In the era of inbound marketing and sales automation, cold calling is almost quaint. It would be, anyway, if it weren’t so hopelessly ineffective.

According to marketing guru Charlie Cook, cold callers average a conversion rate of about 2 percent. Keep in mind, though, a conversion isn’t the same as a sale; in the context of cold calling, it’s usually agreeing to a consultation.

But if cold calling turns only two in every 100 prospects into actual leads, why do salespeople continue to do it?

Why Salespeople Still Dial First

Defenders of the practice point to a few advantages cold calling has over other tactics for generating leads. They argue primarily that cold calling offers a direct connection to the prospect, who’s likely accustomed to ignoring marketing emails and online ads.

But given that nearly half of cell phone calls are scams, fewer and fewer people answer calls from unknown numbers. According to Jive Communications, more than three in four Americans deliberately don’t answer sales calls, and less than 1 percent always pick up the phone when called.

Others argue that cold calling makes it possible to tell immediately if a prospect is interested. But this is true of most any medium: If someone puts in the time to respond to a cold email, the sender knows the prospect is interested before he even opens the message. If a website visitor doesn’t bounce immediately, she’s spending time on the brand’s site for a reason.

Still others say cold calling gives the recipient a chance to research the product or service after the initial contact. But a live call pushes him to make a decision immediately, meaning the salesperson will already have moved on by the time the prospect does his own digging. Plus, email, SMS messaging, and other asymmetrical communication tools give recipients as much — or more — opportunity to do their own research.

Although it’s true that some people prefer phone to other communication channels, cold calling’s supposed advantages simply don’t hold water in the age of scam calls and digital messaging.

Better Ways to Build Leads

Still, salespeople continue to cold call for at least one other reason: They’re in dire need of leads and not sure how else to find them. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to generate leads:

1. Deliver a laugh to their inbox.
The sales sphere of the internet is littered with stories of cold emailers more than doubling the conversion rate of cold calls. An Irish blogger and entrepreneur, for example, claims to get a 29 percent response rate and a 5 percent conversion rate simply by using tactics senders should be utilizing already, such as knowing the recipient’s name and being conversational.

In fact, Sapper Consulting CEO Jeff Winters founded an entire company on the concept of the cold email. In a Forbes interview about cold calling, Winters says he developed the strategy while selling software to Fortune 1000 executives. “I would wake up at 2 a.m. and write really clever emails to these execs — I got tons of meetings using email,” he explains.

Winters now considers email the centerpiece of his multichannel strategy. “An integrated approach gets the most meetings,” he concedes. “Email produces, of these methods, the highest-quality meetings, because when you send an email, people have to open it, read it, think about it, and reply.” In Winters’ view, the fact that email recipients don’t have to respond immediately is a benefit, not a drawback.

2. Attend relevant events.
Emailing may convert at a higher rate than cold calling, but it’s still awfully impersonal. John Hall, author of “Top of Mind,” says conferences are a more direct method with multiple side benefits. “Conferences and industry events are incredibly valuable for growing your company,” he writes in Forbes. “Where else can you learn so much from some of the smartest minds in your space and connect directly with thought leaders, partners, and leads at the same time?

Pre- or mid-conference outreach offers two advantages over cold calling and emailing: first, a guaranteed point of rapport, and second, a time and place for a face-to-face meeting. Account-based marketing provider LeadSift recommends checking social media and online forums to identify other attendees. Searching hashtags, in particular, can yield the names and social profiles of hundreds of participants.

3. Sneak in with a survey.
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to endear people to you isn’t to do something nice for them, but to ask them to do something nice for you. Known as the Benjamin Franklin effect, this strategy works best when the request is small and free, such as taking a survey. By sending surveys, salespeople not only generate goodwill with prospects, but also gather information on their opinions and needs.

Marketing software vendor Marketo suggests surveyors ask recipients “select all” questions that align with their product or service. This way, the salesperson gains multiple avenues — ideally ranked by importance to the prospect — for pitching the product. To improve response rates, try offering a token of thanks, such as a $5 gift card, to those who complete the survey.

Cold calling was never a great way to generate leads. Any advantages it might have once had have evaporated. Few sales calls are actually picked up, and even fewer result in high-quality meetings. Not only are methods like conferences and surveys more effective, but they offer salespeople other perks as well, like industry insights and information about prospects’ pain points. In other words, it’s long past time that sales teams gave cold calling the cold shoulder.