rotary-phoneLeigh Gallagher posted an article on Fortune.com about how 2015 will mark the beginning of the end of email. We’re all overloaded, she says, and spend too much of our work time dealing with it.

I know this is the case for me. In addition to receiving unsolicited email, I often receive two, three, four, five emails in a single day from organizations (hello Amazon). It’s unnecessary and overwhelming. I delete all of it unread.

Gallagher expressed similar sentiments and then went on to list how companies are coping with the email firehose: new applications to help manage email, corporations instituting “no email Fridays,” etc. Good solutions, to be sure, but Gallagher left off one important tool: the telephone.

Yes, the lowly, much aligned, so last century telephone.

Due to social media, the rise of connected devices, etc., I wondered if business people were still using the phone to prospect and how prospecting techniques have changed.

To answer these questions, I called my colleague Michael A. Brown, President of BtoBEngage. Michael and his colleagues help companies find, land and keep customers. He’s also one of the foremost experts on business-to-business by phone techniques.

Dianna Huff: Michael, is telephone prospecting still a good tactic for small businesses, and if so, do you recommend straight cold-calling or “warm calling”?

Michael Brown: Yes, telephone prospecting is still effective and vibrant but only if used in the right circumstances. Straight cold calling — that is, generic and without preparation — is tough to do. Few people will pick up a call if they don’t recognize the number on caller ID and fewer still will call back someone hawking something. A VP in Dallas put it this way: “Return their call? You must be joking! I’d be playing defense on their home field!”

Warm calling, or what I call “introductory calling” works much better.

With introductory calling, you begin with strategy: why are you calling? If your strategy is to pitch your product or service for openers, you will struggle and maybe even fail. Instead, you want to focus on having a brief conversation about something timely and relevant to begin learning if the prospect might be a good fit.

For example, I had someone call me (I was his prospect) because he read a post of mine in a LinkedIn group. The post was a good lead-in for him to have an introductory conversation with me.

DH: So you’re saying you should keep track of your prospects and what they’re talking about on social media and then call when you see a good opportunity to make a connection.

MB: Yes, but with a modification. Reach out via the social media platform first and ask if it’s ok to call. For example, if you see a relevant conversation opener between you and a prospect in your LinkedIn group, you can send a private message that says something like, “I saw your post about (xyz) and our views are quite similar. I invite you to view our website and you’ll see what I mean. May I call you next week to see what you think?”

I also recommend that you look for something going on, recently gone on, or about to go on in the prospect’s business life and then propose a conversation about it. You can view the prospect’s website, research their industry, do a Google search of the prospect’s company, and of course maintain a connection on LinkedIn.

The key is to find something that will help you have an informed conversation. You and your contact then determine whether and how to proceed.

DH: I know one problem small business owners encounter is inactive customers — those who purchased and then fell off the radar. How do you propose they use the phone to woo back these customers?

MB: Here’s an actual example: “The reason for my call, Mr/Ms Customer, is to reintroduce ourselves, determine whether you still use test equipment, and frankly, see how willing you and your company would be to consider us and our new offerings.”

Customers who responded favorably (many did) could get an e-catalog or printed catalog by agreeing to look at it, talk it over with their colleagues and managers, and then speak again with my client’s rep. The follow-up calls were splendid and the company had their best year ever.

Or, if the business owner has discovered something new or relevant about an inactive customer or the company, again, this is another great reason to call.

DH: Do you recommend that small businesses buy lists of “leads”?

MB: It’s OK as long as you realize that lists contain names, not leads — they are not genuine leads yet. One company I worked with had a list of every school in Missouri. Their reps were to call by title to identify prospects for various high tech products. But most titles on the list had nothing whatever to do with high tech anything: “Secretary”, “District Administrator,” etc. I influenced them to hold-off calling while we found a more targeted list.

It’s always best to focus on who are your optimal customers, and then figure out how to find others like them. Your list will be considerably smaller but much more productive and valuable.

DH: One last question: In the 2014 B2B Website Usability survey I did last year with my colleagues at KoMarketing, 58% of respondents stated they prefer to use the phone. We found this piece of data quite interesting and broke it out by age. Baby boomers, who grew up with the phone, feel comfortable using the phone. Millennials, on the other hand, use text and email.

With younger people rising up the corporate ranks, do you think the phone still has a place in business?

MB: Yes! First off, if the organization has a physical building, they almost always have business telephones. I recommend you call prospects — no matter what their age – on their business phones if it all possible. This is because when you call people’s mobile, you often catch them when they’re multi-tasking.

DH: Yes. I’ve had that happen. They’ll be eating lunch or something. One client was in line at a crowded place. He insisted on having the conversation but I could barely hear him over the noise.

MB: Right. The other thing to note is that for many business people, they can’t have business conversations on mobile phones in public due to privacy concerns.

DH: Yes! I had a lawyer friend tell me once that she overheard opposing counsel talk about her client’s case on the train while on his phone. She overheard the entire strategy! It was due to this that her law firm implemented a strict “no talking about cases on mobile phones in public” policy.

MB: Right again. For these reasons and more, business phones are still key to business relationship building.

Michael, thank you for these tips. I’ve been reading your newsletter for years and use many of your tips, which work.

To learn more about Michael A. Brown, visit his website at www.btobengage.com.

Citations
The beginning of the end for email, Leigh Gallagher, Fortune.com, December 4, 2014

2014 B2B Website Usability Report

KoMarketing Associates

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

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