Cold calling sucks. I know for most of you, this isn’t news. The thing is, it isn’t difficult, it’s just miserable.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of having any sort of inside sales job – from agency recruiter to account manager to fundraiser – then you’ve probably spent most of your professional life dialing for dollars, continuously cranking out the cold calls.
Cold calling is what happens when sales slows down; it’s the biz dev equivalent to the prep work they make servers do between meal rushes.
Any sort of downtime is anathema to anyone making commission or paying hourly workers, respectively, which means when business slows down, inevitably, busywork picks up.
Room for Improvement.
For anyone managing accounts, that busywork inevitably involves picking up the phone and facing the onslaught of rejection, hangups and futile conversations that go with the inside sales territory. The only person for whom cold calls are more painful than the sales guy is the prospect on the other line; there’s nothing worse than a conversation neither party really wants to be having. Awk-ward.
I’m going to make an extended analogy here, so bear with me for a minute, but hey – I’ve never metaphor I didn’t like. Think, for a minute, about that one time you went and grubbed some fast food, and woke up to discover you’d left a cheeseburger in the bag overnight, just sitting there on the counter.
With no refrigeration, it’s room temperature, and the cheese and toppings have melted together into a singular pile of…off-yellow. It’s kinda gross, but it’s only been out there a couple of hours, and it’s not going to kill you, right?
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You give it the sniff test, and it still smells pretty fresh – or as fresh as a fast food burger can be, I suppose. And then you think, “eh, what the hell? No one will know,” but just before you’re about to take the first bite, you realize just what you’re about to do.
Gross. I mean, seriously, dude – day old fast food? If you live in a barn or a dorm, maybe. But you’re better than that. Right?
Truth is, I know a lot of people who would probably make the right call (I’m guessing) and NOT eat it. Truth is, I might. Don’t know, really; it depends on what I drank the night before (and how much was drank, TBH).
Regardless, I bet that we’ve all been in that situation (OK, maybe it was pizza or some shit, but you get the point), where we actually give serious, if passing thought, to eating something we know we shouldn’t stick into our bodies the first time around, much less after it’s started to go stale.
But we’ve all at least thought about eating that burger before, and no matter whether or not you give in, the inevitable conclusion of both decisions is a bit of embarrassment and self-loathing.
“Dude, you actually thought about eating that?,” you ask yourself, wondering what you were thinking when you choose wisely; let’s not get started on the shame that ensues after actually grubbing on that trash burger…or, uh, so I can only assume.
It’s one of those classic moments where you go a little lower than you’d like, and have to own up to the fact that maybe you need to reevaluate some of the choices you’ve made that have gotten you to this low point in your life.
Well, my friends – all I can say is, that is cold calling.
Yeah, I know. I reached a little bit, but day old fast food and cold calling are pretty much the same thing; you realize that you’re making a bad decision every time you pick up the phone, even though sometimes, you think twice about how to step it up when it comes to business development and demand generation.
Cold calling, unfortunately, is a fact of life. I know. I’ve done a whole lot of it, and it’s been every bit as repulsive, repugnant and retched as any old fast food ever – even Arby’s. And that’s not even palatable the first time around.
But if you have to face the specter of picking up the phone and hoping for the best, here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned to make this necessary evil somehow suck just a little bit less.
So Far Gone.
Cold calling scares the shit out of people. I get that; the first time I had to hit the phones, I was reduced to something of a nervous wreck. I had only started a short time before. Being the new employee, I didn’t think I was exactly in the position yet to say what I was actually thinking:
“So…you want me to randomly call these people I’ve never met or dealt with in my life out of the blue and talk to them about something that I just started learning about last week? Neat!”
A few calls in, and I slowly began to realize my fear was unfounded. I was scared of the no, but my first day on the phones, I barely got to talk to anyone. It was just calling, and calling, and calling…and calling.
No one answers the phone anymore, which made me feel a little bit better about having to keep dialing “9” to place an external call and wait until some gatekeeper gave me the boot, or (more likely) I went straight to some generic voicemail box I’m convinced no one ever bothered to check.
Maybe that was the point.
As hard as getting someone on the phone was, however, getting past that initial gatekeeper proved imminently more daunting. They are the worst part about the worst part of business – which is saying something.
But I still hate them – even though it’s been a while since I was in inside sales, the loathing lives on. Douches.
Gatekeepers are part troll, part goblin, and pure evil, mostly. These people lead largely miserable existences whose work lives largely consist of picking up a phone, routing calls and ensuring that the candy dish and waiting room magazines stay stocked.
While they’re at the bottom of their company’s totem pole, however, they have the power of the phone – and are determined to use it, because this is really the only power they get, mostly.
This leads to some sort of narcissistic belief that they’re the backbone of the company just because they get to choose whose calls make it through, who gets a meeting booked or who gets summarily hung up on or ignored (this being most people).
The worst among them play this power game where they pretend to have power they really don’t, and act like they’re in charge – asking a bunch of asinine questions and making manifold random requests without having the authority to do anything but put you in touch with the real decision maker.
Of course, if you’re cold calling, this is one power game you’ve got to play, even if it’s almost always futile.
If You’re Reading This…
Once, I had a job with an SEO company. I sat next to a guy who’d been there long enough to have figured out the only way to keep his sanity while continuously cold calling was to have some fun and say the most ridiculous things he could think of to the buyer.
Our paychecks relied solely on cold calling; we had to sell placements, or we didn’t get paid.
