Sales cold calling.  The words strike terror into the hearts of many small business owners.  You know you have a great product or service, but the idea of emailing or calling up a bunch of strangers and trying to convince them of that…Yikes.

The very good news is you can build a solid, successful business without cold calling. My business has been around and growing since 1990, and we have yet to make a cold call.  In fact, we aspire never to make one.  Here’s what we do instead:

1. Listen with curiosity

A significant percentage of our leads and clients have come to us purely as a result of getting curious in the normal course of conversation with people who turn out to be potential clients.  A number of years ago, one of our consultants was sitting by the pool with some other parents, watching their kids swim. One of the dads mentioned that he was lucky to have gotten the weekend off, since his law firm was going through a lot of change. Curious, she asked, “What kind of change?”  He started to describe what was happening – and by the end of a 20-minute poolside conversation, they’d agreed to talk the following Monday about how our company might support them through the changes. His law firm has been a client ever since.  

2. Show who you are and what you do

Using this approach provides you the opportunity to build your business while supporting worthwhile causes.  Most non-profit and community organizations need services and products they may not be able to afford. By supplying those services for free, or at a reduced rate, you have the chance to demonstrate your capabilities or products to the organization’s members while supporting a cause that’s important to them. For example, my organization offers discounted vision and strategy work to non-profit boards. These board members are often also executives at for-profit companies, and in many cases, they invite us into their organizations. They’ve experienced the benefits of what we do – and they know that we support a cause they’re interested in as well.

3. Show up online

I will almost guarantee that you’re losing potential customers even as we speak, if you don’t have an online presence. I’m not just talking about e-commerce. You can build a real community online, with conversations relevant to your business – conversations that generate both customers and referrals.  I recently spoke with the owner of a day spa in upstate New York who told me that her blog, focused on beauty and wellness, has converted hundreds of interested readers into customers over the past few years.

4. Build relationships of value

This is by far the most powerful anti-cold-calling strategy I know. The vast majority of our clients have come to us through the recommendation of existing clients.  We create deep connections of trust with our clients, while providing practical support for them to succeed as leaders.  They find the relationship and our services so valuable that they continue to work with us over time – and they tell their friends and colleagues about us.  If you focus, as a small business owner, on providing your customers with the best possible products and services, they will practically grow your business for you by enthusiastically recommending you to those in their personal and professional circles.

These approaches all rely on demonstrating your value to existing and potential clients as a way to build your business – as opposed to the exhausting and low-return drudgery that is cold-calling. And it works: in the words of Henry Ford: “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”

About the author

EAcropped2-3Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a consulting, coaching and training firm that focuses on leader readiness. You can keep up with Erika on her blog, at Forbes, or through her books



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