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Solicitors will be shot on sight – darn tootin!

I’m having a real tough time biting my tongue and holding back from telling a friend of mine to STOP IT!!!

She is starting a professional practice, and went for advice to her friendly neighbourhood Local Business Development Office (funded by the city and provincial governments). There, they provided her with a “Start Your Own Business” course and the services of a small business counselor. They made her write a big fancy business plan (it’s her first time in business), and now are encouraging her to cold-call her “target market” (corporate clients) to offer her services.

Cold-Calling! In 2009! Nooooooo!

As I see it, are two schools of thought in sales:

– one, is the “interruption” approach, positioning yourself in the pathway of consumption, where there is a “need” already being filled on a recurring basis (or about to be filled), and you try to divert that consumption stream towards you; and

– the other, the “attraction” approach, to somehow distinguish yourself from others and generate a “desire” that was not there before in such a way as to draw people towards you who appreciate your value and who are ready to buy.

Interruption selling has a certain (poor) track record of success for commodities, goods and services that look relatively the same from vendor to vendor. Most of the advertising we are subjected to on a minute-by-minute basis falls into this category (all beer is more or less the same, ditto for shampoo, cars, long-distance providers, whatever).

The problem with cold-calling is that it’s interruption marketing HEY DO YOU WANT TO BUY MY COLA? of the worst kind. People don’t appreciate it, and it’s effectiveness is quickly fading away because we get HEY DO YOU WANT TO BUY MY CEREAL? so much of it. Roy Spence, highly successful marketer HEY DO YOU WANT TO BUY MY BATHROOM TISSUE? and author of “It’s not what you sell, it’s what you stand for”, says “People don’t wake up in the morning and say i’ll have a coffee and another ad, please”.

(Did that last paragraph convince you that interruption selling doesn’t work?)

Other thoughts about why cold-calling is counter-productive:

– People don’t appreciate people who cold-call or cold-emailing. I know that when I receive an e-mail out of the blue from someone pitching their services, I don’t get the urge to call them and say “Funny you should ask, I was looking for that!” I actually lump the person who made the cold-call or cold-email into the category of “desperate people”. There’s a certain long-distance phone company that cold-calls me every few days, always at dinner-time, asking if we want to switch. This has been going on for *years* (cannot complain to CRTC because they are calling from overseas). Do they think that suddenly one day I will say yes?

– It’s a hit and miss. What you are looking for is the right combination of three main factors:
.. “right place” (their greatest need or desire matching what you are offering)
.. “right fit” (their expectation of results fits with what you can deliver), and
.. “right time” (their motivation to act matches your timeline).
If you are cold-calling, basically you are throwing a dart at a board while blind-folded. You may hit one or maybe two of the marks, but highly unlikely you will get all three. You end up with a low-quality client that is more trouble to service than it’s worth.

– The prospect has the power. Cold-callers usually come across as needy (because you need to convince the prospect they need your services). The moment you do that, you hand the power to the prospect. This is especially problematic in professional services, because the proper relationship is that the client should need you more than you need the client. This creates stronger a stronger trust bond, and the client will respect you and your services so much better.

– Even if you succeed in generating interest, the probability is high that the prospect will start comparison shopping. “Now that you’ve triggered my interest, I want to compare you with others.” Instead of being the preferred supplier, you become a commodity, and you will have to start cutting your price just to get the contract. And especially in professional services, the moment you have to defend why people should choose you rather than others, you have just lost the sale because the trust bond is broken. And trust is central to the value of a professional services provider to a client.

Why is it that many office buildings have a “No Soliciting Allowed” sign right on the front door? Because people don’t want to be interrupted. They have their own priorities, issues, goals, projects. And irritating them is no way to start a relationship.

With all these disadvantages, why do people still cold-call? This strategy looks appealing to new solos just starting out because at least you are doing something. It looks like a simple way to get your first clients, in reality it is destructive, demoralizing and just plain wrong.

In 2009, people are just plain tired and fed up with being cold-calling or cold-emailed.

Pour your energies instead into building your positioning and your network, and get qualified referrals of people who appreciate what you have to offer and who are ready to commit. My clients, and myself, have had very good results, quickly and inexpensively, through networking. In the end, the attraction approach to selling is faster and creates a more stable foundation of the right kinds of clients for your business.

p.s. I wonder what would happen if my friend’s (government-paid) small business counselor had to cold-call people in the white pages to find out if they’re thinking of starting a business, and if so, would they be interested in their services?

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Paul Trepanier February 23, 2009, 13:13

    After more than 20 succesful years in business, I simply have to agree with what you say. Anyway, cold-calls are a fastidious approach and as you say, it makes you look like you’re desperate for business. I’ve tried cold emailing once, and it just didn’t work.

    Thank you,
    Paul Trepanier
    Bicycles Falardeau,
    Quebec City

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