Telephone calls to prospective clients or employers can be "cold," where the person is not expecting your call. They can also be "warm," where the prospective client knows something about you and is expecting your call.
When coaching lawyers, I am often asked about the effectiveness of cold calling. Lawyers who want to develop more business wonder if this highly popularized sales technique might work for them. Lawyers who are looking for jobs wonder if cold calls ever generate warm informational interviews.
Almost always, I counsel my clients to turn a cold shoulder on cold calling.
The telephone is a "cold" medium
The goal of cold calling is to plant a tiny seed that can grow into a relationship -- so that the called person will think of you when they have work to refer out or when they hear of a job opportunity.
Even if the person being called actually answers the phone, I don't see a relationship being launched very often using this impersonal medium. Connecting a face with a name makes it more likely that you will be remembered. Don't use a telephone call to make your "pitch." Instead, use it to try to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
The chances of someone picking up the phone on a cold call are slim to none. Usually, your call is directed to voice mail. Ideally, you have a succinct and interesting message to leave. Even so, what are the chances that a busy person will listen to the complete message and then return a cold call of this nature? If they do, chances are slim that you in turn will be available to take the call.
Let's assume that you get lucky and your targeted contact actually answers the phone. How ready is this person to listen – right at this moment and exactly about this subject? "Cold" interruptions can be irritating. Plus, it takes the listener time to switch gears from what they were doing when interrupted to what you are saying in your phone call. By the time the person is paying attention, the first 30 seconds of your carefully crafted call have already flown by.
Email plus face-to-face is a "warm" medium
Time devoted to cold calling could be better spent on setting up and attending face-to-face meetings. By agreeing to the meeting, a person has already expressed a willingness to help you out. Plus, they know what you want and are focused from the start.
I fully understand that persuading someone to meet with you is easier said than done – but it is still much more effective than cold calling.
Let us say that you have 20 potential contact names and five hours of time to spend on your business development or job networking efforts. If you cold call, you might get through to three or four individuals; if you're lucky, one of them might help you. Without ever seeing your face, it is unlikely the person will remember you.
If you email first with a little information about who you are and why you would like to meet, you might end up with some "ignores" (just like voice mail), but with just a ten percent "hit" rate you are likely to end up meeting face-to-face with two individuals who have already been warmed up and expressed a willingness to help you.
One final reason to give cold calling the cold shoulder is that just about everyone hates doing it. As I tell my attorney coaching clients, what is hated rarely gets done well – or at all. Most of my clients find it much more comfortable to email first, then meet in person with a few select individuals who understand the agenda.