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B2B Sales

Sales people need Kevin Bacon!

Kevin Bacon is helping to kill cold calling…..hallelujah!

“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a well-known game based on the age old concept of six degrees of separation (SDOS), which posits that any two people on earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. Sales people are now better able to leverage social and digital to ensure that you can get a referral or intro to practically anyone, anywhere. 

I recently posted what turned out to be a widely read and somewhat controversial article about why cold calling is a really bad idea, and I’m now going to elaborate a little further on how to avoid using 'cold' calling in today’s digital connected economies. 

“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a well-known game based on the age old concept of six degrees of separation (SDOS), which posits that any two people on earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. In 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, conducted a study on SDOS concept, using an e-mail message as the "package" that needed to be delivered, with 48,000 senders and 19 targets (in 157 countries), Watts’s study found that the average number of intermediaries was in fact around six. Other studies have also been done which appear to give credence to this concept. So, let’s assume for a minute that SDOS is at least somewhat accurate, and lets also assume that today’s sales folks have made a some sort of effort to build up their networks leveraging the massive power of social and digital. Thus, with larger than the average networks already in place, it is my contention that sales people today are in a much better position than ordinary people to leverage the power of the SDOS concept, and that they are probably only 5 people or fewer apart. So let’s explore this a little in the context of sales prospecting.

Account Based Selling:

ABS is the practice of targeting specific accounts that will be most receptive to buying at any given point in time, and whilst this concept is certainly not new, it has become one of the highest priorities for sales leaders in 2017 due mostly to the amazing customer insights that can now be gleaned via the myriad of technology tools and platforms that make insights and data gathering possible. Of course, the whole aim of ABS is to remove the need for that ridiculously outdated ‘blanket’ approach to sales & marketing and to instead enable salespeople to deliver personalized, and ‘buying stage appropriate’ messaging to target buyers within target accounts. Remembering that increased personalization equals decreased rejection and that’s a fact that no-one who knows anything about sales can dispute.

So what does ABS have to do with SDOS or Kevin Bacon?

Over the past 5-7 years I have personally utilized various forms of ABS with my own sales teams, and when you combine ABS with SDOS it starts to become very clear why sales people should never have to cold call again. Please allow me to explain my simple process:

  1. Nominate target account(s) for an ABS program.
  2. Establish a “war room” made up of key personnel that can contribute to strategy formation. This means identifying the various strategies for approaching the target account. What message? To whom? via which channels? and when? etc.
  3. Account entry/engagement – list out every single person that you know inside the target account?....and this is where SDOS kicks in.
  4. Most importantly - involve every single person in your business in this process. That is, the collating of potential contacts from within the target account should not be confined to just the sales team. Get everyone involved in helping to drive sales execution, and you will be amazed (as I was) just how much positivity it creates in other departments when sales actually requests assistance. This final step alone is also great for cultural re-alignment and creating a common cross-functional purpose and objectives.

Whilst I concede that there is nothing 'revelatory' in the process that I have outlined above, I’m routinely amazed to hear that so many so-called sales leaders still think that ‘cold-calling’ is a better approach than this type of targeted and personalised scenario where a business leverages every single connection to turn a cold call into a warm call. From 'blanket-based' (interruption) to 'permission-based' marketing into a strategically targeted account that might just be in a buying phase.

Of course, we all know how much more effective a referral can be, and SDOS proves time and time again that if you simply invest in a simple process (like the one above), mapping all of the connections (2nd and 3rd Level LinkedIn connections) that you currently have company wide whilst looking at all the angles that you might be able to leverage to provide that all-important "intro", then you will never have to cold call again.

Now, before you jump into an emotion charged 'comment' ridiculing my assertions and telling me that “your industry is different", and that "ABS would never work for your company”, I simply ask you to ponder the extent to which you are currently leveraging the astronomical power that social media brings to help us sales folks make the right connections. Think about Kevin and the SDOS concept and then ask yourself if you are truly leveraging every possible connection that you currently have across your business. Are you asking your customers for referrals? Do you have a customer advocacy program? Are you using LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator? If not, why not?

Having seen this process work really well many times before, I strongly urge those sales teams that are not currently investing the time in this type of process try it. This is what A-Grade sales people do: they leverage the power of network effects to push against already opened doors, rather than pushing against closed (or locked) doors.

Which accounts to target?

In his best-selling book “The Ultimate Sales Machine: the late sales thought leader Chet Holmes reveals research that only 3% of your target customers are in the market to buy your products at any given time. Meaning that you are probably ‘cold' calling 97% of your customers when they are not ready to buy anything, hence the correlation with the dreadful returns from cold calling. Of course, it’s this 97% portion of your TAM that needs to be nurtured over the medium-longer term, and this requires a more sophisticated approach than the lazy old 'throwing mud' approach. Wouldn’t it be better to use some big data and analytics to ‘harness the trigger events'? Tibor Shanto and Craig Elias’s book (SHIFT), posits that a 'trigger event' often shines a light on which customers may have moved out of ‘status quo’ and into a 'window of dissatisfaction'….meaning that they may now be in Chet Holmes's 3% and ready to buy.

Demand Generation

Using a surround strategy with these 3% target accounts can also be very effective, creating thought leading content and delivering that content to the right person at the right time helps create awareness and inbound - reducing sales cycle time and COGS.

So, before you default to that 1950's low-value-activity that serves to annoy 97% of your TAM, please consider Kevin Bacon, and all of the tools that are now available to help you quickly and inexpensively identify possible connections, gain referrals, illicit introductions and to create personalized messages to target customers that might actually be receptive to hearing from you. Like it or not, this is the sort of sophistication that we sales people must now embrace, and the good news is: it’s not difficult….oh, and it WORKS!

If you still believe cold calling is a better option….then by all means keep doing it. But please test your long held beliefs by targeting some Millennials with a cold call. This tech savvy group (Millennials) will soon make up more than 50% of the work-forces around the world and I’m almost certain that they will not be answering the phone from an ‘unknown number’. If you don't believe me then just ask them.