Here’s the top line take home: cold calling is lazy; if you’re still doing it then please stop.
I receive dozens of cold calls each week and a truly staggering number of cold emails. They leave me cold. I don’t respond to them. Nor do most of the folks like me who have found themselves gate keepers between you and the audiences you want: conferences, media properties and the like.
The second-to-worst ones are the folks who cold call me and then email to make sure that I received the cold call. Absolute worst are the people who use robots to call me.
Are you, the cold caller, hosed?
No. Just stop being lazy. Don’t know how? Keep reading.
Is your product a commodity?
A few months back I had the pleasure of leading an advanced networking class for a group of talented young entrepreneurs at PIE (the Portland Incubator Experiment). During this class I formulated an easy, one-question test to determine whether or not your offering has been in any way commoditized. It’s not a final test but it sure does give you an early indication:
Is your head of sales good looking?
If the answer to this question is “yes” -- or more dishearteningly “Dear Lord, yes, Yes, YES!” -- then your product is a commodity.
Products that are unique, differentiated, different than anything else on the market and satisfying customer needs at the price the market will bear don’t need good looking salespeople: the chiseled jaw and rock hard abs on the men, the high heels and large bosoms on the women, are not necessary. Such things are always nice to have around, but with a great product they are not required.
This works well if you’re Apple.
But if you’re like the rest of us, then at some point your customer is choosing between you and somebody who is selling pretty much the same thing for the competition. At that point every advantage you have -- electric blue eyes and a dazzling smile, for two examples -- can only help your customer make an otherwise arbitrary decision.
80 percent of decisions are arbitrary
Woody Allen quipped that “showing up is 80 percent of life.” Something similar is true of decisions: about 80 percent of them are arbitrary. Where you go to college, whom you marry, where you live-- those decisions are important. Most of the rest? Arbitrary.
You wake up in the morning, and for most jobs you need to put on shoes, pants, a shirt and assorted undergarments. Which ones you choose changes day to day based on whim and when you’ve done laundry.
It’s no different in marketing. Marketers have campaigns to accelerate with advertising. Even if the marketer is looking at a specific demographic slice -- single moms in the South East, for example -- the internet is still filled with cornucopian options. The marketer or media buyer can crunch all the numbers, but at some point there’s still an eeny, meeny, miney moment.
The same is true of gate keepers like me: conference programmers, editors, who have events and publications to fill. There comes a moment when we just gotta pick.
All other things being equal, if your product is a commodity -- and most products are -- and I’m making an arbitrary decision between your company and one just like it, then I’m going to go with the person I trust. And most of the time that means that I’m going with the person I already know.
Remember that I said all other things being equal? This happens a disturbingly high amount of the time. For example, if two PPC online display companies want to speak at one of my shows, both have charismatic speakers on tap and both are able to bring brand-side buyers from powerful CPG clients, then I’m looking at an arbitrary decision.
I’ll pick the person with whom I have a relationship. That’s not nepotism. Favoring a known quantity isn’t nepotism if you don’t lower your standards: it’s common sense.
So what does this have to do with cold calling?
Digital marketing is a relationship business.
All businesses are relationship businesses, but we digerati often forget this because our technologies are so Star Trekkianly snazzy.
There’s no way to fake relationships -- you just have them -- and most of the time the way to start a relationship is not to pop up in my inbox or on my phone sheet.
Don’t cold call me, Bro.
Instead, figure out who we know in common and ask that person to introduce us. Back in the dark ages before Facebook, Google and LinkedIn doing this was hard, but now it’s trivial.
Dear reader, I’m a social media slut and I’m not ashamed to say it. You can find me on all the usual street corners: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (yes, I’m the one), LinkedIn and even Pinterest. Figuring out whom we have in common is easier than crossing a street while texting and has a much lower chance of causing a traffic accident.
I like meeting new people, particularly if somebody I trust introduces us.
Don’t have even a third degree of separation connection to me? No problem. Every event and every publication in this industry have a published advisory board.
This does not mean to go cold call a board member: cold calls are bad no matter who receives them. Instead, look for a board member with whom you, a colleague, a friend or the CEO of your company has a connection. Board members are there to make connections for programmers and editors, and board members are usually happy to introduce you. (In social psychology this is called the strength of weak ties.)
And if the person who knows me (or the editor, programmer, marketer, media buyer, venture capitalist, et cetera you want to meet) tells you that she or he does not think that you’d be a good fit with me, then you should politely ask why, listen and then accept it.
At that point you can look for a different connection, go away and rethink your strategy or (better yet) do both.
Don’t cold call me, Bro. It’s a waste of your time and of mine.