Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The death of cold calling?

by Tim Parker, Sales & Marketing Manager at yu:talent

When I started in my first recruitment job, CVs were still sent by fax and our database system was a plastic box full of cards with client details written on them.  Considering what I now do for a living, this seems a bit like saying we didn't have indoor plumbing.

When making sales calls we would write notes on the back of the cards, rather than logging them within a CRM system.  It seems (and was) so antiquated looking back. How things have moved on...
Or have they?  The tech may have moved on considerably, but are we still clinging to one particular antiquated practice?  I have been wrestling for some time with the very notion of cold calling and its place in modern recruitment.  I know that cold calling as a core element of the consultants job still remains widespread,  but many businesses have left it behind altogether, or talk about more of an 'organic' sales process.  So do we find ourselves in a transitional period, with cold calling set to die out altogether?
 I happened to work in very large recruitment offices so saw a broad range of people focussed on their recruitment activity across multiple sectors.  Aside from those who were headhunting, the most successful people were not necessarily the ones hammering the phones from 10-12 and 2-4.  Those that were, definitely seemed to be in the minority.  Personally speaking, I definitely had success with cold calls, but proportionate to the time spent without success (i.e. not picking up a vacancy) was it the most effective use of my time in retrospect?  Although I could do it and never shied from hitting the phones, I can't say I ever particularly enjoyed cold calling.  I honestly believe very few people in recruitment do - regardless of how good they may be in all other aspects of the job.  (The willingness and capability issue furthermore complicates finding new recruitment talent in a market which is very scant on good all rounders - those who can both cold call and deliver a good 360 service). Critically, how many people would say they enjoy being cold called - in fact how many would term it more as 'hate' being cold called?  Considering that, how confident can we truly be that it is therefore the best way to start a new business relationship?
Of course, the most effective point at which to initiate the sales process is where a need has been identified and cold calling was traditionally the way to identify need.   The only reason to remove it therefore, is if it is no longer as efficient as an alternative.  As much as I am talking broadly across the industry, whether the above  is actually the case of course depends upon an individual business, based on their assessment of their activity and sector. 

However, I think the problem is that we still cling to the belief that as we are good recruitment/sales people we shouldn't be afraid of picking up the phone and hammering out the calls. But a good recruiter is also a good business person.   A good business person should only ever be focussed on the activity which is most likely to produce financial results as a direct consequence of their actions.  This is where I think we sometimes get the lines blurred a little when we look at activity, particularly in terms of KPIs and ratios. 
The ratios we see in the analysis of vacancies filled vs. interviews arranged, vs. candidate submissions, vs. jobs taken on all stack up. We can learn a lot about how well each stage of the process is being managed and where there may be coaching and training needs in the chain.  However, number of sales calls vs. number of jobs taken on doesn't always have a direct correlation. Yet the assumption often is that it does.  For example, 50 calls producing 5 new vacancies seems to create a ratio of 10 calls to 1 job.  Therefore the common logic follows (not unreasonably) that if you need a job on a day, you need to make 10 sales calls.  However, this tells us nothing of call quality. The reality is that those 5 jobs may have come from 5 quality calls made to warm contacts or they may have been called in from existing clients.  The remaining 45 or more, may have been scatter gun, poorly planned, or been so cold that they did very little to enhance the business or consultant profile.  Some may still have been warm calls to warm leads that weren't ready to convert at that particular moment.  However, the point is that the 10 to 1 ratio is in that case not a true reflection of what ACTUALLY generated 5 vacancies.  Identifying and replicating the activity that actually created the 5 vacancies is surely the best thing to do in practice.  The remaining time can then be put to doing more of the same, or be focussed on converting those jobs to placements, resulting in an increased placement ratio.

In a by-gone time, when there was less competition and frankly, the quality of cold calling in the industry was much higher, there is no disputing that cold calling had its place.  However, times have changed and there are other ways to identify need. We often talk of working smarter, not harder.  The question for me in light of the above is whether 20 hours of cold calling a week is still truly the smartest way to work?

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