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Mastering Cold Calling

Updated on July 5, 2013

Prelude To Success

Many say that cold calling is dead. If you buy that premise that one can succeed in sales without cold calling, stop kidding yourself. Many propose getting warm leads from having the best ad on Google. We agree that a Google ad is very important. However, do you think all business-to-business customers go only to Google before they make important decisions? If that were the case, thousands of sales people would be let go tomorrow.

Likewise, if you are a decision maker and are searching around on Google for the best new supplier or vendor, don't you think you'll probably contact 3 or 4 firms before making a decision? Sure you will. From the sales person's perspective, it's better to contact the prospective customer before they start searching around Google. Furthermore, isn't it better to be "first in line" than "one of many" in line? Be the guy your prospect thinks of first when they are ready to use the product or service your company provides. Don't be one of 3 or 4 he calls randomly. Your odds won't be that good.

Cold calling is difficult but rewarding. Cold calling allows you to reach decision makers that may need your product or service either today or on down the line. Furthermore, it will put you at the "top of their minds" when they are ready to "pull the trigger". Instead of heading over to Google to search around for a competitor in your industry, they'll be calling you back as you've kept in contact with them over a long period of time. You've developed that special place in their mind as the lady that specializes in: (insert what your firm sells or provides).

Please take the time to read this article and weave it into your daily work as it will bring you closer to your success as a sales person. Whether you just started in the industry or have been around for many years, we hope the ideas and suggestions to follow will help. Any comments, suggestions or questions are welcomed in the comment section of the article.

Since the author of this article has been doing cold calling for 20 years and has worked side-by-side with sales people for most of his career, there is a lot of information. There are shorter articles on the internet, however, we suggest to take the time to consider all of the information. Likewise, not one sales person, author, manager or business guru has all of the answers. Keep your mind open and never stop trying new ideas. Learning is a life-long process.

No Pain...No Gain!

"No Pain...No Gain!" is such an old term that it is typically used for sports and fitness. The same holds true with cold calling. If you are unwilling to get over your fear of cold calling, move into the Accounting department at your firm today. However, if you desire to master sales, then stick with it. Have you ever seen the movie called "The Pursuit of Happyness"? This is the one from about 5 years ago with Will Smith who portrays a homeless father and his son who become rich at a brokerage firm in San Francisco. It's an excellent movie!

Will masters making more cold calls than anyone else at his firm. He never really did hang up the phone and found small ways to make more calls in a day. No matter your skill-set in business, there is one unchanging truth in sales and don't ever forget it:

More Cold Calls = More Customers

If you out-work the other guy, you have the advantage.

The key with cold calling is to get over your fear of calling or meeting someone new. Many new sales people get scared and sick to their stomachs the first time they pick up the phone or open the front door of an unfamiliar office. It's normal but it's not a valid excuse for lack of performance. The way to get over the fear is:

"It's not personal; It's business!"

That's another popular phrase that originates from many mob movies over the years. When you are making cold calls the rejection you see and feel is not personal. People don't hate you because you made a cold call. They are either just not interested in what you have to offer that specific day or they are mentally tied-in to other pressing matters. In over 20 years of sales experience, I've never seen anyone start a fight or throw something at a sales person because he made a cold call. So you are not in any physical danger whatsoever unless you hurl insults at the secretary who happens to be married to the owner of the company.

More often than not, a cold call will end with one of the following:

  • "No thanks"
  • "Can you call back on Thursday when my schedule is more free"
  • "John is the guy you need to talk with and he's at lunch"
  • "We just changed suppliers, but, please send me an email for future reference"
  • The person on the other end hangs up the phone.

These are all "business rejections"'s not anyting about you. We guarantee it.

Depending on your industry, the time of day, your firm's product, the alignment of major celestial bodies etc. success ratios will vary. If you make 10 cold calls and get 2 people who are interested in hearing more about your product, your success ratio is 20%. Some days this may be 5% or it could be 60%. The message is to keep moving forward and to never stop with your momentum of cold calling.

Once you make the first cold call, make the second one...the third...the fourth and so on. There is a prospect out there that needs your product. You just need to sift through the ones that don't need your product. The sooner you get through the ones who are not interested, the sooner you'll find the one that is waiting for your help. Don't wait. Pick up the phone or open that office door now!

Planning - Part 1

Since most of cold calling occurs on the phone, much of this article will focus on phone work. Later on we'll discuss in-person cold calling.

