Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cold Emailing versus Cold Calling

Phone versus Email for cold calling is a bit of a religious war. Your typical battled-hardened sales veteran tends to the "Pick Up The Phone You Wimp!" view; where the Twitter-savvy, IM-friendly yoof will be more inclined to send an email. In general. Personally, I fit firmly into neither demographic, but I am a fan of the veterans' view. In my experience, much of the arguments for email and against phoning are simply thinly disguised (or maybe subconscious) call reluctance. A recent example demonstrates why at least in my case, sales prospectors are pretty much wasting their time with email. It was this morning, and my as-ever full load of emails contained a cold sales approach. Here's a snippet:
From: <Sales Dude>                                                                                                               
Date: Thu, Apr 30, 2009 at 11:08 AM                                                                                     
Subject: <A feature they want to push>                                                                                   
To: Tommy Kelly                                                                                                                      
Dear Tommy,                                                                                                                           
My name is <Sales Dude> and I wanted to introduce you to <Cool Service> , a service      

that I believe Verilab Ltd could benefit from.                                                                           
<Cool Service> provides a convenient way to <do stuff>                                                    
. No more <typical problem 1>                                                                                               
. No more <typical problem 2>                                                                                               
. etc                                                                                                                                           
How does it work?                                                                                                                   
May I provide you with more information?                                                                              
Thank you for your attention to this matter.                                                                             
You may also check our <other cool stuff> at http://www.<theirdomain>.net/                    
<Sales Dude>                                                                                                                           
Sales Manager                                                                                                                           
To be removed from our list please click here-unsubscribe                                                   
 Now here's what I did with that email:
  1. Without even reading it, I scrolled to the bottom to look for the unsubscribe link
  2. Finding the link, I unsubscribed
  3. Still without reading the email, I deleted it
Note that the above wasn't done angrily, or with any kind of under-the-breath curse against all sales folk. It was almost automatic. It's *just what I do* with that kind of email. And there's the problem (for the sender).

Apparently I apply to my emails the kind of "thin slicing"  discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink. My decision even to read an email is based on its overall look and feel. It's like I have my own in-built Bayesian spam filter, and I Just Know if an email is worth looking at. The trouble is (again for the sender) my internal spam filter is actually pretty poor quality, and raises a lot of false positives. In other words, I delete, unread, emails that I'D ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN QUITE GLAD TO RECEIVE. In fact, the email I've been using as an example is a case in point. It's really quite a good product they're offering. I could even see myself buying it. But had I not chosen to use it as an example for this blog post, it wouldn't have survived long enough for its photons to get past my retina.

In my case, cold emailing is almost completely a waste of the sender's time. And I am not alone.

Now of course some will argue that they feel the same about phone calls. But that's missing the point. My response to the email isn't about feeling. It's not emotional. I do, it's true, hate scum-level spam, but I didn't hate the example email or its author. The guy has an interesting product, and wants to see if he can help me and have me buy stuff. I've no problem with that. But I just don't listen. He doesn't even get the time of day. It's not his fault. It's not even my fault. It's just the reality of a busy work life.

Phoning is different because by picking up the phone, the recipient *is* giving the time of day. That's not to say you can't then screw up the call and annoy them. Just as there is scum-level email, there is scum-level phoning. But that's a problem not with cold calling per se, but with bad cold calling. And why on earth would you want to do that?

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