The Cold Call Is Dead: Implications For Recruitment & The Job Search

The Cold Call Is Dead - What It Means For Recruitment & The Job Search

I was cold called yesterday. It was, it must be said, a brilliant effort
from a charity fundraiser from World Wide Fund For Nature - polite, well
researched and perfect in pitch & tone. It was almost a shame when I
delivered the inevitable to-the-point rebuttal that she was not getting
what she wanted out of the call.

What does it mean if the perfectly executed cold call, delivered at a good
time and to the ideal audience (I contribute annually to the World Wide
Fund For Nature, and signed up recently to a campaign of theirs) fails
so badly? It wasn’t the failure itself, bad enough a return to
investment this was for the cold caller, it was the fact that it was
never going to work.

The telephone has been a staple of the sales business for as long as there
have been white collars at work. I believe that it has been on a long,
slow and now accelerating decline as a sales medium. Indeed, as we all
become more comfortable with alternative communication platforms now
available to us, it could be that the phone call is already dead as a
first contact medium. Here are a few reasons why:

1. It’s An Interrupt
We have a finite capacity to process information and we are rapidly
reaching the upper limits of it. Since the advent of the social web the
signal-to-noise ratio has become increasingly difficult to manage, with
corresponding damage to productivity, erosion to attention span and near
eradication of any ‘down time’ where no message is being sent or
received. An unsolicited phone call pitched into the middle of this
media maelstrom? You’d be lucky if it’s even noticed, much less picked
up and answered.

2. It’s An Open Ended Resource Risk
There’s always been an inherent resource risk in picking up the phone. A
connected call demands an immediate, open ended commitment on the part
of the receiver. It’s not an email which can be scheduled for action
later in the day, or a chat or text message which can be discreetly
ignored. When the phone was our primary conduit to the outside world, it
was mandatory to pick up in order to connect with the people we needed
to. Nowadays, with a multitude of channels available to us, there is no
longer any need to take the risk of an open ended commitment that comes
with picking up the phone on an unsolicited call.

3. It’s Might Actually Work
The phone is declining as a sales tool precisely it can and does work. A
paradoxical statement? Not when you look from the perspective of the
business that’s being sold to. There is a high risk that decisions are
made based on a sales pitch rather than the due diligence widely and
economically available through other means. Quite simply, there has
always been a tension between the agenda of the caller and receiver, and
now the receiver has cheaper and lower risk options of discovering the
services they need.

What Does This Mean For Recruitment & The Job Search?
This has profound implications for everyone in the recruitment industry or
in the process of looking for a job. Recruiters and job seekers have
always been united by a common challenge - getting hiring managers
interested in what they can do. If the phone call is no longer the sales
medium it once was, then a recalibration of where resources need to be
spent is essential if recruitment or job search objectives are going to
be met.

Agents are going to have to find new ways of approaching prospective clients,
or new ways to drawing them in. Job seekers can no longer expect any
mileage from making speculative calls into companies, attempting to
speak to this HR manager or that decision maker. New strategies and non
phone based approaches need to take central place in what is becoming a
nascent sales paradigm based on attraction marketing, online reputation
management and personal branding.

Final Thoughts
The phone call isn’t dead, but the cold call certainly is. It’s no longer
feasible to think you are going to be successful by interrupting people
in their overloaded working lives, and forcing them into the choice of
being rude or getting on with their day. Phone calls will continue, but
as a second contact medium, to deepen relationships with contacts
already made through other means.

Hung Lee is Founder & Director of Wise Man Say Ltd.

Views: 453

Comment by pam claughton on November 26, 2010 at 9:41am
Email is great, but the phone is the most important tool I have as a recruiter. Cold calls are how I reach candidates and clients that others (who choose not to pick up the phone), may miss.

Interestingly, if more people start thinking the way you do, I think it will only make our calls that much more effective.

Comment by C. B. Stalling!! on November 26, 2010 at 10:21am
Show me a recruiter that does make cold calls and I will show you someone that has a hard time making it in this industry. If i had to choose the phoe over other tools then i choose the phone.
Comment by Paul Alfred on November 27, 2010 at 7:38am
Hung this is powerful post and it has vast implications for our industry ... " a nascent sales paradigm " as you so eloquently describe has occurred ... The question is are Recruiters ready to move in the same direction ...
Comment by Masood Sayed on November 29, 2010 at 12:21am
Wondreful perspective mate... There is nothing wrong in shouting "The sky is falling", you never know, someday it might come true. If I have my doomsday perspective, I would say that cold calling will not remain cold, because everybody will be expecting that call. In todays world where everyone is tweeting, statussing or blogging their personal lives away, being intrusive is the last thing you want to worry about. If you have the right approach, you will get through... take care - Masood
Comment by Ken Forrester on November 29, 2010 at 9:13am
People are no longer in a rush to answer the phone just because it rings. At least, not until they recognize the caller or know the purpose of the phone call. Keep in mind that cold calling is a numbers game-you need to have the stamina and the objective of making many calls to get an interested listener. But that’s only half the battle-you also got to have exceptional persuasive, listening, questioning and closing skills to make cold calling a valuable recruiting tool. I agree, cold call is dead for those who don’t know how to do it.
Comment by Jeremy Haskell on November 29, 2010 at 1:55pm
But if you don't know how to cold call, was it ever alive for you in the first place?

