Is it ethical to cold call?

As I work with clients all over the world, my business doesn’t tend to come from meeting people face-to-face or attending local events or joining the evening networking circuit.  Instead, my lovely clients recommend me to friends and colleagues, who in turn do the same.  It works well for me because even after 14 years of running my own business, the idea of actively SELLING, to people I don’t know and who haven’t contact me first, scares the pants off me.

In spite of this fear, I occasionally find myself in a situation where I need to… gulp…  cold call.

The situation

I recently created a new sub-brand offering very specific support services for a popular content management system.  I did my market research and spotted a gap.  I tested the concept with existing clients and the feedback was great.  I analysed my competitors and set my pricing at a rate that I felt was fair.  I crafted a logo, wrote content, created packages, launched the website, and got a few nibbles, but hey, I am a creative-marketing-comms person, so I know that this concept of “if you build it, they will come” is a load of baloney.

I pulled on my big-girl pants and started to research potential customers.  Through various means, I ended up with a list of websites that fit the bill, and then I started checking each site one by one, then emailing a custom introduction with a tip to fix something on their site.

I received two very positive responses, followed by one snotty response and I crumbled.

For a week, I agonised about doing more cold-calling. One of my excuses?  The question of whether cold-calling is ethical or not.

What does a girl do in this situation? Turn to Google, of course, where I came across a brilliant article called “Your Ethical Obligation to Cold Call” written by a chap named Anthony Iannarino, who appears to be the sales guru that I certainly am not.

In summary, he suggests that if you have a product or service that you genuinely believe will help a potential client, you have an ethical obligation to make the cold call.  I highly recommend reading his article, as it certainly gave me something to think about.

The folks I was contacting in my example above have websites that are running out-of-date software that makes them vulnerable to hackers. My email to each business owner is primarily to tell them that they’re at risk and to offer my help if they can’t sort it out themselves. From an ethical point of view, my short email was genuinely helpful, and if they couldn’t sort themselves out, my service could honestly help them by keeping them safe from hackers.

I breathed a sigh of relief after reading Anthony’s article and returned to my list.  Since then, I’ve been cold calling a little less fearfully, and you know what?  Loads of people get in touch to say thanks for the heads up.  Of course, they’re not buying my services just yet, but who knows what will happen in the future.

My take on whether it’s ethical to cold call?

I’d suggest examining your motivation.  Are you reaching out because you have something that will potentially “rescue” your prospective client or the person at the other end of the email or telephone, or are you simply selling something for the sake of selling it, hoping to ensnare as many unsuspecting individuals as you can (it being a numbers game, and all).  If the former, I believe that it’s totally ethical and potentially valuable, too.  If the latter – well, you decide.

A note with social enterprises and sustainability businesses in mind

Anthony has a wonderful analogy about a drowning man / woman and whether it’s more ethical to wait for them to call for help, or to dive in (without being asked) and save a life.

The same analogy might work for social enterprises and sustainability professionals: is it ethical to wait for the world to ask for help with community, sustainability, climate change challenges, insert-valued-cause-here, or is it your responsibility to dive in and start helping anyway?

Again, you decide.

That’s it!

Until next time…

Suzanne Whitby / Marketing Specialist, Creative, No-BS Business Mentor

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