Cold vs. Warm: What’s the Right Marketing Temperature?

Article by C.J. HaydenAre cold calls a good idea or a complete waste of time? What about pitching business via letters and emails – does writing to strangers pay off, or should you focus on contacting people you already know? When marketing online with a newsletter, blog, or social networking, should you reach out to folks who haven’t heard of you or stick to your existing network?

Cold vs warmThese are important questions to devise an effective sales and marketing strategy, and they don’t always have black-and-white answers. First let’s define some terms.

A cold approach –- whether it’s a call, letter, email, sample issue of your publication, or friend request – is one you are making or sending to someone you have never interacted with and doesn’t know who you are. A warm approach is when you contact someone you have previously connected with, knows of you already, or has been personally referred to you by someone you both know.

Warm approaches are by their very nature more likely to be useful. If prospects know you or at least know your name, they will be much more inclined to take your call, open your mail, and be receptive to what you have to say. When you contact someone as the result of a referral, using the name of the person who sent you can have the same effect.

Cold approaches, on the other hand, more often lead to rejection. Calls may not be accepted or aren’t returned, letters and emails may stay unopened, and attempts at online contact may be ignored.

For most independent professionals, there are dozens of ways to make use of the warm approaches that are typically more productive. So why would you approach prospects cold when you have other, presumably better, choices for how to spend your marketing time?

Cold approaches are not necessarily an ineffective tactic. In fact, there are times it might make sense for you to use them. For example:

  • When you’re new in a geographic area or an industry and don’t really have many connections yet.
  • When you need to engage in some kind of interaction quickly to feel as if you are being proactive about marketing.
  • When you really like cold calling as an activity and feel comfortable and natural doing it.
  • When you would rather stay in your office writing and phoning than go out and meet with people in person. (Note than phoning does need to be part of this approach. Just writing letters and emails without also calling will rarely produce any clients.)
  • When your business is easily understood and prospects should already know if they need you or not, with little explanation.
  • When you live in a rural or isolated area, and the nature of your business (or your personality) doesn’t lend itself well to web-based promotion.

Cold approaches can sometimes feel easier than warm ones. Since you’re contacting only strangers, you don’t run the risk of being rejected by people you know. It’s easy to ignore the fact that your overall chance of rejection is considerably higher when approaching prospects cold.

Cold approaches can also seem to be faster. You don’t have to spend time building a network and getting to know people. Your hope is that you’ll place a call and your new prospect will agree to buy on the spot. Of course, this rarely happens. It can take considerably longer to close a sale from a cold approach than from a warm one, because you don’t have the same credibility.

Cold approaches may appear to be more direct, while networking and referral-building activities can sometimes feel a bit aimless. You don’t always know if you’re building relationships with the right people, or which of your contacts are going to produce results. Of course, you can be just as directed with networking and referral-building if you choose your targets as carefully as you would when cold calling.

But here’s the bottom line on the cold vs. warm question. Warm approaches can stand alone. You can have a powerful, focused sales and marketing plan based completely on warm approach tactics. Cold approaches, however, while they can sometimes be useful, can’t carry your whole plan. Including them in your overall mix of marketing activities can be helpful. But basing your entire marketing strategy on approaching prospects cold is usually a path to failure.

So rather than saying about cold calling and other varieties of cold approach, “don’t ever do it,” I’d say instead, “don’t ever rely on it.” Cold calls, letters, emails, and other cold contacts need to be combined with warm marketing techniques in order to see a substantial payoff from your marketing as a whole. And often, those warm marketing techniques will net you better results if you focus on them exclusively and forget about the cold ones.

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