For creative services firms, cold calling as a new business tool has always been a frustrating enterprise. Unlike people selling consumables, like office supplies or food; or services that are purchased on a regular schedule, like accounting; creative services marketers very rarely reach a prospect when they have a need for what they’re selling.
In the old days, though, you still had to do it. You did it to “get on people’s radar.” You would ask their permission to send some information, and if they liked your stuff they would hang onto it until they needed a firm like yours. In fact, they probably even had a file folder full of brochures and business cards for firms they might work with one day.
Cold Calling’s Falling ROI
Now, however, those file folders are long gone. Oh sure, people may ask you to email them a PDF, but few of those ever get opened, much less saved in a manner that makes them retrievable when it’s time to request proposals. Google (or recommendations obtained through social media like LinkedIn or Twitter) has replaced both the “vendor file” and the folder of saved emails as the first step in the consultant search process.
What does this mean? If you’re one of the few people out there who still spends a significant portion of their business development time “dialing and smiling,” it means you need to rethink your approach. Content – not cold calling – is what increases your chances of being found on the search engines, which is where your prospects are looking for people like you these days.
The Secondary Benefits of Content Marketing
Another benefit of marketing with content is that the process of creating the content helps you to get better at what you do. Writing white papers and blog posts and podcasts, and even tweets, forces you to find ways to better describe your offerings and clearly state your specialty. It gives you a chance to research what your competition is doing, and think about how you can tie your firm’s activities to broader technological, cultural, or business trends.
And, perhaps most importantly, it forces you to define exactly what value you are providing your customers, and think about ways to maximize this value. If you’re writing all of this down for public consumption, it’s harder to fall back on generalities about your offerings or strengths. Saying that you are different than your competition because you offer “great customer service” or “principal involvement in every project” may work for a brochure or a static web site, but if you are really going to promote yourself with content, you’re going to be forced to get beyond that pretty quick.
A large-scale cold calling effort, on the other hand, doesn’t force much introspection or strategic thinking. It just requires a little bit of planning and research, and then a lot of willingness to put up with frustration and rejection.
A Word of Warning
DO NOT take this as an argument for “sitting around waiting for the phone to ring,” or as an excuse for people who want to give in to their inclination toward shyness and timidity. An outgoing personality, a desire to expand your circle of contacts, and a little bit of aggressiveness are always a benefit when it comes to finding new business.
In fact, I’m not even saying that you’ll never have to pick up the phone and call a person you don’t know. You’ll still need to make calls to chase down information on potential projects that you have heard about, or to follow up with people who downloaded your white papers or attended events, and you will probably want to engage in a limited program of highly targeted and well-thought-out cold/warm calls to companies on your “prospect wish list,” which I’ll talk about in a future post.
In today’s environment, however, it is clear that for companies with a well-defined, specialized offering, the benefits of content marketing far outweigh those of cold calling. This means that for the resource-limited firm principals or one-person marketing departments responsible for promoting most small creative firms, there is a very strong argument for devoting fewer of those limited resources to large-scale cold-calling efforts and spending more time on the creation of valuable content. The kind of content that potential customers now look for when they are ready to buy.