What makes a great cold caller? Our guest today on Market Dominance Guys, James Thornburg, Enterprise IT Strategist at Bridgepointe Technologies, defines the characteristics of a great cold caller as someone who puts in the hard work by having lots of conversations — and also has a little charisma. James uses humor and ConnectAndSell’s Lightning platform to connect to his prospects, and then shares his cold calls on LinkedIn for all to learn from — or be entertained by. Our hosts, Chris Beall and Corey Frank, are enthusiastic listeners, each touting the entertainment and educational value James provides with his cold-calling triumphs as well as his train wrecks. Listen in as these three sales guys discuss James Thornburg’s ability to “pivot to a chuckle” on this Market Dominance Guys’ episode, “Is Cold Calling a Form of Slapstick?”
About Our Guest
James Thornburg is the Enterprise IT Strategist at Bridgepointe Technologies, which offers a service that helps design IT or telecom projects for their clients and includes selecting the right supplier at the right price with no extra cost to their customers.
Here is the complete transcript to this episode.
Corey Frank (01:16):
Welcome to another episode of The Market Dominance Guys with Corey Frank and the prince [inaudible 00:01:22] and the prognosticator of all things sales, Chris Beall, my fabulous co-host here. So good afternoon, Chris.
Chris Beall (01:30):
Hey. Good to be here, Corey. Nice to see you. You look good.
Corey Frank (01:33):
Yeah, thank you. I think it's the lighting, it's all in the lighting with the black. Black, I heard, is slimming. I probably need to wear all black. But listen, we're in the presence of some royalty here. It's been a long time coming because we've talked about James several episodes. James, if you're one of our seven listeners, you know that your name has come up a number of times in some of the earlier episodes. So we have with us today, not only a titan of technology, the prince of pastures ... You're a farmer, you're a homesteader. But we have the one and only, the king of the cold call, James Thornburg with us. So welcome, James, to The Market Dominance Guys.
James Thornburg (02:10):
Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Yeah.
Corey Frank (02:12):
Absolutely. So are you currently in the throne room? Is that what you call the cold call room you're in right now?
James Thornburg (02:16):
Yes, it's my basement downstairs.
Chris Beall (02:21):
James, I love your plain white background. It's so good.
James Thornburg (02:24):
It's great. For my calls, I've been using the Zoom background. We have some new branding here at Bridgepointe, but yeah, I like just the gray.
Corey Frank (02:32):
Yeah. Yeah. So James, we've been following you for a while, and obviously, you and Chris have known each other for a while, we've known each other for a few years. I've heckled and commented you on many a LinkedIn post. But you're the king of the cold call, you're not the earl of email or you're not the lord of LinkedIn, you chose the cold call as the channel of dominance for your business here at Bridgepointe. It's one of the principles at Bridgepointe. How come, in your sales career, why cold call versus ... Isn't email easier? Isn't LinkedIn easier? But you chose to have dominion as the king in probably one of the channels that most folks would shun. So why, for you, is the cold call king?
James Thornburg (03:13):
Well, I mean, I wasn't making a lot of calls for a lot of my career. I mean, when I first got out of college, I was making cold calls. I was selling insurance and I got into selling wireless phones and things like that for Nextel. So I was sitting the phones quite a bit then. And then I got into The Channel, and The Channel, you really just leveraged network relationships. And so I used those individuals to open up doors for me. And I did quite well when I was at my former company, Single Path, I was there for almost 12 years. And for about eight or nine of those years, I focused on working with networking partners and that's how I got introduced to opportunities. But things started to dry up, partnerships that I had before, they were acquired.
Some of them were making so much money they just weren't active in terms of opening up opportunities and my pipeline was suffering because of it. So I started looking to figure out, hey, how am I going to net new opportunities? And I was thinking about it this weekend, I'm like, I don't even know how I got introduced to ConnectAndSell. I don't know if it was, I was Googling or whatever, but landed on ConnectAndSell and at that point I was reborn cold caller. And it kind of opened my eyes that, hey, I can open up a lot of opportunities using this platform and making dials. And then that put me in a position, I was at Single Path for about a year, year and a half on ConnectAndSell, using it as a full-time sales rep. And then I saw ConnectAndSell as my vehicle to basically start out. To go out on my own. That's basically what I did about two years ago.
