Telephone Prospecting is a Critical Skill for Complex Sales Success
Guide to episode
- Prospecting used to be part of sales
- As buying habits changed, salespeople got lazy
- The majority of your potential buyers aren't actively in the market - you have to reach them proactively
- Cold calling works, and can help to differentiate your company and your team
Hi, I’m Ed Marsh. Welcome to this episode of Signals from the OP. Signals is designed to put new ideas and perspectives in front of busy industrial company executives, in brief, easily digestible videos.
Prospecting for Capital Equipment Projects
Many presidents and CEOs of machinery manufacturing companies started their careers in capital equipment sales. The prospecting playbook from the 80s relied heavily on cold calling – both telephone prospecting and the in-person type. I’ve heard and shared many nostalgic anecdotes about sales reps driving around to the shipping dock and working their way in from there.
While pay phones helped to check in with the office for messages, most phone cold calling was done on days reserved for that in the office. Of course, cold calling was necessary. Aside from networking, referrals, and trade shows, there weren’t many ways to meet prospects. You received a few inquiries from industrial directories and yellow page listings – but most sales were created by industrial salespeople working industrial parks and manufacturing directories.
It’s a different world today. Now locked gates prevent access to the loading dock, and, of course, no serious salesperson was ever content simply leaving a line card at the reception desk. And prospects conduct research online preferring the anonymity of self-service research to enduring mediocre salespeople.
That’s the premise of inbound marketing or what some call content marketing. It’s especially effective with long sales cycle, and complex sales that people tend to research extensively over months or even years. Even companies that build amazing content and great search reach will still only attract and convert a portion of those who are consciously trying to solve a related problem, achieve a related outcome, or purchase a comparable product or service.
Reaching Buyers Not Actively in Market
Research shows that only 3% of your potential market is actively thinking about buying your product or service at any given time. Another 40% are open to it given the right circumstances. In other words, at least half the market would consider doing something to spend less or earn more – the fundamental business motivators. And among the other half there are certainly relationships to establish and insights to share so that when they are also in the market, they know where to turn.
That means outbound prospecting. You must take a multiprong approach to business development as I discussed in another recent video. The good news is that in my experience many companies realize this, at least at some level. But while the outbound prospecting chitter-chatter acknowledges this, the pitter-patter is often anemic.
I hear lots of justifications and rationales.
- “Our industry is different.”
- “Our buyers don’t want to talk to sales until they have a project.”
- “Nobody in our industry uses LinkedIn.”
- “Our buyers are engineers who don’t use chat.”
Etc. etc. etc.
And that’s just about prospecting in general.
Is B2B Cold Calling Still Effective?
Add in telephone prospecting – cold calling we used to call it – and the hysteria quickly dials up to level 12.
- “Nobody’s in the office anymore.”
- “I don’t take cold calls.”
- “Nobody answers any more.”
- “It’s hard to find mobile numbers.”
- “Gatekeepers have gotten too good.” And of course – “cold calling doesn’t work.”
And they’re all right insofar as the point they're making is that sales is harder than it used to be. For sure. And so, our playbooks, process, methodology, sales enablement, and skills all have to improve. Successful outbound sales requires multichannel approaches that combine email, social selling, conversational sales, direct mail – especially 3D, networking, SMS, sales video, team selling, and….drum roll, please…. the telephone. Strong sales teams constantly improve their cold call scripts, and they coach, role play, record and analyze, and practice telephone sales – even for enterprise, long-sell cycle, and complex sales.
Now, there are different schools of thought. Some argue that having a name appear on caller ID unanswered and leaving carefully crafted voice mails are contributing aspects in an omnichannel prospecting effort. Others argue that those who prospect by phone should never leave a message but call repeatedly at different times of day to reach someone. And others advocate leaving messages with no reference to the sales subject matter. And each is right – they practice, refine, and perform with confidence and it works.
Cold Calling to Differentiate Your Team
Let’s pause for a moment though. Think about how most prospecting is done now – an endless stream of inane emails. Of course, that’s not terribly successful. Very few people use the telephone anymore. And a similar minority uses any direct mail. Simply incorporating those tools in your prospecting will help to differentiate your team and provide additional opportunities for your message to resonate with busy and preoccupied buyers on different days, using channels that may be more comfortable for them, when their mindset is different and priorities may be less pressing.
Here's a question to ponder. How often do you wish someone would just call you instead of sending another email? My guess is not infrequently. You may not have time to chat at length – but hearing a voice and completing a nuanced communication is so refreshing compared to another email. To some extent that’s generational, but email is unpopular among rising generations.
Don’t misunderstand. Email works. It’s an important tool for prospecting, sales, and customer success. But it’s one tool that’s complemented by others. And the telephone is underrated. There are wonderful tools to make calling more efficient, and best practices can improve performance. But, it takes lots of coaching.
Since You Must Prospect, You Also Must Cold Call
But with only 3% of buyers active, that means you must prospect to a huge portion of the market continuously. And in that context, cold calling is a key skill and activity in consistent, predictable capital equipment sales and industrial revenue growth. It must be built on superb skills and a strong understanding of prospects’ business challenges. But it works. Don’t buy into the myths that cold-calling is dead.
Pick up the phone!
I’m Ed Marsh. Thank you for joining me for this episode of Signals from the OP. If you enjoyed it, please share it and subscribe – either to my YouTube channel EdMarshSpeaks.TV or at the related blog SignalsFromTheOP.com.