I do love the latest and greatest, and will always remain professionally curious. But I have an obligation to do what works, not just what the gallery says will work. With so much information available these days, I can probably find you a post that concretely defends that the sky is, in fact, falling as we speak!

But is it falling on you?
Comment by Scott Bruman on November 29, 2010 at 2:05pm
To paraphrase Samuel Clemens: reports of the cold calls demise have been greatly exaggerated! Cold calls are not dead, although the skills to execute them effectively are on life support. The goal of a cold call in most areas of business is to get a meeting (where the real selling begins). The problem with the cold call is very few have the skill to present a compelling reason to consider meeting in such a concise, brief format (to paraphrase Mr Clemens again: If I had more time I'd write a shorter story). Tactics, techniques, and tools may be changing over time, but a good cold call can still be effectively used in the right hands. But, outside of telemarketers the cold call will still be a means to get through the front door to a face to face meeting - not the sale itself.
Comment by Hung Lee on December 1, 2010 at 5:20pm
Thanks for your comments guys - I really appreciate your input. I'm going to try respond to each of you here:

Pam, I absolutely appreciate how your current and historical success has been through the telephone. I daresay that's been the case for all of us here. My argument is that the phone was most effective when it was mandatory for the receiver to pick the call. With the growth of other channels of communication, of which email is only one, the phone is now in competition with other tools as a first contact mechanism. I think it's losing 'market share' for the 3 reasons I outlined in the article.

CB - I'm sorry but I'm not sure I entirely understand your comment!

Paul - thanks for your kind words, glad you enjoyed the post

Masood - I like the way you put it, 'cold calling will not remain cold' - that resonates with the theme of the piece. The phone call won't die, it just declining in effectiveness as a first contact tool - even if we forget social media for a moment, voicemail & caller ID have done their bit to damage the efficacy cold calling once had.

Ken - that's exactly it - the effectiveness of cold calling is trending down as people leave the phone to ring to voicemail, and then go through the messages to see which ones are spam. It would be interesting to see whether there are any historical metrics which could illustrate the theory - i.e. how many dials it takes to get through to a decision maker. 20 years ago, if you rang someone's phone, I'd wager they would always pick up if they were available to do so. But now?

Jeremy - of course you have an obligation to do what works, and I'm glad it's still working for you. In search for common ground, I think we can agree that there are now many more tools available for sales people to initiate first contact - have you tried booking a meeting solely through twitter? It's easier than you might imagine.

Scott - love the level of analysis. Exactly right - most cold calls are for appointment booking, not the 'real' sale itself. I'm not sure it's all about decline of skill on behalf of the caller though - it's also about the information overload overwhelming the receiver - everyone simply has less time - so picking up a phone call from an unknown number is consequently higher risk than it was ever before. And when they do pick up, there's an ever smaller window of opportunity to present those compelling reasons. Where are we trending towards?We're little further along that road than most think

Miles - You're right about IB - I am aware of sector variance and I do agree that certain sections of the economy are inherently tied to one form of communication as opposed to another. And I fully agree that a recruiter has to be confident in the value they add - they have to have a reason to call - otherwise it's not going to work. But there's a gap in your knowledge on building business without outbound sales - there are hundreds of examples and I'd readily share them with you. In fact, I'd count myself as amongst them!

Thanks again for your contributions guys - lets keep talking

Best wishes

Comment by Scott Bruman on December 1, 2010 at 5:38pm
Hi Hung, one follow up comment I forgot to include is that a very large part of whether cold calling is a worthwhile tactic to pursue depends on who you're trying to reach. If someone is trying to contact front-line and middle managers then you're 110% right - they do not have the time or incentive to waste precious cycles taking a cold call. They're far too busy trying to do their jobs and meet the expectations placed on them. However, any executive decision maker that has accountabilities tied to the financial performance of their company is a prime target for cold calling. And here is where my original point comes into play about being skilled at crafting a concise but compelling message. If you can save their company money, make them demonstrably more productive or increase sales you will absolutely get their attention - BUT only if you have the skills to craft a message that resonates with them. This takes research and a skill set that is not in great supply. One final thought on the topic: Cold calling isn't just about being effective once you engage in a live conversation, its also about persistence and perseverance to continue dialing as many times as it takes to finally get to that conversation. How many calls is someone willing to make before giving up? 1? 5? 10? 100?

Comment by Scott Bruman on December 1, 2010 at 6:29pm
one last "final" note :-): anybody who truly wants to be successful at cold calling should understand that executive admins are the golden ticket to access!! They are fierce gatekeepers and a very important piece of the puzzle in getting through to executive decision makers. To downplay their significance or to overlook them entirely is the kiss of death in the effort to reach an executive in many instances.


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