Corey Frank (04:50):
Got you. Yeah, I think you and Ryan [inaudible 00:04:53] are birds of a feather there, that you put yourself out there. You both put yourself out there. And I think you pioneered this trend, James, that a lot of us can sit in the cheap seats, guys like me, and I can critique a call here and there. Chris and I certainly do our share of it. And we do our share of cold calls, certainly Chris is out there, he'll do it on stage. But James, you have a unique perspective that you actually do it on LinkedIn Live, you'll record your calls occasionally, and put them out there. Good, bad, ugly, warts and all. How'd you get started on that? What kind of crazy guy would do that and be that glutton for punishment? To put yourself so publicly out there?
James Thornburg (05:28):
I had a leased office in downtown Kalamazoo. I was still working at my former employer. The room was about four by seven with no windows, and I think it was in the middle of February, and I was bored one day. I was making these calls and I'm like, "Hey, why don't I just start recording these calls?" And I was like, "That was pretty funny about the VP of Technology that told me he was a teller." And so then I posted it on LinkedIn and got some traction and people seemed to be interested. And that's kind of where it started in terms of the videos for LinkedIn.
Corey Frank (06:02):
What do you think about that, Chris? I mean he certainly, as the CEO of his own company there, his own practice, James, he puts himself out there. You talked a lot about CEOs needing to do that, put themselves out there and do a certain amount of cold calls. I think James has certainly taken it to a different level. But what's your thoughts on that?
Chris Beall (06:19):
Well, I mean, James, what you've done at a different level is you're funny. And I actually think that that contrast between what people think about cold calling, which is the movies, the boiler rooms, the intensity, the screaming, all that stuff. And then we watch you and it's like, the very best part, to me, is that the camera is there for you. We're there. And you look at us and you use us. I mean, that's what fun. It's like, we're in the call because your feelings about it, especially that anticipation thing you do. Like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, this might go, it might go. It's like, oh boom. And that, I think, is a completely new thing. Everybody's got different style, right? So Shane Mahey does his thing while he's along the banks of the Thames and he's making calls. And that's very much like calls. It's cool, but after, it's like making calls. Your stuff is not just cool, your stuff is funny. And I don't know, you don't think of yourself as a funny guy, I think. Right?
James Thornburg (07:28):
Not really. I mean, I'm trying to be funny today but it's not really working [crosstalk 00:07:32]. Trying to come up with something witty.
Corey Frank (07:37):
Great try. Great try.
Chris Beall (07:38):
Well, it's the thing that you do with the camera that I just think it's great. It's like, we're there. Because cold calling has this funny quality. Each call is an adventure, where you don't know what's going to happen. And somebody once asked me, some really intelligent person said, "Gosh, Chris, you seem to like sports, sporting events, more than most people who sport your particular mathematical inclinations." I think they said something about IQ or some nonsense like that. It's like, why? It's like, because I don't know how it's going to turn out. You get sucked into the little soap opera that is ... Or whatever, a game of some sort. Whatever it happens to. And every cold call is that kind of game.
Even though it's not oppositional with this person, when we're there with you, I feel like we, the audience, are getting that sense of why the conversation ... And I'll make a distinction. Cold calls and cold conversations are two different things. If you had to cold call, you wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. Cold calling means not talking to anybody for an hour. That's crazy. Making cold conversations are pretty fun, if you're ready for the adventure. For us watching you, it's pure fun. Because we're not the ones who are dealing with the negative side, other than we get to deal with how you deal with it, which is funny.
James Thornburg (08:59):
Yeah. I mean it's fun to watch somebody get hung up on.
Chris Beall (09:02):
Who knew? Is it slapstick? That's a question. Is watching cold calling a form slapstick, where we don't have that much of that anymore, but are we getting a little Lucille Ball in there or whatever? A little Charlie Chaplin, I don't know.
Corey Frank (09:18):
I don't know. I think it's a little bit of schadenfreude, right? I mean, you see somebody else get his butt kicked. And you have a lot of good calls, a lot of successful calls. I think everybody wants to watch it for the train wrecks. And it does ... I know when I watch him, James, I feel like, wow, that was really clever. You start off with a joke, you're just very unassuming. You're not supplicative, you don't lose your status, but you really have this attitude where, "Listen, I'm a human, I'm looking for another human connection. And can we dispense with all the roles and all the accouterments of your title and role and just make a connection because you picked up the phone and I'm on the other end. And let's see if we have something that can benefit each other."
