With somewhere around 10 percent of cold calls resulting in new business, cold calling certainly isn't the No. 1 sales strategy for salespeople seeking instant gratification.

Still, for those who are patient and persistent, cold calling pays off.

“I've opened up about 30 accounts in the last 18 months directly as a result of cold calling,” said Don Colgan, who serves as marketing manager and also wears an inside sales hat for Samson Electrical Supply, South Plainfield, N.J.

“The telephone is a tremendous tool to generate new business,” said Colgan. “Any company that doesn't utilize it is foolish.”

Even if a potential customer is currently faithful to the electrical distributor that's been supplying his company for the last 20 years, relationships sometimes go sour quickly. If you've called on the customer a few times, you're in a good position to win the business.

Of course, the reverse is true, too. A long-time loyal customer to your company could one day take business elsewhere. Today's cold call could be next year's customer.

“Account prospecting builds the foundation for new blood,” said Colgan. “A business can't simply survive on existing customers because the profile changes.”

Samson Electrical Supply, which primarily served industrial accounts 10 years ago, has watched its industrial customer base erode and has ramped up its efforts to court the contractor/commercial/HVAC markets.

“You must have a strategy to reach new businesses, and that involves cold calling,” said Colgan.

For another electrical distributor, the importance of cold calling changes based on market conditions. “When sale are good, cold calling drops off,” said a salesperson for that distributor. “When conditions become tighter, more cold calling results. In theory, its importance shouldn't change.”

Electrical distributors that consistently place importance on cold calls reap its rewards. But with time and staffing tight on both the sales and procurement sides of the table, cold calling is not as easy as it may once have been.

“Cold calls are much more difficult than when I began in the industry,” said 39-year industry veteran Sue Parr, a senior sales executive for WESCO in Anchorage, Alaska. “Customers are pressed for better performance in their tasks and don't feel they have the time to invest in accepting cold calls.”

Parr says bringing a sample product on outside sales calls can be a good door opener, and can extend the time allowed with a potential client.

Peter Yelle, an independent sales rep with A.A. MacPherson Co., Canton, Mass., agrees. “End users like to be able to see and touch that new item.”

Leads from the manufacturers he represents also help warm the reception on frigid days. As an outside salesperson covering New Hampshire and Vermont, Yelle says he seldom feels like he's chasing zeros because he gets a lot of leads from the manufacturers he reps.

“People fill out these bingo cards in the trade journals for more information,” he said. Manufacturers fax him leads from the trade magazines, and Yelle follows up.

Demonstrating new products to electrical contractors is where this former electrician spends much of his time on the road. Products that save time and labor garner big interest.

Colgan at Samson also takes advantage of help provided by manufacturers. Philips Lighting as well as a few other manufacturers have provided databases that help in his cold calling.

Joining an area's Chamber of Commerce can also provide valuable networking opportunities. Samson Electrical Supply joined the Chamber of Commerce when it moved to a new location that geographically improved its position to better serve New Jersey's northern Middlesex and Somerset counties. The Chamber of Commerce provided Samson with databases of potential customers.

DON'T JUST DIAL

It's not enough to make a great pitch on the phone, says Anthony Parinello, author of the new book, “Stop Cold Calling Forever: True Confessions of a Reformed Serial Cold Caller.”

Although Parinello isn't an advocate of cold calling in its purest sense, he offers solid tactics for refining calling techniques.

Don't call sales prospects at random, he suggests; only call those who are predisposed to buy from you.

He advises salespeople to take inventory of their current clients. By examining similarities in their current client base, and by researching prospective clients, salespeople can identify a pattern that will predict which potential clients are strong possibilities.

Parinello says salespeople have greater success if they:

  • Research the client beforehand.

  • Cut out magazine or newspaper articles showing their product in a positive light.

  • Subscribe to trade publications so they are knowledgeable in their customers' fields.

A FOOT IN THE DOOR; OUTSIDE SALES TIPS

A Foot in the Door; Outside Sales Tips The days of dropping by an industrial plant to chat with the maintenance manager are long gone. With customers pressed for better performance, many don't feel they have the time to invest in accepting cold calls.

That's why today's outside salespeople must be more strategic. For one industry outside salesperson, most of his “cold calls” come from new contact at existing customers.

When you're on a call with a company you already do business with, just ask if you can walk down the hall to talk with so-and-so in engineering. When your company expands its product offerings from more than the traditional electrical products, you can hopefully win even more business by “just walking down the hall.” Lead lists from manufacturers also make for warmer calls.

  • Make an appointment whenever possible. Confirm the appointment the day before.

  • Have a clear call objective outlined before making a cold call. Think of it as a fact-finding mission rather than aiming to make an instant sale.

  • Take a product sample. It's a good door opener and can extend the time allowed.

  • Be professional and respectful of the customers' time.

STEPS FOR INSIDE SALES COLD CALLS

  1. Be sure you've correctly identified the person directly responsible for procurement.

  2. Call the individual and introduce yourself and company, stating you would like their business.

  3. Be polite and considerate of the person's time. “In the first 45 seconds, if you say the right things, you can usually command their attention for three or four minutes,” says Don Colgan, inside salesperson for Samson Electrical Supply, South Plainfield, N.J.

  4. Ask for permission to send a line-card.

  5. Mail your company's marketing materials, which should include a letter reminding the prospect of your conversation. It should succinctly explain your company's competencies, what you hope to accomplish and how your company can help the prospect. Include your line-card, business card and an account application form.

  6. Follow up with a phone call about a week after you send the package. You don't always get a hit on the first follow-up phone call, says Samson's Colgan, but persistence will pay off.

  7. A couple of weeks later, call again. Colgan said he recently opened an account seven months after making the first call to one company. He left four polite voice messages over that seven-month period.

  8. Don't get discouraged. Quite often you'll talk with someone who makes it clear he or she simply doesn't want to do business with you. Just move on.