Don’t cold call me, Bro

Posted by Brad Berens on January 30th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

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.

12 Responses to “Don’t cold call me, Bro”

  1. Mike Linton says:

    Good article Brad and something I regularly school my sales teams on. It amazes me further when I hear a pitch from someone who does manage to get a meeting against some of these cold call odds and then they haven't prepared. It isn't only a waste of both parties' time but also can be insulting / embarrassing. For my part regarding this article I'll say that a) I'm glad I do know you if I need to reach out; and b) I'm pretty sure that I have never gotten a sale from being good looking... ;-)

  2. It'd be fun to see some of the best of the worst!

  3. Ripvanwinklin says:

    What is the point of this article, Global Chief Content Bro?

  4. Nate says:

    While the thesis of the article is a good one; developing relationships the old-fashioned way through introductions and like minded events, the gist is misplaced. Cold calling is an essential function of business development and sales, whether Brad likes it or not. I read this and my take-away is ok if I don't know you or have any way to find a commonality online don't even bother contacting. I completely disagree. While cold calling can be annoying or frustrating if the caller is not prepared, if the caller knows the potential target and has a clearly defined value prop, a cold call can be very beneficial. Maybe the potential client has never heard of your service, or is unhappy with their current provider. Whatever the case may be, I think the point should be good cold calls, those with thought, tact, and preparation, are an essential part of business. To reiterate; I think Brad has very valid points on sales being a relationship business, but for him to get on a soap box and say "dont cold call me, bro" shows a lack of pragmatism and appreciation for the sales cycle. Sorry BRO, there will ALWAYS be cold calls.

  5. Kline Boudreau says:

    Dear Brad,

    I say this from the bottom of my heart - you're delusional. The majority of all business relationships and BUSINESSES in general start from cold calling. I can attest to this personally as my job entails a good amount of cold calling. And just to let you know.... we do not enjoy it either. We do it because it is required for us to keep our jobs, pay the bills, and feed ourselves.

    I can't speak for every other business out there, but I'm willing to bet most of them are calling you because they CAN help. As a digital marketing manager I am 100% sure you do not drive traffic and come up with all of your companies content yourself. You rely on 3rd party vendors and partnerships. It must be nice to be so arrogant that you create an entire blog post complaining about people who can potentially help.

    Here's a piece of advice - GET OVER YOURSELF. And if you are really tired of people calling and emailing over and over again, respond to them and say that you are "not interested." This way you will be removed from that sales persons CRM and you can go about your arrogant life without anyone bothering you.

    Best regards "Bro"

  6. Plato says:

    Seriously? Brad who?

    Brad, I didn't know you were a top/leading sales executive at IBM or Disney - who knows all to well the trenches of selling from research, to strategy to networking to oh, um, cold calling. ..

    Oh right - you have NO SALES background. You're a digital content guy that markets stuff. And you take cold calls.

    This article is a joke and obviously gravely misinformed about sales in general. How can you make such a general and simplified conclusion about sales.

    I like your gem about: "If your head of sales is good looking, then your product is a commodity. .." Ha, what a complete blanket statement of BS. Do you really think that?

    Wow, step put of your bubble and take a look see before writing this disrespectful drivel.

  7. Joey Dumont says:

    Hey Brad,

    Loved it! I specifically enjoyed your sage comment about digital sales being all about relationships... because IT IS! And not just because I am a relationship guy.

    And after reading some of the Comments on this article, I am surprised to be in the minority by agreeing with you about Cold Calling. And yes, I am in sales for those wondering... and I NEVER cold call! If you have been in the Digital Ad Industry for 10+ years, and you are still cold-calling, you are working hard, but not necessarily smart. Or you have some major deficiency with your Networking skills...

    Cold Calling is about as effective as a Banner Ad, or a Car alarm... one out of thousand is useful, and the other 999 attempts are just irritating!

    Nice article Bro!

    • I agree, Joey. I'm a marketer and I never respond to cold calls, and there's nothing I loathe more than the obviously canned, generic email.

      In the digital space there IS a way to get craft and creative.

  8. selfmademadman says:

    The problem with this article is that every CEO who has founded a company on his/her own, building it from scratch, understands the need to reach out beyond your network of contacts. And THAT, my friend, is a cold call. But there is always a strategy, a well-thought out approach and sometimes there's the proverbial Hail Mary.

    This article makes a mockery of sales by reducing it to a caricature, a stereotype.

    It's also a blatant ad for iMedia. And iMedia is a tired formula. But I digress.

  9. Jim Mahoney says:

    Totally agree with several points within the article that should be obvious to anyone with a couple years of work experience: leverage contacts to open doors, be prepared, etc. As a conference content producer, I am sure people are beating down your door (or phone or email inbox). Conferences are my favorite way to meet key contacts to open those doors, but...

    I have sold media, technology and emerging marketing platforms for a long time. News flash: clients and senior digital agency people will tell you, the people that work for them are paid to learn about new things that might help their clients' business. Things change very quickly in digital - new solutions coming out all the time. Some of the newest things have stupid names that you never heard of - true of Google, Yahoo! and Facebook when they first started. Many times that education starts with a cold call.

    Couple quick stories. I once cold-called the SVP Marketing of one of the Detroit car companies. At lunchtime. Got him on the first ring (nearly soiling myself). I was prepared, related my offering to something they recently bought from a competitor, and got referred to a VP. We had greater scale, so a new business order was generated within about 2 months.

    Second story: cold-called the head of a digital agency, trying to sell email marketing services. Got her on the phone, she thought we had a stupid name, could not spell the URL, got frustrated and hung up. Two months later, our direct sales force closed a deal with the client directly for about $600k, and the agency was cut out. So, cold calls can work. Or hurt your business if you totally tune them out.

  10. Agreed. And in this economy is uber-important to make yourself standout. Knowing something about the company and the person you're "cold calling" is a good way of doing this.

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