Getting More Customers Without Cold Calling

by Brooks Van Norman​

Talk with anyone who’s been in a sales or sales leadership role over the last 25 years, they’ll no doubt have an opinion about cold calling. And if that person was successful, some or most of their success will be attributed to cold calling.

I happen to be one of those people.

And I’m actually quite proud of the fact that in my selling career I’ve generated tens of millions of dollars in new business by cold calling and leading people who cold called.

I’m proud of it because it because cold calling used to be a lucrative skill that also took lots of courage to do well.

I’m so glad we don’t have to do it anymore.

To be clear – when I use the term “cold calling”, I’m not talking about random smiling and dialling – but rather the prospecting method of calling up decision makers in “target” accounts who’ve never heard of you or your company and then pitching them your offering, because your organization thinks they will benefit.

Just reading that last sentence makes me cringe.

There is a lot of content being generated lately that “cold calling is dead” and for good reason. It’s because cold calling isn’t dead.

People are still cold calling.

The real question is “why”?

Now, I know this article is going to generate a lot of intense debate and I’m totally ok with that because having seen both sides of this equation, I fully understand why.

I’ve heard all the arguments for cold calling… heck I used to be one myself until I saw a better way.

People are still cold calling because they don’t know any better.

It’s a belief system and skill thing.

Allow me to explain. If you look at the majority of tenured sales leadership trying to drive their businesses forward with cold calling today, they’re not young men or ladies. Certainly not as young as the “front line” sales people who are making those calls.

I realize this is a generalization, but if you look inside call centres at todays organizations, you’ll find this assertion generally holds true.

Why? Two reasons:

  1. Because the demographic willing to do this function is usually younger and/ or less skilled
  2. The demographic leading this function used to do it, but now prefers to “manage it”.

Even when equipped with good scripts and todays latest auto-dialling technology, cold calling is still gruesome work.

And the pay isn’t what it used to be for those doing it or those managing it.

The result?

High turnover and burn out.

This is true not just for the sales people, but also for sales leadership. If you do some research on LinkedIn and look at the average tenure of sales leaders who manage outbound teams, you’ll see it’s about 2 years – and that’s being generous. 

Cold calling is messy, expensive and slow.

Now, the argument is often made to their team is that learning cold calling sales skills is an honourable thing to develop and will be of great value in their future.

We know this is really just a con-job to make those doing this gruesome work feel better about the endless ditches they’re digging… hoping to find a few gold nuggets.

That’s the “belief thing”.

It’s hard to change people’s beliefs, especially when their belief system worked so well for them in the past.

And there it is: the past.

Cold calling advocates are simply stuck in the past.

Vinod Khosla Quote

“Many times experts fail because they’re experts in the past version of the world.”

Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures

The world we live in today is so much different (and better) for selling than it was twenty, ten, even five years ago.

The problem is that cold calling advocates want to recycle the past, because it’s all they know. They don’t have the skills for the way things get done now. They are going to feel the pain of a bleak future if they don’t adapt (and learn) to the way revenue is generated today.

And herein lies part of the problem.

This is the “skill” thing.

Sales leadership hasn’t fully deployed the power of today’s marketing capabilities in the sales process.

While cold calling advocates are the most vocal proponents that “cold calling is alive” and it still works, it’s not entirely their fault: They’re endorsed (and enabled) by their C-level executives who also believe that if sales is failing, they’re just not calling enough or that it’s time to clean house and hire some fresh blood.

I see this all too often. Guess what’s that’s called?  

A “re-organization”.

Executive leadership is complicit in the problem.

They too grew up in the world of sales-driven cold calling and the way it “used to be”.

However, to escape their fate of diminishing returns on invested capital, their challenge isn’t to continue feeding the abyss between Marketing and Sales with “make more calls” & “send out more unsolicited emails marketing wrote” – but rather to marry the two so that Marketing IS Sales.

What does that mean?

First it means using the intelligence and technology available to ALL businesses today to engage with in-market buyers who are looking for solutions to their problems.

How do you do that?


Never before have we been able to more precisely (and profitably) target buyers.

Advertising to get customers is increasingly more profitable, scalable and measurable than cold calling to find buyers.

