My first sales job required me to make cold calls to bond traders and convince them to buy our economic consulting services. We had lists of names and numbers to contact that came from directories of people who worked in banks, securities companies, savings and loan associations, fund managers, and government agencies.
My sales colleagues and I would psych ourselves into the right frame of mind each morning by drinking a few cups of coffee, maybe telling each other a few off-color jokes (common in the 1980s testosterone-fueled Wall Street markets portrayed in the recent Wolf of Wall Street book and film), and discussing the latest stories in the Wall Street Journal. On a typical day we might set a goal to contact every person overseeing trading at all the savings and loan associations headquartered in Arizona.
It was brutal work. Most people were unaware of our firm. And my call was but one of the many sales intrusions each prospect would receive during a business day.
We hated cold calling—“dialing for dollars.”
But the technique was necessary because in the years prior to the Web there were few other ways a potential client might learn about our company.
Everybody is selling. But how people buy has changed!
Unfortunately, many organizations are still operating as if it were 1986, and they continue to focus massive investments on interrupting people with an army of salespeople making cold calls.
Companies like the one I worked for in the 1980s relied on direct sales efforts that invested lots of money. The sales commissions were high. (A big reason I stuck with my sales job even though I hated it was that I made good money for someone who was in his early twenties.)
The sales cycle has transformed into a buying process led by the customers
Fortunately, today we no longer have to rely on the cold call, because buyers are looking for what we have to offer! And they know what they want.
Today, how do you buy a car? Do you blindly go to visit the dealership to ask the salesperson? Or do you spend hours on the web learning as much as you can and only visit the dealer when you are ready to buy and already know everything you need to get a good deal?
In a world in which buyers have the ability to do their own independent research, many customers are more educated than the salespeople they do business with. Now the buyer is better informed than the seller.
However, many companies and the salespeople they employ have not adjusted their strategy accordingly. They still rely on cold calls, and they still approach the sales process as if they have the informational upper hand in the relationship.
The new rules of selling
Today, the buyers decide when they want to engage a salesperson. When the salesperson was in charge, the old CRM work flow model—charting a path from initial lead, to the first call, to a face-to-face meeting, to the negotiation phase, and ending with the close—made sense.
Consider my business of delivering speeches. I rely on my own content to drive the majority of leads that result in me getting booked for a paid speech. Perhaps people have read one of my books. Or they follow me on Twitter, my blog, or another social network. Or maybe they Google a phrase such as marketing speaker and find me. These methods generate hundreds of leads for me a year. And in ten years of paid speaking, I have yet to make a single cold call.
I also rely on speakers bureaus who represent me to book me for speeches. Like me, the best bureaus rely on content to attract people looking to book a speaker. Perhaps the bureau owner has written a book about how to plan a great meeting. Or they bureau has great informational content on their site. Or they participate in the social networks where people who organize meetings hang out to discuss their work.
Today, if an event planner interested in hiring a speaker, they go to a dozen websites and do the research. They read independent blogs. They visit speaker websites. And they study the speakers bureau sites.
And then at some point when they have built up a body of knowledge, the reach out, typically electronically, and tell the bureau or speaker that they are ready to take the next step.
The old CRM systems focused on cold calling don’t manage this process well.
How to move beyond the dusty old paradigms
Any new initiative to attract new business should start with buyers. What problems do your buyers have? How can your company solve those problems? How do your buyers describe the solutions?
Consider refocusing your efforts to blogging or a content-rich website or other online initiatives to reach buyers.
In the past 20 years or so, information has become largely free and two-way. The long-term ramifications are huge.
One thousand years from now, the two things that will be remembered in the history of the time period we are living through right now will be the first lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, and the development of real-time communications instantly connecting every human on earth with every other human on earth.
Now any person with an Internet or mobile phone connection can communicate in real time with virtually any other human on the planet. Talk about a revolution!
Even now, nearly 20 years into the revolution, many organizations still aren’t communicating in real time on the web. Their sales organizations remain stuck in the past. They’re still cold calling like I did in the 1980s.
Are you one of the revolutionaries? Or do you support the old regime?