Succeeding in business depends on many factors. Some are beyond your control but, fortunately, there are others that are. Let me share with you an active role I play that supports my company.
I am CEO of a successful $40M software business. Running the company takes a lot of effort from myself and my management team, but the effort I am most proud of is the time I spend on the phone or in person speaking with (current and new) customers about what we are doing well, what we need to do better, and the specific trends and business directions they see themselves taking in the future.
Many years ago, a mentor of mine said to me, “As you grow in position and climb the ranks of management, you will find that your employees, even the best ones, will refrain from sharing information with you because of the negative reaction it can cause--no one wants to make the boss angry.” This wisdom didn’t mean much to me back then, but it means a lot to me today. The role of CEO can be sheltering, deceptive, and even paralyzing if you allow it to be. Some CEOs rely on the accuracy of the data and knowledge from advisors and managers, and while that works in many instances, it does not work in others, like strategic planning.
In the past several years as my role changed from products to sales, and, most recently, to executive management, I noticed a trend that I call “data diplomacy” which disturbed me because I felt it didn’t leave me with all the intelligence I needed about trends and challenges to the business. I could have rolled over my management team, but that would have been a shortsighted solution to the problem. Instead, I realized I wanted to reconnect with the customers who make our business success possible.
Every Thursday I spend about two hours cold calling customers who have purchased products from our company in the past year. The customers are randomly selected. I simply ask our operations people to give me a list of customers from the past month and then I randomly call them on Thursday afternoons. People have asked me if it is worth the effort. I tell them “yes.”
It keeps me grounded with the marketplace I rely on to buy our products. It would only seem right that I should know the needs of these customers and their markets before I approve funding projects in R&D, marketing, and other areas. Second, the compilation of data and intelligence makes me a better manager because I have firsthand knowledge to support my views and biases. Subsequent discussion with my colleagues always leads to better decision making.
So, those who profess that cold calling customers is dead are wrong. In a perfect world, your phone would be ringing off the hook all day with customers wanting to offer you their business, but in today’s real world, the reality is that if you want knowledge, you need to go after it, and cold calling is an effective tactic if it is done properly.
Does the thought of cold calling make your stomach drop? The benefits may not eliminate all of your concerns, but the knowledge you gain from the conversations you have with customers will go a long way to more successful business experiences.