By Graham Mitchell

I am a regular reader of Entrepreneur magazine. Each month they feature a company that has grown from a start-up to a successful enterprise. What is interesting is that the founders of these companies talk about the power of cold-calling as the tool to building their businesses. None of these businesses started out with money nor a reputation so cold-calling was the most cost-effective way to find business.

The founders of Mimecast, a cloud-based email risk-management service that is now doing over a billion rand in turnover, explained how they found their initial customers. It was through the phone. Fortunately, they managed to recruit a very good sales person who made the calls. He made phone calls nine hours a day for four months. He faced a 98% rejection rate but the 2% success took the company from fifty clients to several hundred. If the company denied him an appointment, he’d call again with a different accent to get another chance at securing an appointment.

The founders of Mont Blanc Financial Services, insurance brokerage and Insurance underwriter managers with R350 million in annual turnover, also used the phone to get business. When they started their business, they bought the Autotrader magazine each month and called everyone listed in the magazine.  They believed if a person was selling a car then there was a good chance that the person would need insurance.  The founders would write the quotes and drive all over Johannesburg to secure the sale. Once they had this working, they then hired students to make the calls, freeing themselves up to close the sales. The rest, as they say, is history!

The Creative Counsel, a business started 15 years ago and today boasts R600 million annual turnover, is the biggest brand activation agency in South Africa. It wasn’t an easy start for the founders who had no money. The only way they could get business was to get out the Yellow Pages and start calling.

“I hate cold calling. I don’t know if anyone enjoys it. It’s a terrible, awful thing to have to do,” says Gil Oved one of the founders. But, with no money and a need to get business, Oved put his head down and made the calls.

Oved’s partner, Ran Neu-Ner, provides the following advice when cold-calling, “Never, ever, ever give up. If someone tells you that they don’t meet with suppliers, call back. And call back again. And again after that. Break down the door if you have to. And if you can’t, break down their resistance until they’re dying for an opportunity to see you just so they can tell you to go away. What separates people who succeed from those who fail is the willingness and ability to overcome whatever hurdle is placed in their way.”

The Creative Counsel’s big breakthrough came when they secured Danone as a client.

“We got an opportunity to pitch because we just kept calling back and eventually got through to the right person,” says Oved.

Above are three great South African businesses that found success by making phone calls. Too many business owners are afraid to make calls when they need more business. Although cold-calling is difficult and unpleasant, winning more business outweighs the negativity of making the calls or worse still, not having any money in the bank.