Stop Cold Calling. Work Your Inbound Leads Instead

Here’s a simple truth: there is a way for your business to generate more leads with less money, enjoy better returns, and attract more qualified leads. It also comes with the added benefit of stopping your prospects from hating your gut.

It’s inbound marketing.

The days when smashing out 80 calls a day to generate new leads was considered a progressive tactic are gone. Our dwindling desire to speak to strangers over the phone has led companies to reevaluate their efforts and look for new ways to attract potential customers.

It seems they stumbled on a goldmine.

Should you be doing cold calling?

Let me answer this by asking you another question. When was the last time you came across a success story entitled something along the lines of “How I used cold calling to grow my startup to 11 million users”? Exactly, the last time you were taken aback by a story like that was never.

The thing is, cold calling is an intrusive, old-school sales tactic that triggers more hate and resentment than getting stuck behind a slow walker while rushing to an airport gate. In the olden days, before caller ID and texting, cold calling was the way to get leads for businesses of all types and sizes. In theory, calling prospective clients to chat about a product they’re likely to need doesn’t sound half bad. You could even argue that you’re making their life easier. But when was the last time you picked up a call from an unknown number? Well, there you have it.

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Consumers are increasingly more protective of their personal information and privacy and less and less likely to answer calls from unknown numbers. Getting through to cold leads is becoming a mission impossible. Which, in turn, points to the shrinking ROI of cold calling.

According to a research by Lead Creation, 55% of senior sales professionals who took part in the survey thought the effectiveness of cold calling has greatly decreased over the past five years.

A number of other respectable sources back up these research findings:

  • According to InsideView, 90% of C-level executives said they “never” respond to cold calls or e-mail blasts.  
  • HubSpot reports that cold calling costs at least 60% more per lead than other methods, like social selling. The newest HubSpot’s State of the Inbound report has revealed that only 19% of buyers rely on salespeople for purchase decisions.
  • Only 5% of business lead phone calls lead to a sale (DSWA)
  • Customers don’t want to deal with salespeople until they are 70% down the path of the buying process (HubSpot)

The reality is that the Internet, and Google, in particular, have changed the way we gather information and make buying decisions. With access to a vast amount of information at our fingertips at any given moment in our buying journey, we have learned to find answers to product-related questions without speaking to sales reps and only interact with them when we pretty much have our minds set. To put it simply, Google has killed the annoying kind of cold calling and brought about a new trend – smart calling, which is more of an inbound marketing tactic than anything else. But more about this later.  

Can cold calling be wrong for your business?

Companies that invest heavily in cold calling efforts always run several risks. First of all, the biggest red flag is that the ROI has been steadily decreasing. It’s getting more and more difficult to get the right people on the phone, not to mention maintaining their interest and converting a sale at the first touchpoint. Having learned how to navigate the online world, shoppers prefer to be attracted to a brand for its authenticity, superiority or capacity to deliver on specific expectations, rather than to be bombarded by irrelevant sales messages.

Then there’s the hate factor. The modern consumer values personalized communication, storytelling and brands that have a bigger purpose than to simply shovel money. Basically, everything that cold calling isn’t. The abundance of information that our brains need to process every day and the energy we use to keep pace with the world around us leaves little to no room for unplanned decision-making. Dealing with an unwanted call stirs up a lot of unpleasant emotions. When associated with a brand, these emotions can cause a great deal of damage. People hate being sold to and until cold calling is used to establish a connection rather than to push a product or service, it will fail to meet the changing buyer expectations.

So should you be doing cold calling?

It depends. Though an unwelcome outbound marketing technique, cold calling can turn out to be a tremendous asset for businesses that know how to spin it right. When married with clever inbound marketing techniques, cold calling can be upgraded to smart calling, help businesses gather feedback, develop personal relationships and understand their users better. For example, if you’re just starting out, cold calling can be a quick and cheap way to validate your business idea, figure out common buyer objections and evaluate the effectiveness of your pitch.

For businesses that are mainly concerned with getting more qualified leads rather than customer feedback, cold calling should only be an option if integrated with a robust inbound marketing strategy.

So to get the best out of cold calling you need to get the hang of the inbound sales process.

Introduction to inbound sales process

Inbound sales is selling the way prospects buy.

The old-fashioned way of selling was to build the entire sales process around the business needs instead of focusing on the buyer. With the advent of the internet, though, this has flipped on its head. Rather than basing everything on an assumption that a prospect wants your product or service, a smart inbound salesman (or saleswoman) finds a way how to get the prospect to hand all the important information over, allowing for a more personalized, targeted communication. Once a potential customer expresses explicit interest in the product or service, a skilled sales rep can leverage that knowledge and tailor the pitch to highlight the right product benefits.

