Why “call often” is like “one size fits all” — usually not the best fit for customers

November 18, 2010 - 4 minutes read
Groucho Marx Glasses One Size Fits All

Photo credit: Chicago Mayor’s Office. “One size fits all” is often not the most flattering. Here 4,436 people wear the same Groucho Marx glasses at one time, winning a 2009 Guinness World Record for Chicago.

We’ve heard phrases like “call often,” “call everybody,” and “call until you get an order” as sales strategies. But we should evaluate whether this approach produces the best ROI, particularly when cost per call is high. This is a key issue with sales productivity.

Outbound calling has direct costs of the rep’s time, mileage and/or telecom utility costs, indirect overhead costs, and the opportunity cost of not calling a customer who would have ordered instead. Let’s expand on the last component and explore its role in determining sales productivity.

Sales 2.0 is about nurturing and facilitating the buying cycle, even in a transactional sales model. Your B2B customer is buying what they need – technology products, office supplies and medical supplies for example – driven by the demand for their services and sales needs, not from their benevolence to your sales person, to borrow from Adam Smith the pioneering economist.

In other words, a company that is larger, expanding faster, and experiencing increased end-consumer demand is simply going to buy more often. So when we apply an average – which is what a “call often” mandate implies — we aren’t putting the customer’s buying cycle first. This doesn’t respect the customer’s buying cycle.

Let’s see an example of how this can adversely affect your sales. Assuming an average two-month buying cycle, take a look at this contact pattern:

Sales Contact Pattern

Clearly, the fallacy of “one size fits all” becomes immediately obvious. “One size fits all” is usually not a good fit, for anything in life.

Further, overlay the fact that even for a single customer, the buying cycle may change from one order to the next, such as when the customer:

  • Placed a one-time sizable order because of year-end, or seasonal effect
  • Bought a number of items but now needs to follow-up with related products
  • Buys product categories with different replenishment rates
  • Other factors (marketing offers) or lower-than-anticipated sales

Sales organizations that have the ability to read each customer’s unique buying cycle and make contact at the most opportune time are typically rewarded with higher probability of a sale, higher add-on sales, penetration in more categories and higher margin sales. This is not only valuable to the seller, but provides better customer service and increased customer loyalty. Let’s not forget the decreased fatigue on the part of both customer and sales person from avoiding undesired contact. It’s the proverbial “strike while the iron is hot,” which after all, only makes sense.

So instead of “call often,” think “call at the right time.”

Anticipating each customer’s buying cycle requires a good read of past data, trending based on current events, relative buying behavior, and sales and marketing stimulus.  Tools like predictive modeling certainly make this more accurate. Segmenting customers based on their individual buying cycle and devising proper sales contact frequency is a start. We would be even better served if all sales and marketing initiatives revolved around the customer’s buying cycle.

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