When I joined Northeastern Envelope as a sales rep in July of 1988, my boss, one of the owners of the company and a very successful sales rep himself gave me the following instructions: Identify some suitable prospects, get in my car, walk in and try to get a sale.
I tried this for a while but soon found myself driving into a town, finding the most convenient phone booth (preferably one that was inside with a coffee shop and, for the trifecta, near a clean bathroom ) and calling purchasing officers to try to see if I could stop by. This method resulted in far more meetings and it became standard procedure for me to call in advance for appointments.
There were a few times when I just walked in to a business, handed my card to the receptionist and got to see the buyer. But they were so few and far between that I mostly gave up on that tactic. The only exception being if I noticed a company of which I wasn’t previously aware, I would go in and drop off my card just so I could say I stopped by when I called later to set up a meeting.
I never felt completely comfortable stopping by unannounced and asking someone to see me. I wouldn’t drop-by to see a friend without calling first. In my view, that’s inconsiderate. So I always felt the same principle applies in business. Now some will say that a buyer’s job is to meet with sales reps so the situation is not completely analogous. That’s true enough but it doesn’t follow that the buyer is obligated to drop whatever he is doing to see a sales rep at the rep’s convenience. Prior to being in sales I was a purchasing manager and I never saw a sales rep without an appointment. I always made time to see them but it was on my terms. A buyer has an obligation to be productive for his employer and I don’t see how getting interrupted a couple of times day (or more) fulfills that mandate.
A sales rep has the same obligation to be as productive as possible. Driving around to walk in and drop off a business card with very little to show for it is not a good use of time; not to mention the expense in the age of $4.00 per gallon gas. Now that we no longer have to rely on pay phones (thank God!), we can make calls from the car on our way or, better yet, from our office in order line up a day full of meetings in advance.
And yes, I understand that even getting people to take your call is not easy. But you can make 10 phone calls in the time it takes to drive somewhere and you will, on average, get to speak to at least 2-3 people out of those 10. The odds are much less for “stopping by because I’m in the area”.
A rep that repeatedly shows up unannounced expecting an appointment with a certain prospect is being presumptuous. He's unwittingly sending messages such as, "I'm going to keep pounding till you give up" or perhaps, "I'm quite desparate for a sale". He or she also violates a basic tenet of inter-personal psychology which holds that when someone reaches too hard and too often for you, the natural reaction is to withdraw from that person. The most effective method is to draw the prospect to you by making your pitch attractive and valuable while also sending the message that you are the type of person the buyer might not mind seeing for 15 minutes or so.
Have the digital age and inbound marketing rendered personal cold calls even more obsolete than before? I’ll address that topic in my next post. In the meantime, I’d be most interested to hear from other reps on this topic.