Cold Calling Versus Social Selling: Which one Wins?

For salespeople who enjoy and excel at cold calling, it’s a point of pride to be able to do so comfortably. So many people are turned off by it, yet “dialing for dollars” has been a mainstay of many sales organizations for decades. The ability to cold call is a skill many sales managers and executives still seek when hiring top salespeople as it connotes the image of a fearless go-getter.

With the revolution brought on by the internet and social media platforms, is hiring top salespeople with cold-calling skills still necessary? Or are those with social selling skills more effective?
Since we believe in science-based selling backed by hard facts, we decided to gather up a few from leading sales websites to settle this.

First a few data points gathered by

• 50 percent of the time, the sales goes to the first person who makes contact with the prospect.
• It takes 8 cold call attempts to reach a prospect now as compared with a little over 3 in 2007.
• Only 2 percent of cold calls result in an appointment.
• The average salesperson makes 8 dials per hour and prospects for 6.25 hours in order to set just ONE appointment.

What does this all add up to? It adds up to cold calling being a very time-intensive activity because it takes a while to simply connect with prospects. If half of all sales go to the first salesperson who makes contact, those who only cold call cannot remain competitive in today’s world.

The numbers on social selling

According to that same Inside Sales deck, top sellers use LinkedIn 6 hours per week. And Sales Benchmark Index reports that 98% percent of salespeople with 5,000+ LinkedIn connections make quota, while IBM claims 75% of customers use social media as part of their buying process (I would guess that number to be actually quite conservative, with a real figure closer to 95% or even higher).

Social Selling

All of this makes a compelling case that social selling skills, and not cold calling skills, are what anyone hiring top salespeople should be looking for.

It makes sense when you consider the typical corporate buyer journey nowadays:

1. Online research for general solutions to their business problems. This is why content marketing such as blogs and videos are important – this is often the stage where buyers encounter your brand for the first time.
2. Narrowing down the choices to a few products/services and vendors. Social feedback and recommendations come into play here, so a strong social presence is helpful.
3. Getting their final questions answered in order to make the best buying decision possible. Only at this stage do salespeople really become relevant to the process in the eyes of most buyers.

Smart social sellers could be present at all three stages described above. By disseminating via blogs and other content marketing tools they educate the buyers in stage 1. Being active on LinkedIn and other platforms leads to recommendations or discovery in stage 2. In stage 3 sellers should use social media to try to bring the conversation to a phone or in-person appointment, or at least capture prospect information for further marketing via emails and such.
With social selling, a brand’s presence lives online and works for it 24/7 no matter where a buyer is on their journey. Whereas with cold calling, you have to literally prospect constantly in the hopes you catch someone in stage 3 – which is the only point where they are really ready to buy.

The pros of cold calling

It would be a mistake to abandon cold calling entirely, or to discount the importance of telephone selling skills when hiring top salespeople.

In the first place, some excellent salespeople are scared of computers or just aren’t tech savvy. For them, cold calling is the easiest way to work, especially when they are skilled at handling gatekeepers (it’s an art form).

Also, at some point in social selling, the conversation typically shifts to the phone or in-person, and telephone selling skills are important then. Or, a targeted buyer who is rather old school themselves and has scant social media presence will be inaccessible if not through good old-fashioned cold calling.

The Winner

Clearly social selling skills are going to increase in importance, and this should be emphasized when hiring top salespeople. Based on statistics and the direction technology is heading, it’s the winner. However, cold calling should not be completely neglected.

Probably the most winning combination would be to connect via social media first and ask for the appointment once the prospect is a bit warm. If no go, THEN a cold call should be placed – which at this point would be slightly warm due to the familiarity created on LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever the case may be.

Therefore, a social media-savvy salesperson who is also fearless on the phone would be the best hire. Recruiters should develop ways to measure aptitude in both areas.


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