You Want More Business? So Get on the Phone!

Image: Want More Business? So Pick Up the Phone!

James Caan, multi-millionaire, Dragon, founder of the Alexander Mann Group was asked, “How can I get my consultants to be more productive?” His reply, “Tell them to get on the f***ing phone.”

That’s how he built his recruitment business in 1985, cold-calling prospects from a tiny office in Pall Mall. Would that still work today? James says so, I agree. But I know some people will think:

‘The world’s changed Mark. We use social media now.’ And sure enough, the young person without a smart phone and an agile thumb is a rare bird.

But what is all that digital activity achieving? Lots of entertainment certainly, but imagine for a moment, hypothetically, that your sales results are unimpressive and you’d like the kudos and pay which comes from being a star producer, what are you going to do, type faster?

No amigos, time for a cold reality shower – you will never close a recruitment deal with an email, you have to talk to the client.

Emails, texts, browsing are distracting you from what actually gets deals closed.

Now don’t go thinking that I don’t know anything about social media, I have fully considered the advantages and today use and teach methods which bring in warm leads. But outbound calling on the telephone remains the most powerful tool we have.

Social Media may be good for branding and visibility, but if you are sending tweets and hoping that the phone is going to ring, you are deluded. It won’t happen often enough for you to build a profitable business.

But you’ve seen trainers promoting the idea, ‘Cold-calling is dead.’

That’s a seductive pitch; working smart not hard. Only what they don’t tell you is that it takes a lot of time / effort / energy / trial and error to set their system up. In reality it’s not going to put food on the table or pay your mortgage for a number of months. Even then you will need to supplement it with the telephone.

Telephone prospecting is never going to be popular, I won’t claim otherwise, but it works. The reason is based on a fundamental; the human animal is strongly influenced by speech framed in well chosen words. Throughout history oratory is the tool leaders have used to motivate people facing great challenges. But your task is easy, all you have to do is to get a prospect to say, ‘Come and see me.’

So if it’s that good why would people do everything they can to avoid cold-calling? Again the answer lies within our DNA, we’re afraid of rejection, failure, looking stupid to our peers or our prospects. We fear saying the wrong thing, mucking it up, not knowing what to say or how to counter objections.

There is a cure for this and if you have ever stood on a high diving board, looked down and hesitated to take the plunge, you will know what it is.

Just do it.

… and ignore the critical voice inside your head, the one telling you: “cold calling doesn’t work, people won’t want to talk to me, I’m rubbish at business development, this is a waste of time.”

Recognize these beliefs for what they really are: excuses. Excuses that limit what you can achieve. Are you going to retreat from the edge of the diving board, and climb down feeling shabby? Of course not!

So man up, and just do it.

Deal with the temptation to procrastinate. Don’t put off making a start by tidying your desk, chatting to colleagues, or looking in the fridge for the last slice of pizza. And strictly avoid the worst of all temptations, email.

When you start your day, don’t even look at your inbox.  Pick up the phone and start dialling. Make it your first task. Call new prospects, introduce yourself, find out what they might require.

What’s the worst that can happen? Supposing a prospect says, “We aren’t interested at the moment,” could you manage politely to reply ‘Thank you, have a nice day?’

When you make an active sales approach to prospects, there is only a limited range of possible outcomes. They range from, ‘No we aren’t interested and never will be’ (only that may not be true) through to the other extreme, ‘We need someone right now, when can you come and see me?’ Typical responses will be somewhere between the ends of this spectrum and that is where most business is to be found.

To make these calls you need just a phone and mental energy, no fancy hardware or apps, just sufficient motivation.

Do your prospecting when you are fresh and have the most energy. That won’t be if you have been putting it off for most of the day, knowing you have the task still hanging over you.

Once you have made a decent number of calls and picked up a lead or two, you will feel good about yourself. The hardest (and most productive) part of the day is dealt with so now you can get to the lower priorities, which include your emails.

Regardless of whether you prefer it or the client prefers it, you are not going to close sales by email.

So get on the freaking phone.

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    1. AWESOME article with pertinent information as always, Mark. I could not agree more.

      Calling BUILDS relationships, e-mailing cements it. 🙂

      1. It’s lovely to hear from you Ann. “Calling builds relationships, e-mailing cements it” – well put!

    2. Agree 100% Quickest and most cost effective route for business development.

  1. Couldn’t agree more Mark. It’s too easy to hide behind social media and email with regards to trying to generate appointments. As you say….get on the phone!!!!! It works.

