Your Ethical Obligation to Cold Call

Your Ethical Obligation to Cold Call

I wrote a post called The Real Reason You Hate Cold Calling. The post was shared in some LinkedIn groups, and one commenter noted that it is unethical for consultants to cold call, and that the ethical problem is their underlying reason for their aversion.

I don’t write for consultants; I write for salespeople. And there is a difference.

Honestly, the question as to the ethics of cold calling is fascinating to me. After thinking about what it means to be a salesperson, what it means to be consultative, what it means to be a value-creator, and what it means to be a difference-maker, I come down on the other side of this argument: You have an ethical obligation to make cold calls in the pursuit of your dream client.

An Analogy

Let us pretend for a moment that you are a world-class, Olympic swimmer who spent her teenage years as a lifeguard.

You happen upon a person drowning. You know that you have the skills and abilities to help them with what will certainly be a better outcome than you doing nothing and waiting for someone with less skills and abilities to happen along.

Must you wait for the drowning victim to recognize you as someone who might be able to help and proactively ask for your help? Is it rude to volunteer your help? Must you wait for a referral so that the introduction is warmer?

If you could save the person from drowning, are you obligated to try?

Is this analogy perfect? No. But let me make the point directly about sales.

Your Dream Clients Are Drowning

Your dream clients have problems that they need your help in solving. They have challenges that they haven’t even begun to address, and that they need your help in understanding how the challenge might be resolved. They have opportunities that they would like to capitalize on, but they haven’t yet worked through how they might maximize these opportunities.

Business has never been more challenging, change has never come so rapidly, and the pressure to perform has never been so great as it is now. Your dream clients have dissatisfaction in whole bunch of areas of their business, and they need help.

Your dream clients are, for all intents and purposes, drowning.

Your Ethical Obligation

I am going to have to go and get a little heavy on you here. No young kid ever looks at his parents and says: “When I grow up, I want to be a salesperson!”

If you are in sales for a reason other than you thought it was the best way to make money (not there is anything wrong for making a lot of money), then it’s my hallucination that you sell because you know that you can make a difference for your dream client.

You sell because you have the ability to help other people get a better result than they would without you.

You sell because you are a value-creator and a difference-maker.

You sell because you have the ability to open relationships and because you care deeply about other people.

Because you care, and because you have the skills and abilities to make a difference, you are ethically bound to try to help your dream clients. You are ethically obligated to try to help them solve their most important and pressing business challenges. This obligation means that you must try to open the relationships and develop the trust that will allow you to help and to make a difference.

If you have every seen someone rescued from drowning, you will know that they often struggle against the person trying to save them. This doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be saved; it means that they are drowning.

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  • Juan

    Hi Anthonny,
    100% in agreement, probably that “consultant” is less than average and ordinary or a green consultant barely starting. However this is the “normal” for most sales people, as most do not prospect or cold call, to me this is like planting the seeds, building my pipeline, this is my edge, this is where I can take the lead to be first and win first before my competition knows it.

  • ianbrodie

    Juan – actually, having participated in the discussion, my read is that the consultant who said cold calling is unethical is in the process of marketing his own “how to market/sell consultancy” product which focuses on methods other than cold calling.

    So it’s a bit of a self-interested play. Also a way of making a statement and a name for yourself I guess.


  • ianbrodie

    PS Tony – your analogy brought up the following thought for me:

    If you wander along the sea shore accosting everyone having a pleasant paddle or swim and asking them whether they want to be saved – then you’re a pest. If you look out for the people struggling – then you’re a hero.

    And that’s one of the keys to good cold calling. If you can figure out how to identify the people who are drowning and focus your calls on them, rather than just running through the phone book – then that’s a good (and highly ethical) startegy.


    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Ian!

      So true, too. I have gotten a lot of push back on my idea that you have to target dream clients, the clients for whom you can do breath-taking, jaw-dropping, earth-shattering work. Dream clients have the kinds of problems that you can help to solve, you can add real value. That’s a very different idea than prospects, who, as your analogy describes, are just having a swim.

      Targeting your dream clients is way underrated!

      Thanks for adding your voice here, Ian!


  • Gisext

    Consultants are not supposed to solicitation business, making cold calls is totally disgrace to the status profession.

    Dr. Krishan Sharma

    • Anonymous

      Is marketing not a solicitation, Dr.? Is poor and obscure a better alternative?


    • ianbrodie

      McKinsey originally operated like this. Refused to carry business cards. You know what – they threw out that policy 30+ years ago.

  • David Giumento


    I just read your blog and like your take on the ethics of cold calling. The company I work for and I are emphasizing cold calling this year as a way to broaden our business and market.

    As one who has worked for start-up organisations throughout my career I would also argue we are ethically obligated to cold call for the company we work for as well.

    If we are indeed “value-creator(s) and a difference-maker(s)” like you say, the people who are employed by the company we work for rely on us to make it financially successful and help it grow in good economic environments and remain healthy in more challenging economic periods.