ChecklistCold Calling Still Works (If you’re good at it and have a little GRIT!)

For several years now, I have seen white-papers, received mailers, read social media posts, and even entire books proclaiming that “cold calling is dead”. I truly believe that this mindset has  been a major set-back for the entire sales universe. There is a distinction in the phrase that “cold calling is dead” which is  massively understood. Whoever “they” are, the originators of the message meant something very different. What they really meant  was that increased security, e-mail, caller ID, the Internet, and overwhelmed buyers, would require sales people to dramatically change their approach. This is absolutely true (and I get it!) Unfortunately, some people hear what they want to hear. They hear from some source that “cold calling is dead” and they let out a sigh of relief, wipe their brow, and plop down on their butt. Some salespeople have abdicated or lost the art of the cold call and look to someone or something else to build their pipeline. They hope that they get some leads (they wait patiently for “The Lead Fairy”), thinking that liking and forwarding lots of quotes on Linkedin or Facebook will bring in the revenue. Some salespeople have become entirely too passive on the front end of the sales process. Can you imagine a farmer skipping on seed planting?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating showing up uninformed and wasting your future client’s time. I am all for making “warm cold calls”, but it’s the salesperson who needs to take the initiative to put it on the burner. It always starts cold. It takes grit. Linda Kaplan Thaler & Robin Koval write in their terrific little book Grit to Great:

“Passion and perseverance, it turns out, matter more than talent or intelligence when it comes to being successful.”

We need more grit nowadays. I am all for work-life balance as long as it’s not an excuse to be lazy and abdicate your duty. There needs to be grit. Not spin your wheels grit, but move forward grit! No pain…no gain. Charlatans who tell you otherwise are either ignorant, deceivers, or are just trying to comfort themselves in  their personal quagmire of sulky, miserable non-performance. In other words, they are not focused on you by giving you “helpful, wise counsel”,  they are narcissistically focusing on themselves by getting you to do less so they won’t feel pressure and guilt. Run away! Run away!

In my 30-year sales career, I have seen a great deal of people come and go from a variety of organizations for all kinds of reasons, some good and some bad. The number one reason people left was because they were “not making enough money.” They were not making enough money because they were not selling enough to make enough money. The number one reason they did not seem enough is:

They did not do the work.

Specifically, they did not make the calls. Granted, some people were not very good at making calls. But that is not what got them. What got them is that they were not very good at making calls so… they stopped making calls. As I look back on my career as a salesperson, whenever there was a drop in my sales, it was linked to my activity—as was the ramp back up. As a sales leader, anytime sales dipped, it was due to an activity dip that I allowed to happen. I often get concerned when I hear a salesperson say, “I am trying to work smarter, not harder,” particularly when their sales results and sales activity are less than what is needed or they are capable of. It still takes grit! Just like there is no such thing as  weights that are really easy to lift. When you lift weights a bunch of times your muscles hurt! They need to hurt so you’ll know they are working and you are getting stronger.

No pain …no gain.

WeightsIt still takes intentional and deliberate effort to connect with people, get their attention, and provide them value. Salespeople who don’t want to do this, or refuse to, need to get better at it or change careers. The salesperson who can be a catalyst, who can take something cold, arouse interest and need, and then serve that client thus generating revenue, is a true sales professional. They will never ever be labeled as an order taker.

They also have wonderful job security.

Grit is legit.

A few things are critical for any individual or organization that wants to improve its sale results, particularly in the hunting arena (finding brand new clients):

  • Understanding how your  current clients specifically benefit from what you provide
  • Getting an understanding of how your future client might benefit through effective pre-approach. Make a HUNCH.
  • Completely focus on your future client. Look to provide value.
  • Execute hunches. Go in person, phone, text, connect on Linkedin, just make sure what you do works—and do it a number of times before you decide. Don’t just go for what’s most comfortable!
  • Establishing key activities (How many? Find your ratios.)
  • Measuring the performance in the key activities (How did you really do?)
  • MAKE A BUNCH OF CALLS! DAILY! (And shame on anybody that pooh-poohs that!)
  • Get salespeople coaching so that they get better at the activity. (Without a doubt, salespeople need to be better at this than ever).

Besides coaching salespeople to be better at business development and inspecting what actually gets done, the best thing that a sales leader can do is cast a compelling vision as to what the reward for strategic grit can be. Nobody wants to bang their head against the wall, but motivated, talented salespeople will be willing to do things that have been proven to work. They will do what it takes to get the results they want (Meaning that we better hire well and have the right people on the bus). Albert E. N. Gray said:

“The common denominator of success — the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful — lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”

He said that in 1940 and it is still true. It will always be true.

Another favorite author of mine is Tom Hopkins. I heard Tom live  in 1986 when I was in the first of my 14 years in the copier business. Tom gave me a piece of advice that I have treasured throughout my career:

G.O.Y.A (Get Off Your Backside)

If you get the wrong people on your sales team, you can count on them to say things like “Cold calling is dead”, and “Why can’t we get better marketing?” Get them to think differently. Hire people who think differently!

There is a quote that I like so much that it hangs on my office wall in two different places. It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech:


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

What does that have to do with cold calling? Just about everything (but only if you get it).

We need to be catalysts, we need to go on offense, and make it happen. We to need to enter the arena and dare greatly! We can’t wait for the Lead Fairy to bring us revenue or things to work on.  We need to get good at it, so that we get results and help people! Helping people is were we find the joy, and it starts with taking initiative and reaching out to someone who is not expecting us…a cold call! Are you ready to run out of the  tunnel?

(Oh, and there is so such thing as “The Lead Fairy.”)


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