By focusing on buyers’ personal needs, pain points, frustrations, and goals, businesses can craft more personalized pitches and align their product to meet the customer’s needs.  

Let’s see how the inbound sales process is developed.

#1 Start with defining your buyer’s journey

Traditionally, salespeople would focus all their energy on following some sort of script structure and checking certain boxes, as they were trained by their manager, instead of actively listening to the customer and trying to address their pain points. This is exactly what drives customers mad — they don’t want to be prospected, “warmed up” or closed. They’re looking for a solution to a problem or guidance on how to achieve a particular goal. If a sales rep can’t help, Google certainly will.

To be relevant and create value for the customer, salespeople must understand the different stages of a buying journey and how that affects a prospect’s expectations. The journey can roughly be divided into three different stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. As they progress through different stages, prospects narrow their choices and form a clearer vision of what they want and why. To make sure your company tops their list, the marketing department needs to work closely with the sales team to cover all bases.

When trying to figure out the specifics of each stage, try asking yourself the following questions:

Awareness stage. How do buyers gather information and learn more about the problem your product or service is solving? How do buyers describe or define the problem your product or service addresses? How do buyers decide whether the problem needs to be prioritized?

How to identify buyers at this stage:  they visit your blog, interact with your social media, share or otherwise engage with your content.

Suitable content ideas:  blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, reports with original research, videos.

Consideration stage. How do buyers educate themselves on available solutions? How do they perceive the advantages and disadvantages of different solutions? What influences their decision when choosing the right solution?

How to identify buyers at this stage: they visit your product pages, check out your benefits and feature pages, “About us” section and area of expertise content.

Suitable content ideas: long-form content, such as guides and ebooks, webinars, live interactions, comparisons, and reviews.

Decision stage. What criteria do buyers use when evaluating your product or service? What objections or concerns do they have that might put them off from converting? What differentiates your offering from your competition? Do buyers expect to be able to trial the product before making a purchase? Besides the final purchasing decision, do buyers need to make any other important decisions, such as consider implementation or training strategies?

How to identify buyers at this stage:  they read your case studies and testimonials, look up comparison articles and reviews, visit pricing pages and “contact us” section of your site.

Suitable content ideas:  case studies and testimonials, demos, trials, product literature.  

Answering these questions before you pick up the phone or draft a sales email will help you look at the process from a different perspective and ensure your buyer journey is optimized to keep the prospects moving down the sales funnel towards a purchase.

You should also consider developing buyer personas to segment your customers based on their needs, pain points and goals. This will help you to create targeted content for each persona at different stages throughout the buying journey.

Inbound Marketing Define Your Buyers Journey

Image source: Jinbound Blog

#2 Develop your sales process   

Once you have fully grasped the different stages of your buyer journey and how the prospects progress or why they drop off, it’s time to develop a sales process that supports this journey and increases the likelihood of conversions.

The inbound sales process is perfectly aligned with the buyer journey, supporting customers with timely additional information as they move from identifying a challenge or opportunity that they want to pursue to deciding which solution best meets their needs. The three main things you need to remember about inbound selling is that it is personalized, buyer-centric, and advisory.

The best way to tackle this is by following a four-part framework:

  1. Identify
  2. Connect
  3. Explore
  4. Advise

Inbound Marketing Sales Process

Image source: HubSpot

Identify. There are several ways how you can separate active buyers from the passive ones and identify potential leads. The easiest way to tell whether someone has entered the awareness stage is to look at your analytics data. If someone visited your website, read a blog post, filled out a form, opened an email, engaged with you on social media, or left any other kind of clue to suggest they are active in a buying journey, they move from the “Strangers” category to “Leads”.

Connect. Typically, this is the stage where the outbound calling would start. You obtain a list of leads and hammer them over the phone, regardless of whether your product is the right fit or not. Inbound salespeople, on the other hand, focus on leading with a personalized message that is aligned with the awareness stage of the buying journey. For example, based on the buyer persona that the prospect resembles most (e.g., HR director at an eCommerce company or CEO at a tech startup), the sales rep can offer a free consultation, an ebook or a whitepaper on the subject that the prospect is exploring. The goal here is to help the lead educate themselves about all the options available to them. If the buyer accepts the offer (downloads your ebook or books a consultation), they are considered a qualified lead.

Explore.  At this stage, the inbound salespeople are still unsure whether they can help the prospect, so they initiate exploratory conversations to develop additional trust and uncover buyer goals. That’s when you can pick up the phone and see what the lead is really worth. However, it’s important to understand that the purpose of a call here is to learn more about the prospect’s challenges to be able to determine if your product is a good fit. Through strategic questioning and smart value proposition, inbound sales people can guide prospects to draw their own conclusions about whether a product is the best solution for them. Once a match is established, a qualified lead becomes an opportunity.

