The Internet. That – in one word – is why cold calling is dead, even for B2B sales.
Before the Internet, the role of the sales rep was to educate a prospect through a presentation. If it generated interest, the sales rep would qualify the prospect and then focus on closing the sale. Back then, everything about the sales process, from the seller’s perspective, was related to creating a need, giving an opinion of how their product or service will meet the need, and then closing the deal. Buyers welcomed these cold calls and presentations because that was the only way to keep up with the latest developments in the market.
But the old way of selling has almost no effectiveness today. The Internet has caused cultural shifts that have changed people and the way they like to buy.
According to many sources from International Data Corporation (IDC) to Harvard Business School, anywhere from 50 - 70% of a decision to buy a product is made from Internet research without ever talking to a sales rep. Buyers can now get most of the information they need to know to decide about most purchases online. They can get technical details, feature comparisons, pricing, and product reviews on the web without ever having to speak to a sales rep.
For many products and services, the Internet has virtually eliminated the need for a sales rep during the first stage of the buying process. Of course, the more complex and technical the sale, the less able the buyer is to decide from online research alone. But the buyer will do their research on the company and its products/services, and will even use social media to investigate the reputation and integrity of the individual sales rep. The customer is empowered.
The customer is empowered… but so is the sales rep who knows how to use the internet to his/her advantage.
Before the Internet, the amount of information a sales rep could get on a particular prospect was generally limited to what he could find by asking his friends what they knew about a person or company. But now, the sales rep is empowered by the Internet to make a call with knowledge about the company, its industry, buying practices, departmental structure, and even the prospect’s reputation.
What’s more, buyers know this information is available, and they expect sales reps to use it before they make the first sales call. Any rep who shows up without having done his basic discovery work is viewed as unprepared, disconnected from their prospect’s business or problems, and wasting their time. Establishing trust is key in sales, and a sales rep who does not do his homework is hard to trust.
Do the basic customer discovery before the sales call.
Hoovers, Manta, Data.com, and other websites and blogs are rich sources of information regarding specific industries and companies. LinkedIn can provide valuable information as to the buyer’s job history, who they know, and any key experiences to which the seller can relate, while Facebook can tell you key things about their friends, family, or hobbies.
One final thing to keep in mind:
With such easy access to so much information, a buyer can quickly validate anything a sales rep says. In a Google search or two, your prospect can get the facts and learn whether you are blowing smoke or telling the truth. Make sure you know your subject, and come prepared.
If you are an executive encouraging cold calling, STOP! You are creating problems for your sales reps and for potential customers. Teach your reps to get referrals and make warm calls where the buyer knows who they are and why they’re calling. This may take longer, but in the digital age, it is essential to starting off a sales relationship with a sense of trust.