This isn’t my opinion, it’s a fact.

Google booked over 67 billion (b) last year from their AdWords platform and it represented approximately 89% of their total revenue. And they continue to enjoy huge growth year over year on that number.

Google’s revenue worldwide from 2002 to 2016 (in billion U.S. dollars)

(source: statista)

Businesses won’t keep spending that kind of money on advertising if it doesn’t work.

The scalable profits available to ALL businesses today from direct response marketing is simply astounding.

Here’s where I see huge profitability gains with my clients: Aligning the buyer journey from advertising to becoming a customer.

If you’re selling a high-ticket, complex solution or something that’s a considered purchase, you can’t just advertise alone.

At some point the buyer has to speak with someone.

This is where the magic happens.

In this scenario, when you intelligently integrate direct response advertising with consultative, empathetic sales people you can generate breakthrough profitability.

The problem here is that until organizations get behind this approach of Marketing as Sales, their results will continue to languish.

Sales people want to sell, not cold call.

If you take the aforementioned sales leader and his (or her) team – and tell him you need more sales – without the heft of a continuous stream of engaged buyers coming from a well executed marketing campaign, they are going to burn out and eventually leave if cold calling is the only arrow in their quiver.

The problem gets worse: We are soon coming into (if not already in some states) an age where unsolicited emails and phone calls to businesses will be illegal.

In addition, you really have to ask yourself – if the company’s product or service is that good, what does it say to the person being interrupted with an unsolicited phone call (assuming they can even be reached on the phone) about the quality of the offering?

Here’s the argument I often get from my peers who still believe in cold calling and won’t fully embrace direct response marketing:

  • It’s involves risk (capital)
  • It takes skill (it’s not easy)
  • It almost NEVER works as planned at first.

Those are fair concerns. Here are my responses:

  • Don’t want to risk capital? Let’s not forget that continued cold calling with diminishing returns also eats capital and profit margin, while also burning your brand bugging people who aren’t interested or don’t care in what you are pitching.
  • No skills? Continuous skill development is the world we live in. Get over it. Learn how to advertise profitably yourself or find someone who can help flatten the learning curve for your organization.
  • It doesn’t (or didn’t work) at first? Guess what it’s called when something in business works the first time?  It’s called a Miracle.  Advertising isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible to figure out.

Here’s the thing:

Good sales people aren’t going away – they’re becoming more valuable.

The future is scary for those who aren’t making this shift away from cold calling: 

Forrester predicts 1 million B2B sales jobs will disappear by 2020

McKinsey thinks up to 45% of current jobs will be replaced with technology that already exists.

Deloitte is following the major shifts happening in selling activities because of Artificial Intelligence.

Don’t fire your sales team or your Sales Director just yet, because this shift takes a little time and you need that team.

Consider reorienting your business around acquiring customers by leveraging technology to get in front people who are already looking and then closing them faster with your best sales people

This always delivers improved returns on your sales costs because the sales people are having more conversations with qualified buyers, instead of spending their time trying to find one cold calling. 

Profitable warm calls, not cold calls.

Buyer driven marketing replaces cold calling with warm calls.

Create advertising that speaks directly to what people are searching for.

(There are over 40,000 searches happening per second right now on Google, by the way.

Send them to a well designed landing page (I wrote about that here) that builds upon their search intent and gives them a means to engage with your best sales people who know your offerings.

You’ll close these buyers at higher order values, in less time.

I understand that cold calling isn’t going away anytime soon.

But for those organizations who want to keep doing it in isolation (the old way), I say “have at it”: Because with buyer driven marketing, their competitors are going to win all the customers in the marketplace.

Let your competitors beg for business while qualified buyers are discovering and choosing yours.

Cold calling is dying a slow death because organizations are slow to invest in becoming proficient at direct response marketing and aligning it with their direct sales teams.

This usually requires a top-down approach and some changes to the incentive plan. It also takes a little time.

But it’s worth it.

About the Author

Brooks Van Norman is founder of Hot Pepper Videos, a full service video marketing agency that provides marketing strategy and custom animated videos for leading businesses, government and Fortune 500 companies.