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The Cold Call’s Not Dead, But It’s Close

  • Written by Michael Ballard, Lenovo
  • Published in Demanding Views

Michael Ballard LenovoIn 2007 it took a little more than three-and-a-half cold calls to reach a prospect. These days it takes eight. Each year it will take more. The trend is rapid and clear. What is to be done?

Plenty of industry headlines have declared the death of the cold call. But any marketer who survived the most recent holiday season ramp-up can attest that such calls remain all too alive. Year-end quotas are serious business and all salespeople want to hit their numbers. Each year, there’s inevitably a dash of pre-holiday panic in the sales community, so the cold calls kick into overdrive — that last-minute spray-and-pray in the hopes that even one in 50 calls might drive revenue a little closer to that magic number.

I used to make such calls, but these days I’m on the receiving end. Everyone wants a piece of that sweet, sweet Lenovo marketing budget. I get that, and I’m nothing but sympathetic to the plight of the salesperson. I understand and empathize with the pressure. We all have families to feed. When I transitioned to owning a budget, I happily accepted having a bullseye imprinted on my chest. For a while, I even indulged the occasional cold call as a necessary evil of how business gets done.

Here’s the thing: the cold call is no longer necessary and it’s time to retire it once and for all.

I’m not saying this out of mere irritation, or as a high-handed way to exaggerate the importance of my time. Rather, I’m saying it because there’s a better way. There are tools and technologies available that have erased the need for cold calling. These days, salespeople who ignore these tools in favor of their cold-call habit are wasting not only my time, but also their own. I very rarely listen to my voicemail, knowing it’s most likely not from a business-critical contact.

Don’t Ignore The Tools

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As a marketer and recovering gadget guy, I love new tools and technologies — and salespeople should, too. The B2B space offers a slate of tools that can help salespeople understand who is actually in market — at that moment — for a particular solution. Had someone described these tools to me 15 years ago during my sales years, I would have wept for joy. Here are three that I’ve seen work well:

Engagio offers account-based management software that alerts you to the interactions customers are having with you across multiple platforms including internal email — measuring their engagement across your entire account, including social media and all other assets. It enables salespeople to prioritize and customize their sales calls based on that engagement.

Bombora is a B2B data company known for its intent data. The company’s solution identifies which businesses are actively researching your products and services, thereby essentially raising their hands to say that they want to hear from you. Bombora tells you not just whom to call about a solution, but when. One campaign gave us a 61% increase in net-new contacts.

DiscoverOrg offers up-to-date org charts that enable sales reps to quickly identify and contact decision-makers and other key stakeholders in the purchase process. Multi-criteria search functionality provide a pathway to find, rank and sort target accounts based on their ideal customer profile thus allowing for personalized engagement. And now that DiscoverOrg works with Bombora, you can find the right contacts at companies that Bombora has identified as showing interest in your product.

Because I know tools like this exist, I can’t help but find cold calls more frustrating than I used to. There used to be an excuse for them — salespeople didn’t know who might be interested, so they felt they had to call everybody. But that excuse is gone.

So you’re probably asking, “Mike, what would you suggest then?” Let me be clear, I’m not saying you stop picking up the phone and calling someone. I’m also not saying you should only send emails. Instead, I’m encouraging you to do your research prior to a call or email send. Make sure that I am the right person responsible for your product or service. Also know that you are one of hundreds of people contacting me for business on a daily basis. You need to stand out.

Standing out is not done with subject lines that contain “Free Starbucks Gift Card” or “Want More Business?” Make it personal! Do some research. Show me you’re really interested.

For example, I usually use the term “bacon” in my posts or presentations — because it’s really good stuff! I respond to 99% of cold emails or calls if the rep mentions my love of bacon. Not only does it get my attention but it shows that this rep is dedicated enough to research me before making contact … that I’m not just one of the crowd. And by all means, stop telling me you “just want to talk about marketing and our strategies.”  

Sales folks, I really do understand your pain. And that’s why I’m letting you know that it’s time to put your cold-calling days behind you. Not for my sake, but for yours. There are, I’m delighted to say, much better ways.


Michael Ballard is the Senior Manager of Global Digital Marketing at Lenovo. He has over 15 years of B2B marketing experience in the technology marketplace. His passion for data-driven marketing and technology has elevated his team to win the Oracle Markie for Best Digital Marketing Ecosystem in 2016. And he likes bacon.