I recently hosted a Google+ Hangout with an all-star panel of inbound marketing and inside sales experts to ask, “Does Cold Calling Still Work?” The panelists shared their thoughts on how business-to-business (B2B) lead generation is evolving–and what role cold calling plays in today’s hyper-connected world.
Click on the video above to hear what our speakers had to say.
The panel answered three questions:
- Given how the Web has empowered B2B buyers, is cold calling still relevant in the Internet Age–and are companies still generating an return on investment (ROI) on it?
Here are the key takeaways from the discussion.
The “Cold” Part of Cold Calling is Becoming Less Effective
Buyers aren’t answering their phone the way they once did. As a result, the old school “shotgun” approach of calling high volumes of targets is no longer effective. Every panelist agreed that it’s very rare to be able to pick up the phone, get a hold of a buyer, and turn them into a lead. Even if you could, that is a very inefficient way to generate leads.
This is because buyers are becoming increasingly savvy about tuning out marketer’s attempts to connect. They have assistants to act as gatekeepers, Caller ID to identify unknown callers, email spam filters to block unwanted messages, and so on. And it’s the shotgun approach that led more than 200 million people to join the Do Not Call Registry. In this world, simplistic outbound marketing tactics are ignored.
Anneke Seley, Founder and CEO of Reality Works Group, says she hasn’t “used the term cold call in about 20 years. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for a call to be cold anymore” because there’s so much information available about prospects on the Web.
Today, it’s relatively easy to learn more about your prospect by connecting on LinkedIn or following them on Twitter. And making this connection can help get your foot in the door so you can reduce the “cold” element of calling.
The group dubbed this “warm calling”–calling only the individuals that have an interest in hearing from you and have been primed to receive your call. While they may not have asked for a call, ringing their phone isn’t as unexpected as an unsolicited call.
“I’ve gotten so annoyed with cold calling that I’ve turned that channel off. I’ll do webinars, hangouts, and scheduled calls. But it’s impossible to cold call me now because I don’t have a phone. [Cold calling is] an annoying medium for me because it’s about the seller and not the buyer.”
Mike Volpe, CMO of HubSpot
But Mike Volpe, CMO of HubSpot, thinks marketers can take it one step further and only call the prospects that express an interest in your product or service by finding you on the Web. Given the relatively high cost of employing a sales rep that’s great at cold calling, Volpe said that cold calling isn’t the first thing that companies should invest in. This especially true, says Volpe, since inbound marketing tactics like SEO and PPC offer a comparatively “lower cost of acquiring new customers–and piss people off a lot less.”
However, the experience at InsideSales.com suggests that the lower cost of acquiring new customers is sometimes accompanied by a lower lead value.
Warm Calling Can Help Diversify Your Lead Pool
Ken Krogue, President of InsideSales.com, advocated for striking a balance between warm calling and inbound marketing. While many B2B companies stand to benefit from an expanded inbound marketing presence, relying purely on inbound leads may not always be enough to score those big name accounts.
Krogue says that although InsideSales.com uses inbound marketing extensively, he doesn’t generate the large-scale leads he needs in order to sell to large clients like the Fortune 500.
“If we [at InsideSales.com] just rely on the Internet to bring us leads, it’s like a fish sitting in a pond waiting for the river to bring whatever it brings them. What we’ve found is that if you look at a typical bell curve, 70 percent of all the leads that come in are small. For example, we’re moving up to enterprise class companies and we have to forget about the Web bringing us those leads and have to reach out to initialize the conversation (usually through calling), then we move to a Web-based type of nurturing.”
Ken Krogue, President of InsideSales.com
Krogue’s experience suggests that while B2B buying activity is shifting to the Web, the transition isn’t absolute. What’s different today is how many tools marketers can use to get in touch with buyers. In addition to inbound tactics like SEO and PPC, marketers can now use predictive analytics to know who to contact and how to get in touch.
For example, marketing automation systems can help you determine your visitors’ companies, interests and location, which provides valuable clues as to their identity and might indicate a warm prospect. Then, even if the user doesn’t convert on your site, you can proactively reach out with a call because they’ve expressed a level of interest in your brand by visiting your site.
Beyond that, marketers now have more ways to connect and prime prospects for a conversation with other forms of media. For instance, a marketer may initially send an email to get in touch. If there’s no response, then they can try to connect via LinkedIn and send a message using InMail, which is 30 times more likely to illicit a response than an email. After reaching out via these mediums, then escalate to a phone call.
“As a marketer, it’s our job to figure out how to best get in touch with someone. Some people actually prefer to get a phone call over an Inbox full of email spam. If a message isn’t crafted to speak to me personally and my needs as a business, then I trash it immediately. Frankly, the phone is a little more rare than now email so it might be a competitive differentiator.”
Marketing Will Become Increasingly Permission-Based
While the phone is still a powerful tool for B2B marketers, each panelist agreed that marketing and lead generation is shifting toward a permission-based model. That is, more and more buyers that are contacted in a completely unsolicited way will ignore marketer’s attempts to get in touch. This means that, as Volpe put it, “sales and marketing professionals have to do everything they can to be as attractive and likeable as possible.”
To generate leads in the permission-based marketing paradigm, marketers will need to focus on doing things like creating original research that helps potential buyers address their unique challenges, providing useful business advice that’s easily accessible on the Web, and engaging in mediums such as webinars and Google Hangouts. More and more marketing will be about demonstrating your value and having buyers find you.
As the Web continues to empower B2B buyers, we’re likely to see a continued shift toward inbound marketing. But using intelligent, data-driven calling to generate leads shouldn’t be ruled out just yet. And it can be an effective way for marketing teams to complement their inbound efforts.
A special thanks to Mike Volpe, Anneke Seley and Ken Krogue for sharing their thoughts and time to be a part of this Google Hangout.