Top 5 Reasons Why Sales Cold Calls Are So Awful

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 @ 11:11 AM

cold callToday I listened to voicemails from three salespeople who cold called me.

The good news is that three people actually made cold calls!  The bad news is that not much has changed.  Despite the tools, training, coaching, video, audio and reading that are available, all three calls were as bad as I've ever heard.

For example, the first caller was from a hardware/software catalog/online retailer with whom we've done a little business over the years.  She wanted me to call her back so that she could tell me about their current promotion.  Most of us will buy when we need something and won't buy something which we don't need just because it's discounted.  It wasn't a very effective message, nor was it delivered very well either.

The next call was from a guy with whom I would never choose to talk because he sounded so incredibly depressing.  He had one of those deep, gravely voices which were the trademarks of old-time radio personalities - with the upbeat part missing from his faded sound.  I imagined a very old, crusty, former radio salesperson making this call.  Am I judging?  Yes - that's what prospects do when they consider whether to delete, save, return the call or add the caller to their to-do lists.  He was trained at some point in his lifetime - very long ago - and it showed - he offered tomorrow morning or the following afternoon - very, very, very, old Dale Carnegie tactics.  He was calling to "remind me" that his company acquired the manufacturer of our existing phone system so I should call.  He did provide his name and phone number twice but other than that, his was a very ineffective message.

The third call was from some guy who sold a service and wanted me to call so that he could tell me in more detail what he offered.  Since I can't remember his name or his service, he didn't make much of an impression or give me much of a reason to call.  This was not a very effective message.

The messages are never effective.

The people never sound very good.

Their reasons for return calls are usually, more than anything else, reasons not to call back.

The most difficult part of making cold calls is actually making the cold call.  Yet these companies are getting their salespeople to make the calls, so why aren't they providing training and coaching which would leverage their salespeople's willingness to perform the call, with skills which would allow them to achieve success from their effort?

There is more than one answer, but I'll provide a my top five:

  1. The company is in a time warp where they still believe it's all about the numbers.  Just make forty cold calls and the rest will take care of itself.  That might have been true in the 1980's, but it doesn't work like that anymore.  On average, it takes eight attempts to reach a decision-maker and when salespeople get one on the phone, they have a very short window of opportunity to be effective or they've wasted their time.
  2. The company is in a reality distortion where they believe that if their salespeople can simply follow a script, the rest will take care of itself.  That was never true and couldn't be true today.  As soon as business prospects hear a telesalesperson reading a script, they already have heard more than they care to hear.
  3. The company is suffering from the Smucker's Syndrome.  They created the scripts and selected the salespeople themselves, so "with a name like Smucker's, it's got to be good!"
  4. The company has unrealistic expectations.  Their salespeople get lucky just often enough to convince sales leadership that the results will improve any day now - they're almost there. 
  5. They are financially conservative.  They'll waste lots of cash hiring these incompetent salespeople, but won't spend any money to bring in professional help.
As a reminder, I am hosting two Webinars this week:
Solving the CRM Problem - Tuesday, November 13, 10 AM ET. Register.
Solving the Sales Performance Issue - Wednesday, November 14, 10:30 ET.  Register.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales management, sales leadership, cold calling, telesales

Are Your Salespeople Still Cold Calling? The Ugly Truth

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 @ 08:01 AM

cold callCold calling.  It sounds so...20th Century.

Some industries still break-in their salespeople by putting them on the phone and having them dial - more than one hundred times a day - and attempt to schedule appointments.  You still receive calls like this from new, and sometimes not so new salespeople selling insurance, investments, copiers, office supplies, commercial real estate and long distance phone services.

Today, more salespeople are using the Social Network to find opportunities.  Whether it's incoming leads from Blogs, researching and requesting introductions on LinkedIn, or simply finding the target audience from a Google search, salespeople are using these tools to connect more and more often.

Of course, one thing that will never change is word of mouth.  Referrals and introductions from happy customers and clients will always be the finest method for generating new business.

Given all of the options, which salespeople are smartest?  Is it those that are cold calling, those who are getting introductions or those that are using the Social Network?  The answer depends on how you decide to measure what being smart means.  

If smart is measured by the easiest method, with less work, and no human contact, then those using the social network are as smart as they come.  

If smart is measured by following the path that most often leads to success, then those who ask their customers for introductions and get them are even smarter.  

