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Death of the Salesmen: Will Inbound Marketing Finally Eliminate the Need for Cold Calling?

Ask a non-sales person what comes to mind when they hear the term cold calling and you’ll run into grunts and sighs, half joking but not really joking insults, and an endless trail of unreal horror stories; the notorious salesman / saleswoman who doesn’t take no for an answer, getting rung up by the same carpet cleaning company 5 times within the span of 3 weeks, the fast talking insurance guy who swings into the office unannounced with dollar signs in his eyes. Sales people, the harbingers of unpleasantness. Maybe you’ve met some of these characters?

I should I know, I was one of these characters. I took a job out of highschool as a rep for a company that promised to get clients to the top of Google by marking up and reselling monthly AdWords packages. The pitch was simple, “Hello, would you like to be on Google? … Great! It’ll only cost $299 a month. What credit card would you like to use today?” Maybe I was naive (OK, it was a stupid decision), but I thought it might be fun. Unsurprisingly after a week I began hating myself and loathed having to get up in the morning. Each rep was making 70 to 100 blind cold calls a day and not one customer ever felt happy to hear from us. 50% of those who bought ended up canceling their order within the first 5 hours. I’m sure there are worse companies to work for, but I can’t think of many. After two weeks I left without giving notice and vowed to never do sales again if it meant crossing the line on what I thought was ethical behavior. Remember the golden rule? Treat others how you want to be treated, as in don’t sell to others in the same way you hate being sold to.

Sleazeball sales tactics aside, it’s unfathomable and unreasonable for most companies to eliminate their sales force and set in systems for outbound prospecting. Sales is the engine that makes the whole thing run. Make no mistake, I can live without marketing and PR, bookkeeping, and tech people, I’ll find a way, but throw out sales and the ship is sunk. Recruit a good sales team and you’ve got the building blocks for a successful company. NOTHING happens without sales of some kind, so any talk of eliminating or replacing it altogether is utter rubbish and can’t be taken seriously.

However, is it time to rethink and change how sales is conducted in relation to inbound marketing? Heck yes it is. I’m a fan of how online consultancy Software Advice framed the debate recently with one of their Google+ hangouts, the synopsis being that inbound lead generation is still experiencing heavy growth and has ushered in a new school of thinking based in permission marketing and sales.

“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.” – Derek Singleton

Cold calling will always be around, get used to it, but from a marketing perspective there’s still much to be done in terms of humanizing the process. Maybe it’s cliché, but isn’t sales supposed to be a conversation, one in which both parties are communicating wants and needs, setting expectations, and finding middle ground? A give and take where both sides walk out ahead? It’s a bit romantic to think that sales and online marketing can join forces when each have different objectives, however at the end of the day it’s still all about moving the needle. The question here is what can be done to eliminate friction and make sure that leads are overqualified, even to the extent that a sales call borders on being enjoyable. Years ago I’d do anything for just one warm conversation as opposed to a frustrated, rushed, and chaotic one. Today I’m of the opinion that nobody, on either end of the line, should have to settle for the latter. If that’s not the case, maybe it’s time for a change of scenery or a shakeup in how business is done. Do you sleep well at night? I know I do.

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