Whether you are an "old hand" at cold calling or a newbie, let's take a look at some of the basics. As a starting point, don't ever pick up the phone and start dialing until you are prepared for your calling time. You need to sit down and plan-out what you'll say and what you want to accomplish with your calls. There are two parts to planning:

  • Planning for the overall calling campaign
  • Your daily planning

Planning for the overall calling campaign involves a long-term focus. It encompasses what you will be doing over the next 6 months or several years. If you are a recent hire at an established firm, more than likely you won't have to do much of the long-term planning. Your company has already done the planning and knows what does and does not work. For example, do you think that Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals has already spent many hours planning the work for their sales people? This is an obvious answer.

On the other hand, if you are a small business owner or you are spearheading a new department in an established company, long-term planning will be in order. In long-term planning, things such as the following will need to be answered and considered:

  • Who are my customers?
  • Where can I find a listing of target customers in my industry?
  • What time of day are my customers most easily reachable by phone?
  • What characteristics make a good customer for my firm?
  • After new customers are acquired, does my company have enough capacity and support staff to support the new business?
  • Are there customers our firm has lost in the past that we need to contact? Why did we lose them?

You may come up with other items to add to the overall strategy. The point here is to think about what you want to accomplish in the longer-term.

Now we can take a short look at daily planning. When you walk into the office at 8:00am do you have an idea of what you'll do after taking off your coat? Of course you might say hello to the other workers, return an email or two or share a story from the news with whoever may walk by your desk. In our daily planning, we talk about planning for cold calling outside of all of the other things in your office to do. Daily planning considerations might involve:

  • How many hours a day do I block-out all other duties to do proactive phone work?
  • Do I need to return any phone calls of cold call prospects that called me back?
  • What is the best time of day today to reach my customers?
  • Are my customers in today as it's the day before a holiday?
  • How many new calls do I want to accomplish?
  • Are my prospect calling lists readily available and organized?

The most highly-effective cold callers, set goals daily or weekly as to the number of new calls they want to make. It's easy to get distracted by requests from others in the office or by current customers and business partners. In a polite way, you'll need to safeguard your cold calling time. Otherwise, your "prime time" to reach your target customers will pass and then you'll be heading home without accomplishing your goals.

Planning - Part 2

In this section we go a little deeper (not too deep though) into the nuances of planning. Many in-experienced sales people can make a variety of mistakes when starting off. Let's look at several:

Working At The Wrong Time - There are two types of "working at the wrong time". Many sales people come to the office in the morning and take care of this email and return that phone call. By the time they get around to making calls, it's suddenly lunchtime. In the afternoon, they come back with the full intent of making their daily amount of calls but find that their customers are usually in during the morning. This may not be true for all industries, however, many decision makers will be more easily reached in the morning vs. afternoons. In other situations, it might be the reverse situation.

The goal here to do your "busy" work when your customers are not in the office.

The other situation starts with noble intentions but does not give much results. New sales people are notorious in trying to make their mark within their firms. That is an excellent goal! The problem comes specifically in and around points in the year when decision makers take time off. Do you think people typically head out of the office by noon the day before the 4th of July? How about the Friday after Thanksgiving? Don't waste your time making calls for nothing during these periods. It's better to take some "off time" to review your goals and to assess how your strategy is working.

Calling The Wrong Decision Makers - Do you know who is typically the right person to call at potential customers? In one industry it might be the owner of the company. In another, it might be the VP of Operations. Successfully reaching the VP of Engineering only to be told that the Purchasing department handles new vendor contacts is a waste of time. Start with the Purchasing department so the process moves faster.

Being Unorganized - Some of the most talented and successful sales people can falter at being organized. These are the people who have that special untangible factor that draws people to them. They are likeable, outgoing and energetic. However, due to their lack of organization, they spend unnecessary time trying to "find" things. Items in this category are:

  • Customer phone numbers.
  • Lists of customers.
  • Information written down on a scrap piece of paper that is now very important to a potential sale.
  • Brochures located somewhere in their home office which are needed for a sales call across town.

Organization can be hard for someone that has never been organized. There are classes that can teach orgainzation, but, experience shows people don't change their habits. It's best that these people have a strongly organized subordinate or secretary.

Too Few New Contacts - Sales people can underestimate the number of new contacts that they'll need to make in order bring in sufficient business. If your goal is to make 25 new calls per day, but, you find that you are not getting enough new business, the number of calls per day may need to be increased. Try taking a look at increasing your calls to 50, 75 or 100 calls per day. Don't make calls just to say you made a certain amount of calls. You'll need to put quality before quanity (as the old saying goes), however, make sure you have enough quantity as a starting point.

