Challenging The Status Quo: Cold Calling And Sales Quotas

Amar Sheth
Amar Sheth
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Cold Calling Status Quo“Brace yourself. This will upset a lot of people.”

That’s what one of my colleagues said after they read this. And then a few other colleagues basically agreed. Additionally, I sent this blog to three of my closest friends who are top producers at various companies. And, for good measure, I sent it to one of my favorite sales trainers from back in the day who still runs a very busy and profitable cold calling training company.

The net result? They all agreed with me. So, happy reading.

I Don’t Make the Decision – My Buyers Do!

Everyone hates cold calling – let’s not even try to hide that fact. Buyers hate being cold called, too. But, we still have to do it. To what degree and how often will really depend on many factors (your skill, your industry, your buyer, etc.).

I’m not a traditionalist who believes the phone must be used as the starting point of every interaction with a buyer. Because I’m in sales, I let my buyers’ behavior drive how I go to market.

For example, if I see that a particular buyer is active on social media, I’ll approach them there. If I find that they don’t have a huge presence online, I will find another way (phone, email, carrier pigeon, you name it).

I think firmly believe this is the most sound and pliable process we can employ as salespeople today. The days of rigidity are gone. We no longer have time to waste.

The Cold Calling Reality

Listen, when I provide these stats it’s not meant to ridicule or upset anyone. It’s just a market reality.

The Keller Research Center at Baylor University recently conducted a study. Note, I’m quoting this study because in the past I’ve been labeled of being anti-cold calling and citing studies and sources that aren’t accurate (even though time and time again every study says virtually the same thing). This study puts anti-social selling propagandists in a better light.

Yes, as with all studies this was a snapshot in time, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that these results are applicable to all salespeople. However, it reveals the not-so-shocking reality of cold calling.

What it also does, in my humble opinion, is demonstrate how company leadership in most organizations is really not doing anything. Whether that’s out of the fear of the unknown or just carrying forth the status quo, the results are damning either way.

Who suffers? You guessed it – sales professionals!

Let’s get back to the study before I visually show why sales professionals are boiling with anger (hint: it has nothing to do with cold calling).

The setup of the study was that 50 sales professionals (qualified) made 6264 cold calls over 2 weeks. How do you think this turned out? Let’s check it out here:

  • 72% of the calls were non-starters. People didn’t pick up, hung up or used choice words before hanging up.
  • 28% engaged in conversation (this number shocked me too, by the way) and didn’t hang up immediately.

Now, let’s focus on what happened to these people in the 28% category.

  • Of these 1754 calls, 19 converted into an appointment. This is about 1%.

Is this bad or good? You decide. But I’m tempted to say it’s very unproductive.

By itself, cold calling doesn’t pay off. Here’s why, see this overly-scientific visual here.

Quadrant Status Quo

Do you see the problem?

We can’t keep going on like this. Quotas keep rising every year, the cold calling success rate (and email success rate, too, if I may add) keep going down every year. This is really demoralizing to salespeople. How are we supposed to make quota if we can’t talk to enough people?

I wonder out loud if this is a contributing factor to why only two-thirds of sales people only make quota every year. Although I can’t prove it, I’m tempted to believe it is.

The Magician’s Sales Training Guru’s Slight of Hand

I can come up with two reasons on why this culture of sweeping-it-under-the-rug persists.

  1. Sales leaders want to tow the party line and keep chanting status quo.
  2. Sales training gurus are equally – and in some cases – more to blame!

I see cold calling gurus online say things that will dumbfound you! They’ll admit that the cold calling success rate has decreased, but will say things like “it’s what you say on those calls that matters.”

Thanks Mr./Ms. Obvious!

How does this even make sense? How does that offer up a solution?

Here’s the answer: it doesn’t.

Your ability to convert the prospect on the phone matters – of course – but you can’t make quota if you make 6000+ phone calls in 2 weeks and only land 6 appointments, then to find out that you may get one opportunity from this. The math isn’t in our favor. These are casino odds – and, on a pound-for-pound basis, only one party wins in the casino.

Most sales trainers & cold calling gurus don’t have the audacity to tell you that in this day and age, it’s not about cold calling or social selling or emailing or happy houring, it’s about using everything together to generate the best possible outcome.

But because they can’t offer you a solution on anything else, they continue to teach you best practices of a bygone era.

Folks, here’s the reality: all of these are tools/ways/methods to help you succeed. Some work better than others, but you shouldn’t give up anything (yet). Why wouldn’t you want to give yourself every possible and conceivable advantage?

The Bottom Line

If you’re in sales today, you have an obligation to be where your buyer is. You’ve been taught cold calling best practices, email best practices, messaging best practices, but most of you haven’t been taught social selling best practices.

Sales leaders, I implore you to bring this skill to your teams. Used in combination with everything else, it’s part of a balanced diet, one that helps sales professionals hit quota!

Let me know if you love cold calling by itself or find what I said above accurate. Tweet me @AmarSheth or connect with me on LinkedIn to collaborate.


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