Mark Boundy

By Mark Boundy

Cold Calling and the Apathy Loop

Cold Calling and the Apathy Loop 150 150 Mark Boundy

What a day I had taking cold calls.

Monday, I cancelled a real estate listing.  Yesterday morning, my cancelled listing record was transmitted by some data/leads provider to dozens of realtors who use cancellation lists to prospect for listings.

The calls started at 7:30, and by 10:30, I’d received 20 calls.  It’s now almost 40.

  • About 80% of the callers used the exact same script, word-for-word, pause-for-pause, identical pace and enunciation…it was creepy.  When I told one guy, “You’re using the exact script everyone else uses, and you read it perfectly”, he said “Thank you”.
  • After each caller’s opening script was done, I asked every one the same question: “what can you tell me about my property, and what should I know about you?”  90% of callers told me some version of “I’m a top seller in the valley/state/southwest, and none had looked at my property (although some had it in front of them when they called, and were able to quickly comment about something obvious, but not particularly insightful).
  • Three calls were from one realtor calling from different numbers claiming “the call must have been dropped” after I’d said “no thank you, good luck finding another listing”.  Not sure what that guy was thinking.  Definite used car vibe.

What does this tell us about prospecting/cold calling?

Any reader of sales blogs, articles, ebooks, books, videos, etc. has read that either “cold calling is dead”, or that “cold calling has never been easier and more productive”.  Once you get past each catchy title, they concur is that prospecting now requires sellers to add value within fifteen seconds or so.  Doing this prevents a common failure mode:  a cycle of apathy described in buyer research (from CSO Insights, ask me for a copy of the research if you’re curious). The apathy loop exists throughout the customer’s buying process, but a prospect’s first contact with the customer — especially if it’s a prospecting call — is a major decision point for a customer:

  1. Are you the kind of seller who enters, then orbits on the loop, or..
  2. Are you the kind of seller who avoids it?

The diagram above is a summary of the apathy loop, a death spiral that every one of my incoming callers fell into.   

CSO Insights, in their most recent survey of buyer behavior, found that, starting at the top bubble:

1. Sellers merely meet basic expectations, but don’t exceed them. They’re on time, speak clearly, show competence, submit bids on time, etc.  Because they do “satisfactory” work, salespeople aren’t excluded from consideration, but..

2. Sellers don’t elevate their status to “trusted resource” either. Buyers aren’t impressed enough to believe that sellers can add any value to their buying process, so…

3. Buyers only engage sellers after self-identifying needs, and narrowing down solution options on their own, using resources other than sellers.  After self-informing, they finally engage sellers who seem to fit their self-identified needs and options.  At this “beauty contest” phase…

4. Sellers for the different potential vendors don’t offer differentiated solutions. Buyers experience the same old mantra: “I see three different logos on their business cards, but I can’t tell their offers apart”.  When all is said and done…

(back to #1)…Sellers merely meet basic (low) expectations.

The cycle, simplified as a clever word play:  Because sellers haven’t added value, they aren’t in a position to add value.  CSO Insights labeled their version of this dynamic “the apathy loop”, and it fits.

How Did My Cold-Callers All Shove Themselves Onto the Apathy Loop?

First point: I’d love to be paid so-much-for-so-little as the person selling the exact same script to every realtor in my state.

Second point: Even with all that money-for-nothing, I’d never be able to look at myself in the mirror.  This script is sales coaching malpractice.

The one thing that every cold-caller thought I should be impressed by was “how many homes I/we’ve sold this year”…everyone’s “differentiator” was the same as everyone else’s. Zero of them claimed anything unique (look that up on the apathy loop diagram). I often do an exercise with my clients having them write down their unique differentiators on a list…then spend a few minutes crossing off differentiators that their competitors also claim.  It’s a sobering experience that illustrates step four in the apathy loop.

You owe it to yourself – and your career – to break out of the death spiral.

CSO Insights research also showed that for big/unique/unaccustomed decisions, buyers would welcome a value-added seller into their circle of trust.  We want help, but only from somebody who demonstrates that they add value to the pursuit.

At random (OK, whenever I felt like breaking from my other work), I went into “coach mode” and invested extra time with seven of my incoming cold callers.  I suggested they pre-plan for 10-60 seconds by looking at the cancelled listing info sheet and to find some nugget likely to spawn an insightful conversation. Here’s the feedback:

  • One said “I have a system and it works.  Have a nice day”.
  • Four said “Thanks for the feedback, I’ll take it to heart” (polite refusals?)
  • One said “Let me try to do this again.  What if I’d said_____?”.  It was pretty good.
  • One called back 40 minutes later, thanked me for my interest in her professional development, told me she’d been wrestling with it, and asked me to coach her through a re-do.  She struggled for a few minutes then started demonstrating some great insight.

Which one(s) live the principle that “the best always want to get better”?  Which ones realize that what used to work might not anymore?  You see, buyers have changed.  We now have resources to self-inform, and either want a sales professional to give us something beyond what we can already find…or go away until we need a couple of order clerks to duke it out on price.

How are you going to change your selling approach when prospecting?

The apathy loop applies to the entire arc of the sales process, but prospecting is one critical point at which you either start a death spiral (OK, “death spiral” is a bit dramatic.  The commoditization spiral?…on second thought, commoditization is death), or you take the path of the trusted advisor.

Add value at every interaction.  This isn’t a suggestion.  It’s the new imperative.

To your success!