I’ve just participated in a cross-training session where marketers learn how to make cold calls. It's designed to help them be better marketers by understanding how sales works. Three marketers pitched me for a meeting, and they all struggled because of some common challenges. These challenges are well-known and many salespeople have found ways around them. But because these participants were marketers and not salespeople, they had no experience making cold calls.
I spent ten minutes teaching them the Trading Value Rule and explaining that they must offer something of value, such as an executive briefing, to acquire a meeting. I also shared my own pitch so they could hear what a cold call might sound like. But even afterwards, some of them still misunderstood both the purpose and value of making cold calls.
A Misunderstanding of Cold Calls and Sales Meetings
There is a terrible misunderstanding about how clients measure value early in the sales conversation. Instead of promising to make it worth my time to meet with them, my marketing trainees jumped to the problem and their solution without hesitation. They tried to point to the benefits of their product or service, believing that because they wanted to sell that, I would find it valuable as well.
This is a challenge for anyone who makes cold calls. The outdated, legacy approaches to sales have commanded adherents to identify a problem, something all three marketers did with no difficulty. Armed with a problem and a solution, it's easy to pivot to a conversation about solving the problem. Even though this occasionally produces a meeting, it’s rarely enough to manage complex sales.
The Value of the Sales Meeting
There is an easy little hack I discovered that helps salespeople understand what value means in a first conversation. Imagine you are meeting with a decision-maker. So far, so good. What do decision-makers do? If you said, "make decisions," you are correct. Now, what might a decision-maker find valuable in a conversation with a salesperson in terms of potentially improving their results?
What many (most) salespeople miss is that the value proposition isn't about solving the problem; it's about the value of the conversation. In fact, the early conversations contribute greatly to the decision to keep talking and, ultimately, to buy from you. Whenever you outpace your prospective client in that conversation, though, you lose them. Even if you have the best solution on God's green earth, the first conversation is about whether it makes sense for the client to consider you as a potential partner in a change initiative. Skipping right to the solution looks, feels, and sounds transactional.
The Problem with Pitching for Your Leader
One marketer in the training exercise played the role of an SDR. She was trying to schedule me for a demo, and I explained that as a decision-maker, if I had to demo the software, I wouldn't buy it. I would never use the software myself, I told her, since I was only interested in outcomes.
The would-be SDR shifted to trying to set a meeting with her VP, something not uncommon in SAAS companies. When I asked her a question, she again offered to schedule a meeting with him, taking a posture that would prevent her from getting meetings. In the role play, I told her that if her VP wanted to schedule a meeting, he must call me himself.
I am sure her boss is super sharp, but I believe salespeople are the most important value proposition, whether they do business on the phone, in a Zoom meeting, or face-to-face. If they don’t create value for the client, nothing about the meeting will magically do it for them.
Content Marketing and Insights
Professional marketers are hip to content marketing. One of them mentioned that the two role plays gave her ideas about how difficult it is to get a meeting. It also helped her think about the content she would need to publish on their website.
My advice was to take whatever web content she had in mind and turn it into the insights that her colleagues in sales can use to teach clients in a face-to-face meeting, perhaps as part of an executive briefing. This approach would make it possible, and maybe easy, to command an audience and create enough value to make it through the first gate, as it proves that both the meeting and the salesperson are relevant.
Cold Calls Are Designed to Acquire Meetings
The cold call isn't designed to be a long conversation that qualifies your prospective client, nor is it a discovery call. It's designed to acquire a meeting, nothing else. The more you do anything other than schedule a meeting, the more difficult it will be for your prospect to give you their time. You may believe the conversation is moving you closer to a date on their calendar, when you are almost certainly providing your client with everything they need to disqualify you.
It’s best not to overthink the exercise. Pick a strategy with tactics you are comfortable with, then give yourself time to master it. Whether you like my proprietary approach to consultative prospecting, or Jeb Blount's Fanatical Prospecting model, or Mike Weinberg's New Sales Simplified, stick with it until you are comfortable and confident.
You can never get better at cold calling without putting in the reps. The only way to improve is by making calls. More calls is better than fewer, and your calls will improve more you keep up your practice.