If smart means making sure that no matter what else happens during the course of the month, the salesperson adds the required number of new opportunities to their pipeline, then those who are cold calling are the smartest salespeople on the planet.

Cold calling isn't enjoyable (for those salespeople who are truthful about it). Cold calling isn't effective except for the most brilliant of callers.  Cold calling isn't efficient anymore.  One thing that cold calling will always be is controllable and manageable.  

You can't control the number of inbound leads your salespeople will get.  Of course, if you are generating more leads than necessary to keep the pipeline full of quality opportunities my argument doesn't work.  But most companies aren't accomplishing that - yet.  

You can't control the number of introductions you will receive from your clients and customers.  

You can't control the number of introductions your social network will make on your behalf, even if you are asking for them.  

You can control the number of cold calls your salespeople make.  Even if the numbers are as ugly as this:

Attempts - 100
Connects -   10
Meeting Scheduled - 1

At least you can control that.

I don't think cold calling should still be the default approach for new business development.  However, if a salesperson needs to add 20 new opportunities to their pipeline each month, and the other methods deliver only 7, then cold calling becomes a necessary method to secure the remaining 13 opportunities required.

Cold calling is slowly but surely declining in use but some salespeople have discarded it before its time.

Reevaluate what your salespeople are doing, how they are doing it, and make sure that the emphasis is on the result, not the method.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, business development, prospecting, cold calling, in bound leads, introductions

10 Steps to More Sales Opportunities

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, May 23, 2011 @ 05:05 AM

voicemailBack in March, I mentioned in this article that it takes, on average, 8 attempts to reach a prospect.  Unfortunately, that statistic won't help many salespeople because most of them aren't comfortable with the consequences of "8".  Most salespeople want to give up after about 4-5 attempts - and not 4-5 attempts over 4-5 days, but over 4-5 weeks!

Last week I received a voice mail from a commercial real estate broker.  He said just the right thing, at just the right time and I returned the call and scheduled a meeting.  I knew he had called me before, so I asked him how many times he had attempted to reach me.  He checked his records and reported back to me:  8 voice mail messages.  Wow, what a surprise!

Last week, no fewer than 8 salespeople sent emails to me explaining that they committed to the 8 attempts rule and, as a result, had scheduled meetings with prospects they had been chasing for a long time.  The key is not to only make 8 attempts, but make 8 attempts Halloween style - haunt them -  8 attempts in 8 days.  

Even if your salespeople leave the right message (nothing other than their name and phone number), the best outcome is that the message makes it onto their prospect's to-do list.  But will their prospects return the calls?  They probably won't return the call today and it will still be on their lists tomorrow.  That's when, after not returning the call for a 2nd day, a prospect realizes that the person (they don't know it was a sales call) did not make another attempt, so it must not be important and they remove it from their to-do list.  Your salespeople must continue to call in order to remain on the list.

So what can you do to make sure your salespeople reach more prospects?

  1. Explain the "Rule of 8" it to them
  2. Review what a proper voice mail message should sound like
  3. Tell them you will hold them accountable to 8/8
  4. Add "Repeat Call Attempts" to your KPI's each day
  5. Look for an increase in the number of connects, conversations and meetings booked
  6. If Meetings Booked does not increase, look to the conversation itself as the problem
  7. Listen to their calls
  8. Is it a tonality problem or verbiage problem?
  9. Is it a problem with not finding an issue or not learning if it is important enough to fix?
  10. Is it a problem with taking put-offs?

    Topics: Dave Kurlan, Sales Coaching, cold calling, reaching prospects, getting voice mail returned

    Sales 2.0 Tools Have Their Place, But Where is It?

    Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 @ 06:11 AM

    I am so fed up with the Sales 2.0 hysteria.

    Sales 2.0  - it's about getting found and using the social networking tools to make connections - and that's all good.

    But none of it replaces good old fashioned Sales 0.0 or 1.0 and to believe it does is a dangerous thing.

    Whether you are performing SEO to help you get found, using LinkedIn, Facebook, Google or Twitter to let people know you are here, or using any one of the array of cool new tools to determine how best to connect, make the connection or continue the dialog, all of these tools are used as a means of getting your new prospect to the phone and/or a face to face meeting.

