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Dead Or Alive? The Cold Call Is Unwanted

A guaranteed way of igniting debate on any marketing topic is to claim that some of the principles and practices that underpin the trade are no longer viable. In fact, you could apply the same assertion to music, technology or fashion. So, what is dead and what is alive? Far from being a philosophical conundrum, the question is simply posed in order to ascertain what is no longer a contender for our attention, time and hard earned money.

It’s probably safe to say that the walkman’s days are numbered, but what about television and the billions of pounds spent every year on reaching audiences with elaborate advertising campaigns? Moreover, just as it seemed to be taking off, industry experts at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the US, predicted the demise of the medium’s 3D incarnation. And, if we are to believe what many inbound marketers are telling us, then we should start preparing an obituary for the time honoured process of cold calling.

Interruption based marketing such as, cold calling

We don’t need look any further than claims management companies and the PPI (Payment Protection Insurance) debacle to experience cold calling at its worst. Yet it is an established Direct Marketing tool and second nature to many sales professionals. However, marketers are reevaluating it as an effective lead generation strategy and this must, in part, be due to a paradigm shift in the way people look for and buy things.

Modern marketing

Consumers and B2B buyers are better educated and more empowered than ever, as the nebulous online environment allows access to relevant content which can inform the decision making process. Cold calling is increasingly looked upon as an irritant and superfluous to consumer and buyer needs. The modern marketer must work much harder to gain the respect and, crucially, earn the permission of their target market by having something that is desirable. By creating pertinent, quality online content marketers will stand a better chance of having productive interactions with customers and ushering them into the top of the sales funnel.

That is not to say that picking up the phone has become redundant in generating sales. In fact, a recent survey of IT decision makers in Fortune Ranked companies and SMEs in the US, found that unsolicited sales calls and emails can still add value. The survey revealed that 60% of executives said that a cold call or email led to a vendor being evaluated and 75% said that as a result of a cold call or email they were prompted to attend an event or make an appointment. However, what the survey didn’t ask was how many executives were put off considering vendors after being contacted using outbound methods.

Permission marketing

In his seminal book ‘Permission Marketing,’ Seth Godin used a convincing analogy to characterise the flaws of the ‘interruption’ marketer: a bachelor, who is looking for a wife, decides to go into a bar and propose to the nearest woman. Unperturbed by rejection he repeats the process with every woman in the bar until he has been turned down by all of them. I light of his failure, he subsequently apportions blame to his clothes, choice of bar and everything else, except his method of approaching the women. The analogy could be altered to imagine that he is successful and one of the women agrees to marry him. While he has achieved his objective, he has probably irritated the other women to the extent that if he came into the bar again they would ignore or even avoid him.

Any successful relationship relies on collaboration and there is no reason why inbound and outbound techniques should not go hand in hand. The key is to communicate with potential customers in the medium they want and not try to dictate the terms. More often than not, in the initial phases of the buying cycle, consumers want honest, accurate, information which they can easily find and evaluate. In this context, quality, search optimised content, proactive presence on social platforms and robust analytics come up trumps.

Undoubtedly, the debate will go on, but like Britpop and shoulder pads everything has a shelf life and the cold call is fast approaching its expiry date.