In the 1980s movie “War Games”, Carrie Bradshaw's future husband uses some rubber-bands, electrical tape and a pair of green toddler safety scissors to hack into the WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) - a super-computer that controls America's nuclear weapons.
After about sixty minutes of dial-up modems, car chases, some teenage kissyface, and a cool scene with a payphone (what's a 'payphone?' is that like a 'burner?') , we find ourselves at the precipice of nuclear war with Russia.
In the climactic last act, WOPR is trying to crack the nuclear launch code sequence - and once the final digit is reached, the US will launch it’s nuclear arsenal at Russia and “that’s the ballgame, folks.”
Our young hero, Ferris Buller, breaches the security of Strategic Air Command, and convinces the Boss from the movie “9 to 5” and Maurice from Northern Exposure to allow him to trick the computer to play a “game” of tic-tac-toe.
Our young hero and WOPR play tic-tac-toe, over and over - each time to a draw. Then some narrative exposition happens and the result is that the computer starts playing tic-tac-toe against itself. Over and over.
But every time the result is the same - it’s a draw - no one wins.
Then the computer starts to do the same thing with the Global Thermonuclear war “game” - it plays “itself” through every possible scenario.
It plays out the US launching first - no winner. The USSR launching first - no winner. Both launch at same time - no winner. Just bombers or just submarine launches - no winner & no winner. Over and over each scenario culminates with both the US and USSR being annihilated.
All of a sudden, the countdown stops. And to everyone’s amazement and relief, WOPR discovers that the “only winning move” in a global thermonuclear war is “not to play.”
Kiss Ally Sheedy and roll the credits!
So, you may be thinking WTH does this have to do with B2B sales?
This: In 2017, for many B2B sales verticals, WOPR's advice about global thermonuclear war is the same as my advice for cold outreach - Calling. Emails. Door knocking.
The only winning move is not to play.
Before you start complaining "OH ANOTHER CLICKBAIT SCREED ON COLD CALLING" or start searching homedepot.com for sales on pitchforks and torches - hear me out: I'm not trying to sell you ANYTHING in this post. Nothing. But there’s a lot of people out there with a vested interest in getting sales people to participate in cold outreach - many of them are sales trainers or sales book authors. Or they’re selling cold outreach “lead” lists and some are even sales recruiters looking for people to fill positions that do a lot of cold outreach.
Listen, I’m not here to slap the food out of anyone’s mouth, so if cold outreach “works” in your vertical (the thing you “yourself” sell to people or businesses) then by all means keep doing it. I’m sure you’ll find a plethora of books and courses and lists you can spend your money on to learn how to do it “better.”
For the rest of us still reading (both of you) I think it’s fair to say that most cold outreach “techniques” can be summed up as
A way to, in less than 10 seconds on a phone, or three seconds in an email, persuade someonewho has never heard of you, your company or what you’re selling, to schedule a meeting with you.
To my mind cold outreach strategies seem to be living in a world where B2B sales is STILL about “persuasion.”
And I think this is the fatal flaw.
Persuasion used to be really important in sales. This is because back in the olden days, when we all had polio and the music was better, cold outreach was really necessary, because buyers and business decision makers usually needed to talk to a sales rep to:
- uncover X, which is some pain (either real or imagined) that can potentially be fixed by buying something
- learn what their competitors where doing about X
- learn what products can help them with X
- price out X
There was no other way to find any of this info out without talking to a salesperson - so since they NEEDED to talk to a rep, we sales reps could use and hone persuasive techniques to our advantage.
Persuade to get the meeting. To get the demo. To get the sale. Always Be Closing....whatever.
We controlled the information. So we controlled the conversation. People HAD to deal with us to buy STUFF and THINGS!
But who are we persuading now?
I don't know about your ideal customer profile (ICP), but mine is pretty savvy. In their day-to-day, they are all searching for data themselves, they are engaged with trends in their industries and they are constantly looking for solutions, content and insight on their own.
Not one of my prospects is sitting at their desk saying "I am incredibly happy with the way things are and I am clueless to any problems I am having...so much so I need to have someone call or email me to tell me about something I need to buy that will solve all the problems I have that I don't know I have because I am so happy and clueless about my job/company/industry."
They've SELF persuaded themselves and what they need is PROOF my widget is better than the OTHER GUY'S widget.
To me, modern B2B sales is about PROOF - not PERSUASION.
And unfortunately, our customers have a way to look for that proof without talking to me, you or any salesperson...and it's all AL GORES FAULT!
What do I mean?
- Tell me what you sell - what product or service - and in five minutes I can use the internet to know more about whatever you sell than I would have been able to do in 500 minutes just ten years ago.
- Tell me what problem you solve and in 30 seconds I can find your top competitors. Give me another minute and I may find how your CUSTOMERS rate your product or service against those competitors on a third party rating site.
