Cold-calling: a competitive edge for SMEs

By: Andy Coughlin

Date: 28 January 2008

Things are stacked against smaller enterprises in so many ways when it comes to winning business. Getting that all-important first customer, having the financial muscle to fulfil sizeable orders and being 'allowed' to bid are all factors that SMEs face or have faced.  

It's crucial to focus on the areas of strength within a business. There are many and maybe we can discuss others in future posts. But for today, I wanted to raise the question of cold-calling: often a necessary evil. I'm lucky because my calls get screened by colleagues, but occasionally a salesperson gets through and I sometimes accept that the caller is simply doing their job, so I take the call and listen. 'Listen' being the operative word, because invariably these callers talk at me with little consideration for me the person on the other end of the line.

They tend to all make the same mistakes. My name is on a list of thousands, and the caller is just working down the list. Twenty seconds earlier they did not know I existed, and now they are trying to sell me corporate hospitality at Wimbledon.  They don't know what we do as a business. And they don't have the most basic grasp of whether I have any requirements or even whether I can spare a couple of minutes to hear what they have to say.  And when a stranger asks 'How are you?', you know it is a tele-sales person.

How can this help a small business? Of course, some SMEs need to do cold-calling. But they are probably not doing it in call-centres. And they are probably not selling hotel rooms today and IT solutions tomorrow. So they should know their products inside out. They should also have some personal experience of how people use, or benefit from their products. And in small teams, perhaps even with the owner/manager or MD sitting with them, can prepare their calls, discuss and agree the sort of questions that should determine whether the prospect might be interested.  Some call centres work on a numbers game. Bash the calls out and the sales will come in eventually.  But SMEs can offer something in the way they sell that mirrors what they hope to deliver - a more personal service.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.