Planning - Part 3

You've developed your long-term plan. You know what the best time of day to call your customers. You are highly organized. Now comes the moment of truth when you start making phone calls. Don't just pick up the phone and try to wing things. Trying to ramble your way through a phone call with someone you've never spoke with, is going to fail.

We've all received phone calls at home when a "telemarketer" starts reading a script about some sort of product you really don't care about. You try to ask questions but the telemarketer sounds like a pre-programmed robot making their 145th call of the day. Finally you get frustrated and hang up. This is not sales or cold calling.

Successful cold calling is a conversation as opposed to "robo calling". It's a two-way sharing of information. Anyone can hire a guy or gal off the street for $8.50 per hour to read a script. It takes a professional sales person to make a fruitful cold call. In order to be the professional sales person, you'll need to have a thorough idea of how you'll handle the call. The call starts with dialing a number and ends when either you or the person on the other end hangs up. What happens in-between is what counts.

We'll touch on the mechanics of a call a little later, however, it's important to mentally prepare for what looks like a "successful" vs. "unsuccessfull" cold call. In other words, what do you want to accomplish during the call.

In some industries, you may be trying to garner an in-person meeting. In others, you may be able to complete a full sale in one phone call. Yet in others, you may be trying to gather information that will allow you to send a proposal back to the customer at a later day. Do you know what your goal is for the first call? Until you can clearly answer that question, do not waste the time of the person on the other end (or yours for that matter).

If you need help in this area, talk with your supervisor or a close business colleague if you work on your own.

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Mechanics 101

As mentioned before, we all hate those pre-scripted telemarketing calls we get at 6:30pm when the kids are yelling for us to feed them dinner. Successful cold calling walks a fine line between being too scripted on one side and not focused enough on the other. Don't be that "robo caller" but have a purpose and road map on how to lead the conversation. You are initiating the call, so it's your responsibility to move the conversation along in a manner that works for both parties.

You'll need to have a mental idea of where to lead the conversation as feedback is given by the person on the other end. Each call you make will be different but similar. Over a period of days, months and years, you'll be able to anticipate "what to do next" in the call. A pattern will be visible from one call to the next as to what the prospects ask and how they'll react to your "opening" lines. Your job is to be smart and adjust your techniques to what works and what doesn't work.

Below are initial segments of a phone call and ideas on how to handle each phase. They are not all-inclusive and you'll need to incorporate your own style, personality and charm into the concepts.

Be Upbeat - You've dialed the phone number and you are anxiously awaiting your potential customer to answer the phone. When they do answer, you need to project professionalism but you also need to be upbeat and uplifting with your words and voice tone. Business and life are tough, so who wants to receive a phone call from a stranger who sounds grumpy. No matter if your boss just chewed you out or if your daughter announced she is dating that boy you don't like, put it out of your mind. Your prospects don't care and they will "hear it" in your voice if you carry it with you during your calls.

Be Polite - What is the saying that you attract more bees with honey? If you are impolite, your calls will be short, curt and unsuccessful. Whether your talking with a secretary, mid-level manager or a real estate mogul like Donald Trump, the prospect will appreciate your politeness. Politeness can be defined in different ways, however, there are a few "rules of the road" in cold calling:

  • Never, ever lose your cool on the phone. If someone is rude to you, please excuse yourself from the call as soon as you can and inform them that you apologize for calling at a bad time. Do you want to be known as the guy from ABC Co. who called and was a jerk on the phone to the owner's secretary? The owner will remember who you are and may not be too happy to take your call or buy your product. Keep in mind people can just be plain rude for no reason. It's how you react to rudeness that sets you apart in your profession. The other person may just be having a bad day. More often than not, if you are nice to them, they'll go the extra mile to help when you call back the next time. It's almost like they feel guilty for their bad behavior.
  • Many sales people rush into their speech when the prospect answers without knowing the frame of mind of the other person. It's like the sales person wants to get it all out there as if they are afraid this is the one and only time they'll have this person on the phone. It's better to talk with the prospect when they are not pressed for time. Whatever you might push out over the phone will be forgotten the minute they hang up. Some ways to phrase this might include: 1.) "Did I call you at a bad time?"; 2.) "Sounds like this is a bad time to talk?"...This last one is an excellent technique if you hear other voices in the background (i.e. meeting with other employees) or if it sounds like your call has been forwarded to their cell number while they are at the beach with their kids; 3.) "Is it okay that I ask a few questions for 3-4 minutes?". However you phrase this question, the prospect will appreciate your thoughtfulness. If it really is not a good time to talk, they are usually up-front about it and they'll suggest a time in their schedule that makes better sense. Every once in a while, you'll find a prospect that is putting you off intentionally. You've called 6 times. Each time you call he says call me back tomorrow at 9:30am (or whatever time is supposedly good for his schedule) but he keeps putting you off. In these situations he either is 1.) not interested in your product of service or 2.) has the wrong understanding of the purpose of your call. Here you need to take the very direct approach and tell him you are not being impolite, but, you are calling to talk about the specifics of your firm and how you can help him. Be concise, quick and get to the point with your message. If he still puts you off, it might be time to take him off of your list for the immediate term. Come back to him in 3-6 months and don't waste any more of your time.

