New Business, Cold Calling and Golf

I’ve been reading about a recent Business Development Conference sponsored by Adweek in New York. 400 members of the agency new business community convened to learn new trends and tricks for their professional education. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend due to a new business pitch (but I have attended in the past, and learned a bit from the seminars). By all accounts, Lord Bogusky’s keynote on defying convention was uplifting and revelatory (not surprising). Also, it wasn’t unexpected to hear about the overwhelming emphasis placed upon digital/social media outreach in new business prospecting.

It alarms me somewhat that social is being touted as the driver of a new “paradigm” of biz dev prospecting (I’ve been around for countless “new paradigms” in new business — the very phrase is such a cliche that it undercuts the credibility of any new idea or tactic). I am WAY open to any new way of succeeding in business development. But, I am leery of any proposed shortcuts or ABSOLUTES in the discipline. I use social for my clients, and digital…but it augments the program, it doesn’t drive it. I look at digital/social as great ways to pave the road for the driver — the real driver is  your personal ability to establish a business relationship with the prospect.

I read a somewhat disturbing quote from the conference, “Cold calling for new business is terrible. It’s like golf, you stink for 17 holes then hit one good shot and it sucks you back in“. Whoa. To begin with, I don’t stink at golf. I’m a single-digit handicap. I’ve played the best courses in the world. I’ve made holes-in-one. I’ve won tournaments. At one time in my life, I DID stink at golf. (everyone does when they begin).  I didn’t like that. So I decided to do something about it. Golf was important enough to me to want to improve to a level of competitiveness and respectability within my peer group. MY PEER GROUP IS AGENCY PRINCIPALS AND MARKETING DIRECTORS. So I did. I took lessons to learn the proper techniques and I practiced instilling these techniques until I had the confidence to trust my swing. And I began thinking of myself as a good golfer. Therefore, I became one. No shortcuts, no magic potions or miracle equipment. Certainly, like “cold calling”, it has its humbling days. But, that’s what makes incremental success so rewarding.

Why would you think you would NOT stink at golf if you only play a few times a year and consider yourself a terrible golfer? Would you expect to be a good pianist if you played the piano 5 times a year? Or more tellingly, if you practiced the piano 5 times a week but you hit the same wrong keys every  day — would you expect to improve? If you put a enough monkeys in front of enough typewriters would one of them write a Shakespearean sonnet? No.  Seems frustrating for the agency management type who goes out to his client’s fundraiser golf outing a few times a year and hacks it up to the point of embarrassment.

Here’s the one beautiful thought you can take solace in if you do hit that one great shot on 18 and it “sucks you back in”: if you hit that one shot properly, you can do it again, and again. Maybe not every time, but a lot of the time. You just need to find out what you did right and repeat the swing. This takes lessons and practice. Repetition instills confidence.

Now, about cold calls. First of all, a savvy agency biz dev professional doesn’t make “cold” calls. They make two types of calls:

  • a relationship-building business call
  • a professional marketing call with a tangible benefit for the prospect.

This is a big ticket sale with an extended cycle and timeline. If you are calling prospects with the goal of “closing”  them on a pitch meeting in one call, you are in the wrong industry. That happens as often as an Eagle in golf. “Cold” calls are for telemarketers driving small ticket or low interest purchases. They are one-call closers. It takes an array of outreach to our prospects to get a meaningful meeting. And yes, digital/social is part of this mix. It’s not either/or, it’s AND.

The New York conference’s premise of this supposed “new paradigm” of biz dev outreach through social media is that “80% of all transactions begin with an online search”. Really? All transactions?  So we are lumping an agency’s creative product with buying a pair of shoes on zappos? Or are we equating our agency’s strategic offering to illegal viagra from Canada? Same metrics, I guess. I never even considered agency compensation as a “transaction” anyway. It’s a big ticket sale. Hey, do the social media thing, I do. Tweet your brains out. Blog your balls off. And if clients seek you out — take their money. But, don’t count on it.

What I like best about digital/social tools is that they allow us to learn about our prospects and for them to learn about us. We can learn a great deal about the prospects as a people through their social profiles. But, to think someone will cut us monthly checks for huge sums of money because they like our blog is pretty vain. With Linkedin and Facebook, there is really no reason for us to make a truly “cold” call. We don’t have to ask inane questions like “what’s your background?” anymore. And by just being a good guy with a respectful POV on someone’s business or attending trade shows, we can even become Facebook friends or Linkedin connections with our prospects. Then we have a basis for a real connection. When I make a marketing call, my number one goal is to be MEMORABLE. I want that prospect to think, “I’ve never gotten a call like this”.

