The golden rule of cold-calling. Don’t!

Almost all recruiters are told they must cold-call to build a client-base.

Sadly, that is mostly bad advice.

Certainly it is true that all recruiters need to develop clients, identify prospects and find ways to build sustainable relationships. And often that means connecting with people you have never dealt with before. So yes, we are business developers, and in a tight market that becomes even more critical.

But, if at all possible, don’t cold call.

However don’t misunderstand me on this one. You do have to make those calls and initiate that contact. The point is, you should do everything you can to make sure that the call is not stone… freezing… cold. That is the key.

Move your cold call to a warm call.

Instead of hundreds of random calls to people who don’t want to hear from you, and where your pitch is little more than “Got any job orders I can fill?”, do the research work to find a point of common ground which turns the call from ‘cold’ to ‘warm’. There are many ways to do this, but here are a seven good ones.

  1. Approach ex-candidates who are now in roles where they may become clients (I hope you looked after them well!)
  2. Get a referral from another division or office in your company (“Mr. Prospect, I am calling because our Singapore office has done a lot of work with your colleague, Michael Chew, over there and he suggested I give you a call”)
  3. Get a referral from another current client “Mr. Prospect I work extensively with Michael Chew at Apex Industries. He mentioned you had worked with him there, and suggested I give you a call to see how we might be able to assist”.
  4. Connect first in a neutral environment and follow up later. “Mr. Prospect it was a pleasure to chat with you at the Marketing Institute Conference last week, and I would enjoy a chance to talk more about your comments on SEO trends”.
  5. Follow up previous placements, no matter how long ago. “Mr. Prospect, you probably would not realize this, but I placed Bob Clarke with your predecessor quite a while ago. I would love to come down and see how he is doing and introduce myself”.
  6. Engage on social media first “Mr. Prospect I have enjoyed our banter on Twitter and thanks for the follow by the way. I am in your part of town next Tuesday and would love to drop in and find out more about the new training system you were tweeting about” (A Rec to Rec did exactly this to me while I was in London recently. I met her).
  7. Follow up on a talk given by a prospect, or a blog written, or a piece of PR they have received. “Mr. Prospect, I loved your blog on the boom in mobile technology, …”

Be creative about this. Brainstorm it in your team. You don’t want to be manipulative or trite, but you do want to start your BD call from a warmish position, get some connection… and then move on from there.

And, then, once you have mastered ‘warm-calling’, move on to business development the modern way!

It will increase your hit rate exponentially


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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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27 Responses to The golden rule of cold-calling. Don’t!

  1. Chris Reay May 15, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Hi Greg

    Good one. I’m not in recruiting, but when marketing our (software) product I always try and use rule 3 and/or rule 1.

  2. Luke Collard May 15, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Re #6: This is so true….. I met Greg for the first time last week at an industry event. Although this was the first time we had actually met in person, or even spoken directly for that matter, we have been in contact via Twitter and blogging for the past 12 months or so. Because of this, I had got to know a bit about Greg’s business, his interests, and his personality, as well as having had some ‘banter’ with him. For me, it made that first meeting much easier, more meaningful and more productive than any amount of cold calling could achieve. (Greg may disagree of course !)

  3. GB May 15, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Greg, was this done on the run? I count at least 3 errors in that piece. But the point you’re making is a good one.

    • Greg Savage May 15, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      ” On the run”? No, I have heaps of time to write blogs. Spend days on each one
      However, it would be great if you could let me know what the errors are so I could correct them please
      Thanks Greg

  4. Gavin Lister May 15, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    Hi Greg
    Good advice and I agree with Chris. Although this is focused on recruiting it is very applicable to a wide range of BD situations, especially where the offering is a service such as consulting.

  5. Yuriy Shevchenko May 15, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    All good points – with a warm call the Law of Probability is more of an ally for you.

    But, what do you do if you’re starting from scratch, have no database and no track record in your market …… yet?

    • Mike Lufanov September 16, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

      Good question! What do you advice to newborn company salesforce?

  6. Doug Flatimus May 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    @Yuri Everyone starts somewhere – I left Australia as a rep in 1993 and returned with the task to build a Australian/Asian search practice. No contacts at the level I needed them, and no colleagues with contacts in that particular space either. My UK-based boss’s strategy?

    “Do a couple of searches for almost nothing, and you will build from there.”

    It worked. It’s not the only way to do it, but it got doors open, and gave me a valid reason to make contact with senior people. Many of those initial relaionships are still returning dividends 15 years later. I was breaking even (salary + all overheads) within four or five months.

    Regardless of which start-up strategy you choose to follow, you have to accept that it will be really tough early on, and it will remain tough, but for different reasons, as you build and protect your reputation and your business.

  7. Julia Briggs May 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Only use 2. if it is true and Mr Chew has suggested a call, in which case it is more akin to 3. I would be very unimpressed as a hiring manager to get a call claiming a colleague had ‘recommended’ and it turned out not to be true – as I would get on the phone to Mr Chew straight away to check out the claim.