Understand Regional Differences - We've all seen movies like "Wall Street" and "Boiler Room" where young, handsome twenty-somethings right out of college are dialing madly from an office in New York. They work in high-pressure environments with cutthroat bosses who demand results at all costs. They talk fast and are aggressive with their prospects.

If you primarily make calls in the same state or region of the country where you are located, there won't be much difference with your business style vs. that of your customers. However, if you are in the Northeast and are calling a business owner in rural Mississippi, you'll need to take great care to adjust to his way of doing things. The same could be said if you are located in South Carolina and you are cold calling in Chicago.

Get Agreement On Something - Any sales book or trainer will instruct you to that small yeses lead to big yeses. So, start your calls by getting a small yes right from the start. If you are not a Fortune 500 company, most often times your prospects have not heard of your firm. So why not start out by saying "I'm Jim McElroy and work for Venture Engineering. I'm guessing you have not heard of our firm?". This statement followed by a small question not only gets you a "yes", but it also involves the prospect in the conversation. There is nothing worse than silence on the other end of the phone. The more the other guy talks, the better. When he is talking he gives information about his business and insights that might move the conversation forward.

If the prospect comes back and says, he has heard of your firm, all the better. At this point, simply ask him what he knows about your company.

Don't Forget The Obvious - When calling a new prospect or someone that you've talked with many times, don't forget properly introducing yourself each and every time. We've seen situations where prospects became annoyed right from the get go because the sales person didn't not introduce themselves in a professional manner. Before you ask any questions or dive into your speech, make sure the other guy/gal knows 1.) your name and 2.) who your work for. This is basic business phone etiquette. As a side bar, any time you answer the phone at work, don't assume you know who is calling by your caller ID read-out. This may be your 8th call with Jane over at Citizens Bank in the last 24 hours only to be surprised to pick up the phone when the CEO of the bank is on the other line. Don't embarrass yourself by saying "Hey, Jane. Are you heading over to the bar after work to see that guy from last weekend?". A common introduction as "Good afternoon, this is Julie Franks" will do.

Mechanics 102

So the prospect has answered the phone, she has agreed it's a good time to talk and a proper introduction has occurred on your side. Now what?

The next part of the conversation can diverge depending on what your goals include. As mentioned in a prior segment, the goal of the call may only be to establish a face-to-face meeting time. In other situations, you may be seeking to handle the entire sale from opening to close. It's hard to go over every possibility in this article, however, we'd like to share a few general suggestions and pointers.

Getting A In-Person Meeting - Since most sales' cycles do not involve "one phone call" structures, more often than not, you'll be seeking to gain a time to meet the prospect. In the "old days", many sales people just drove from town-to-town stopping by any and all possible prospects. They would see established customers and walk-in to meet new prospects. In today's highly-structured and meeting-filled work environment, you'll be hard pressed to get too many prospects to dump whatever may be in front of them and walk out to the conference room to hear a sales speech for thirty minutes. Sure, there will be some that are nice enough to do this, but, it will be rare.

Therefore, the goal of many is to garner that first appointment. If you follow a few basic suggestions, the process will go very smoothly.

Step 1 - Tell them what your firm sells or provides.

Step 2 - Be humble and acknowledge they may not be seeking a new supplier or vendor, but, you only want to introduce your firm for future consideration. This is very important as it takes the pressure out of agreeing to a "sales presentation". The prospect doesn't want to feel they are agreeing to the mental equivalent of a "full body search" on the meeting day. It allows them to agree to a short, quick meeting that can be tucked in-between that important thing the boss wants but before they head out for the day.

