The Case For Losing Your Sales People And Killing Cold Calls Forever

Generating sales can cost almost as much as the revenues they bring in. Here's how three companies are conquering the top line without a single sales person and zero cold calling.

Think about the last time you wanted to make a major purchase.

Did you pull an Amy Poehler and unleash a barrage of questions on the hapless salesperson regarding features, functionality, and financing? Were they helpful and knowledgeable? Or did they leave you wishing you could just slink over to one of their computers and look up the information yourself?

Lean In On the Experts

Too often, it’s the latter. According to Nat Friedman, cofounder and CEO of Xamarin, those who rely on a traditional sales staff do so at their own peril, especially when dealing with developing software and mobile apps.

Working with a potential new customer is when a company stands to gain (or lose) the most. "Within the first two minutes a technical question will come up," Friedman tells Fast Company. And if the sales person can’t answer immediately, or worse, offers to set up a meeting with an engineer, precious momentum is lost and the deal may not be made. "Engineers do NOT like to schedule meetings," Friedman underscores.

So Friedman and company took a different approach. Xamarin eschewed a sales staff altogether. Instead, they took a chance hiring one of their former customers, an engineer who was both well versed in the technology and liked the product, and wound him up and watched him take customer relations to a whole new level. Two years after the company started, Xamarin continues to rely on a team of 10 engineers (also former customers) dubbed the "customer success team."

Xamarin’s numbers speak for the success of this strategy for its high-volume business. Fielding approximately 1,100 developers a day through their trial program, Friedman says that Xamarin’s amassed about 17,000 customers since they launched two years ago. All without a single cold call, or as Friedman posits, without a single minute wasted scouring LinkedIn "for people who look like they could be our customer." What customers do get is a high-touch experience that starts when they sign on for a trial, and continues via email or phone with a "real person," like the engineer who can drill down into each line of code and create an authentic connection with the customer.

Xamarin’s not alone in bucking the sales system. Even though Phil Fernandez, founder of Marketo’s marketing automation (which Friedman admits Xamarin does use), told Fast Company the cold call was still king, businesses are beginning to understand that creating a constant revenue stream doesn’t have to cost 20 or 30 percent or more of the total take. And it can be done more efficiently than having a menacing sales director goading staff to close more deals.

Eat Your Own Dog Food

Chicago-based web development firm Table XI has relied on its massively simple product and customer-centric strategy to build its business primarily through word of mouth referrals.

"When we started 11 years ago, it was not a deliberate choice," Table XI’s COO Mark Rickmeier tells Fast Company. Much the way Don Draper and the boozy gang use their clients’ products copiously (think: the haze of Lucky Strike, a Roman holiday at a Hilton, and a closet stuffed with shiny new Leicas) Rickmeier contends that "eating your own dog food" has done more than helped the team understand the unique problems of the businesses they aim to assist. They also discovered the best way to build relationships with customers is to become their customer as well.

Rickmeier experienced this firsthand when he came on board as an exhausted new father and was tasked with improving the UX on the Neighborhood Parenting Network. A dedicated user of the forum, Rickmeier quickly saw the need to optimize the network for mobile, so any parent could scan the info from their phone, no matter how bleary-eyed they were.

As the company grew, the tactic became part of its culture. When Table XI signed Spice House, Table XI's chef frequently used the advice and the products of the Spice House to enhance the company kitchen's menu. "In our collaboration with them, we developed the idea for a recipe portal," explains Rickmeier, "Exactly the way we wanted to shop for new ideas for our office menu. As a result, Spice House’s online sales grew from $250,000 to $1.3 million and online orders have grown 54%. As for Table XI, revenue has gone from $800,00 to over $5 million in the last five years. Says Rickmeier: "It's wonderful that we can eat our own advice, quite literally." Though their ranks have swelled from four people to 33, no exasperated corporate honcho is required when revenue is generated through referrals.

Rely on the Crowd

Alon Alroy, cofounder and CMO of mobile networking platform Bizzabo, is a firm believer that "the oldest truth in marketing is that if you deliver a quality product, then word of mouth will play a large role in your growth and sales. "For us, it’s word of mouth through social media channels that drives incredible awareness around the world," he says.

As a platform that delivers up-to-date event information and networking opportunities at conferences, Bizzabo is heavily integrated with LinkedIn and Twitter, says Alroy. Therefore, every attendee, organizer, and sponsor becomes its best promoter.
"We built the product in a way that encourages event goers to share their plans to attend events," Alroy explains. "Each share is helping event organizers, while at the same time increasing visibility, exposure, and new sales leads for Bizzabo."

That’s not to say that it’s been a piece of cake to corner the market. Yet Alroy points out that as the official app of more than 2,000 events in the past year, Bizzabo’s gained steam within the technology and media industries—where the early adopters and tastemakers tend to be.  
"Event check-ins and joins through Bizzabo have generated more than 10 million social media impressions," Alroy says, "exposing our brand to new audiences every day."  

[Image: Flickr user Amy Robertson]

Add New Comment


  • Jj

    OH....thats what I have been missing all these years. I could just sit back and let the phone ring. How did I miss that?

  • Robert

    You know business does not live in a vacuum? You have pointed out 3 examples. How many businesses are there in the world?? Selling is a human interaction, unless you have some pointless, useless mobile app (as most of them are). I bet Nat Friedman buys his health insurance from a salesperson, and his servers are from a salesperson, and most of his other business needs are from a salesperson.
    Good luck next time.

