“Today we’re going to learn how to cold call!” he barked. Then he slammed the Yellow Pages onto his desk, flung it open to a random page, and said, “It looks like today we’re calling construction firms.” With no further preamble, he picked up the phone and called the first number.
“Hi. This is John from Acme Phone Systems. May I speak to the person in charge of your telecommunications?” This call was followed by another. Then another. Then another. When he finished “demonstrating” he flipped the phone and the Yellow Pages over to me and said, “Your turn.”
My stomach sunk.
“Pick a section,” he ordered. Sheepishly I flipped the book open to “Auto Dealerships.” What followed was an onslaught of hang-ups and rejections like “we’re not interested” and “we just bought from someone else.”
It was brutal.
On Tuesday we drove a few miles to a business park that — back in those days — was full of small companies, not the well-funded startups you would find there today. We knocked on doors and leaned over reception desks to see what kind of phones they had.
I don’t think I found a single lead the entire week.
That Friday he handed me a VHS copy of “Glengarry Glen Ross” and said, “Don’t come to work Monday unless you watch this. It’s the greatest sales movie of all time.”
I did, and it is.
One of the most famous lines in the film is Jack Lemmon’s character, Shelley Levene, complaining, “The leads are weak!” I remember thinking, “At least he has leads!”
This was my introduction to prospecting. We had no marketing team, no leads, no internet. Over 20 years later many sales organizations are still prospecting in the same way. The only difference is that instead of dialing from the Yellow Pages and knocking on doors they are sending loads of ineffective emails — “spraying and praying.”
While my initial sales experience was a tremendously inefficient way of building pipeline, it worked because it was a different time. As sellers we were much more in control of the buying process because we held all the information. The prospect knew very little about the product we were selling. Over the course of the evaluation we had the opportunity to educate them, to influence the buying criteria, and usually we would win.
Today the customer has all the power. Today’s buyers spend hours online learning about products and solutions long before they engage with a sales rep, and they are more in control of when and how they buy than ever before. To win in this environment, marketing and sales need to work together like never before. Sales needs to think like marketers. Marketing teams need the tools to help drive prospects through the funnel in the critical period before they reach a sales representative.
This is why we’ve seen the emergence of technologies like marketing automation. Marketing automation gives the marketing and sales teams the ability to keep up with today’s educated buyers and guide them through the buying process. When I started selling, part of the reason buyers knew so little about our products and services was because there was no internet, no social media, no websites, no way for them to jump online and educate themselves.
Now, we need to be prepared to engage with an active buyer and provide a consistent, personalized experience almost anywhere, whether that’s on our website, through our emails, or through that still-popular phone call. Moreover, we need to be able to deliver that personalization at scale. That’s where marketing automation really shines. It takes the hard work out of making sure that your buyers get the right information at the right time, and your sales team is able to follow up with the warmest leads first.
The world of sales looks very different from the one one I started in on that especially bright Monday morning. Things have changed a lot, and mostly for the better. We have the tools to give our buyers what they need, when they need it. And these days, the leads aren’t as weak as they used to be.