Never feel bad about “cold calling”

cold calling

Cold calling used to be part of every sales person’s repertoire.

At some companies and for some sales people, it still is.

But for the larger population, cold calling has taken a back seat to other lead generation tactics – everything from direct mail and email to paid search, content marketing and social media.

These are all terrific lead generation tactics that should be considered.

But that doesn’t make cold calling wrong.

In fact, if you’re starting a new business – and you have no clients and no money – cold calling may be your best option for quick results.

Which is why it bothers me to hear so many marketing pundits pronounce that cold calling is a bad idea and that you should never do it.

Even worse, some portray cold calling not only as ineffective, but as unsophisticated, desperate looking and unethical.

They’re wrong.

Cold calling works.

Just like direct mail and email work. Just like content marketing and paid search work. Just like social media and PR work.

They all work – in varying degrees, in different situations.

The trick is to find the tactic – or combination of tactics – that is right for your company and your sales process.

That decision will depend on a number of factors:

  • the product or service you’re selling
  • the audience you’re reaching
  • your budget
  • your timetable
  • your own comfort level

Now I understand we all have our favorite first-touch tactics, and some are more popular than others, but to suggest good old-fashioned cold calling doesn’t work is ridiculous.

Cold calling has some definite advantages  

First, you can do it yourself.  You don’t have to hire a professional.

Second, you can target your best prospects.  You can pre-qualify your audience before you start making calls.  So every positive response is a qualified lead.

Third, it costs you nothing except for your phone bill.  Yes, it’s time consuming, but when time is all you have, it’s a good option.

And finally, the feedback you get from the people you reach is immediate.  This allows you to learn and adjust your message even after the first day.

On the other hand, cold calling is time consuming, frustrating and aggravating.  Most people, even seasoned sales people, hate it and will do almost anything to avoid it.

I think the strongest argument against cold calling has nothing to do with its effectiveness.  It is simply that people don’t like to do it.

If you are considering alternatives, make sure you apply this type of analysis to the other tactics:

Direct Mail  

You can use direct mail to generate leads, then follow up with a warm phone call.  But direct mail costs money – for creative, printing, mailing and postage.

It also requires some lead time – several weeks to get in the mail, then another week or so for delivery.


Email is similar to direct mail, but much cheaper and easier to produce.   And response is almost immediate.

But feedback isn’t as good as cold calling.  If a prospect isn’t interested, you don’t get a “no” – you get no response which leaves you in the dark.

Advertising (print and online)

Some use advertising strictly for brand building, but I like to use it to generate leads.  Targeting is not as good as direct mail or email, but the cost per response is usually lower.

Advertising also costs money – more money for print than online – but cost is always a factor.

Paid Search

Paid search (Google Adwords) stands apart from most other tactics because you are advertising to people who are actually searching for businesses like yours.  This makes every click a good lead at least from an interest standpoint.

And while paid search is a pay-per-click business, those clicks (and your costs) can add up quickly.


This is the hot tactic in marketing today – producing pages and pages of content for your website, then using search engine optimization to get that content listed on Google and eventually seen by prospects.

This is a long-term strategy that will take months or years to show results.  But when it does start producing leads, those leads will be free and ongoing.

Social Media

Social media is fast and cheap – and best used when integrated with Content/SEO (above).

Some companies (but not many) are able to generate leads exclusively through social media, but you need to remember building a following on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter doesn’t always translate into sales leads.

Public Speaking

Many consultants and other business professionals have built large clienteles through public speaking at industry conferences, seminars, webinars and other events.

It takes time to book these gigs and prepare your presentations, but there’s no out-of-pocket cost required.  And once you build a reputation, speaking opportunities will come to you.  In some cases, you might even get paid for your speaking.

Trade Shows

Trade shows continue to allow companies to showcase their wares and put sales people face to face in front of their best prospects, but the cost (both time and money) is significant.

Trade shows are less popular these days, but they can still generate leads for you.

It should be obvious that every one of these tactics, while perhaps more appealing than cold calling, come with their own strengths and weaknesses.  You will need to weigh these factors before trying any new tactic.

Two-touch prospecting

So far, I’ve only talked about first-touch tactics where each of the tactics stand on its own.

If you’re using direct mail, for example, your only follow-up call with be to those who respond.

But some sales strategies call for a combination of touches. Again using direct mail as an example, the follow-up phone call would be made to everyone who received the mailing – not just those who responded.

The thinking (right or wrong) is that the direct mail will prepare the prospect for the phone call.  If  nothing else, the sales person feels more comfortable when making the phone call.

Don’t listen to the critics

Too often, criticism of cold calling comes from those who are selling competitive lead generation tactics.

Understandably they want to position their product or service as a better alternative.

As you consider which tactic is right for you, be aware of the motivation of the critics.

And then choose the best tactic for you at the time.


About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."