Cold Calling is dead. But we still need to know how to communicate well.A few days ago, I got a call from someone trying to sell me on enrolling into one of their online educational programs. I don’t have problem with this. After all, a week before the call, I had clicked on a web page advertisement indicating that I was interested in looking at some information from online universities. We all know that this is a marketing play. It’s a way for the advertising organization to get your information into their database and to filter in the people who are truly interested in their products and services. Today, everybody uses this strategy. It’s an effective and cost effective way to find which prospects are raising their hands and saying, “You have something of interest to me”.

What I have trouble accepting are the ensuing, poorly executed phone calls. The young woman I spoke with on this occasion launched right into her boring, cold calling script. It was so boring and unoriginal that I was in pain listening to it. Every time I asked her a question that threw her off her script, she snapped back to that phone track faster than an over-stretched rubber band suddenly cut. Not only was it a waste of my time, it wasn’t even entertaining. From the tone of the conversation, neither of us wanted to be on the call and neither of us wanted to be rude. Plus, she had a quota to fill. After about 10 minutes of this exercise, we ended the call where she politely thanked me for my time.

Pretty standard stuff as far as cold calls go.

On another occasion, I got a call from a guy who asked for me by name. He said I qualified for a free magazine subscription and all he needed to do was verify some information in order for me to get my free magazine. He then launched into his “read the entire card”, performance.

It was boring! The lack of enthusiasm in his voice didn’t help either.

You can tell when the person on the other end is reading a script. There is no life in their voice and they pause in some linguistically unusual places. My guess is that the misplaced hesitations occur at the end of the line that they are reading. They then have to scan back to the left hand side and find the beginning of the next line, making their speech sound, well, like they are reading a book.

Now, one thing I ask when I am pressed for time and the person just launches right into their script is, “Is this a good time?” It’s a way of saying that I don’t have time right now and they didn’t get permission to move forward in the sales process.

So, while this guy was reading from his card, I stopped him and asked him if this was a good time. He replied, “Yes, it’s a good time for me.” and continued with his boring script!

Cold calling is one of those things that sales people really hate to do. There is a lot of rejection involved and it just seems very ineffective at times. So as sales people, we approach it with some degree of trepidation and an “I don’t want to do this so let’s just get it over with” attitude. I’ve done it myself and I can say with a fair amount of certainty that it isn’t much fun.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a rash of programs proclaiming that cold calling is outdated. Emblazoned with descriptive titles like, Cold Calling Is Dead, No More Cold Calling, and End Cold Calling Forever, they take the approach that cold calling today is a useless activity. If we take the cold calling definition passed down to us from the 50’s, then I’ve to agree that it’s pretty ineffective and cold calling should be buried. Imagine the classic sales rep, going from door-to-door, trying to sell something that he doesn’t truly believe in to someone he’s never met before who has no real need or interest in him or what he’s selling. But he does it because he is told that sales is a numbers game and if he hits plenty of people, he’ll make his numbers.

These new programs all take the approach that it’s a lot better to talk with someone who has agreed to be contacted. These prospects saw something that they liked and they have said, or at least acknowledged, “Yes, I am interested in your online class, widget, or book”. Now the sales rep has a qualified lead or a warm prospect to follow up with. There is a reason to make the call.

Except that the real problem still exists and it’s the problem I hear when people “warm call” me. They don’t know how to effectively communicate the value proposition or conduct the discovery process.

It does not matter if I’ve raised my hand and said, “I’m interested, please contact me”, or if I am a cold call in the traditional sense. I am not interested in buying from someone who is reading from a card and asking me formulaic questions targeted towards the general populace. It shows that they don’t have an understanding of my needs or an interest in helping me get what I want.

Sales is not a numbers game. The prospect you have on the line right now does not want to be treated like a number. They don’t want to be the 98th call you’ve made today. They want to solve their problems and they want to feel special. That prospect is proclaiming, “I am not a number. I am a free man!” (Sorry, just could not help myself).

Even in these “no more cold calling” programs where prospects raise their hand and say that they’re interested, you still have to know what to say and how to say it. That takes communication skills along with a healthy dose of self-confidence in order to put aside your own wants and focus on their needs.

Let’s face it. It doesn’t matter how many qualified leads you pump through at the top end of your funnel. If you don’t have enough skill in gaining rapport and communicating with the person who has said that they’re interested, they’ll leave you to go find someone who can fill their need, no matter how enticing your offer. Even if we use the old assertion that sales is a “numbers game”, then “X” number of interested prospects times “0” skill level yields “0” sales and a lot of dissatisfied people.

During my time with Dale Carnegie Training of Ohio and Indiana, Lance Tyson, the president of the company, has given us a consistent message; your sales production will depend on how you open a sales call. You ability to get the person’s attention and deliver a value proposition that is of value to them will determine your overall effectiveness.

Here are three quick tips that will improve your ability to gain rapport when you cold call a prospect or follow-up on a marketing lead:

  1. Ask a question bearing on time. Ask your contact if it’s a good time for them to have a conversation. They’ll appreciate the fact that you respect their time. If it isn’t a good time, it leaves the door open for you to set up a scheduled meeting at a future date.
  2. Ask for a meeting, not an appointment. You make appointments with your doctor. You make appointments with your dentist. You make appointments with your lawyer. Anytime you make an appointment, it involves money leaving your hands and receiving a fair amount of pain in return. You want to be a consultant for your clients and bring some sanity to their lives. You don’t want to be lumped in the group that takes money and delivers pain. Regardless of the veracity of this association, it is the prevailing perception. In marketing and sales, perception is reality. Ask for a meeting.
  3. Talk about something that interests them. If you are “cold calling”, you’ll have a little harder time doing this, so you’ll have to do some investigative legwork before you call. But if you are following up on a marketing lead, then you already have something that they are interested in. They opted into your marketing program for a reason, regardless if they downloaded a white paper, signed up for a newsletter or checked a box stating that they want your speaking schedule. Politely ask them the reason for requesting your documentation.

Don’t get me wrong. I like programs like Cold Calling is Dead and No More Cold Calling. They show a fundamental shift in how we are thinking about marketing and sales. In the 21st century, it’s important to get the other person’s attention and interest in your product or service, or as Dale Carnegie said, to “arouse in the other person an eager want”. But it’s also important to be genuinely interested in other people and know how to communicate with other people in order to understand their wants, needs and desires.

So regardless if your marketing campaign involves old style cold calling or new style lead generation with follow up calls, develop your communication skills so that you can effectively deliver your value proposition and understand the needs of the people you are calling. You’ll have more happy clients, make more sales and have less stress than other sales reps who are still using old style “cold calling” techniques.

Good selling.