    • Greg Savage May 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

      Quite right Julia
      However every tip I write in my blog is based on the premise that we never lie to clients or talent. So indeed you DO need to get permission from the “referrer” in each case. I would take that as a given. These two examples are different however. The first is getting a referral from Mr Chew in Singapore who works for company “A” and where you are calling the local office of Company “A”, using our contact with Company A in Singapore as leverage. The second example is getting a referral from Mr Chew at company A, for an opportunity to talk to Mr Prospect who now works at company “B”. You may feel these are much the same, but I offer them up as sources of inspiration when working out who to call and how to make it warm

  8. Julia Briggs May 15, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    And in the olden days – when I was very new to the industry, after working hard on my first headhunt assignment I parlayed my new expertise into reasons to call – particularly as the area was niche (knowledge management). I directly called the heads of strategy firms and got in to see them on the basis I had something to talk to them about. They were cold calls but with a compelling reason to listen (is this another article or one you have done before?)

    • Greg Savage May 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      That is a great subject for another article Julia, which I was actually making notes on today. Its cold calling but with something of value to offer. Thanks for the extra idea, Greg

  9. Bobby Ball May 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Doug Flatulence has nailed it for me. You have to make sure your start up strategy isn’t full of hot air so you don’t run out of gas. Get yourself out in the market and create a stink.

  10. Phil Collins May 15, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi Greg,

    A well written blog and very very true, this is similar the way I operate, as people buy into people and the first step in a any business transaction is ” Make friends first” then build rapport and find common ground.

    Great blog.

  11. Robb Norris May 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    One additional way that I have used with success is the reference call. The ultimate warm call it not only demonstrates the depth of your process (doing references) but also illustrates the type of professionalism you will bring to your potential client’s search.

  12. Alan Allebone May 16, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    I have found that every time the good old reference call to managers works for me.
    It is a cold call to start with and usually by the time you have completed your questions and conversation, the referee is in a decent mood. I then ask him or her for other contacts within their organisation.
    I would then call the contact and just mention Joe Bloe suggested to call you etc etc etc.
    The fact that you are diligent in reference checking candidates goes a long way and gives you professional status as a recruitment agent.
    From cold to warm within minutes.

  13. Mike May 18, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Great post, Greg. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Vanessa May 19, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    There is a benefit to cold calling, but spending too much time in it can burn people out. The advantage though is when you want to switch it up or add to your arsenal of potential leads/prospects.

    What is also great about it, is you can do it from the comfort of your office, home, etc. & costs nearly nothing. Strengthens your ability to build value in what you are selling quickly and is certainly something new salespeople may need to start with (if they have none of the resources you mentioned).

    Thanks for the ideas Greg!

  15. Saundra Lee May 21, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Great stuff, as always, Greg! Yes, the recruiting landscape has changed significantly and cold calls, as good as we may be, is no longer the most productive use of our time for business development nor sourcing. Response rate is just so much better with the methods you have listed. Given the amount of information we now have available to us, these types of warm calls are so much more possible. My best advice is to hire a VA (Virtual Asst) to do the research and just make warm calls all day.

  16. Leigh May 21, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    One of the first things we decided when we set up our own business was that we did not want to be like every other recruitment agency and cold call!!
    Not only had I been doing this for 5 years on a daily basis and needed a break but along with my sister ( an HR mgr) we both felt that this was not the best way to secure future business. As an HR mgr my sister had first hand experience of ‘bad’ cold calls and totally understood why they do not always work.
    To gain new business we network heavily in the local area, talk to everybody as if they are a potential client and try to offer a transparent service, generally any calls we do make are warm as they are usually from a recommendation or lead from another contact… and unlike like other consultants who now cold call me – we listen….!!
    Great words as always Greg – thanks

  17. Manfred July 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    Great blog, I wish I could comment on everything. Your transparency and professionalism is second to none.

  18. Mark Paterson August 14, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    I do agree that cold calling is a necessary evil and warming things up is obviously going to help your cause. But if you absolutely positively have to go in cold there are plenty of things you can do to ease the pain such as plenty of research on your prospect, being specific about what you can bring to the table, being warm, credible and genuine. It’s not impossible that through good rapport building, a totally cold call becomes a hot house of possibility by the end of it.

  19. Terry March 25, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    Great stuff again Greg
    The thing is I yet to meet anyone who enjoys receiving a COLD CALL. So by doing something that no one likes is NOT the best way to start the relationship
    There is a great book by Seth Godin called Permission Marketing, well worth any recruitment firm reading
    Terry Edwards

  20. Tiffani Thoele June 20, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    Great Article! I do agree in the modern world today it’s key to find common ground with clients and try to make the call as least cold as possible.

    I feel that by flat out cold calling – it may also come across as a sign of desperation to clients and that can tarnish a reputation. It’s really important to build respect and trust, which is something that must be given to be received.

  21. concerto49 May 27, 2015 at 8:38 pm #

    It’s harder for new recruiters that don’t have any contact at all. They will have to build up from scratch.


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