Step 3 - Propose two alternate times or days that will work and let them pick. This approach is called the "alternate advance" technique. It's as old as the sales' profession itself and still works. It may sound like this: "Jill, my schedule is open for either Tuesday at 4:00pm or Wednesday at 9:00am. Which fits better for your schedule?" Most times one of the two times/days will work. If there is a conflict with the times proposed, the prospect will usually tell you a time or two that's good from their side.

Step 4 - At this point, thank them for their time and that you look forward to meeting them on the proposed day. Don't ramble on about anything else or try to give additional information. Many novice sales people will talk themselves out of a meeting by trying to sell the prospect over the phone. The in-person meeting is where this work is accomplished.

Step 5 - Hang up and mark the appointment in your calender. There's nothing more embarrassing than forgetting an appointment. Likewise, it's good to send the prospect a short email or reminder of the day and time for your meeting as soon as the call ends. Many times the prospect won't remember the time. So, that extra step of sending an email will encourage them to put the details into their appointment book.

Step 6 - Move onto your next cold call.

If The Gate Is Blocked, Find Another Gate

Whether you are new to cold calling or are an "old hand" at the trade, we all hear stories about the "gatekeeper" who just won't let you through to the boss. You call and the gatekeeper spouts-out one of the following:

  • What is this in regards to?
  • Why are you calling?
  • She (the boss) isn't interested in that type of product.
  • You'll need to send an email about your firm to me and I'll forward it to Ms. or Mr. Boss.
  • They are in a meeting or traveling.
  • Mr. Vandenberg in this or that department will help you.

There are all sort of statements and questions gatekeepers throw out that don't help you or the ultimate decision maker. It's like many, but not all, assistants and secretaries are sent to the same "gatekeeper boot camp" when they first decide to be an assistant or secretary.

Many sales experts and authors, will talk about how you need to win-over the gatekeeper in hopes he or she lets you talk with the boss. While this is a thoughtful point, you could spend days, weeks or even years winning over the gatekeeper while your competition has won a new contract. Having said this, don't ever be rude to a gatekeeper as it will not win any favor for you with the prospect. If you see that you are becoming mired in the questions the gatekeeper is asking, simply find a tactful way to end the call. Don't waste time with the typical Q&A dance on the phone.

The best route is to find a time or method when the decision maker is alone without the omnipresent gatekeeper. Some ideas for consideration include:

  • The gatekeeper takes lunch from 12pm to 1pm and the boss answers her own phone during that time.
  • Call after hours (after 6pm) or before hours (before 7am).
  • Look at the company's website. It may list an alternate number (i.e. mobile number) for the decision maker.
  • See if the prospect has a LinkedIn account which gives a private number.
  • Call on a Saturday morning.
  • Dial a different department or division and ask for an alternate number for the prospect. You may get lucky with the right individual.

One of the most successful calling opportunities is vacation time. Whether it's the decision maker or the gatekeeper, they all take vacations. Most corporate types will have a "Out of Office" message response for their email (and voice mail) during vacation periods. Oftentimes, the guy or gal you are trying to reach will leave their mobile number in that message in case of "emergency" situations. Use these situations to your advantage.

One word of caution here, don't call on December 24th at 7pm on their cell phone while the eggnog is warming-up. The eggnog will be warm but your interruption will be coldly received. However, it is okay to call during most reasonable business hours (7am to 6pm) on weekdays.

The best times are when the gatekeeper is on vacation or out sick. Either the boss will answer his own phone or a "rookie" assistant will be on-duty who might be easier to persuade.

However, there are some decision makers who insulate themselves to the nth degree. These hard-core ones can require more involved steps. In one recent experience, a business card was mailed to the decision maker with the following handwritten on the back:

"Laura, let's talk for a minute when time allows"

Laura called back a few days later asking about our business.

Since mailing takes time away from the phone, it's not recommended to do too much of it unless you have a dedicated person in the office to handle the work. Also, we've found by using unique looking stamps from the Post Office, that the receiver has more curiosity to open the letter. Take time to look at the various decorative stamps at the USPS website. Also, don't use the postage meter at the office as it gives the impression of just another piece of junk mail. Furthermore, we don't recommend sending a letter along with the card trying to explain your product or service. The prospect may just look at your letter and card and throw it away. You want curiosity to build so that a call is returned.

Overall, getting to the decision maker when a trusted gatekeeper stands guard, can be tough but not impossible. Be creative and persistent. Remember it's the boss (not the gatekeeper) who writes the checks.


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