By Charlie Lawson, national director of BNI in the UK

When searching for new clients businesses have to be smarter than ever. Traditional direct marketing, impersonal emails, and of course unsolicited cold calling are limited in their success, especially in the age of mass-spam and rise of the call centre. Charlie Lawson, national director of BNI,
the UK and world’s largest business referral organisation reveals how to make cold calling a lot warmer…

It’s 10am on a Monday morning and staff are well into their first cuppa of the day. Facebook pages have been checked and updated, and unanswered emails are being dealt with. The phone rings and the person at the other end launches into a sales pitch. “I don’t know who deals with your stationary supplies, but I wanted to tell you about our fantastic offers…”

This immediately breaks the mood and instills a sense of irritation. “No, sorry, we already have an office supplies company.” End of conversation. Imagine how the person calling felt, let alone you as the targeted customer.

Tip one for making cold calling warm: Call with a reason

A colleague of mine who runs an office supplies company asked me if I had any contacts at the school our head office backs onto. I asked him why? He said he’d love to supply them with stationery. I asked him what his reason was? He said he was a local office supplies company who could do same day delivery (keeping it greener than
overnight delivery from the other end of the country) was the face of the business, friends of his kids go to the school in question and he was willing to offer the PTA 50p off every box of copier paper they bought as an incentive to wanting to work with local businesses.

Wow, I thought, if there was ever a reason!

Tip two: Let someone else do it for you.

Rather than my colleague calling the school’s facilities manager directly he asked me if I had any connections, especially since our head office backed onto the school. I of course didn’t but he had given me enough of a reason to ring in and have a conversation which went very much along the lines
of: “This is Charlie Lawson, our office backs onto your school but I’m calling you about something entirely different, I wanted to tell you about a colleague of mine..”

At which point I went over all the reasons, and, to my surprise, gained agreement from the facilities manager to accept a call from my colleague. Did my colleague pass the
buck by getting me to make the call? Perhaps, but because I had no vested interest in the business deal, and made that quite clear, I called with the impression of doing the school a favour. This dramatically changed the spirit of the cold call, which was, at this point, very warm.

Tip three: Use your reason to increase your credibility among your colleagues

Office supplies is just one example, I know an accountant who has particular expertise in helping chemists and pharmaceutical companies with their in-depth tax issues. He asked if anyone knew contacts at chemists looking for accountants and I immediately referred him to a contact of mine who had a pharmacy. The pharmacy of course had tax advisers, so I asked for a reason from my accountant colleague, at which point he told me about a series of tax implications for businesses operating in pharma and the related industries, and I should ask whether the incumbent account had raised these issues. So, It was a call out of concern. These issues were new to my chemist
colleague and he now works with the accountant in question and has thus increased my credibility 10-fold, because of the money he’s saved.

Picking up the phone and asking something from someone who doesn’t owe you anything will always be daunting. It is an entrepreneur’s responsibility, more than anything, to invest in building a network of like minded colleagues, ideally locally, who can be there to support them, regularly. We should never underestimate who our colleagues
know. Imagine the potential if numerous colleagues were looking for referrals for you, and you for them on a regular basis.

Ninety eight per cent of SMEs rely on word of mouth referrals for new business, yet only three per cent have a strategy for gaining referrals through word of mouth referrals. The best news of all is that the most effective form of marketing, word of mouth, is free.

Now, more than ever, entrepreneurs need to invest more time and energy in targeted approaches through the help of their colleagues.