How I wasted thousands cold calling…

And how you can avoid doing the same!

“Get cold calling”

my business coach said to me. In fact, he was the second business coach to say that.

So I did. And…I was terrible.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I had no desire to start each and every business day with the feeling of rejection. I’m not sure how anyone has that level of

But, not to be defeated, I decided to outsource it. I’d give the task to someone who must like doing it as it’s their job!

And…it failed. Again.

Only this time, I’d invested more than just time. I’d spent £4,000 with a cold calling (telemarketing) agency. And the end result?

Two meetings, neither of which was a good fit for my consulting business.

So Is Cold Calling suitable for a Consulting Business?

Before I get into the detail of cold calling, and whether or not you should do it in your consulting business, let me share with you why I found myself even considering it in the first place.

I was nearing the end of my first year running my consulting business. I’d had a great start, having won some big projects at the outset selling to past clients and people that I already knew.

But those projects were now coming to an end. And they were really broad in nature, including:

  • A data centre strategy for a university in Scotland
  • A Global Applications Strategy for one of the world’s biggest law firms
  • A disaster recovery strategy for a Russian energy company’s investment arm
  • Helping a law firm respond to a tender on a panel review

With the projects being so varied, I was having to work all the hours I could just to ensure I delivered them successfully. And in so doing, I committed the cardinal sin. I ignored my marketing and sales.

As a result, my sales pipeline was empty!

And the marketing efforts that I had made were little more than a collection of sporadic outbursts of energy, mostly leading to nothing. They included:

  • A couple of blog articles
  • A half-written guide
  • An array of in-person networking events, none of which I consistently attended
  • And a few coffees with people

The truth of the matter is that this is where most consulting businesses find themselves somewhere between the end of the first and second year in business. It’s at this point that most consulting businesses fail. The owners either return to employment, or they become a contractor – relying on recruitment agencies to find them work, which is essentially the same work if they took an employed job.

Most consulting businesses fail in <2 yrs ‘cos too much focus on delivery, not enough on sales and mktg. Click To Tweet

I needed some new clients…. and fast.

I discussed my predicament with my business coach at the time. His view was that cold calling was the quickest way to get results. So I set about learning all that I could about cold calling.

Of course, what I was really doing was waiting for the perfect moment. Waiting until I’d learnt so much about cold calling, that I’d be world-leading from the off.

In reality, I was just procrastinating. Something that I often feel I do have world leading capabilities in!

I’d read that cold calling would be more effective if I sent a letter first. That way, I’d be warming the prospect up. I also read that I should make the envelope containing the letter stand out, for example, by making it an awkward shape so that it was delivered on the top of the post pile, rather than being sat within it.

Believe it or not, my business coach at the time even suggested that I include money in the envelope! Guidance that I’m pleased to say I chose to ignore. I did, however, include a business card holder.

I bought these fantastic looking, faux-leather business card holders from eBay that cost all of 69 pence each, whilst looking much, much more expensive! I stated in the letter to the prospect that we hadn’t yet met, but if we had we would have exchanged business cards, hence why I was doing it now – by letter. Inside the business card holder was, of course, one of my business cards. I then promised to follow up with a call within the next week.

In my first week I made 10 calls. I know, hardly a record-breaking number, but enough to give me an understanding.

The first 5 calls went through to voicemail, or mailboxes which were already full.

The next 4 calls went through to secretaries. The gatekeepers. Most of which said to me that the prospect (I was targetting CIOs of large law firms) had a preferred caller list and that I wasn’t on it. End of call.

Now, If I was an expert manipulator, I’m sure I could have gotten past these gatekeepers.

On the 10th call, I did finally get through to my target prospect. Here’s how the call went:

Me: Hi, is that Mr CIO?

Mr CIO: Yes.

Me: Hi Mr CIO, I’m Martin Williams from Amazing Consultancy. I sent you a letter last week introducing myself, and the work that we do at Amazing Consultancy. Did you get my letter?

