The Nettlesome Cold Call

When people think of the word “prospecting” – in the traditional sense – the first thing that comes to mind is gold mining. But what about the old proverbial cold call? You know, prospecting for new business. Now, I don’t mean to imply that you can’t strike gold on a cold call but [I do hope by the end of this short essay you infer that] it is just as much work as swinging a pickax. Keep this in mind as you navigate through the plethora of emails, knocks at your door, and, yes, the phone calls you receive on a daily basis. Sales executives far and wide want to do business with someone just like you, and they are doing their darnedest to get your attention.

Outside of young doctors just starting their practice with very few patients – and therefore actually can’t wait to see the pharmaceutical reps that come in on a daily basis – cold calling is usually unpleasant for everyone involved. I know what you are thinking: Um, it’s me who is being harassed, not me doing the harassing. Well, you are certainly correct. But have you ever considered how the person on the other end of the conversation feels? For some people, a gastro-intestinal endoscopic procedure would be more pleasant than walking in on a cold call to talk to you, the problem is that lower GIs don’t pay the light bill and mortgage. Unless, of course, you are that young doctor (see above). No, getting you to sign on the bottom line is how they make ends meet, but first they have to have your basic cognitive processes focused on them for just a few minutes of your precious time.

Here’s the thing, we have all avoided the sales call. But of the ones who got our attention, and who were allowed five minutes of our time, what percentage did we actually sign with? For me, it has been about a 50/50 rate. And of the services I currently use – from broadband to car insurance to retirement accounts – I am generally pleased if not delighted with my service and that’s because somewhere, somehow in the past, I took the time to listen to the sales exec who sold me on whatever I have in place today. The reality is that I do not have the time to personally research all of the areas where I may need help; truth is, I am not even sure I know where all I need help. It is entirely possible that I am clueless about an area where I am currently hemorrhaging money, and I really would appreciate a friendly phone call to help make it stop.

Here’s my system, and it may work for you, too. I understand my time is valuable, but I try to understand that everyone has an hourly rate. Therefore, I actually do answer my phone and my door, and I make it clear up front that I only have five minutes (sometime in the convenient future) and that I will happily arrange to meet with them. I then explain that the “five minutes thing” is set in stone, so therefore they must be sure to prepare accordingly. And that’s it. When they return with their pitch, I reiterate the time limit and then I simply sit back and listen. If I am not in the market, I will actually know because I took the time to find out. But if I am in the market, I’m grateful. Regardless, I figure I owe it to myself and to the hard working account executive sitting in my lobby to at least listen, give their widget an honest consideration, and then give them an honest answer.

After all, the cure I don’t know I need may be waiting on line two.