    What you can't do with Sales 2.0 tools is use them to sell.  You can't take short cuts, you can't sell or have a conversation via email and you can't express yourself effectively in print unless you are an award winning novelist; and most prospects don't have the attention span to read that many words.

    If by using all of these tools, your salespeople still have an empty or weak pipeline, they must pick up the phone and make calls the way salespeople have been doing for decades. Of course it's more difficult to reach people today, but that is not a reason to stop calling.  If you need to schedule meetings, they surely won't happen by themselves! 

    Sales 2.0 tools, just like the face-to-face networking that came before it, are supplements to phone calls, not the other way around.  If you can't control it, you can't depend on it.  If your salespeople must have 12 appointments per month, then they must plan to make calls to schedule 12 appointments per month.  If along the way they happen to receive 4 introductions from customers, clients, their social networking or their local network, then great!  Then they'll only need to make calls to schedule 8 appointments this month.

    Sales 2.0 - I love the tools, but they don't replace the basics.

    Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales management, prospecting, cold calling, social networking, getting appointments

    Overcome Call Reluctance - Get Your Salespeople to Prospect!

    Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Jun 21, 2010 @ 06:06 AM

    callingI am reading Dan and Chip Heath's new book, Switch - How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  One of the studies they presented suggests that the more difficult something is for us, the fewer emotional resources we have to do it.  In other words, the amount of time we spend doing something difficult is in direct disproportion to the resistance we have for it.

    To illustrate the results of this study, let's take something like Prospecting and assume two things:

    1. You still need your salespeople to find new opportunities and you don't have enough Sales 2.0  (incoming leads) to eliminate the need;
    2. You have salespeople with some call reluctance. 

    As of yesterday, you asked your salespeople to make calls for a certain amount of time, or until they reached a certain number of attempts, conversations and appointments.  Your salespeople that don't experience anxiety over this had no problem and your call reluctant salespeople either found some other important thing to do, started but stopped, or lied.

    If I apply this research to Prospecting, your reluctant salespeople are resisting as many as 4 things:

    1. Dialing the phone
    2. Speaking with someone who might be bothered by the interruption
    3. Overcoming resistance to schedule an appointment
    4. Getting rejected

    Using what I understand about this study, for the next week, ask (only) your call reluctant salespeople to make calls in one of the following ways instead:

    • instead of an hour of calling, schedule just 10 minutes of calling - at 6 different times each day 
    • make attempts only until you have a conversation with a decision maker - x different times each day
    By decreasing both the amount of resistance and time spent overcoming the resistance, you might be able to make it less overwhelming and therefore easier for your call reluctant salespeople to experience prospecting success.

    Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales candidates, cold calling, salespeople, overcoming call reluctance, dan heath, chip heath

    Call Reluctance in Salespeople - Causes, Factors, and Predictors

    Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 @ 17:04 PM

    I can't believe all of the positive feedback you've sent relative to the new White Paper on Sales Longevity - The Science of Predicting Sales Turnover.  Thank you all so much.

    Several of you asked questions about your salespeople who are failing, and whether it could have been predicted.

    Objective Management Group (OMG) has always been able to accurately (to 95%) predict whether a salesperson would succeed and provide conditions for employment. Over the years, we've been able to fine tune our accuracy even more as we incorporated some additional non-sales factors that made strong salespeople poor candidates for a particular role or company.  Three of the most important, recent factors were:

    • whether a salesperson will succeed working in a remote territory, from their home, without direct supervision (this finding accounted for many of the strong salespeople who failed in earlier years)
    • whether a salesperson would succeed despite weak sales management (this finding accounted for most of the remaining strong salespeople who failed in earlier years)
    • whether a salesperson could ramp up quickly enough to satisfy management (some salespeople simply take longer to get it and now we can identify who they are)

    While recommended salespeople who failed made up only 5% of the total (most accurate in the industry by far!), our goal has always been to completely eliminate failure from among recommended candidates, which brings us back to the White Paper.  Our new finding will predict the likelihood of being able to retain a strong, recommended candidate for as long as it takes to provide you with New Salesperson ROI (NSROI).  This is all explained in great detail in the White Paper.

