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Can You Sell to Millennial Engineers on the Phone?

December 15, 2022   Posted By Joel Goldstein

Can You Sell to Millennial Engineers on the Phone? 

Recently we’ve had some discussion here at the agency about the use of tele-sales, and whether that time has passed. Is it possible to reach people and sell on the phone anymore?  Is – gasp – cold calling still something to task salespeople to do?

We still believe that cold calling and phone selling has its place. In fact, we know of several clients that use call centers as their primary selling telephone.jpgchannel.

However, we also believe that cold calling and telesales is the single most costly method of selling.  It reminds me of an old McGraw Hill Publishing ad in which a grumpy prospect looked directly into the camera and asked, “I don’t know your company. I don’t know your products.  I don’t know your reputation.  Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?” 

The point of the ad, of course, is to remind marketers that you can certainly sell to someone who knows nothing about you, but it’s always going to be quite a bit easier to push that boulder up the hill if you walk in the door with some brand awareness and even preference already established.

Still, some companies are making it even harder for marketers to use the phone.  JPMorgan Chase and Coca-Cola recently eliminated voice mail for many employees as part of cost-cutting moves; others are considering similar initiatives. Vonage released a study showing annual declines in the number of voice mails left on their systems, and the number who even listened to their messages fell by 14%. In another story about voice mail, NPR interviewed a 26-year-old who said that “voice mail might evolve into something kind of special and exciting – like a telegram once was.” Oh my god!

So while you can still sell on the phone, it’s continuing to become a lengthier and more costly method of selling than in the past.  You can see the problem just by taking a walk around a company’s offices, where many employees don’t even have office phones on their desks.  And, even if you’ve managed to get the prospect’s cell phone number, the person holding it is more likely to want to text you than actually speak to you!

There’s actually some data to support this, beyond just anecdotal feel:

  • Twenty-five percent of adults in UK don’t use their smartphones to make phone calls.  They consider calling someone rude: “Oneworker in their 20s told the Wall Street Journal: ‘Calling someone without emailing first can make it seem as though you’re prioritizing your needs over theirs.’”
  • Texting passed phone call volume in the US back in 2007. And text messages carry a sense of urgency that’s hard to beat – 90% of text messages are read within three minutes.

Social anxiety may be driving some of this.  There’s growing research into a psychological syndrome called “telephone apprehension,” a fear of being caught on the phone without having the information or an answer to a question.  Texting or even email is a safer environment for many people as a result.  There are even apps and services being introduced to help, including one app called “Sly Dial” that routes the caller directly into someone’s voice mail, so they don’t have to risk speaking to a person who answers!

What’s a marketer to do?  We have to be better about using CRM and email nurturing to warm up our prospects, so they’ll actually engage with us.  And, we have to be more aggressive about using social media to create positive word-of-mouth, because referrals from colleagues, family and friends are at the top of most “influencer” studies we see.

  • com reported that 33% of people prefer to contact brands using social media rather than the phone.
  • Millennials are most influenced by family, friends and even “strangers,” according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group. And they believe what they read online, whether it comes from people they know on social media, reviews from people they don’t know, and even company-sponsored channels. Fifty percent of millennials said they trust “retailer websites,” compared with about a third of Gen-Xers and boomers.  Millennials also expressed much greater trust in a company’s social media channels and digital advertising.

One of our clients even surmised that the declining response rates we’re seeing in email rates is the irrefutable evidence that email is giving way to social media as the primary method of reaching prospects.  But while certainly we have to use different channels to start the sales process, we can always take heart in the belief that human nature will always win out:  51% of millennials still prefer to communicate with colleagues in person, far exceeding those who prefer email (19%) or even all-powerful text (14%). 

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