And that's just very raw and authentic. Doing so many, and doing so many publicly, and certainly doing so many at scale, because you're the artisan of the ConnectAndSell weapon. What have you learned in cold calling? Because you said, most of your career, you didn't necessarily have to do it. And then you have just had probably more cold calls in the last couple of years, probably more than 99% of sales professionals in the B2B world, so what have you learned from this channel and from the reception that you get from decision levels? Decision level buyers?
James Thornburg (10:40):
Well, I mean it's really worked for my industry. Our offering, or what we do, is somewhat nuanced. I mean, we're helping IT leaders buy technology and it's hard to articulate that through any other medium. When you're able to have a conversation with somebody, it's easier to explain to them. Because like I said, I mean, what we do is somewhat nuanced, the concept is foreign to probably 90% of the people that we talk to. And I refer to it as speed dialing, ConnectAndSell. Just even using a power dialer or some manual dialing, then your power dialer. I mean, the challenge is, is that you're dealing with a lot of that minutia of cold calling, which is the reason why no one wants to make any calls. So to be able to just press a button and have some conversations. People think I work hard. I mean, it's a lazy way to do it. It makes things easier. You're just having conversations.
Do you have the courage to press that button and talk to somebody? And if you don't, then what are doing in sales? And so, when you look at early on, I mean my pitch has evolved and things of that nature. I mean, people have a lot of opinions about the pitch, the openers and things of that nature, but gotten a lot better in terms of the tonality. Just my conversions are a lot higher and that's due to having a lot of at bats. Having a lot of conversations, you get better and better. I think people miss out on that. Everybody wants to talk about the conversions and things of that nature, but it's also, how do we make these reps better more quickly? And the way that you're going to be able to do that is more conversations. I don't know if that answered your question.
Corey Frank (12:18):
No, you really have to get frequent before you get good, is what I hear you saying. And you've been able to condense 20 years of cold calling, that most of us had to come up through the ranks using old rotary phones, and you've been able to condense it in the last two and a half years or so with a ConnectAndSell type of weapon, it sounds like.
James Thornburg (12:36):
Listen, I'm a little old school too. I didn't use a rotary phone, but I had index cards.
Corey Frank (12:41):
James Thornburg (12:43):
I had index cards and I was writing on that, that was my follow-up.
Corey Frank (12:46):
Yeah, yeah. Right. With the volume of calls that you've made, and Chris and I would be interested in knowing, okay, because you had such a very tight learning curve over ... Not that you've never made cold calls, but I'm saying in this type of volume over the last 24, 36 months or so at volume, what doesn't work at a cold call? You say a lot of folks will say, "James, I have some opinions on your opener and I have opinions on X and Y and Z." Okay, well you do it at scale. So, in your opinion, what have you learned that doesn't work in a cold call, that you probably see a lot of folks still doing?
James Thornburg (14:06):
I don't know if I can answer that. I don't have strong opinions about openers, technique, and things of that nature. I don't like the, how are you, though. As the opener. I don't think that's a very good idea. But I think if you have the right tonality and it doesn't sound like you're reading off of some type of script, and you're putting in the work, you're going to have success. But I can't really pinpoint something that doesn't work in cold calling. I mean, what are your thoughts?
Chris Beall (14:34):
I've got some. I have ideas of what does work. So my two favorite people to listen to, having actual cold calls, are you and Cheryl Turner. And the reason is, both of you have the ability to pivot to a chuckle better than any other people out there. You're light enough with the situation that it's like, you've done the hard work, you've pushed the button, now you're going to be light with this person and let it roll and talk to them. And when something kind of funny comes up, or they challenge you in some way, that the best answer isn't to fight them, it's to laugh. Like the one the other day where the guy basically says something about being retired or whatever. And you go, "Well, we get these lists from these list providers and blah, blah, blah," and it was funny. I mean, it was funny but it was also like, it's not funny like me against you kind of funny. It's funny like, we're all in this together kind of funny. Like life is funny, kind of funny.