    Historically, when salespeople have failed, has most often been because of their inability to get appointments.  We are able to identify the three factors that indicate a call-reluctance problem - a malady that is career-threatening for salespeople who are expected to hunt.  I have identified one additional factor that causes call-reluctance that we don't currently identify - but will (are you paying attention Jim?). When a salesperson is an incredible perfectionist, prospecting activities such as cold calling, and even following up on leads, may be delayed.  You may be able to recognize the symptom - procrastination, but even the salespeople don't realize why are procrastinating.  Perfectionists won't do anything until they can do it perfectly and since they aren't able to make a perfect call they are waiting until they are confident that they can.  Of course, they'll be waiting indefinitely...

    There is one more external factor that enables even a slightly reluctant salesperson.  Can anybody guess what that is?

    Topics: Dave Kurlan, call reluctance, cold calling, predictive, accurate, sales candidate assessments, sales assessments

    Sales Prospecting on Steroids

    Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Sep 10, 2009 @ 06:09 AM

    With all of the articles written about sales and cold calls being dead (I usually write the counter arguments to that.  How would you find new business if the only thing you could rely on was a lead?) it was a breath of fresh air when Michael Strickland, my guest on this week's edition of Meet the Sales Experts, spoke about prospecting on steroids.  His five tips for sales success in today's economy are:

    1. Review your prospecting strategy - prospecting on steroids - redouble everyone's efforts
    2. Have a signature communication - own a channel - communicate your value proposition
    3. Leverage technology - CRM - to identify and manage opportunities
    4. Have a web presence - make sure people can find you by Googling you
    5. Identify all of the weaknesses in the sales organization - fix them.

    Michael, the former banker, turned banking consultant, turned sales consultant, turned Vistage chair also spoke about how executive teams and sales teams spend 97% of their time planning and only 3% of their time doing.  He strongly suggested reversing those percentages.

    "Action conquers fear.  Make a strategic decision to grow."  That was his comment when asked about the fear that has paralyzed so many businesses, causing them to wait and see what happens, rather than do something about their slumping sales force and revenue. 

    Listen to the showContact Michael Strickland.

    (c) Copyright 2009 Dave Kurlan

    Topics: Dave Kurlan, grow sales, sales management, prospecting, cold calling, fear of failure, sales evaluations, steroids, sales tests, michael strickland, identify weaknesses, sales assessments

    Leads for the Sales Force - Not

    Posted by Dave Kurlan on Sun, Dec 14, 2008 @ 23:12 PM

    I received an email last week from a LinkedIn connection promting his new super duper lead engine that connects salespeople with the most powerful buying influences in the world.


    I'll be the first to agree that if you're buying a list, one that actually contains the contact information for CEO's, Presidents and other top officers can be much more helpful than a list that targets middle managers.  But let's stop there. 

    First, a list with the names of CEO's and Presidents won't help anyone who sells products or services that top executives don't buy.

    Second, and let's not fool ourselves on this, these are NOT LEADS!!!  They never were and they never will be.  Call them what they are.  They are names on a list and if hand them to your salespeople and call them leads they'll stop calling after about 5 conversations - lousy leads.  If you let them know that they are simply a tool to help them identify potential customers you'll be in much better shape. Just be sure that they know how to make calls like this. The "how" is the key. If they aren't great at this then it's clearly a waste of time.

    (c) Copyright 2008 Dave Kurlan

    Topics: sales leads, Salesforce, Sales Force, cold calling, sales prospecting

    Subscribe via Email

    View All 1,800 Articles

    About Dave

    Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for eight consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

    Email Dave

    View Dave Kurlan's LinkedIn profile View Dave Kurlan's profile


    Receive new articles via email
     to the Blog on your Kindle 



    Most Recent Articles


    Vendor Neutral Certified 100 SalesTech Vendor Objective Management Group

    Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame Inductee


    Leaading Sales Consultants 2018

    9 Consecutive Years!

    Top Sales Awards 2018 - Article/Post -  Silver

    9 Consecutive Years!

    Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2015 -  Bronze - Thought Leader

    2016 Top Sales & Marketing Podcast - Gold

    2016 Top Sales & Marketing Webinar - Gold

    Top Sales & Marketing Awards 2015 - Bronze - eBook/White Paper

    Dave Kurlan Top 50 Sales Influencer 2015

    Sales Pro Insider Blog

    Top 50 most innovative sales bloggers



    Hubspot Top 25 Blogs


    Free Tools

    Sales Process Grader

    Sales Candidate Assessment Free Trial

    Sales Ghost Calculator

    Sales Force Grader

    Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator

    FREE Recruiting Process Grader