A memorable professional business marketing call can only be made after doing the necessary homework on the prospect’s business and it needs to be delivered with an unexpected insight into the prospect’s category or customer. This is like practicing putting in golf. You need to put the ball in the hole or all the technique is for naught. Practice is a means to an end — the end is the confidence and expertise you communicate to a prospect. This is an art derived from science. The problem with most cold calls is that they are mindless and lack conviction, like a golfer’s swing who only plays a few times a year.

If you are reading my series, “How to Get One Good Account a Year” — you know that I don’t believe in making ANY call or outreach effort without being qualified to have an educated POV on the prospect’s business, industry or category. So by their very nature, 90% of “cold” calls are nebulous. You have no right calling that prospect. You are wasting HIS time (not yours, you are being paid to be inept). No wonder he screens you out. You deserve it. And that’s the most common complaint from biz dev folks who are “cold” calling — they can’t get their call through. They get their email deleted. They get their voicemail erased. They get screened out by the gatekeeper. You’re a professional salesman, dammit! Act like one. The next excerpt in Take 5! (fourth take) examines ways to overcome these obstacles with an intelligent and creative outreach program. And how to turn your “cold” calls into business calls.

Golf doesn’t teach character or humility, it reveals it. Fear is what sabotages most golf swings and what undermines most biz dev outreach efforts (phone call or otherwise). We’re afraid of hitting a bad shot. We’re afraid of sounding like a fool to the prospect because we haven’t practiced enough, or done our homework. If that’s you, don’t play and expect to be good or cold call and expect results.

8 thoughts on “New Business, Cold Calling and Golf

  1. Glenn Eddie

    While I would have liked to have heard Lord Bogusky’s talk, I consider your writing here immensely helpful.

    Particularly the paragraph which begins with: What I like best about digital/social tools is that they allow us to learn about our prospects and for them to learn about us.

    Everyone is looking for a magic bullet, a quick hit, a heroin injection, and the bad news it…drum roll. It takes hard work.

    When I started in business at Ogilvy/New York, two guys had just produced the Smith-Barney campaign which touted: We make money the old fashioned way. We earn it.

    Never has that been more true, or needed to be said more.

    That line along with bringing back McDonald’s, You deserve a break today, could and should be two great resurrections.

    Particularly the Smith-Barney line. It should be the tag line not for a financial institution, but for our country.

  2. Glenn Eddie

    Sorry for the diatribe. I’m old.

    Just grateful that someone else is saying that social media is a great tool, terrific for research, awesome for a lot of things, but someone show me how it’s effective in generating sales.

    Just saw the great documentary “Art and Copy” which reminds me that marketing has not yet had the creative revolution in interactive which television did in the 1960s.

    1. mikepalma Post author

      Thanks Glen. I’m also waiting to see the creative revolution in digital. Agency people still talk about Lubars’ BMW films (insularity), don’t hear many average Joes who ever saw one. And some slackers out there know Subservient Chicken. Where’s the great new digital work?

      1. clason stuhlreyer

        you make a great point with your reference to the BMW films … having been a fan of them before had i ever stepped foot into an agency is more then likely related to what lured me under the circus tent to begin with.

        while we as an industry go out of our way to seek out what we consider to be examples of great advertising the general public does not. in fact for the most part they prefer to avoid it all together. this in itself represents the proverbial achillies heel of all things digital as opposed to the paladinian “have gun will travel” approach taken by traditional forms of advertising. that being said i won’t deny the fact that while digital in many ways represents a space whose potential is limited only by the size of our imaginations, by no means is the field of dreams that some have made it out to be. “if you build it, they might not come”

  3. Paul van Winkle

    Superb. Thank you.

    I’ve been a business development pro for agencies (Y&R, DMB&B) and integrated creative firms for 20+ years. I’ve trained staffs to build and grow and extend business relationships from scratch, and made my living doing same.

    Anyone who poops on cold calls shouldn’t be on stage. This is someone who resists personal risk, isn’t an extrovert, and is in pain during outreach. A bad combo, doomed to fail.

    As my father (who once played for the NY Giants, and ran marketing and advertising for Novartis/Ciba) said to me about sports, and life: if you’re not having some fun, don’t do it.

    Take an integrated approach.

    Great article.


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