Cold calling is one those things you can bring up in conversation with a room full of sales professionals and damn near start a riot arguing its worth. There aren’t many fence sitters on the topic — you pretty much either like it or hate it.

Me? I think its one of the most misunderstood sales tools available in B2B complex sales environments. Here’s why:

There are only five ways to reach a named contact

Something unique about B2B complex sales is the ability to identify and profile target accounts. Sales in this environment aren’t made randomly to people yo meet on the street. Complex sales markets are well defined and target account lists are typically shallow. That well defined and shallow market affords the opportunity to research and profile buying decisions and decision makers within organizations responsible for particular purchases.

[info]Following is an important concept to grasp.[/info]

If I know who you are, where you work, and the basic way in which you go about your job, there are only six ways I can reach you:

  • Drive to your office and seek to meet you
  • Mail you something
  • Email you something
  • Fax you something
  • Try to find someone who knows you and ask for an introduction
  • Call you on the phone

That’s it.

A seventh strategy could be to try to attract your attention on the Internet via social media — that’s silly and a waste of time. Remember, I already know who you are.

So, of the six viable options above, calling you is the most immediate and cost effective tactic to use. Email isn’t bad, but I’d have to find your email address first; better to just pick up the phone and call you.

The rub is you have to say something that makes sense to the person you’re calling

Here’s the cliff note on effective cold calling: You have to make calls that are relevant, driven by purpose, with clear intent.

  • Relevant: There’s no such thing as an unwelcome call, letter, or message that’s relevant to the reader. Relevancy begins and ends with the worldview of the person you’re targeting. You have to know your audience and speak to them about things they care about. You’re timing of the call may be off, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve nailed their worldview with the message.
  • Purpose: Calling someone with a purpose means it’s not random — there’s a logical, compelling reason for your call. Purpose is powerful because it answers the question Why me?
  • Intent: This is related to the call to action — What do you want now that you have me on the phone? The called party needs to understand what you want them to do next and why it makes sense to do so.

But what about permission marketing?

You may be wondering: Aren’t cold calls interruptions? In today’s world, shouldn’t I get permission first to deliver a message?


There’s nothing wrong with permission marketing, it’s just that relying on it to contact people in a target group — people who are easily identified — is overlooking the obvious and fastest way to  reach decision makers and decision making teams: pick-up the phone and call them about something they care about.

You don’t need permission to call someone with a relevant message that’s specifically tuned to their role and responsibility in an organization you’ve identified as one needing to act to make a sale.

If you’re going to toss random shit stuff at me, then yes, you better have permission. But we’re talking about B2B complex sales here. This isn’t the bush league of sales.

[note]If you’re randomly picking-up the phone and calling people in a fevered attempt to generate a lead, you’re wasting time. You might as well start a blog and post a lonesome request for someone to call you.[/note]

Here’s a quick example of what I’m talking about

A client I worked with sells a professional service to K-12 school districts of a given size. Using a profile of their ideal target market and associated organizational structure, we were able to identify a little over 600 school districts that on paper were a good fit for their services.  The thing about school districts is they are all structured about the same. So, we were able to further profile titles and responsibilities of people they should contact in each account. A simple process and search identified the names of decision makers in each target account.

At this point we have a few options:

  • We can grab a group of keywords and slam social media sites and write blog posts like crazy hoping to draw the attention of executives in school districts of a given size and scale (but we needed to sell something this month, quarter, and year)
  • We can mail them something (we decided to use this as a secondary contact method)
  • We can email them something (if we can get their email addresses)
  • We can visit them (if we can eat the expense and live with the fact we we can only meet a couple accounts a day)
  • We can fax them something (need their fax number)
  • We can poke around LinkedIn and make some calls looking for an introduction (that sounds slow and painful)
  • We can pick-up the phone and call the person we know we need to talk to in each account (BINGO!)

Keeping the story short, we developed a core story, started conversations with a telephone call, and secured meetings week after week.

[quote]We went from sporadically setting an appointment every week or two to consistently hitting weekly appointment goals. ~ E. Davis, Optimizon[/quote]

The bottom line

Cold calling isn’t for every market, but it fits like a glove in B2B complex sales environments. If you’re not calling because you think it’s an old tactic that doesn’t work, think again. A core story delivered with relevance, purpose, and intent trumps any concern about interruptions and negative fallout therefrom.

Any time you know who you need to reach to deliver a message, simply call them. You’ll be glad you did.

What say you?


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