Advise. During this stage, inbound sales reps put all the information they’ve gathered from speaking to buyers into context and tailor their offering to the unique situation of the buyer. The sales reps strive to showcase these opportunities how their product is uniquely positioned to address their problem and why it’s better than any other solutions out there. If a buyer finds the offer a perfect fit, they convert and become a customer.

Inbound marketing is so effective because it allows consumers to progress at a speed that they find comfortable and gives marketers and salespeople enough information about each prospect to make their buying experience more organic and enjoyable.  

Marketing qualified lead vs. Sales qualified lead

We have already established that a lead is a prospect who has explicitly expressed their interest in a product or service and is actively searching for more information. However, leads can also be categorized to indicate a specific stage in a sales cycle. As the names suggest, different teams can be responsible for handling different types of leads. So what’s the difference between marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs)?

Marketing qualified leads

Most of the inbound marketing leads are generated through marketing campaigns, but not all marketing leads are qualified. MQLs are easily identified based on their behavior on your site or towards your brand. Typically, MQLs are prospects that demonstrate a deep engagement with your product and send buying signals, but can not be described as fully fledged opportunities just yet. They are referred to as marketing qualified leads because they are more sales-ready than your usual leads and should be nurtured further by the marketing team before they can be handed over to sales. Marketers often design special trigger campaigns to identify MQLs. For example, someone downloading a buying guide, signing up for a free trial or requesting a demo is considered an MQL as it exhibits purchase intent.

Sales qualified leads

Sales qualified leads, or SQLs, are higher on the value chain than MQLs because they basically mean that the prospect has been vetted and accepted as a potential customer by the sales team. In theory, converting an MQL into an SQL should be quite easy — once a prospect raises their hand identifying themselves as a viable customer, everything that a sales team needs to do is nail the product demo and close the deal. However, every company defines an MQL differently, so the range of quality is very broad. Receiving a low-quality MQL is a huge pain for the sales team, as they’re unable to offer the kind of level of personalization that a buyer needs and often revert to autopilot, delivering a generic message that doesn’t clearly articulate how a product can solve the buyer’s problem or help achieve a goal.  

What you should do instead of cold calling

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again — stop cold calling and start smart calling. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy in sales, especially when it comes to speaking to unqualified leads. Once your prospects enter the decision stage and are pinpointed as SQLs, be ready to engage them in a conversation and gently guide them to a buying decision.

Here’s how you can turn your SQLs into customers.

Discovery call

Not all discovery calls go well, but those that do almost always lead to a sale. A seemingly innocent part of a sales process, discovery calls are actually hard work and play a major role in the success of a sales rep.

The purpose of a discovery call is to delve deeper into a prospect’s situation, get a better understanding of their needs and goals, and learn more about their pain points. Only with this information at hand can a sales rep successfully position the product as the best solution and cement the deal.

One of the most important things to remember when scheduling a discovery call is to go into the conversation with a clear plan of the next steps. For example, if a sales rep establishes a product fit, he should strive to set up the next call or meeting right away, while he has the prospect on the phone. One of the most popular tactics used to nudge SQLs further down the sales funnel is demo calls.

Demo call

Specifically designed to demonstrate how a product will improve the prospect’s life and maybe even turn their struggles into strengths, demo calls is one of the best ways to convert the leads. The information gathered during a discovery call can be put to good use now, as the sales rep gets a chance to craft a highly tailored pitch addressing all the issues / goals discussed earlier.

By aligning buyer’s needs with the product offering and emphasizing relevant features and benefits, a sales rep has a much better chance at converting the lead into customer. As long as the lead doesn’t feel like they’re being “demoed”. At this point, it’s best to avoid industry jargon and empty sales messages and focus on leveraging the information you already have.

Cold calling is dead

And no-one is mourning.

Consumers are clearly embracing inbound marketing and prefer to be educated and nurtured (even if they know it’s all in the hopes of achieving a sale) than being subjected to irrelevant pitching.

What was once considered a ‘necessary evil’ that generated enough leads for businesses to compensate for a low morale of the sales team, is no longer the go-to tactic among successful sales rep. Knowing what buttons to push and how to approach every lead to build rapport and convert them into customers has given salespeople a renewed vigour for their craft. If you want to sink your teeth into this powerful sales process, stop cold calling and work your inbound leads instead.


Abe Dearmer

Abe has a vast experience running multiple SaaS companies and is an expert on all things Sales, Marketing and SEO.

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