But that didn’t seem to deter him from looking for levity instead of leads.
I remember one day, though, something snapped; he had spent a half hour smooth talking some gatekeeper, only to get the runaround of “not right now,” the refusal to schedule a follow up, the ambiguous, smug and self-satisfied “thanks so much for calling” as they hang up.
And hang up. And hang up some more.
I remember on one of his calls, seeing his face subtly change. As the gatekeeper began drilling him for information, he asked, point blank: “listen, do you have the authority to actually make these kinds of decisions at your company, or are you really just an admin having a slow day?” OH, SNAP. Yes, he went there.
That’s how bad it got. He was so tired of hearing no that he spent an entire day letting every gatekeeper he came across exactly what he felt about them, how their lives were failures and they were powerless to do anything in their own companies, so he hoped that their bitchiness somehow made them feel OK about their miserable professional existence.
Hey, it was pretty magical to see the tables turned for once. The magic soon ran out, of course, as he was let go – it’s hard to make money when you’re trolling your prospects, but I don’t think he minded. At least he went down with his head up.
Now, let me say that I don’t personally have any problems with receptionists or admins or whomever’s manning your company’s main phone line. I’ve had jobs as a receptionist, one as a secretary, and a couple as an “administrative assistant,” even.
The role was the same at all of these, of course – and a bit part of that was having to play the proverbial gatekeeper. It comes with the territory as much as cold calling comes with being in inside sales.
I understand that there are two sides to the coin here; it’s just that in my experience, more gatekeepers seem to be complete and total dickheads than even the most aggressive cold caller or determined telesales professional out there.
And that’s saying something.
Nothing Was the Same.
At one point in my career, I had the, uh, pleasure of working for one of the country’s biggest mobile phone carriers. Believe it or not, people still use the phone for stuff like customer service, billing and buying stuff like more phone lines or a cell phone upgrade.
It’s hard to believe, but not everyone out there has yet switched over to online purchasing, and many still rely on the old fashioned phone as their primary commercial conduit.
And when they wanted to buy something from that mobile phone carrier, they called up my team.
I was housed in a building with 150 sales reps; just up the street, another nondescript building housed an equal number of customer service professionals. All of us were there to handle any incoming calls, and the numbers support the fact that there were more of those phone calls than you’d probably guess.
People STILL talk on the phone. People STILL call up sales or customer service or tech support instead of going online. There are still a ton of people out there who want to deal with a “real” person and who value that interpersonal interaction more than digital anonymity, convenience be damned.
The downside to this, of course, is that a lot of those “real” people who they’re calling when they choose to pick up the phone instead of go online have no desire whatsoever to talk to another person, deal with a customer or do anything other than get through the call as quickly as possible.
This, in fact, describes most everyone I met in both inside sales and customer service over the years – they’re all misanthropes sentenced to the punishment of perpetually putting up with people and dealing with the general public on a daily basis.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.
Thank Me Later.
If you hate people, then why would you get a job that requires interacting with them? It’s like in HR; people people mostly dislike people, I’ve found.
Similarly, if you don’t like talking on the phone, then why would you get a job that requires talking on the phone all day? Beats me, but that sounds like many recruiters I’ve come in contact with, honestly.
The only reason I can think of is the same reason anyone would accept a job that required cold calling as a core competency – because it pays the bills.
Money is a powerful motivator, even if it means having to put up with something as shitty as hitting the phones all day. It’s a living.
Often, not a bad one, either.
Did I enjoy the fact that when the pipeline stopped flowing and the queue of inbound callers started drying up, then I’d have to sit on some auto-dialer making as many outbound calls as possible, even though I knew 99% of the time, no one would actually answer.
But for that one person, maybe, just maybe, I could convince them to upgrade their account or buy some new service. No. I didn’t enjoy that one bit. I dreaded it, in fact.
Those so called “cold calling campaigns” that constituted our outbound efforts were not, in fact, COLD calls. They were systematically selected warm leads who were flagged by some software that showed they were “priority customers,” that is, their accounts had some upgrade eligibility or existing sales opportunity already attached.
We had a reason for calling, and an even value exchange. But even with all of that, guess how many of the leads I actually got through to were happy to talk to a mobile phone sales rep during weekday afternoons? Yeah. Not too many. And the ones who were, well, there was clearly something screwed up with those few weirdos who seemed genuinely excited to hear from you. Weirdos..
For those of you who have to cold call all day, look, I get it. And I know it’s a thankless job, but the thing is, if you’ve got the cajones to suck it up and pick up the phone, you’ve got a skill set that’s way to rare in business these days.
I’m not sure why people are so scared of making calls, but the thing is, it’s still a much more effective way to break through to buyers and close business than email, social and the myriad online networks that are too noisy to get heard by the people who matter most. The thing is, online is easy. And cold calling, as I’ve stated, sucks.
But that so few people are willing to even do it – much less do it well – means that while cold calling may not be that hard, or even really a “skill,” it’s also a huge competitive advantage if you suck it up and hit the phones.
While the odds aren’t great, they’re better than the overwhelming majority of recruiters and sales professionals who don’t even bother trying. I promise.
About the Author:
Alexis Gingerella is the operational brainpower behind RecruitingDaily, responsible for managing client deliverables and tracking results, keeping the team on task and on time.
Alexis has over 8 years of marketing and sales experience for companies such as Magnetics, Verizon and NetBiz.com.