Cold Calls – The Big Chill

Four decades ago, McGraw-Hill had a promo featuring this guy as a typical buyer.This guy was staring out from a page, saying:

I don’t know who you are.I don’t know your company.I don’t know your company’s products.I don’t know what your company stands for.I don’t know your company’s customers.I don’t know your company’s record.I don’t know your company’s reputation.Now what was it you wanted to sell me?

For many people in this (or almost any other) business, cold calling is akin to having multiple root canals. Yet, making that first connection is vital to establishing a business relationship. We’re not talking about that first call you’ve made to someone you have met at a meeting, seminar, trade show or cocktail party. We categorize those as “warm” calls. We’re talking about picking up that telephone and connecting with a total stranger. The fear it engenders is right up there with stage fright.You have approximately 20-30 seconds to stimulate interest in continuing the conversation. This places a premium on the caller’s verbal skills.Cold calls telemarketing to sell a product, arrange a personal sales appointment, etc. have a definite and quantifiable goal. Marketing calls for our industry are the prelude to establishing a relationship you hope will bear fruit. If these calls fail (and most will), you have, at least, received enough information to disqualify them from taking up your time in the future.Understand that when you make a cold call, you are interrupting someone who, odds are, doesn’t even want to talk to you. In fact, your primary purpose at this stage is information gathering and a part of that information might be that the target of your call is a complete jerk or with a company that won’t deal with recruiters, no matter what.Enthusiasm is a must. Attitude is equally important. Speak slowly and enunciate until you can figure out the speaking pace of the person called. We all get calls from salespeople so you know what we mean. Some people just ‘click’ from the get go and you’ll continue the conversation with them. Others turn you off immediately and you’ll hang up. In our business, especially since this is usually just the overture to establishing a long-term relationship, you must come across as credible, trustworthy and interesting, otherwise this first call will never lead to a second one.Unless your call is an attempt to secure an interview for your Most Placeable Candidate, the only purpose is to try to establish a relationship. Most people have about all the “relationships” they can tolerate so that 20-30 second intro can be very important to you.Even if you use the MPC technique, you probably don’t really think you’ll end up with a sendout or a placement. Trainer Bob Marshall (, in his first-rate training program “Your Desk As A Manufacturing Plant” said, “A marketing, or sales, call is really a rapport building call.” “The main goal of the call is not … to arrange a Send Out for the Candidate/Vehicle . . . It is a way to help the Recruiter engage the Hiring Manager in conversation and to start the rapport building process.”Another great source of information about MPC marketing is Steve Finkel‘s book “Breakthrough.” He focuses on those pre-call components that are so necessary to make the call meaningful. He goes into some detail to describe those attributes that make up a marketable candidate: (1) Highly cooperative; (2) Measureable accomplishments/Successful track record; (3) High demand skills; (4) Attractively priced; (5) Personally qualified; (6) Skills and experience appropriate to age; (7) Limited exposure to marketplace, etc.While it is helpful to have a script to follow, the scripts must change with the situation. The ‘Hi, do you have any openings’ approach has rarely worked even though some rookies (and lazy veterans) still use it, especially when calling HR departments.Even the MPC script will change depending upon the job level and type (tech vs. sales; staff vs. line, potential hiring manager or HR, etc.). Each will cause you to modify your approach.The MPC script that seems to work best for one big biller is the following:

“I represent someone who is a very significant participant in your industry and because you are a major player in this industry, it has been suggested by many of your colleagues that I call you about this exceptional person. Because this person ranks in the top 20% of people in your industry and, in fact, is currently providing benefits and services to one of your competitors, I felt that I would be remiss in not making his/her availability to you (or a select group of contenders). Are you interested in learning more about this person?”