Mr CIO: No. And, if I did I’d have probably thrown it in the bin!

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this wasn’t going quite as I’d planned. But, my response to the prospect was:

Me: “Ha, to be honest, that’s probably what I’d have done too. But since I do have your attention for a moment, may I just share with you some thoughts from some of the projects we’ve been working on in your sector? Specifically, we’ve just finished working with a large firm on their global applications strategy.”

I spent a total of 8 minutes on the phone with the prospect. And, at the end of the call, I had……..nothing.

No agreement to follow up.

No planned coffee or in-person meeting.

No referral.



It was at this point that I determined I was never going to be any good at cold calling.

You might argue that I’d thrown in the towel rather early, but for me, it was more that I had no desire starting my every working day with rejection. I don’t mind that sometimes I might lose out on a proposal, but that doesn’t happen too often. To start every day by losing was, to me, not a winning strategy.

Outsourcing was the answer….or so I thought

I took some advice from the people around me and decided that I should outsource the task. I got a referral to a cold calling agency that had provided good results for a vendor I was working with.

I did my due diligence. I met the agency in person. I spent time with the individual that would be doing the cold calling on my behalf. And I provided them with lots of information that they could pass on to the people they called. This primarily consisted of one-page flyers that described each of our services.

The next decision was:

Who to call?

I had my own list of prospects that I’d pulled together from various sources. The cold calling agency also their lists, and so we combined them and agreed upon a target audience. I parted with £4,000 and the agency began its work.

Progress. Or lack thereof.

In short, the agency was struggling to get traction.

I’d emotionally bought into this agency. I was emotionally bought in to my business. Therefore, the problem must have been with the people that we were calling. And the answer, therefore, was to call different people. More people. Any people. Call. Call. Call.

And, like any person placing bets, I bet more money in the hope of improving my chances of success.

As I said earlier, come the end of my budgeted time with the agency, they secured a total of two meetings from hundreds of calls, neither of which proved to be a good fit for my consulting business.

Where did it all go wrong?

At the time, I blamed the cold calling agency. But as time went by, as I learnt more about marketing and sales, I realised that we were both at fault.

In essence, I’d asked the cold calling agency to:

  • Call a bunch of strangers
  • Introduce my company to these strangers
  • Seek a meeting so that I could talk more to them about what we did

Let’s analyse that a bit further. I had the agency:

  • Call people to talk about ME.
  • Tell these people about what WE do.
  • Get a meeting so that we can talk even more about US.

Moreover, I was searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. I was trying to find somebody who didn’t have an incumbent consultancy, or was unhappy with their incumbent, had problems that I could specifically help with, and that would give their time to a total stranger.

Why did I ever think that this would work!?

Maybe I deserved to lose so much money for being so dumb!

Although, as I said, I think the agency was also partly to blame. They should have advised me from the off that I wasn’t ready. That I needed to do more prep. I think, however, they were more focused on taking my money.

What should I have done, and more importantly, what should you do?

Firstly, engaging anyone in a conversation must be all about them! All of your marketing efforts should be about engaging your prospects in conversation, around a specific topic that matters to them. You have to earn the right to be able to talk to them about their problem.

In the early stages, your focus is on building trust in the prospect. They have to believe that there is some value in them giving you their precious time.

Secondly, you can’t simply jump in with a cold call.

If a stranger in the street just started talking to you for no reason, you might think him a bit of a weirdo. But if he warmed you up first, maybe with a nod and a smile. Maybe with some obvious connection, such as you both waiting in the same line in a coffee shop or at a bus stop. There needs to be something that brings the guard down a little for you to make your introduction.

So the most important thing to know about cold calling in a consulting business is…don’t do it!

The ‘Warm’ call

A consulting business should never cold call. Only make warm calls to prospects who have self-selected.

