In 1980 Blondie urged us to “CALL ME”, but in 2019 as a way to build a business, the telephone seems as outdated as the cassette tape I first heard her say that on. But.. not so fast, some of the best commercial relationships start with the coldest of calls, as business development expert Keith Smith explores.


I want to talk dirty. Specifically, I want to talk sales.

Do I have your attention? Good stuff! You’re a great CMO because you listen.

If you’ve ever run your own business, you have to sell. Somehow, some way, as the owner of a business, you need to get on the phone and start kicking some butt, hitting some targets; putting food on the table and keeping the lights on.

In some way, shape or form, we all sell, but the art of being a great CMO is that you specialize in listening. And you know that if you like what you’re hearing and you think you’ll move your own business forward as a result, you’ll listen some more.

I spend a lot of time on the online business network LinkedIn. And I see a lot of CMO profiles that say “Don’t cold call me”, or “Only contact me if you’re in my network”, and it makes me wonder – is that really the right thing for a CMO to say out loud? Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the motivation behind it, but it makes me wonder how you ever discover that moment of pure inspiration; that miracle that opens a new door on your brand’s evolution?

Agreed, there are times when an unsolicited communication is just plain wrong. Like life insurance, or law firm cold calls. But it muddies the waters for folks who have a genuine need to speak to you as part of their (and your) job function.

GDPR brings a lot of confusion to the sales arena. Is it now illegal to try to speak to someone if we don’t already have their permission? Well, yes and no. It is illegal if you cold call someone who worked in health and safety and you’re selling company car fleet services because they have no relevance to the proposition and you’re just working down a dodgy call list without really caring who’s next. But it IS legal if you sell apples and you’re trying to speak to a produce buyer. GDPR isn’t intended to stop the normal functioning of commerce, it’s just trying to tighten up the focus on each seller’s activity so that they only speak to contacts that are, or will be, in the market for what they sell.

So in the context of my work, it’s OK for me to want to speak to owners and new business managers in agencies in the creative marketing and communications sector in the UK. Nine times out of ten, my conversations lead to a fruitful relationship and I add value to my clients’ work.

And that’s why I wanted to address you – the CMO. Sometimes the best relationships emerge from the coldest of calls or conversations. Sometimes, an idea can float in from left of field that you hadn’t even considered. You might not want it now, but you certainly will further on down the road.

As in the case of Mr. Mark Young. He’s one of the UK’s best-known generators of new business in the marketing industry. He’s been doing it for over 25 years and his job now is acquisitions and building an agency group called Liquorice.

“For eighteen months I’d been trying to persuade a rather posh supermarket that we had the perfect vehicle for them to communicate with their audience via a customer magazine,” he said. Initially, it seemed promising, but then the trail went cold. After weeks of crickets, Mark assumed the proposal was dead, so he turned his attention to other matters. Six months later, the Marketing Director called him back, telling him he’d been considering the proposal and was now ready to do a deal – and it was a big deal. And it shows that while Mark thought the deal was dead, his prospect had read, mulled and considered the proposal and was all the time, trying to work it into his corporate plan.

Or take the case of Jon Cunningham, who runs a business called Prospeus that helps SMEs grow through strategic support and coaching. He also manages business development and lead generation for some of his clients. He was working for a comms agency that wanted to target national retailers. Jon was fortunate enough to open a chat with one marketing director who was doing some crystal ball gazing. Jon’s client was able to take some of the nuggets of information and put together a great presentation on that very subject. The prospect liked what he saw and brought Jon’s client in for a deeper chat: “as a result, they are working together and expect to have a long-term business relationship, working with the supermarket at a strategic level. That’s the power of just one cold call,” said Jon.

Without just one very important ingredient, none of this business would have happened; these CMOs had the ability to listen, to steer the conversation and to create opportunities for both parties based on mutual needs.

So next time the phone rings or you get an unsolicited email, don’t pretend it never happened. Take a beat, spare a few moments, shoot it through your own prism and see if you get a rainbow. You won’t know if you don’t explore these things.

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