If you want to liven up the conversation in a group of small business people, just mention that you love (or hate) cold calling. It doesn’t matter which side you take. I hate cold calling and I’ll wager that most business people do too, whether they are successful with the tactic or not.

Nevertheless I forced myself to do it, back in the day when I managed a small commercial printing business. As a young person with a mortgage and a family to feed, and a semi-retired boss who said it was up to me to keep the print shop doors open, the pressure was on to get new customers. The conventional school of thought in the printing industry was that a salesman must cold call. In short, I had to make a list of qualified potential customers, hit the road, and knock on doors. A variation on the theme was this: make cold phone calls to get an appointment for a personal visit.

I tried…valiantly. As I arrived at each prospects place of business, I’d park my decrepit, rusty, paint-chipped hulk of a station wagon far down the street in order to avoid embarrassment. This didn’t exactly put me in a ‘success’ mindset before entering the prospect’s office.

Then I’d stroll up the street in my suit and tie, basted by Florida’s 90 degree, 100% humidity cold calling gatekeeperclimate. (So much for ‘cold’ calling.) I entered the office like a wounded animal entering a trap. The steely-eyed gatekeeper, smelling blood, deftly planted roadblocks for her employer (my prospect) faster than I could engage my heat-stroked brain.

The consolation was that most gatekeeper skirmishes were brief with the misery lasting mere seconds. I was back on the pavement before the perspiration had dried. Incredibly, I sometimes won these little cold calling matches by actually getting an appointment and ultimately developing a customer relationship.

Yet no matter how hard I worked my cold-calling system, the majority of my new customers came from referrals or introductions through friends, customers and business colleagues. In other words, they all ‘knew’ me to some extent, or knew of me, or knew of our company’s reputation. There was nothing ‘cold’ about the lion’s share of customers I brought on board.

Of course this makes perfect sense. No doubt you, too, prefer to buy from people that you know, like and trust. I do. If there is a trusting relationship in place between you and your potential vendor it is far more likely that you’ll make a purchase with them as opposed to someone relatively unknown, who you don’t know well enough to like, and with whom no level of trust has been established.

It takes time to build a relationship. Cold calling might get you in the door, but unless you’re an exceptional closer, it will still take time to build that relationship.

In hindsight, I see that I made myself a victim of the 80-20 rule. Here I was with 80% of my business coming from people that knew me. Yet I was spending 80% of my time cold-calling people who did not know me, and getting very little business (20% or less) from the effort.

The numbers were against me and of course the effort failed. I needed to make a living and had to move back to a regular production job. In hindsight I see that I should have invested 80% of my time on a system that:

a) would allow prospects to get to know me and

b) would generate more referrals from people who already knew me.

Cold calling could have remained in my arsenal but it should have been given low priority.

Let’s fast forward many years to my experience with Technifold USA. Not caring to repeat my failures, I decided I would eliminate cold calling as a sales and marketing tactic. Forever. I had no time to waste, and if this venture were to work, I could not afford to spin my wheels at developing new customer relationships.

So I modified my prospecting system. I’d send a letter to carefully selected prospects, with an interesting story about our new product and how it would make a positive difference in their lives. In this way they got to ‘know’ me just a bit before I made the call for an appointment. Sure, it was still a soft form of cold-calling but two startling things happened.

  1. Sometimes the recipient would call me to ask for the demo appointment! Now I knew was on the right track! I closed nearly 100% of those sales.
  2. When I made a follow-up phone call a few days after the prospect received my letter, I almost always got through. “Yes, I read your letter and…” was the usual response, followed by friendly dialogue. I set a high percentage of appointments from those calls, and closed about 80%.

Now the 80-20 rule was working FOR me! As Billy Mays used to say, “But wait, it gets better!” These introductory letters to prospects were just the tip of the iceberg.

As you know, it takes some folks longer than others to warm up to a new relationship. One letter, even a great one, wasn’t going to cut it. As my list of interested prospects grew, I had a hunch that if I simply stayed in touch, a good percentage of them would become customers over time.

My ‘system’ for staying in touch was basically a rather crude monthly newsletter which mailed to everyone on our list. My hunch was right. Implementing a newsletter system grew our business 300% in a subsequent year. Today, our newsletter strategy continues to maintain steady, profitable sales growth in ways I hadn’t expected, including getting us named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in North America. 

But back to our topic, cold calling. If the thought of eliminating cold calling makes you positively exuberant, then take a few minutes to check out How to Become an Instant Guru from my colleague Bob Bly. It will get you on the path to eliminating cold calling forever. Click the button below for more.

So don’t sweat cold calling ever again, and feel free to share your cold calling stories below…good and bad!


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Andre Palko Owner
Andre Palko is founder of the Small Business Rainmaker™ and its free weekly e-newsletter. He is dedicated to delivering award-winning marketing and content that helps business owners thrive in any economy.