Cold Calling or Consulting: No Time for Both

Cold Calling or Consulting

Cold Calling or Consulting: No Time for Both
By: Toby Marshall

Virtually all training provided to recruiters is about cold calling and transaction selling.

It’s the focus of nearly every recruitment conference I’ve been to ” how to get your billings up’. This Rant will help outsiders understand how the industry got to its appalling state.

With refreshing honesty, trainer Sophie Robertson’s opening sentence states:

Understand that you are in a sales position, no ifs or buts.

Which is what all the others say, just not as neatly – though some like Barb Bruno in the USA are pretty blunt?

So what does this mean? That recruiters are trained to cold call meaning they have no time to consult. And remember most work contingently – racing other recruiters to a sale, so consulting is ruled out anyway.

Ross Clennett, one of Australia’s best recruitment coaches has a great e-book (go to to get it) that recommends:

1. Weekly Prospect Calls: 50 (= Cold Calls)

2. Monthly prospect & client visits: 28

3. Monthly Float Outs: 20 (= sending unsolicited resumes)

Not much time left for deepening relationships with existing clients after doing these calls and following up. Now, in other articles and talks, Ross and other trainers rightly say that our focus should be on deepening relationships: But where’s the time? You can’t have it both ways.

This cold calling model is different to how my firm and some other boutiques work: where you have 10 to 20 clients who you work for repeatedly. So relationship building visits might be 3 a month, with 2 or 3 visits to prospective clients on top of that.

Re 20 float outs: No thank you! That’s not consulting, it’s acting like an 3rd rate web server! When you have fewer clients who you know well, sending unsolicited resumes is welcomed, and you might do 2 a month – not 20. It’s still sales but the focus is on relationships, not foot in the door’ tactics (see Sophie’s wonderful cold calling scripts in my last posting on Lies).

Which gets to the fundamental problem:

We are virtually talking about 2 different industries.

One where 50 or a 100 clients’ is the norm, based on constant cold calling.

Versus one where recruiters work closely with a few employers helping them reduce the risk of a wrong hire, while still needing to work quickly.

Ross made the following comment on my blog:

Toby re your assertion that the role of the recruiter is to reduce the risk of making a wrong hiring decision’. I would suggest you are in minority company there . clients use a recruiter because they want excellent candidates, delivered quickly’

The chasm here is wide.

Ross is right – I am in the minority but the Rants & technology will change that. His model was right BEFORE and Recruiters in his transaction model are just selling information: finding candidates and racing to the line in a winner take all race. They are middlemen who the internet will soon wipe out (why it is taking longer than in other Agency’ businesses is a future Rant).

After recommending 50 prospecting calls a week, all trainers go on to say you must of course focus on long term relationship building .

Alice in Wonderland. Rubbish. There is no time left AND it requires different skills.

Relationships require consultants, not cold callers.


About the Author

Toby is an active speaker on the international conference circuit. His mission: To give all companies, no matter how few employees they have, the information and expert help they need to do their own recruitment and selection and find great new staff. If you like what you have read so far, you can get more information and resources at

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Ross Clennett says

    In my ebook the prospect call (and other activity numbers) numbers Toby quotes were approximate numbers I used when I was working a desk in the mid 1990’s in Sydney. In my ebook they are used as an example to populate my model, they are not, necessarily, recommendations for today’s recruiter. In my ebook I make it clear that each recruiter needs to create a success model that works for them in their market. I do not advocate a one-size-fits-all approach to building a successful desk in recruitment.

    Regardless of job boards or anything else the fact remains that to be a successful recruiter you need to establish relationships and nothing is faster at doing that than getting on the telephone. I have NEVER heard of any recruiter building a successful desk by hanging out their shingle and having clients and candidates just walk through the door (or call up).

    Successful recruiter in ANY ERA have become successful by building effective relationships. Using the telephone, appropriately and effectively will always be part of that process.

    They way in which these calls are made separates the true recruitment consultant from the cold-calling body shopper.

  2. Toby Marshall says


    I am a great believer in the power of sales, of getting on the phone or on the road. Selling isn’t the problem.

    The problem is WHAT is being sold. And HOW it is being sold. And how cold calling and 50 or 100 ‘clients’ squeezes out relationship building. And how working non-exclusively is the antitheses of relationship building.

    And of course there are people who build good relationships under your model. Just not many. My view is if there were more, the market would have a better view of our industry.

    Regarding your e-book: this was heavily promoted only a few months ago. That is how I found it. Also, I know it doesn’t say “this is the only model” – you are the expert, it was your book and this is the model you put forward in that book.

    But that said, it is a similar model to that put forward by other trainers of recruiters in the USA and Australia – high activity, high focus on cold calling or prospecting. Which is what most recruiters do, some better than others.

    The issue is: What business should we be in? What business could we be in? That is where we differ it seems to me – I am arguing for a sea-change,

    Cheers, Toby


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