And you and Cheryl both do it and you do it like ... I was with Helen a couple of weeks ago and we were going through a bunch of Cheryl's calls and listening to them. Because Helen has an interest in trying ConnectAndSell in a very special kind of way, with a huge, huge company out there that she might be calling into. And this is new to her. And she asked, "Well, what really makes it work?" And I said, "Let's go listen to Cheryl and listen to James. And I will break this down for you like I'm Howard Cosell, it's Ali/Frazier. I'm going to take you through this punch by punch. And I'm going to redirect your eyes from the gloves down to their feet so you can see what they're really doing." And what was so interesting was that EQ, on the spot, that it takes to laugh with somebody. I actually think that is the most interesting thing that both of you do. And it's spectacular.
James Thornburg (16:33):
Yeah. I mean, I don't know. It's just-
Chris Beall (16:37):
You think things are funny.
James Thornburg (16:38):
People get so upset about it, about cold calls and things of that nature. And it's just, I don't know. I mean, there's a lot of other problems in the world. I mean, somebody calling you and everything and it's just like ... I mean, even the retired people. Sometimes I got to leave them with a joke because it's like, hey, you're retired. You're mad that I called you, I know that you get calls, but it's like, hey, lighten up a little bit. Let me leave you with a joke. And then I leave them with the five cold caller joke.
Chris Beall (17:03):
Yeah. I don't know if everybody knows the joke, but could you give us the joke? I mean, let's have Corey be all pissed off at you. Corey, you're retired, right? Or you're pretty much retired, as far as I can tell.
James Thornburg (17:15):
Corey, Corey. Hey, listen, let me at least leave you with a joke. What do you call five cold callers at the bottom of the ocean?
Corey Frank (17:25):
I don't know, James, what do you call five cold callers at the bottom of the ocean?
James Thornburg (17:28):
A good start.
Corey Frank (17:31):
That's right. See? And you made a human connection, right?
Chris Beall (17:36):
By the way, let me make a technical point there. This is something that our friend Chris Boss would call tactical empathy. Show the other person you see the world through their eyes, what do they think if they could think clearly about five cold callers at the bottom of the ocean? They'd think it's a good start, right? So some of these things, they sound very natural because they are. James, Cheryl, these people are true geniuses at this.
Corey Frank (18:02):
Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Chris Beall (18:04):
Henry [inaudible 00:18:05] is now converting at 40%. And he's a guy you wouldn't have thought was a natural, but he's picked up a whole bunch of things from Cheryl. He works closely with Cheryl and some magic is going on. If Scott Webb, the 75.9% converter, he just sounds like he's your friend who knows you, who's calling you, and really thinks it's a good idea for you that we should have a meeting. And by the way, I got to go. So he's out of there, I got to. "Hey, I got call. I'll shoot you something." Boom. Done. So these folks all have something in common, which is, in the ring, so to speak, they're relaxed. They're excited and want something to happen, but still relaxed enough to laugh and make these simple-looking moves, that I know as an expert on this, are not that simple to master.
Corey Frank (18:58):
What do you guys think? Is that nature? Is it nurture? Is it is a little bit of Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption, where he only gets parole once he doesn't give a crap anymore? And it's that attitude, it's tough to teach somebody right out of school that ... It's not apathy. Like you said, it's more ... Because I'm not losing my status. It's very cool in the pocket. Is that something that's taught or is that something that can be learned? [crosstalk 00:19:25]
Chris Beall (19:26):
Did you have to learn it? Did you just fall into it?
James Thornburg (19:31):
I'd say repetition and personality. I mean, there is a little personality element to it. And I don't know how teachable that is.
Chris Beall (19:40):
I don't either. It's like being tall for basketball, you could be Spud Webb and you can be great, but there were never 30 Spud Webbs in the league.
James Thornburg (19:53):
I mean, I don't think you have to be a James Thornburg and have my personality. I mean, people bring different gifts to the game. And mine just happens to be hard work and maybe a little bit of charisma.
Chris Beall (20:05):
And more chickens.
Corey Frank (20:07):
Maybe it is. The homesteader lifestyle has certainly, probably contributes to the mellow nature, the connection, empathy. We screenplay the uh's and the um's in our screenplays that we use for outbound calling. And we got a lot of folks who say, "Doesn't that make you sound unsure? Does that make you sound like, don't know what you're talking about? And if you're talking with a C-Level or director level, they're going to go ..." It's like, no, makes you sound human. Chris and I talked about this last time, never trust a person who doesn't walk around with a little bit of a limp. And so, we screenplay that in. And I think that the brilliance of the 27 seconds is that, even if I don't have this high emotional intelligence, off the chart like you do, or Cheryl or Scott, that at least is a little bit of a verbal crutch to help get you there. That 27 seconds.
