GDPR will kill cold sales. Partly!

At first sight, it may seem as if GDPR tries to root out cold sales. However, this general sentiment is mostly about cold sales as one of the marketing practices at its worst. 

Picture this: a person gets a call from a sales rep of a company he has never heard of offering a product or service he has zero interest in. Of course, he’d wonder what he has to do with all this. And it’s not good for the company’s image to simply play it by ear and contact prospects randomly.

Similarly to traffic light, with regard to sales and marketing, GDPR is to eradicate attempts to move on red and yellow pitching company’s offerings to anyone and everyone hoping to score at least something. But what should be considered by a salesperson before he decides to take his relationship with the prospect to the next level?

Before we dive in into details, let us talk about some misconceptions about GDPR and marketing you might often hear.

First off, a prospect needs to give his sign off (consent) for you to gather his personal information; and unless they make it clear they badly want to read your marketing materials, you’d better not even think of sending any to them. It sounds odd, right? 

Another popular opinion about the regulation is that it gives marketers green light only when users explicitly agree to be contacted by salespeople. 

While potential clients need to be aware of the ways and timing at which their personal information is being collected, as a marketing person you still can do your job and test the waters with warm prospects from your list. 

Of course, if you collect personal information, you must provide the records copy upon prospect’s request, but it shouldn’t be a problem if your company has proper GDPR processes in place. 

Finally, any data processor or data controller does need to satisfy a request for data modification or erasure, but again, there’s time prior to receiving such a query when you can do your job.

What’s really true and cannot be argued is the fact that sales and marketing teams are likely to strengthen their collaboration and would probably require altering the tone of prospecting. But you’re probably wondering how to make it happen? 

First of all, by transforming usual cold calling practices into a more user-friendly approach.

In other words, some additional magic needs to be done on the leads in sales pipeline by marketing managers before the prospect moves further down the channel to a salesperson. At the end of the day, the quality of sales opportunities is more important than the quantity.

Bottom lineonly warm or hot leads for cold sales should be considered.

While GDPR requires data controllers and processors handle personal data with care and ensure its protection, users are the ones choosing to allow their data to be processed. 

Nobody really pushes them to make this decision; it’s about a voluntary agreement in the first place. 

However, if either a data controller or a processor receives a request to stop contacting a prospect by any means, he needs to wrap up all marketing efforts. 

There should be a solid understanding about when to exclude a prospect from existing sales funnel and move on.

Can you rely on legitimate interest?

But that’s not all. It’s worth to mention the concept of legitimate interest; although it is slightly confusing compared to the remaining 5 lawful mechanisms for data processing, its flexibility (read broad definition) leaves plenty of room for a data controller to process personal data legally and use it for direct marketing purposes.

A business, a data controller or a third party can refer to legitimate interest as a lawful reason for data collection and processing unless it can be overridden by basic rights and freedoms of a data subject, says GDPR.

Think of it as of a “higher purpose” that either a data controller or a third party might have regarding the enhancement of anti-money laundering practices, for example. The company might have previously engaged with a data subject and now it feels that processing of his personal data might benefit fraud prevention. 

Another illustration, more on the actual benefit side though, could be a corporate level example where, on its way to merger and acquisition, a company’s management decides to share personal information about their associates with the investor. Under GDPR, this can be done after so-called “balance test” where you make sure you don’t violate the fundamental rights of data subjects and keep your actions in line with them.

Can you use legitimate interests ground for direct marketing?

Now, let’s try to figure out when legitimate interest could be a lawful ground for ethical direct marketing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’re many marketers out there that focus solely on consent considering it to be a primary reason for data processing and cold sales. 

And you know what? Just a few realize that man cannot leave on consent alone, and legitimate interest concept can be a gateway to crafting targeted campaigns, too. 

Look at Recital 47 of the GDPR that says: “The processing of personal data for direct marketing purposes may be regarded as carried out for a legitimate interest.” 

This means that under the regulation, companies can process personal information as a part of their regular business operations; and the latter can include cold sales as well. 

If a marketer feels like he’s walking on thin ice trying to justify data processing by a legitimate interest, experts suggest conducting a simple 3-step assessment and trying to answer the following questions:

  • Is there really a legitimate interest/purpose to process data?

  • Is data processing really necessary and can directly contribute to meeting that purpose? 

  • Is data processing conducted with respect to the rights and freedoms of data subjects? 

By now you’ll have realized that in general under GDPR, marketing practices including cold sales are likely to mature and evolve becoming more about delivering value to a data subject along with an actual sales pitch. So it’s no longer as impersonal as it used to be.

Don’t forget about such websites as LinkedIn or its European analog Xing where the majority of users voluntary share their contact details and can be reached by other registered users. 

For many though, the algorithm of responding to cold sales messages on such business networking websites could be accepting user request, getting offered a service they don’t really need, and then deleting the user offering the service from his circle of contacts. 

So it’s essential to make sure that the pool of prospects includes only those potential clients that might be really keen on what you have to offer. Another reason for marketers to polish their direct sales strategies and refine the list of prospects.

Then, no one canceled industry-leading conferences, trade fairs, and shows that could be a great opportunity to move the leads further down the sales funnel.

Finally, the introduction of GDPR is likely to appreciate the value of interpersonal offline communication: it might transform the way how companies engage with their target audience. 

InterNations, Business Network International, and similar get-togethers where working professionals talk business in the casual atmosphere might be a winning ticket for marketers and sprout a new degree of direct marketing moving away from classical cold sales: being still direct but more personal.