A couple of months ago I was on a Roundtable discussion with Wendy Weiss, Nancy Solomon, Tibor Shanto and Jonathan Farrington over at the Top Sales Experts when the question arose as to whether business-to-business salespeople can be successful without cold calling.
My answer at that time—and still my answer today—is that of course sellers can be successful without cold calling, just as they can be successful without generating referrals or networking within their target market industry associations or consistently connecting with their prospects and clients through a disciplined communication program or by eliminating any given element of a strong, well defined business generation plan. There’s nothing magical about any individual prospecting method. They all work to one extent or another depending on how much time and effort the seller commits to learning and perfecting the particular method.
But I think the question that was asked really isn’t the right question. It isn’t a matter of can one succeed without cold calling (or generating referrals or networking where one’s prospects congregate), but rather why would one try to succeed without taking advantage of all of these proven strategies?
Now frankly, I’m not a big fan of cold calling in its most basic sense of “smiling and dialing.” I think there are far more effective phone strategies for business-to-business salespeople. But whether one uses the issue discovery strategy I use and teach or just picks up a list and starts dialing, the phone should be an integral part of how we connect with our prospects.
My business is built primarily on referrals, strategic networking, and using various media to connect with prospects. I’ve been very successful at using these strategies to connect with and meet some of my best prospects. Referrals and networking allow me to meet a great number of specific prospects I know I want to reach and using media such as books, articles, giving speeches and presentations, and being quoted as an expert in business and industry publications has brought many great prospects to me.
But no matter how good at generating referrals I am or how much time I invest in networking where I know a large number of great prospects will be or how many prospects my use of media cause to call me, there are still great prospects out there that I just can’t reach any other way than picking up the phone. I’m willing to bet you’re in exactly the same situation as I am.
During my three decades in sales, sales management, and consulting/training, I’ve met thousands of sellers who would rather commit murder than pick up the phone and call a total stranger. The fear of calling someone with the intent of setting an appointment is so overwhelming for some salespeople that they would rather fail in sales than pick up the phone.
The fear is real, just as the fear of public speaking is real. But just as you can overcome the fear of speaking in public, you can learn to master your fear of using the phone to prospect.
Although you can be a successful seller without using the phone to connect with strangers, you’re asking to succeed the hard way and you’re putting yourself at needless risk. The cold hard fact of the matter is that you can succeed without using the phone but you’re far more likely to fail than to succeed.
If you were in a fight for your life would you volunteer to have one of your hands tied behind your back? Of course you wouldn’t. No one would handicap themselves in such a manner when their life was at stake. So why would you handicap yourself by caving into your fear of connecting over the phone when your business life is at stake? Why would you volunteer to tie one of your hands behind your back and invite disaster?
We sellers have two primary ways to conquer our fear of using the phone:
The Nike “Just do it” method: Easy to say, hard to do. Just do it. Just pick up the phone and start dialing. This is the preferred method of many companies and managers—it doesn’t cost the company anything and being tough and doing what you know “needs to be done” is what “professionals” do. Not surprisingly it doesn’t work very often.
Building Confidence and Skills: Where the Nike method requires little, this strategy requires a great deal. It requires an investment of time and energy—and more than likely money—to learn and perfect the skills necessary to confidently pick up the phone and begin connecting with quality prospects. The salesperson or company will most likely have to invest in a trainer and coach to help the seller learn the required skills. The seller will have to invest the time and effort to learn, to practice, to screw up, and to be coached. But as the lessons are learned, the confidence increases and as the confidence increases, the phone becomes a tool that can be conquered, not feared.
If you insist on ignoring the phone as a way to connect with prospects, good luck. Many sellers have succeeded without the phone. Far, far, far more have failed. It’s your choice, but why would you want to substantially increase your chances of failure? The phone may never become your friend, but it doesn’t have to be your enemy. If your company won’t invest in helping you learn how to master the phone, invest in yourself. Your bank account, your career, and your family will be glad you did.