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Now, I want everyone to look down at that little black box right in front of you. Here, I’ll spell it for you, T-E-L-E-P-H-O-N-E. Now, guess what, everybody? This telephone won’t dial itself! . . . Until you take some action, it’s nothing more than a worthless hunk of plastic. It’s like a loaded M16 without a trained Marine to pull the trigger.
—Jason Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street
The practice of telephone-initiated sales, or “cold-calling,” is sure to get an even blacker eye with the upcoming release of the highly anticipated Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street.
The movie is based on the boiler-room-fueled pump-and-dump adventures of Jason Belfort and his brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. The real-life Belfort, as detailed in his two autobiographical books, urged his army of inside sales reps to incessantly pound the phones as they duped investors into buying stocks Stratton Oakmont held a position in. When the price rose, the company would sell its holding at a huge profit, leaving unsuspecting customers with worthless paper and egg on their faces.
It’s easy to condemn Belfort for his rigged game, which funded an obscenely lavish lifestyle and out-of-control partying until the feds finally caught up with him, but it’s important not to dismiss his genius—or success—in telephone marketing.
Done right, such “outbound” marketing is a highly effective practice. In the business-to-business world, a simple tour around the career pages of corporate websites shows that the vast majority of companies take their products to market through direct sales. Companies like Dell, Lenovo, Oracle, Pfizer, and Morgan Stanley rely on cold calling to get in front of prospects.
Oracle, which has one of the largest direct sales forces in the country, is losing top sales talent and management to smaller and younger organizations looking to boost their outbound efforts. In September, Salesforce.com hired longtime Oracle executive Anthony Fernicola to run its global enterprise sales, and Box.com hired Jim Prestley, a group vice president of Oracle, as senior vice president of sales, responsible for its large team of inside sales reps. These are not isolated events. Companies around the country are doubling down on their outbound marketing efforts.
The bottom line: There is only so much revenue you can pull in through referrals, social media, and marketing leads; it’s pretty hard to scale a business that way. Sure, you can try email, but thousands of prospects will never respond. You can attend trade shows and conferences, but that has limitations as well. There’s really no substitute for having reps get on the phone.
Not surprisingly, statistics show such sales to be mushrooming. A recent study by InsideSales.com found that ont-the-phone sales is growing 300% faster than traditional in-the-field sales.
Today, of course, the technology landscape is vastly different from in Belfort’s day. Then, all you started with were little index cards with the names and company phone numbers of high-net-worth executives. From there your job was to pick up the phone and truly cold call. Now, you can combine the power of the telephone with technology to make warm calls.
Here are some ways to make that happen:
- Keep your sales staff motivated, as they can face a lot of rejection. Belfort had two meetings a day, every day, to pump up the team, keep them on message, and ensure they bought into the larger vision of what Stratton Oakmont was trying to accomplish.
- Reward the achievement of team and individual goals, as reps are competitive and love to be recognized. The movie trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street shows the top sales guy rewarded by getting to throw a midget across the room at a target. Don’t go that far, but have some type of monthly payoff linked to team and individual goals.
- Use phone dialer software or live conversation automation technology to significantly boost connection and pitch rates.
- Access direct-dial phone numbers. Sales reps are three times more efficient when they have direct phone numbers rather than going through a secretary, according to a study by Vorsight. Also, caller ID in a corporation often looks different when you’re dialing someone’s office directly versus being transferred from the switchboard, meaning the decision maker is more likely to answer.
- Use scripts. Reps should know exactly what to say and be able to do so in no more than 30 seconds, the phone equivalent of an elevator pitch. Belfort absolutely swore by scripts, which is how he took 20-something college and high school dropouts and had them selling stocks to the richest 1% of Americans.
Jason Belfort let greed and avarice get the best of him, but the cold calling model he rode to his ill-gotten gains can be a powerful business tool. Just don’t use it to fleece Aunt Jane out of her nest egg.
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