Need clients in your consulting business? Don't cold call to find them. You must only call 'warm' prospects! Click To Tweet

Instead of a cold call, we need to warm the prospect up. We need them to know, like and trust us before we expect to get their time.

And you need to value your own time too. You don’t have the time to call every Tom, Dick and Harry in the hope that they might be interested in what you have to offer. You need to be laser focused. You need to respect your time as much as your prospects.

Only call those people that have raised their hands. That have clearly made you aware that they have a problem, that you know you have a solution for, and that has shown they’re willing to be contacted by you.

How do you do that? By engaging them in conversation. And there are two ways in which we can do that: in-person and digitally.

  • In-Person: In-person engagement is going to be at networking events, or with people that have been referred to you. In these instances, cold calling is not relevant anyway.
  • Digitally: Your website is your online presence. It connects you to millions of people you wouldn’t otherwise come across. Think of it as digital networking. You need to give people a reason to spend time with you on your website. To do that, you have to start a conversation. And the easiest way to that is with a blog. And here starts what is known as your Marketing Funnel.

Marketing Funnel

Your Marketing Funnel guides prospects into your Sales Pipeline.

The purpose of your Marketing Funnel is to guide prospects into your Sales Pipeline. Click To Tweet

Here’s how it works:

  • A prospect discovers your website. This might be through a Google search (native SEO), from a Facebook or LinkedIn ad, a referral from a friend, or following up after you gave them a business card at an in-person networking event
  • The prospect reads some of your blog articles, which have a Call-To-Action (CTA) to download your latest guide
  • In order to download the guide, you seek some contact information, including an email address and optional phone number
  • Once you receive a notification of the contact details, you undertake some research to determine if this is an appropriate prospect. For example, from the email address, you can typically get an idea of the company the prospect works at. Use tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Google to do your research
  • You pass this information on to the cold calling agency and ask them to get in touch with the prospect to schedule an in-person meeting or a follow-up phone call. You may need to do some digging to find correct contact details, and it might be better to get the cold calling agency to do this as they should have more tools at their disposal
  • The cold calling agency secures a meeting with the prospect based upon your meeting or calling them to share free advice and guidance on how to tackle their challenge


So, let’s recap. Perhaps we’ll define this as the 3 golden rules of cold calling:

  1. Do not cold call. Only warm call
  2. Build a marketing funnel. How? Offer free advice and guidance on your area of expertise in a guide made available on your website. In order to access this guide, the reader (prospect) must provide their contact details. This is known as ‘gated’ content on your website. By doing this, the prospect has raised their hand and given you permission to contact them. This is what makes a warm call
  3. Before you jump ahead and make the call, do your research. Is the prospect worth your time, and theirs, to try and secure a meeting or follow-up conversation? If so, make the call (or get your cold calling agency to do so)

Final Thoughts

Other People will swear that cold calling works

It does work. Of course it does. The law of averages says it must. And the amount of telemarketing companies about must mean some businesses have success with it. I even have a business contact who managed to secure a £60k project from cold calling. But often, people only tell you half the story. They miss key details like, for example, the fact that it was a warm call rather than a cold call.

I encourage you to increase your chances of success, and to save yourself a potentially significant sum of money, by focusing on warm calls only.

Only engage a cold calling agency if you can pay on results

When I was initially looking for a cold calling agency, many people were telling me that I should only pay them for results. However, I didn’t find a single agency that would engage on that basis.

There was some flexibility from some, such as a base cost, and then a bonus for each scheduled meeting. However, that gets prohibitively expensive. And anyway, it’s not practical to expect the cold calling agency to be responsible for the outcome of the meeting. This is why it again makes sense to focus on warm calls only. Your chances of success are much higher. If you are the person providing the agency with the warm leads, then you should be in a better position to negotiate the terms of the contract, and you should expect much higher rates of success.

Don’t be surprised, though, if you can’t find an agency that has a fee structure based in some way upon results.

And if you are determined to cold call yourself…

…,then I recommend you read the following books:


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