Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Cold Calling; dirty words or untapped business gold?

I work in IT. I'm aware of how much of a sweeping statement that is and how little it means in terms of a tangible day job but the reality is that most people wouldn't be interested in the nuts and bolts behind the technology I sell.

I spent 2 years of my life cold calling, and I mean hard cold calling. I'm talking 90 calls a day that are all tracked on a spreadsheet somewhere and all recorded so that my manager can pick a call and play it back to his hearts' content. Cold calling is a hugely soul destroying job when it is your whole job.

The company that I worked for had a plan for their new hires- do about a year of solid cold calling (every day, 9-5, 90 calls) and slowly you'll start to build up a rapport with a few key people at a few businesses that would become customers and begin to place recurring orders with you so that your role transitioned from a cold caller and more into an "account manager". This was the golden snitch, this was the dream and this kept us all sat at our desks hammering the phones waiting for that one call that would change our lives into one where we could sit and watch the dollar roll in.

The reality is that when a company posts a job description that says "Tele-Sales, Cold Calling, New Business, Phone Monkey" the only people that apply are na├»ve graduates or college students that give it a whack for a very low salary and leave after about 6 months or when they realise they are sitting on the sofa at night hating the thought of the next day, whichever comes first.  As a result, more and more companies are hiring on the pretence of building up your own business- I used to hear the words "This is your business" on a daily basis. Cold calling was my business, the hard work of gaining trust with IT Directors was my business, dealing with difficult refunds and complaints was my business, hitting my gross profit target to keep my job was my business, but that golden snitch that represented that dream day job was distinctly none of my business because for around 75% of us this never materialised. Instead, people grafted for as long as possible and then moved to pastures new with a pretty impressive brand on their CV and the ability to proudly state "I have done my time cold calling, I won't be doing it again because I am now in fact an important and respected account manager".

I watched that happen about 50 times, and I experienced it happening to myself as I started to look into my next move. Finding a new job wasn't a particularly easy process but that was mainly because it can be hard to identify what you want to do and what the next step in forging a career should be. Cold calling isn't a career.

Or is it? I now work at a company where the majority of employees wouldn't dream of making a cold call. This is partly because they are all very well educated and rounded people who recognise what a bloody nightmare cold calling is. It's also because they think it's beneath them and should be farmed off to an intern or to a partner company to deal with. This creates a huge gap in the skills of the workforce of my current company, mainly because if there becomes a point where we have to start going after new business in a more aggressive manner rather than fulfilling lead generation through a partner company we will absolutely fall flat on our face as a business.

I have the advantage of working for a very well respected and globally recognised brand and that means a huge amount when you pick up the phone to get hold of the CFO of Loads Of Dollar To Spend PLC. Companies such as Google and Amazon have a direct sales team that are out there making calls and generating a huge pipeline. They are also forging strong relationships with key decision makers. They're taking them out for steak, they're buying them beers and they're playing golf with the Chief Execs' wife and the importance of those relationships cannot be underestimated.

The common perception in the market seems to be that "wining and dining" is a cheap, dirty and unprofessional way of getting business through the door but having watched my competition succeed in "Delboy-ing" around my customers I think that it's time we all got back on the phones and started laughing at every word Bob in IT says.

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