This was one of the best decisions we’ve made. Cold calls are a powerful mechanism that shouldn’t be overlooked by growing businesses.
Do your research, and start cold calling today!