I do a great deal of work in outsourced business development. I assist clients in their business development efforts.
Some of the work that I do is strategic in nature. As such, I provide advice and facilitate the creation of business development and marketing plans. I also do a great deal of work on the tactical side of business development – from initial lead development, all the way through opportunity management and proposal.
One year, I started work with one particular client in May. My predecessor in that firm had recently left the project because of poor results. Once I started work within the firm, I quickly discovered why.
The approach to business development used by the previous person was traditional cold calling. The client organization had purchased a list of leads for the targeted market niche, and the associate had proceeded to focus on cold calling and e-mailing on behalf of the client. Her process for trying to develop prospects was threefold:
1. Cold calling. Call after call and voice mail after voice mail.
2. Periodic e-mail blasts to leads. (The e-mail content was "salesy" rather than what the reader would find helpful.)
3. Follow-up calls to those who had opened the e-mails. The desired outcome was to get acquainted with the prospect well enough to secure a conference call, meeting or video conference between the prospect and the client.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it didn't yield the desired results. The client had been paying big bucks for several months with nothing to show for it.
I had to figure out a way to get results within less than a year in a market that usually had an 18-month sales cycle. I had to figure out a way to develop the lead into a prospect so that we could scale the trust curve with the prospect at a quicker pace.
Did I eliminate cold calling entirely? Not quite, but almost. If there is one thing I learned from the experience, it is the fact that cold calling in the traditional sense is dead. I still spend a lot of time on the phone; but at a minimum, I would have to define my phone work as "warm calling" or "hot calling."
So what's wrong with cold calling, even if you know the leads are well-qualified?
• If you're trying to target the right decision makers, you spend a lot of billable hours leaving voice mails. If you're "lucky," you may get to speak to a person who will take a message or help you.
• In today's lean work environments, the recipient does not return your call. The voice mail has neither the needed importance nor urgency in the mind of the recipient to warrant activity.
• It is very unlikely that you will catch the right person at the right time.
• Even if your call or voice mail is a follow-up to a well-targeted e-mail, it still lacks urgency and importance in the mind of the recipient.
Is most telephone effort for business development obsolete?
There are many opportunities for effective use of telephone contact. I spend a great deal of time on the phone on behalf of my clients. I just want to be sure that the time is invested well. I link the calling to other efforts whenever possible. Whom do I call?
• People who have opened my e-mails: There is software available that allows you to track not only whether a person has opened your e-mail, but also how many times. I use the frequency distribution as a guide to prioritizing whom I call.
• People I have seen or met at meetings and events: I call them within 60 hours of the end of the event. If I have to leave a voice mail, I send an e-mail, too.
• People who have shown interest by stopping by our booth when we exhibit at conferences and meetings: I call them within 60 hours of the event.
• People who have inquired at the company Web site: These folks get a call within 24 hours of the inquiry.
• People with whom I have spoken at some time in the past: Every prospect with whom my client and I have spoken and met in 2008 will get a helpful e-mail from us every six weeks or so in 2009. And each will receive a get-in-touch phone call every four months, just to touch base.
What else can you do?
What other solutions are available? Rethink your business development process. Question your paradigms. Sketch out the steps of your current process. Is there a way to use the calling as a productive tool later in the relationship? How can you juggle steps and resources in your business development process so that you develop leads into prospects at a faster rate?
1. Put the process steps and resources on Post-its.
2. Put one idea or resource or process step per Post-it.
3. Move the Post-its around.
4. Collaborate with trusted colleagues or people in your network.
5. Write down every idea. Don't kill any idea.
6. Discuss them thoroughly with an open mind. The results will provide more innovative road maps for your calling and business development efforts.
I believe that the demise of traditional cold calling is at hand. Time to move on.