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Cold-Calling: Selling Ice to Eskimos

Aug 17, 2007
My career has been comprised of sales, sales management and recruiting. I've worked for some of the largest companies in the world: Wal-Mart, General Electric, Gannett, as well as a couple small ones and start-ups (including my current firm--no longer a start-up after 5 years in business). With the exception of one (the giant retailer) each company relied heavily on cold-calling to generate new business.

My definition of cold-calling is when a sales rep targets a company and/or individual that he or she thinks meets the demographics of a potential buyer and then without invitation (this is key, hence the italics) either picks up the phone or walks into their office in an attempt to initiate a sale. Cold-calling is marketing, pure and simple, albeit a caveman-like strategy in an electronic age.

I've been giving a lot of thought to this lately because until a year or so ago, our company relied heavily on cold-calling to generate new business. Our cold-calling efforts have delivered a decent chunk of revenue for us over the last few years, however last year I decided to abandon the strategy completely and I haven't looked back.

It is Thursday a.m. and so far on two occasions this week I've had a knock at my office door only to have four total strangers (two on each visit) walk into my 10"x10" office and proceed to launch into a sales pitch. The first pair was peddling a local tire dealership offering 90% tires (my car is under warranty at my dealership) and the second was for "guaranteed savings!" on my color printing (I probably print all of two documents a month in color).

All four used the same strategy: walk-in, get comfortable--one guy immediately sat down--and start talking at me like I'm a 9 year old. In both situations I had to stop them in mid-pitch to say, "Guys, I'm NOT interested. Thanks AGAIN for stopping by." You're probably wondering how these individuals got past our receptionist. Well, the short answer is we don't have one--we have a phone and a nearby directory. Our partner whose office is closest to the front door is usually the first person hit on by these door-knockers. He thinks it's cute to tell them that he doesn't have purchasing authority but to be sure to go see me because I hold the purse strings (not necessarily true)--so he can pawn "bad cop" responsibilities on me. But lately it's a role I'm embracing.

I now recognize what an outdated, old-school, ineffective strategy cold-calling is and it is one of the main reasons turnover in sales is so high. I would like to personally apologize to all those purchasing managers and perceived "decision-makers" that I dropped by over the years to have a little chit-chat with, completely interrupting their day and wasting both of our time.

Companies continue to employ cold-calling for a couple reasons: first, they perceive it to be cheap (it's not) and second, marketing (legitimate, creative, permission-based marketing) is hard (not always). Over the next few days or so I'm going to be discussing how our firm has been able to successfully secure new business without cold-calling a single person, while at the same time continuing to use proactive recruiting, what some would perceive as cold-calling (it's not) to find the highest qualified candidates for our client's open positions.
About the Author
Thad Greer is an Executive Headhunter with Priority Recruiting Solutions, Inc. http://www.priorityrecruiting.com, a nationwide executive search firm headquartered in South Florida. His blog, "Confessions from a Serial Recruiter", http://serialrecruiter.blogspot.com serves as a resource for employers and job seekers alike.
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