  • Dick Schnitz

    And the value of this article is a whopping $0.00.  Who pays someone to write this kind of nonsense?

  • stars

    I am a business development associate and the products and services that my company offers are IP driven digital content solutions. I found it difficult at the beginning as it involved lot of technical aspects that I had to understand before I started talking to prospects. Hardly couple of months and I am comfortable explaining any technical questions that I face when I talk to prospects.If sales people are trained properly then I don't think there will be any issues. Its not right to make statements like losing sales people or end of cold calling. Communication is something engineers clearly cannot handle !

  • Mohd Alves

    People buy into the sales people before they buy what it is they are offering. Trust sales. Relationships grow accounts. Both of these require tradditional face to face sales in any industry.

  • Caine Hassen

    Absolute nonsense and spoken from ignorance. Direct sales is and will always be the single most effective sales channel available. People connect with people not products, they buy trust and worthiness from other human beings.

  • Cari Turley

    I'm not sure I agree. Sure, there are the people who will walk into a store (or call a number, or go to the website) already determined to buy your product, but that's never been who salespeople are for. Sales is about convinced people who haven't made a decision yet, going after the big fish, and changing people's minds. I don't think that's ever going away.

  • Heidi Hardy

    What I believe is missing here isn't really about sales people vs. engineers. What needs to be discussed is emotional intelligence and relationship building skills.  While I do not disagree that having informed sales/engineers help your customers I do also believe that there will always be a need for "translators" people who speak both languages. The customer's language and the company's language.  Sometimes if you are strategic that can be an engineer but sometimes it can be a very emotionally intelligent sales person. Either way what consumers want is to be engaged, to be educated, to talk to someone who is empathic and offers solutions. 

  • Selleverything

    Salespeople are not valuable in every business.  You don't find salespeople at the supermarket, for example.  One day you might not even find supermarkets -- the grocery business could move to delivery.

    When companies need salespeople is when their products are important, expensive, or complicated, when solutions are tailored, or when projects are commissioned.

    Salespeople in those industries are using technology smarter, with products like Salesforce, Yesware, etc... which help salespeople do their jobs and help customers buy without feeling like they're being sold to.

  • Kevincarter42

    Hmm. Salespeople do want to defend their territory obviously, and justifying our existence is human nature in the business world. I am one, I get it. This article does point out some of the inadequacies of many poor salespeople that do exist. Sadly it is written by someone who is not a salesperson, so one who truly does not understand what a good salesperson actually does to help facilitate a sale. We are mediators, bartenders, spouses, negotatiors, engineers, facilutators, communicators...all in one. A skill and talent for building long term business relationships will never go away.

  • Kjackshaw

    In my humble yet biased opinion personally I don't think cold calling or face to face sales would go away. I make sales calls for a living and I've found with every company I've worked with there definitely was a need to educate people at various companies that we exist and why we differ than the competition and that is something you can't just do by snappy online presentations and so forth. 

    To me cold or even warm calls add that personal touch that some companies forget to provide for the customer. In other words most companies tend to make their clients feel like a number rather than a real customer. The company I am with now intends to keep it that way. 

  • Michael Kroll

    I think, like anything, banking on one strategy alone is not the best approach. There are so many factors that go into marketing, I would hesitate to dismiss one strategy over another. For every example you make using this strategy, there are countless more using sales people and "cold calling" to generate sales. 

    Looking at your business, your product and your customer will allow you to make the best decision possible. But to simply look to this as a model of success because it worked for these businesses doesn't mean it will translate into yours.

  • Kersten Kloss

    I rarely cold call anymore. I'd rather leave them voicemails and invite them to watch and learn through compelling content.  I get a far better ROI and 1-3% callbacks on any outgoing messages. The trick is to lead them with entrigue and entice them to you through compelling content that informs them and slide the solution into the content.  That's what works best for me.    Techniques I learned from interviewing two very smart people.  Steven Schiffman and Oren Klaff.  Have a look at these two interviews: (Oren Kladd) and (Steve Schiffman)

  • Smartin

    Salespeople are not going away, they're just going to get much smarter in their approach. They'll start using tools like ClearSlide and other sales software to make themselves more efficient. 

  • Jhansonyachts

    I'm in the business of selling......mainly super-high end yachts.  You have to sell yourself (be real and yourself) BEFORE you even get to the merchandise!!!    Clients have that bull**** "smell factor" that you either can handle or not.  I love face to face!!!  Most business comes from referrals.

  • Amir Mertaban

    Sadly, I agree with everyone below. Your approach to the article was just too simplistic. To even hint at the Best Buy retail associate as a sales person is a joke. I feel like you had good intentions for the article but 'ya missed the mark." 

  • LeeT

    I got more and more stressed out reading this, I couldn't enjoy the content. The Gif images were too much of a distraction

  • Guest

    I tried to read this by scrolling to hide the gifs off screen and after 5 minutes of reading I had to give up. Even if I had finished the article myself and my new headache would have deemed the author's opinion of little value souly on their inappropriate use of gifs.

  • Rod Pedrotti

    I respectfully disagree. Perhaps for simpler products that can be commoditized and have large number of small transactions, a company may not need as many salespeople as they mentioned on this article. However, when you are selling enterprise type solutions, that are highly customized and require a proof of concept, a good sales professional delivers value to both the customer and company he is representing by managing the sales process and being a trusted adviser to the client.