Cold Calling: Is it a Sales or Marketing Activity?
I’ve wondered this for a long time. Is cold calling to set sales appointments a marketing or sales activity? Here’s my analysis and conclusion. What’s yours?
Sales is all about solving problems, often at a personal level (even in B2B Sales). Let’s say that a potential client needs to streamline business operations to cut costs and meets a company who offers software to accomplish just that. Now, there’s a real foundation for a sale, not to mention a great conversation about the personal benefits of saving the company money (and becoming a hero, or saving your job, or getting a promotion)! Conversely, it is virtually impossible to convince a business owner to purchase that cost-cutting software if he sees no need for it – even if a problem really does exist. Why would the owner spend money on something he or she doesn’t think is a problem?
In our business – setting sales appointments for our clients through outbound telephone prospecting – we have the compounded challenge of catching decision makers off-guard in the middle of a busy workday on the telephone. Unless the individual we reach has been considering the service we’re promoting, or has a challenge our client’s product solves, we will not be able to keep the conversation going.
Clients hire us to identify new “leads” for them. A lead is only a nascent sales prospect because during a short phone call, we don’t know enough about the problem that needs solving. Part of the value we provide to our clients is starting to identify and flesh out these problems. Our callers ask decision makers qualifying questions and capture information about their business and needs. In this way we are able to help our clients identify prospects worth pursuing and hand over leads that are most likely to convert into sales.
When our clients follow up, they have some context and can build upon our initial conversation. When the sales person talks to the prospect is when a lead can proceed into the sales process. First, the salesperson needs to delve much deeper into the problem and learn the personal issues at stake of solving or not solving it. This is virtually impossible on the first cold call, even though sometimes we accomplish this.
For leads that are not ready, our clients can nurture them (or ask VSA to do so), until the time is right.
The first couple calls – when we identify interested and qualified prospects – are really fishing expeditions(a). I often ask myself, are we performing a marketing or a sales activity? Recently, I’ve determined that business-to-business calling, especially the initial phase, is really more marketing than sales. Let’s call it marketing on steroids. Decision makers raise their hands because they have an interest. We learn a little bit about their need, but never go into the depth that a sales person focused on that field would.
Of course, you can’t completely separate cold calling and sales. If VSA didn’t make the initial calls, the sales team, not the marketing group, would make them. This puts what we do at the intersection of the sales and marketing processes, but in my opinion still slightly more rooted in marketing.
I’d love to hear more perspectives about this question—is cold calling sales or marketing? It’s something I’ve long pondered and I’m sure there are many opinions and counterpoints to my argument.
(a)About that fishing expedition: It’s not random. It’s very targeted fishing, with the right bate, at the right time, when and where the right fish are swimming.