If the answer is No, he always asks if it’s OK to give a brief thumbnail of the MPC’s background, then asks who within his knowledge or circle of influence might be a good prospect for this MPC’s talents. He almost always comes away with one or two names, companies or suggestions.Terry Petra ( put it this way: “You must give them a reason to listen, you must stimulate in them an interest or curiosity, and you must engage them willingly in a two-way business dialogue.Within a brief time frame you must explain in understandable terms exactly why you have selected their company to call, why you are contacting them specifically, and what potential benefit could accrue to them as a result of your call. No ‘smoke and mirrors,’ just a forthright statement explaining the reason for your call.Obviously, it is important to utilize certain criteria when selecting the companies to call. These criteria are usually reflected in your company’s strategic marketing plan and may include any or all of the following: areas of specialization, industry/market focus, size and number of employees, location(s), research findings, referral source, competitive positioning, technological capability, etc. Whether by plan or happenstance (not generally recommended), you do have reasons for selecting your prospects. Make certain those reasons are based on solid business principles that make good sense to you as well as to your prospect. Without these criteria as a guide for the call, you may be perceived by your prospect as an ‘unnecessary annoyance’ who has little to offer. If that happens, your prospect will immediately begin to execute an exit strategy from the call. Once this occurs, it is extremely difficult to redirect the call in a fashion for both of you.”Terry shared some excellent generalized script possibilities:Example One

“Based upon the research we conducted, it appears as if your organizational profile is similar to that of several companies who have dramatically improved their performance capacity through the utilization of our services. Whether or not we could replicate those results with your firm is unknown at this time. However, if we exchange some basic information, we should be able to jointly determine if it makes sense for us to take this discussion to a more in-depth level. Should we take a few minutes now or would a scheduled telephone appointment be more convenient?”

Example Two

“I have never talked with you before and I only have a limited amount of information on your company. However, my area of specialization is ______ and I am aware of no other way of determining if I can be of service than picking up the phone and calling you. After a brief discussion we should be able to determine whether or not you can benefit from the services we provide. All right?”

Example Three

“My call to you is prompted by the position your company (division) holds in relation to your market (customers) and competition. Where performance is concerned, little margin for error may exist. If this is true, then my call may be particularly well timed. Can we take a few minutes to have a candid discussion?

Example Four

“My call to you could be well-timed if building and maintaining a strong team of professionals (or appropriate job titles) is one of your critical priorities for the coming year. Is this a good time for us to talk?

Example Five

“Experience has demonstrated that firms similar to (name of prospect’s company) have benefited the most from our services when there is a careful alignment of resources along a predetermined timeline in order to support the accomplishment of their organizational objectives. This allows us to focus our priorities and deliver results. Would learning more about this approach to staffing (recruiting) be of interest to you?”

Example Six

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“(Name of prospect), if we could take a few minutes and share information, we should be able to jointly determine whether or not the specialized services I provide could be of value to your firm. Is this a good time for us to talk?”

Example Seven

“My research leads me to believe that an opportunity may exist for us to do business together. If this is, in fact, true then both of our firms stand to benefit. That is the reason for my call. Is this a good time for us to talk?”

When dealing with CEOs or other top executives with whom you wish to establish rapport, the following has been effective:

I’ve been in the search and consulting business long enough to understand that almost any business, probably including yours, may have an underperforming area or two some function within the management structure that could be improved whether it’s in operations/administration, manufacturing, sales/marketing, engineering or information technology. Almost everyone in your position has thought about their problem areas and how to address them, but it’s human nature to want to put these decisions off, hoping they’ll self-correct. Unfortunately, we both know that usually doesn’t happen. I also know that timing is everything in these determinations but the purpose of my call is to stimulate your strategic thinking about which area or areas might be significantly improved by reshuffling the talent deck in your firm or to suggest organizational adjustments that might resolve the problem. Perhaps it might be mutually beneficial to further discuss this. What are your thoughts?

