If you ask sales expert and bestselling author Kendra Lee how essential she thinks cold calling is to the B2B sales process, you might be slightly surprised by her answer.
No, it’s not that Lee is an extremist who thinks cold calling is pointless or outdated. It’s just that the former IBM sales executive believes B2B sales organizations can survive without it being their primary prospecting technique. In fact, Lee argues in her new book due out this fall, The Sales Magnet: How to Get More Customers Without Cold Calling, that sales teams can actually drive revenue growth and new customer acquisition without ever having to pick up the phone.
Lee, the founder and president of sales consulting and training practice KLA Group, recently sat down with OpenView to explain why she thinks setting the right e-mail rhythm is critical to B2B prospecting and lead generation, and what should (and shouldn’t) be included in prospecting e-mails.
Some people might look at your new book’s title and assume that you think cold calling has very little value. How do you really feel about it?
I think that picking up the phone and calling prospects or leads is a critical component of any sales process, but I don’t think it has to be executed at the front end. Calling is more effective after you’ve warmed up or nurtured your prospects and you have something more relevant or personal to talk about.
For example, if you’re looking at your e-mail marketing analytics and notice that a prospect has clicked through on everything you’ve sent, but hasn’t replied to any of those e-mails, you better pick up the phone. That prospect might be too busy to respond or he might have some unanswered questions that your e-mails aren’t addressing. A phone call can address those issues and it’s going to be a bit warmer than most traditional cold calls.
Again, I think cold calling has its place, but it shouldn’t be the primary driver of lead generation. Establishing a consistent e-mail nurturing rhythm is far more effective in the early stages of the sales process.
Whether it’s through cold calling or e-mail prospecting, what is the number one reason companies struggle with prospecting and lead generation?
It’s really simple, actually. I think far too many companies haven’t mastered the art of the follow-up. If a salesperson consistently follows-up with their prospects, then they’re going to eventually reach the contacts they want to reach. It’s all about staying top-of-mind and keeping your name in front of those prospects.
Far too often, I hear sales professionals say that if a prospect doesn’t respond after two or three attempts, then why bother? The flaw with that thinking is that the prospect may not even read an e-mail after three attempts. It might take nine attempts before a prospect finally decides to open your e-mail and respond to it. So, if you’ve given up after three, then you’ve surrendered after only completing one-third of the work.
Most salespeople are shocked by that because they think nine follow-up attempts is overkill and they don’t want to annoy their prospects. But it’s all about context and frequency. If your goal is to identify leads with an immediate need and a readiness to buy, then you should be e-mailing prospects as often as every 3-4 days in a coordinated campaign focused on the need for two or three months. If your goal is to nurture a lead and maintain brand awareness, then you might e-mail prospects a few times a month over a longer period of time.
Obviously, the right frequency depends somewhat on your business, the product you’re selling, and the customer’s stage in the buying process. But following-up well beyond two or three initial e-mails is critical.
How would you define a quality prospecting e-mail and what should — or shouldn’t — be included in one?
I think e-mails should be personal, short, suspenseful, and simple. A prospector’s goal should be to compose a message that doesn’t sound like a traditional, pitchy e-mail campaign. That means you have to avoid being overtly pushy or robotic. Prospects will almost immediately tune those types of e-mails out.
Now, that doesn’t mean you want to act like a new prospect’s best friend, either. The best advice I can give lead generators is to picture your prospect sitting in the chair across from you and write a message like you’re having a conversation with them.
As for what shouldn’t be included in e-mails, there are two big things to avoid: graphics and too much text. Prospecting e-mails are notorious for having mammoth signature graphics and giant logos. Unfortunately, those e-mails are often flagged by spam traps or immediately deleted by prospects. I think it’s acceptable to include links, but stay away from logos, bulleted lists, or graphics of any kind. Brevity is key, too. If possible, keep your e-mails to 100 words or less.