It's not, can I have a minute? 27 seconds. Chris was talking to me, we call it the playful curious. Can James come out and play? That's what we teach, that's what they teach in the flight school at ConnectAndSell, that is the perfect encapsulation of how to think. What the director's notes for the actor are on the screenplay. Playful curious, can James come out and play? That's how you say that in 27 seconds. And even if I blew the other part, I'm at least going to buy myself another few seconds by saying that. And you're a big advocate of the 27 seconds, certainly, James [inaudible 00:21:36].
James Thornburg (21:36):
I'd be interested in Chris's opinion. I mean, how much of it is the call? I'd say it's 90% of the call. If they buy into the 27 seconds, they buy you more time, then you can tell your story and hopefully get some more information or book a meeting or get a follow-up, right?
Chris Beall (21:51):
Yeah, it's funny. Today I was talking with Donny Crawford about this and we were going pretty deep on this question of, what's the purpose of the cold call? And I pointed out to him, Donny, a great conversion rate is 10%. So that means 90% of the purpose is what happens when you don't convert? And he kind of stopped and he went, huh? He said, "Yeah, we get into that, don't we? That the purpose is to get the meeting." It's like, no, the outcome is to get the meeting when that's the right thing for both parties. Which is more often than you might think. But the purpose is to establish trust, and the caveat is, don't blow it. Once you've established trust in that first seven seconds, don't blow it. Because you're going to talk to this person later. They're in a cohort, it's called people who answer the phone.
They're yours to talk with, over and over, 11/12 of them are in market right now. Now James sells something that's very nuanced. At ConnectAndSell, we sell something that's anti-nuanced but isn't in a category either. You can't go up to somebody and say, "Hey, you know what? I got something that's going to get you 10 times more conversations and you're going to love it." And they're going to go, "Wow, really? Here's my checkbook." They're going to go, "Huh, you're either an idiot or a charlatan. I don't know if I want to stick around to find out which." That's how it works and that was Cheryl's response to me in a test drive. I thought the guy was an idiot or a charlatan. She went off and used it, came back in 10 minutes and said, "I was wrong. You may well be an idiot and charlatan, we'll establish that later. But this stuff works, man."
So I think that the whole game is at the beginning. When you look at it one way, 100% of cold calls succeed if you get that person to trust you and you don't blow it. And James, you never blow it. I never hear you blow it. Now, maybe you deep [crosstalk 00:23:48].
James Thornburg (23:47):
I show the videos of the ones that I'm not blowing.
Chris Beall (23:54):
Well, people blow it. It's easy to blow it. You want to blow it, sell to them.
Corey Frank (23:59):
Chris Beall (23:59):
I get you to trust me, and then I sell to you, I'm kind of toast.
Corey Frank (24:03):
Yeah. I thought we were friends, what are you doing selling to me?
Chris Beall (24:05):
Exactly. Exactly. I love Scott Webb's point of view is, he says, "When I insist somebody take the meeting, my internal image is that I'm putting my hand out and slapping him in the chest and pulling them back so they don't step in front of a speeding bus. That's how I feel about that person. I'm saying them from something they didn't see, which is the disaster of not attending a meeting in which I'm going to teach them valuable stuff."
Corey Frank (24:34):
So he emotes that intent?
Chris Beall (24:37):
Yes. Yeah, we had a discussion once where he called me and said, "My mindset's wrong, I'm going to fix it." And he was converting 35%. And so he calls me back an hour later and says, "I fixed it. Five for five." And he's dragging that 35% tail into a 75.9% conversions. So he still got that statistical, that big hunk of bad back there, which he thinks is bad. And the rest of us go, "Woo, woo, that's pretty exciting." But it was a mindset change where he said, "You know what? I have an ethical obligation to this person, to make sure they come to this meeting, to learn what they don't even know can be learned. And I am going to satisfy that obligation by insisting they attend with me. That they take it. And if all I get is the verbal, and I just send them an invite, that's progress compared to no verbal. So I'm going to get the verbal, even if it doesn't have a date on it, and I'll send them an invite for something." I tell you what, the numbers don't lie.
Corey Frank (25:35):
Yeah, for sure.
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