  2. Hi Mark, I believe in your blog whole heartedly however what I have found that it is nearly impossible to get to the hiring manager. With automation the way it is you are lucky to be able to leave a message or even talk to a warm body. I still do it and follow up with an email confirming that I had reached out to them on a specific day concerning ———- At the end of the day cold calling is actually being at the right place at the right time and I am not convinced it brings about the results we need to survive. Warm Regards Dianne

    1. Hi Dianne, Thanks for your insight! You’re absolutely right, it’s harder than it used to be to reach people by phone. The ratio of call attempts to decision maker conversations used to be 3:1, now it’s more like 5:1 or 6:1. The key to being “in the right place at the right time” is persistence. For example, successfully contacting the hiring manager might involve: Connect on LinkedIn, Message them, Call, Email, Call, send a letter by snail mail, Call again … and again. Of course, doing your research, having a valid reason for the call, knowing what to say (or write) to get a response, these factors all make a huge difference. I recommend targetting 3 decision makers from every company to increase your chances of connecting with at least one of them. And be creative about obtaining their mobile number. You won’t get through to everybody, but you will expand your client base. Take care, Mark

  3. This article hits on several different areas that speak to me as a recruiter. Thanks so much Mark. I agree with many of your key points including the fact that it takes the personal one on one call to get the results we desire.

    1. HI Mary – Yes “personal” – exactly! I’m old school, like you. The best communication channels are: face to face, telephone and Skype (or equivalent) for that reason. They are more personal and intimate than email or social media. Therefore you have more influence.

  4. Excellent article, well written and you couldn’t be more accurate. All my greatest clients and business deals started off with a phone call.

    One thing for all sales people to remember is this: Looking back at your best ever customer/client, how did you meet them? Have you known them all your life or were they once a stranger, someone who didn’t know you even existed? If it’s the latter; I’m guessing it will be for the vast majority, then there will be 100’s of other ‘strangers’ that would love a call from you too. Just pick up the phone and another ‘great client’ will appear!!

    Thanks for sharing the article Mark. 🙂

  5. I note that you say 1 in 5 calls are needed on average to get to the decision maker, I wish that was true, I would put it at 1 in 20. Since I started recruiting I have got most of my business with cold calls and still continue to use this method but I believe it is getting less effective.
    I also note that you email me and have never called me Why? if calling is more effective.

    1. Hi Doug, Thanks for joining the discussion! Wow, 20 dials to get 1 conversation? In other words, you’d need to call 100 people to have just 5 conversations. That’s sounds like a lot, there must be a way to improve that ratio. It’s hard to say without knowing the specifics. If you’d like some input on how to increase those results please let me know.

      Why have I never called you? Great question! Here’s the reason… A search for “Staffing & Recruiting” industry professionals on LinkedIn yields 1,188,088 results. In most sectors, there are simply too many prospects to phone them all. So you need to segment your list. As a general guideline, the top 20 ‘best buyers’ – those most likely to pay your fees – should be contacted multiple times per month. The top 100 prospects should be contacted monthly. The top 500 quarterly. Everyone else, send them your email newsletter and content marketing. (The exception is when you know a company is hiring, you’re following up a lead or marketing an MPC, etc.) In other words, fish where the fish are biting. Until you commented on my blog, you weren’t on my radar. Now you are!

  6. Nice article Mark – I sent it out to everyone at the firm and told them to
    read this as their training for this week.

    I appreciate your insight!

  7. Mark,

    Maybe I’m ‘old school’, but I have always had more success cold calling than emailing throughout my career. I’ve been trying to use other proven methods for the last few months and want to give them a fair shot before going back to cold calls. So far, not so great, but if they are proven methods then I feel that I need to keep trying to get the new way right.

    I appreciate your advice on this and other subjects.


    1. Thanks Jane! I’m ‘old school’ too. Of course I do think recruiters should use every channel – phone, email, social – to reach clients/candidates. But these days a lot of recruiters seem to shy away from picking up the phone.

  8. Absolutely right Mark, its easy to agree is you have been in the business for 20 years. But how do you get the message across to new starters who don’t have a telesales background?

    To give more context, if you have a small environment where the current team are all experienced and don’t smash the phones anymore, its hard to get that vibe going with the new hires.

    1. Hi Richard, Excellent point – this is a familiar challenge faced by recruitment business owners and managers. In fact, creating a business development culture is one of the key things I help my clients to achieve. I do have the answers you’re looking for, but don’t have space to give a meaningful explanation here. Happy to chat this through with you – feel free to contact me.

  9. Hi Mark,

    Understood getting on the phone. I do everyday and don’t have a problem if the call is cold or warm, but lately I find it is a rarity that a client, new or existing, picks up the phone these days.