According to a recent ExecuNet survey of recruiters, 34% said it takes them 4-6 months after the initial contact until they are hired for a search assignment – and that time frame seems to be more often at the long end of the range.Theoretically, every company you call could become a client. Realistically, very few will. Preparation and knowledge gained before the call can help immeasurably.We received a call from a local subscriber asking if we would talk to a rookie recruiter who seemed unable to find enough people to call every day. She was trying to break into the accounting/finance area but was willing to work in any area where opportunity loomed. Her major problem was call reluctance, a topic we covered last month. Her confidence level was extremely low and she needed a shot in the arm. She had been calling HR people and needed to learn that not all the people she called were rude and unresponsive.We visited her office and her major problem seemed to be that she was hesitant to call because she didn’t know what to say.We have a weekly publication known as the St. Louis Business Journal, a publication similar to what exists in many major markets. It is cram-packed with business news. There are hundreds of names of executives and civic movers and shakers in each issue and, in most cases, mentions their position within their employers and other useful information. In addition to dozens of well-researched articles about companies and their executives, the publication has the usual large collection of names of folks who have just joined a new affiliation or been promoted. The issue we gave her also contained a listing of the top 25 Commercial Lenders along with the Chief Lending Officer(s) and a list of the 25 largest Worker’s Compensation Insurance Groups with their top executive’s name.The issue also had a multi-page feature on the heavy hitters in the Commercial Real Estate business, complete with names of the top people within each company.The Business Journal lists New Businesses, New Corporations, New Locations and a wealth of other business information. In all, there were almost 300 St. Louis area “business big shots.”We suggested that she start by calling as many of these people as she could, congratulating or recognizing them for their appearance in the SLBJ. Although the script should vary a bit with each call, we have found that it is easier to get through a gatekeeper by saying that you wanted to talk to them about what appeared in the SLBJ (or other news media). The purposes for these calls were: (1) to instigate a conversation with a high-level person, (2) to do it in a warm and fuzzy, non-confrontational manner, (3) to introduce yourself as someone with whom they might want to have a future relationship, and (4) to ask for their advice about their company and their industry in general. Here’s the script she used, with some minor modifications depending upon the information she got from the publication:

“Hi. My name is Laurie with _________ . I wanted to touch base with you to congratulate you on [the article, the promotion, the new job, etc.] mentioned in the St. Louis Business Journal. It’s always flattering to be recognized in a premier publication like that.Another reason for my call was to introduce myself to you in the hope that perhaps there might be a mutually advantageous reason for us to develop a business relationship.I’m an executive shoulder tapper, otherwise known as an executive search consultant. Your industry has intrigued me for quite a while. I don’t know how your current management team stacks up but my job in fact, my passion is working with firms like yours to maximize efficiency and profits by helping you attract and hire proven superior executive replacements for those whose performance may be just mediocre or worse.That’s an assessment that most people hate to make, so unless your firm suffers from a critical executive void right now, I’d like permission to call you from time to time to discuss your potential needs or, perhaps, to ask your advice about your particular industry or about current assignments I may be working on. Would that be OK?

Short and sweet. Over the week, she was able to connect with 122 real people. She stumbled at times but generally found more receptivity than reflexive rejection. Most told her that it would be OK to touch base from time to time. She picked up no job orders but that wasn’t the purpose behind the exercise. She now has more confidence. She followed up her calls with a personally written thank you note and information about her firm and she expects her efforts to bear fruit in the future.The aforementioned may seem to some to be a keen grasp of the obvious. We all know that cold calls are tedious and forbidding but it’s a lot like asking someone for a first date and hoping that they will ultimately turn out to be your soulmate for life.If you view them as dialogues designed to gather information about future possibilities or lack thereof they become easier with every call. Even the bad ones are instructive and, after all, we need source companies as well as clients.Throughout this article, we (and others) have mentioned ‘relationship building’ as the key to success in the recruiting and search business. That’s true. But the most important part of a business relationship is the ability to solve an employer’s problem by producing the right solutions. Friendly relationships may be personally fulfilling but we can’t tell you how many times a ‘friend’ will end up as your competitor’s client. Great business relationships are built upon results. They are often formed in unusual ways and with less than pristine scripts. We know a superstar who has spent 20 years working within a crowded niche. While he’s relatively well known within his specialty, he still sets aside several hours a week for cold calling. His pitch is:

“I’m a professional headhunter in the ________ industry and for 20 years I’ve serviced many of your top competitors. I would like to work with you and your company. What do I have to do or with whom do I need to talk to make this happen?”

He swears it works almost as well as some of the convoluted verbiage he used to use before he became established. Food for thought.

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.


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