A how-to on cold calling from the customer perspective

Now that I’m back from my second tech conference in less than two months I am fully into the cold call season and I am once again reminded why I keep meaning to buy a burner phone and setup a Gmail account before I register next year. It seems every time I get back I am destined to months of “I am so glad you expressed deep interest in our product and I’d love to tell you more about it” when the reality is “I am calling you because you weren’t nimble enough to lunge away from our team of booth people who are paid or retained based on as many scans they can get. Most often when I get these calls or e-mails I’ll give each company a courteous thanks but no thanks and after that the iDivert button gets worn out.

The genesis of this post is two-fold. First a cold call this morning that was actually destined for my boss but when informed he wasn’t here went into telling how glad the person was that I had personally expressed interest in their product, WTF? This first event reminded me of a second, where a few months ago I was at a mixer preceding a vendor supplied training when I was approached by a bevy of 20 something Inside Sales Engineers and asked “what can I do to actually get you to listen?” From this I thought that just in case a young Padawan Sales Rep/Engineer happens to come across this, here are those ways to make your job more efficient and to stop alienating your potential customers.

Google Voice is the Devil

I guess the first step for anybody on the calling end of a cold call scenario is to get me to answer the phone. My biggest gripe in this regard and the quickest way to earn the hang up achievement is the currently practice of many of startups out there to use Google Voice as their business phone system. In case you don’t know with Google Voice they do local exchange drop offs when you call outside of your local calling area, meaning that when you call my desk I get a call with no name and a local area code, leaving me with the quandary of “is this a customer needing support or is this a cold call?” I get very few of the former but on the off-chance it is I will almost always answer leaving me hearing your happy voices.

I HAVE AN END CALL BUTTON AND I AM NOT AFRAID TO USE IT, GOOD DAY TO YOU SIR/MADAM!

You want to know how to do this better? First don’t just call me. You’ve got all my contact info so let’s start with being a little more passive and send me an e-mail introducing yourself and asking if I have time to talk to you. Many companies do this already because it brings with it a good deal of benefits; I’ve now captured your contact info, we’re not really wasting a lot of time on each other if there is zero interest, I don’t have to drop what I am dealing to get your pitch. If this idea just absolutely flies in the face of all that your company holds dear and you really must cold call me then don’t hide behind an anonymous number, call me from your corporate (or even better your personal DID) with your company’s name plastered on the Caller ID screen so at least I have the option to decide if it’s a call I need to deal with.

A Trade Show Badge Scan List Does Not Mean I am (or anybody else is) Buying

I once again had an awesome time at VMworld this year but got to have an experience that I’m sure many other attendees have had variants of. There I was, happily walking my way through the show floor through a throng of people, when out of my peripheral vision a booth person for a vendor not to be named literally stepped through one person and was simultaneously reaching to scan my badge while asking “Hi, do you mind if I scan you?” Yes, Mr./Ms. Inside Sales person, this is the type of quality customer interaction that happened that resulted on me being put on your list. It really doesn’t signify that I have a true interest in your product so please see item one above regarding how to approach the cold call better.

I understand there is an entire industry built around having people capture attendee information as sales leads but this just doesn’t seem like a very effective way to do it. My likelihood of talking to you more about your product is much higher if someone with working knowledge of your product, say an SE, talks to me about your product either in the booth or at a social event and then the communication starts there. Once everybody is back home and doing their thing that’s the call I’m going to take.

Know Your Product Better Than I Do

That leads me to the next item,  if by chance you’ve managed to cold call me, get me to pick up and finally manage to keep me on the line long enough to actually talk about your product, ACTUALLY KNOW YOUR PRODUCT. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received calls after a show and the person on the other end of the line is so blatantly doing the fake it until you make it thing it isn’t funny. Keep in mind you are in the tech industry, cold calling people who most likely are fairly tech savvy and capable of logical thought, so that isn’t going to work so well for you. Frankly, my time is a very, very finite resource and even if I am interested in your product, which is why I took your call, if I’m correcting the caller that is an instant turn off.

I get that the people manning the phones aren’t going to be Senior Solutions Architects for your organization but try this on for size; if you’ve got me talking to you and you get asked something you don’t know, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. This is your opportunity to bump me up the chain or to loop in a more technical person to the call to get the discussion back on the right track. I will respect that far more than if you try to throw out a BS answer. Meanwhile get as much education as you can on what you’re selling. I don’t care if you are a natural sales person, you aren’t going to be able to sell me my own pen in this market.

Employees != Resources

So you’ve got yourself all the way through the gauntlet and you’ve got me talking and you know your product, please don’t tell me how you can get some resources arranged to help me with designing my quote so the deal can more forward. I was actually in a face to face meeting once where the sales person did this, referring to the technical people within the organization as resources and I think my internal response to this can best be summed up in GIF form:

obama_kicks_door

This absolutely drives me bonkers. A resource is an inanimate object which can be used repeatedly without consequence except in the inevitable end result where the resource breaks. What you are calling a resource is a living, breathing, most likely highly intelligent human being who has all kinds of responsibilities, not just to you but to his family, community and any other number things. By referring to them as this, and therefore showing that you think of them as something that can be used repeatedly without consequence, you are demeaning that person and the skill set he or she has, and trust me that person is most likely who we as technical professionals are going to connect with far more than we are with you.

So that’s it, Jim’s guide to getting me on the phone. I’m sure as soon as I post this many other techniques will come to my mind and I’ll have to update this. If you take this to heart, great, I think that is going to work out for you. If not, well, I still hope I’ll remember to buy that burner phone next May and the Gmail account is already setup. 😉

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