If I had my druthers, I'd permanently remove the term
"cold call" from any and all discussions about
business development (BD). With more sophisticated
buyers, a more progressive, advanced approach to
marketing and BD by industry firms, and almost
unlimited access to information via technology, one
would think that cold calls are already on their
deathbed. However, in the training workshops I
conduct across the country, I continue to hear A/E/P
and environmental industry professionals use "BD"
and "cold call" in the same breath. It's time to put the
final nail in the coffin: cold calls are "old school" and
those who engage in this rather tortuous activity are
missing the BD boat.
Here are five reasons why those engaged in BD
should avoid cold calls:
They have a very low ROI. Anyone who has
ever placed a cold call can tell you that they're rarely
successful (and almost never gratifying!). And when
they are successful (i.e., when they provide an
entrée into an organization), the BD process
often becomes protracted (requiring more
professional services time) because the target does
not know you or your organization — that is,
after all, the definition of a cold call. The inefficiency
of the cold call process often results in a higher
cost-per-lead than the traditional BD process.
Greater connectivity and technological tools
negate the need for cold calls. You don't have to
have played the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon"
to know that in this day and age, you're typically one
or two steps removed from a buyer or influencer at a
target client organization. There should be no reason
why ANYONE has to make a cold call any more.
Here are a number of tips and resources that can
help turn your cold call into, at a minimum, a "tepid"
- Check out your corporate proposal or CRM files
to determine whether your firm already has a
relationship within the organization.
- Ask your work colleagues, fellow professional
association members, or clients for an introduction.
- Use LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) to gain
access to the networks of friends and business
- Use ZoomInfo (www.zoominfo.com) and Spoke
(www.spoke.com) to learn more
about the background of a prospective (or existing)
- Search CD-ROMs of affinity groups (e.g., alumni
from your alma mater) to which you belong to identify
a "connector" into an organization.
Some technical professionals may even find placing
"tepid" calls to be nerve-racking, so it's important for
marketing and/or senior professionals to provide
- Discussion points.
- Desired outcomes (usually a face-to-face meeting
or to provide information that could lead to a
They send the wrong message to your staff.
Cold calls do a disservice to the art and science of
BD, and firms that rely on them tend to give short
shrift to strategic marketing/business development
planning and tactics. A focus on cold calls sends the
message: "There is little value to positioning your firm
and building its name recognition through
professional association involvement, giving talks,
serving on committees, and getting articles
They breed poor BD "hygiene." Those who
engage in cold calls often believe that the process is
more akin to telemarketing — the more cold
calls you place, the more likely you are to land a
lead. But selling professional services entails a much
more complex process (thank goodness!) —
one that should rely on the more tried and true
process of conducting background research, honing
your differentiators, value-add, and elevator speech,
and asking probing, open-ended questions to identify
what's keeping your target up at night. Engaging in
this process has the added benefit of enhancing
They do a disservice to the industry. In my
book, cold calls fuel the perception among some
buyers and influencers that design and
environmental services are undifferentiated (i.e., a
commodity). As we all know, that's a bad place for the
industry to be.
It's imperative that A/E/P and environmental
consulting firm leaders seek to foster a firm-wide BD
culture that encourages unique contributions from
everyone based on career juncture, skills, and
BD acumen. The first step in this process is to provide
the necessary training and coaching so staff
understand that BD does not (and should not) entail
cold calls. I can just hear those architects, engineers,
and scientists breathing a sigh of relief! (More about
the essential elements of BD training for technical
professionals in a future issue of The Friedman