- Tell me you’re going to send me your company's white paper on how to deal with X in 2017 and I’ll point you to 100 blogs, webinars, reports and infographics that tell me the same information. Some will be a year old already. I know because I read them last year.
The simple fact is this - being a sales rep, in the traditional “first interaction” scenario of "cold outreach," no longer offers value to the prospect.
Before we pick up the phone, send that email or knock on that door, we have to ask ourselves this question: What can I, as a sales rep, offer the recipient of my cold outreach that they can’t get from the internet without me?
If our answer is "information", "insight" or nothing, then we're really just doing the phone prospecting or cold email equivalent of throwing darts, trying to hit the 3% of any total addressable market (TAM) that’s in a buying cycle at any one time.
If that pays your rent, I'm not telling you to stop.
But I can tell you this as a person in the sales tech industry - we are trying to build tools to do that. And if you're betting against innovation, talk to the film developer, or the travel agent or the video store owner.....I'll wait here.
And yes, it's not lost on me that that the premise of War Games is "automated technology gone awry." But we're not talking about safeguarding our nuclear deterrent...we're talking about selling widgets to Sally from Accounting.
So as a modern salesperson, I can see the sunrise on the horizon...I'm well aware that everyone is desperately trying to build tools to replace me and how I deal with the 3% of my TAM in the buying cycle.
So, since I'm interested in stupid stuff like eating and living in a house, I believe I have to figure out ways to talk to that other 97% - the one's who don't answer emails, or phones or point to the NO SOLICITING sign on the door before they give me the boot.
The fruit at the top of the tree!
I - literally - get 25 emails and 5-10 calls a day from sales reps, each one of them ASKING me for a meeting to show me whatever STUFF or THING they are selling. And even the “good ones” - ones that have done a modicum of research on me or my company (like look at my linkedin or my twitter) - invariably end up asking for a meeting before they offered me ANYTHING of value at all.
As a buyer - with SO MANY CHOICES - why would I choose to work with someone who cares so little for my business that they call me COLD?
IMHO, for buyers, salespeople cold outreaching prospects, asking for meetings to talk about “their widget” are a losing proposition. It offers nothing of value to the buyer and it’s ALL about the seller trying to make some arbitrary “activities” number in the CRM.
The balance of power has been tipped away from the sales rep and toward the buyer. And that pendulum is NOT swinging back.
With the transparency and availability of information online, and the ability to tap into third-party reviews, buyers are far savvier than they used to be.
Our old models of churning though cold call lists, using any means necessary to get meetings and using high-pressure closing tactics have stopped working because the whole process treats customers as only interchangeable piles of money.
At least that's what I see out there in the street - maybe you see something else.
Additionally, let’s remember it’s 2017 - not 1983.
The internet gave birth to the smartphone which begat texting and social media. I’ve personally communicated to five prospects/customers just today through text, Linkedin IM, twitter & Facebook - not to mention 50 or so emails and three web-conferences.
I've also had six calls, from local yet unknown numbers, that I've let go to voicemail. And none of them left a message.
I wonder who those calls were from....
Here's the thing - we simply don’t communicate like we used to.
Again, I don’t mean to disparage anyone. If cold calling or cold email or door knocking works for you - do it. Don’t listen to me - I’m not paying your mortgage.
I'm just some extremely good looking guy on the internet.
If selling "sales training" that concentrates on cold calling or cold emailing pays your bills, more power to you. I don’t sell sales training. I don’t have a sales book to point you to.
I just sell software.
But because I sell software, I deal with database admins, IT people and LOB managers all day long.
My experience with these non-salespeople in 2017 is this: NONE of them want to talk to salespeople on the phone, cold. None of them want to read cold emails.
Many go so far as to say they “despise” cold calls and they hate junk emails.
I had to ask myself - it is WORTH my time, energy and effort to continually practice to be good at something that my ideal customer profile HATES & DESPISES?
My answer to myself was: NO. My thought was rather than become good as something that's socially undesirable, maybe I needed to do something else.
Earlier last week I released an eight minute video that outlines FIVE non-traditional sales tools you can use to craft a message and deliver it to prospects via multiple-channels.
I use them...DAILY...to craft communications to suspects, prospects and current customers.
I'm linking it here for you - the first four minutes is some "exposition" by me and then the second half is ALL TOOLS. So you can feel free to FFWD through my "Tonight Show" comedy routine if you want to get the to the tools.
As always, I'm interested in hearing about what YOU'RE doing to reach out to and build relationships with prospects into the New Normal.
Let me know.
Again - this is just my 2 cents. Your mileage may vary.
Derek Wyszynski is Chief Sales Hacker at ZynBit, a company dedicated to the proposition that salespeople shouldn't have to spend 8 hours a week entering data into their CRM- in fact salespeople shouldn't work for a CRM, the CRM should work for them.