What You Can Learn from a Bad Cold Call

The Gist:

  • When making a cold call, you need a clear value proposition for a meeting, one where you trade value for time.
  • It rarely benefits you to pitch a service on a cold call unless what you sell is truly transactional.
  • Don’t assume that your prospective client is already compelled to change. You are better off believing that you must help them recognize the need to change.

The cold call I got last week started with a straight pitch: the salesperson told me his name and the name of his company, then launched right into what he wanted me to buy from him. In his mind, his program would help me, so he bragged that his company was capable of integrating his software with my software without any trouble. When he paused to take a breath, I explained that what he wanted to sell me was at odds with my objectives and my key results, and that buying it would actually work against both my short- and long-term goals.

The second I finished explaining why I wasn’t a good prospect for what he sells, the salesperson restated his belief that I would benefit from his product and that I should definitely buy it. Evidently he had not even heard my concern, let alone understood it. Without being rude or forceful, I explained again why I was not a good prospect, and I could hear the frustration in the salesperson’s voice as we ended the call.

This salesperson made no attempt to ask me for a meeting to discuss the outcome he believed I needed. He also provided no context for his belief that I would benefit from what he sells; he lacked a theory of why I might need to change. He was oblivious to the idea that he was responsible for compelling me to change, not recognizing that the existence of his service wasn’t a reason to change. Like many, he failed to understand that people buy outcomes and better results, not products or solutions.

The salesperson shares some blame for the poor quality of a cold call and the lack of a positive outcome. But their sales manager is also complicit, as is their sales leadership. If this individual was (poorly) trained to treat the conversation as if the buying decision were transactional, his company has a poor understanding of the nature of B2B sales. If he wasn’t trained at all, that too is an indictment of the sales leadership.

A salesperson on a video cold call

What You Can Learn from a Bad Cold Call

Several lessons might emerge from this call. First, when the decision you want your prospect to make is complex, meaning that it isn’t a decision they make frequently and is one that may come with negative consequences for choosing poorly, there’s almost no chance you will be able to close the deal with a single call. Instead, you should ask for a meeting to help your prospective client explore change.

This salesperson and his company believed that their solution would benefit anyone and everyone, regardless of the differences in their competitive strategy and the tactics they use to deliver the results their clients need. Not everyone in a particular business vertical is a prospect for what you sell.

The next lesson extends beyond the cold call, and learning it well can help you avoid all kinds of sales problems: never assume that your prospective client is already compelled to change. I keep what I call a “fire board,” a KanBan board with a card for each of the major problems in my business. As I make progress on each problem, I move them closer to the final column, which I’ve labeled “extinguished.” None of those fires would be extinguished by buying what this salesperson sold.

The salesperson had no idea what my major challenges might be or even how the solution he was pitching would improve my results. Because he lacked a theory about how his solution would improve my results, he had no way to create any value for me. By contrast, the Hubspot salesperson who cold-called me many years ago had a very good theory about why I would benefit from a conversation with them about my goals. I bought Hubspot three days later, in large part because they had a good working theory about something I would recognize as a key result—and how they could improve it for me.

Why You Are Frustrated and Frustrating

The cold call is an important competent in generating sales results, especially for companies that are pursuing growth. But the less professional your approach is, the more likely you are to frustrate your prospective client—and to get frustrated yourself. A poor cold call approach is a fast track to a “no” to every meeting request.

One way to improve your results is to make more calls, but only if the reason you are performing poorly is because you aren’t making enough calls to reach your goals. Regardless of your call volume, the best way to improve your results is to improve your sales approach, modernizing it and moving away from legacy approaches. In sales, you want to optimize your approach first and then scale up the numbers, as it doesn’t help you or your prospective clients to make more bad calls.

It is difficult to solve a problem that your prospect doesn’t have. You should never give up on a strategic targeted company when you know you can help them produce better results, but step back if your theory about why they should change and how you can help turns out to be incorrect. There is no reason to keep preaching to contacts who will not benefit from being converted! If you discover that a contact is not a good prospect, you are better off spending your time identifying and pursuing people who will actually benefit from what you sell.

Do Good Work:

  • Develop a strong theory of why your prospective clients should change.
  • When a decision is complex for your client, treat it accordingly.
  • How can you change your sales approach to ensure that it creates value for your prospective client?

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