“Why is it quiet in here?! Get on that phone!”
“How many calls have you made this week?”
Just a couple of the motivational rallying cries I used to hear working in recruitment agencies. I thoroughly hated having to make cold calls as a recruiter. I remember having to achieve a weekly quota of cold calls to tick the activity target box. It was all about numbers, activity and process. Cold calling is a numbers game, I was told. It’s all about doing the numbers.
Most weeks I actually went through the motions of making the calls; but some weeks I just pretended to have done so, because I recognised the futility of it all. And it was hardly surprising that it was futile, given the approach I was told / trained to take, and the resulting frame of mind with which I made the calls.
The idea behind it was that sales activities could be described in terms of a funnel. Make a lot of cold calls and you will get past the gate-keeper on the odd occasion. Get past the gate-keeper and you will get a few visits. Get a couple of visits and you might get a couple of vacancies. Get a couple of vacancies and you might get a placement.
So the more cold calls you put in at the top, the more sales you will get out at the bottom. And cliché after cliché fell through this funnel as I waited expectantly for results…
And if you struggled to get to the next level in the funnel, your manager would sit and listen to your calls to tell you what to say or to point out where you went wrong. Be more focused, be more assertive, be more direct, don’t take no for an answer!
In a more realistic and sombre moment, the same manager would admit that cold calling tended to have a very low success rate on the day and that your chances of picking up a vacancy or a meeting from a cold call would be slim to none. Or in other words, they were acknowledging that it didn’t actually work very well as a sales strategy.
Here are some reasons why cold calling doesn’t work:
Cold calling doesn’t work when you are given a list of companies from a business directory and told to phone them to ‘introduce your services’. The MD or Operations Manager in the company you are just about to call to ‘make him aware of what you do’ (which, remember, is the same as what hundreds of others do, and have just tried to pester him with the same story) is in the middle of preparing for a board meeting and couldn’t care less about what you do. He is only interested in his own business*
Cold calling doesn’t work when the companies you call from the list are just ticking along nicely, thank you very much, and have absolutely no need for your services – nor are they interested in keeping your details on file for future reference. Why would they? They can make do perfectly well with the staff they have and would never contemplate paying your fees anyway**
Cold calling doesn’t work when you have lost all confidence in the process as a result of going through the motions day after day achieving nothing***
Cold calling doesn’t work when you pretend you have made your calls when you haven’t****
Here is what your manager might do:
*Provide you with a script to help you explain your ‘quality’ & ‘honesty’ differentiators
**Provide you with a script to improve your objection handling skills
***Provide you with a juicy carrot – whether you like carrots or not
****Provide you with your P45
Before you get to this stage, you may want to consider an alternative, easier to follow, funnel:
- Start with a list of sectors that are likely to experience growth, investment or some form of development, but don’t rule out sectors which are already strong and holding their own; find out about these sectors from industry organisations and news articles, understand the opportunities and challenges facing companies here
- Whittle that list down and target a niche – perhaps an entire sector, or perhaps a small sub sector – based on your own knowledge and expertise, and decide where you think you have the best chance of developing your business desk
- Whittle that list down further to create a smaller list of which companies might be recruiting and try to work out why they may be recruiting at the moment?
- Go further and whittle that list down to create an even smaller list of companies who might actually need your help to recruit and work out why that might be the case – what do you have to offer these particular companies that meets their particular needs at the moment and why?
Then you are ready to decide on the most appropriate way of approaching each of the companies on your target list. And each approach may be different.
You may decide that making a call now is the best course of action, all things considered. And if you do, you will know exactly why you are calling, who you want to speak with, and exactly what you are going to say. And given that you have done your homework, you are automatically improving your chances of working with this company.
And the thing to remember is that this is one call. It is targeted and it has a specific purpose. It is not a random call among hundreds of others from a business directory, where the only objective is for you to get a meeting or a vacancy.
You may decide that cold calling is not the best course of action. Perhaps you are able to use your own database of contacts to get a referral to the person in the company you need to speak with. Or perhaps you have come across the company through social media sites such as twitter or linkedin, and you decide that it would be better to begin some sort of conversation in this way. Or perhaps you may decide that an introductory letter is the best way to start. Or perhaps you are aware that the company will be exhibiting or attending an industry event and you decide that a quick face to face chat would get the initial conversation going in the right direction.
Whichever strategy you decide to take, it is worth remembering that, whilst cold calling does not work when it is carried out in the manner practised by the vast majority of recruitment agencies, it does have its place when it is done properly and within the context of a well thought-out business development strategy.