I was recently reading a blog post put out by another sales trainer and speaker titled “7 Ways to Make Cold Calling Easier”. And it got me wondering, where do these tips come from? Were these ideas formulated by this trainer or is the advice reused and basic standard advice you can get anywhere? Beyond that, is the advice based on empirical data, or is based on opinion and that specific speaker’s experiences in sales? And for a moment, I had a Déjà vu. This isn’t the first time I came across a basic ‘tips to cold calling’ post and not the first time I was turned off by an article like this.
You could choke an entire farm of horses with the various articles published every day about cold calling. In fact ‘Cold Calling Tips’ turns up over 5 million Google searches a month. And most of these, like the previously mentioned post, are based on opinions, personal experience, or just vague, common sense tips. You need to be careful not to follow fluff or general opinion advice, and rather — make sure the advice is practical, has some data/heft behind it, and works for your team.
Over the 5 years we ran a call center, our members made over 1,250,000 outbound cold calls and talked to over 150,000 C-Suite, VP, and Director Level decision makers on behalf of B2B organizations in a multitude of industries. Additionally, I have spent the past 15 years training over 10,000 sales professionals. So when you talk about empirical data, we’ve got it.
Based on the countless cold calls we have made, the countless crap articles I have read on cold calling, and where we have truly seen sales professionals make cold calling work for them, I wanted to provide you with 7 cold calling tips to avoid, and what you should focus on instead.
Do not read off a script, own your material!
A lot of trainers tell you to write out a script for each call and follow that. A script that you stick to implies you know what the prospect will say and ask. You have absolutely no idea. No one does, not even the best sales guys. Good sales calls are a bob-and-weave conversation. Own it!
Higher Success Rate Tip: Map out talking points and give yourself the ability to maneuver. Build guide posts to be agile more like a sales GPS. Ask questions around pain points, issues, and what the prospect’s boss is on them about at the moment. Learn the ins and outs of your product so you can suggest next steps. Also remember: there’s a difference between “this is what our product does” and “this is what our product will do for you.” People are more responsive to the latter.
Practice doesn’t always make perfect, it makes PERMANENT!
Many trainers say, “Practice, practice, practice”. Wow, that’s novel and earth shattering! This isn’t advice. It’s common sense. Ever heard of Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000-hour rule? Practice obviously does make you better, when you are practicing the right thing. I practice at my golf swing a ton without a coach. All that resulted in was me perfecting my hook! YOU MUST PRACTICE WITH THE RIGHT COACHING.
Here is the problem: many times, these training sessions or internal set-ups will have you practicing with peers. That’s actually not a good approach. Rather, record yourself. Judge the feel. How does it sound? Seek multiple forms of input. Make sure you press your trainer and have them do it. If they are coaching you on cold calls, have them pick up the phone and execute. If they dance and can’t make the call themselves, then you know! Theories suck unless you can execute on them.
Higher Success Rate Tip: Practice with actual prospects. Start with “colder” calls that you can afford to mess up. Work through conversations and issues that come up on those calls, as opposed to running through scripts with peers. Look at any field — notably medicine. It’s nearly impossible to get better unless you fail, fail, and fail again. (That’s how products in medicine get to market.) It’s the same with sales. By testing things out,you develop a sensory acuity or become acutely sensitive of what to change. You’ll have some awful calls in this period, but it shapes you for later.
Here is a test, ask your trainer to make a few cold calls in front of the team. Did they get a target decision maker on the phone? Were they able to move the conversation to an appointment? How ‘practiced’ are they?
“Set aside some time for a call” is the wrong approach
Some trainers focus on this: “set aside time to make your calls.” Yeah. That’s, again, not strategy. It’s common sense! Plus, are you keeping your prospects in mind when you are picking what times to call? Just because Mondays and Wednesdays between 10-2 are a good time for YOU to be calling, doesn’t mean it will yield a high success rate if all of your prospects are busy at that time.
Higher Success Rate Tip: Understand the best times to call. For example, there’s a 164% better connection rate from 4-5pm local time zone than 1-2pm. Many people would totally miss that, assuming that prospects are checked out by 4pm. (To note, though: the best times to call are usually the AM. That’s just a random fact to showcase how people often don’t base decisions off real data.) There’s tons of data out there about sales call optimization. Use it.
Additionally, leave voicemails. The voicemail is dying, but it ain’t dead yet. Voicemail is still a touch. And follow up with emails. Emails are ridiculously easy to send and customize in modern business; there are hundreds of different software tools you can choose from. If you do 10 calls and don’t get a connection, send out 10 personalized emails later that day. Follow up is key.
Forget warming up
Trainers will tell you to spend time warming up before you start making calls. You’re not a relief pitcher in the ALCS. You’re cold calling. Dive right in. Talk to people. “Hit the ground running,” as they say. Smile, dial, use the trial and go the extra mile!
Higher Success Rate Tip: You need some type of plan for how you’re prospecting. Ideally this plan would be strategic and group prospects a certain way according to potential need or market, but if you’re not at a strategic level yet, at least have an operational plan for calling. If you know you’re not a morning person, plan calls for the afternoon. At 1pm, be ready to start dialing and conversing. Without some type of plan, warming up is irrelevant.
Don’t just wait for the rejection
A lot of sales trainers tell you to write out potential rebuttals for different arguments, wait for the arguments, and deliver the scripted rebuttals. Sometimes this can work, but it’s much less often than you think. First, this may seem obvious, but it is essential for you to understand the difference for this discussion. Objections happen at the closing stage of a sale; in the early stages, when you’re cold-calling, what you get is called a “put-off:. When you get a put-off, there’s usually a good chance that the prospect has already made up his mind.
Higher Success Rate Tip: Track your put-offs. What are the common ones? Pricing? Approach? Not right now? Once you know the common ones, you revise your messaging so that the put-offs are addressed before the prospect can address them. For example, if everyone is hitting you on price, get price out in the open quickly with some context. You just removed a put-off from the prospect’s table. They may still say “no”, but the conversation just shifted a little bit, and in that shift you have a new window to explore.
Also, ask questions to overcome the put-off. There is almost nothing better in sales conversations than the ability to ask intelligent, prospect-centric questions.
Your presentation isn’t everything
I hate it when trainers over-focus on the presentation. In a cold calling context, there really isn’t a presentation. You have 4-7 seconds to get someone’s attention and 7-21 seconds to keep someone’s interest. That’s not a presentation.
That’s barely one slide.
Higher Success Rate Tip: Consider starting with an email. Introduce yourself, mention one connection point you have with the prospect (someone on LinkedIn, a home town, a sports team, etc.), explain what you’re selling, briefly mention where you see a value for the prospect, and say you’ll be calling in XYZ-window.
Create affinity, build rapport, connect!
The most common response you will get is “send me information”. That’s fine. It’s not even a put-off. Now you need to figure out what resources to send this person to move to the next step. Remember here: humans are visual creatures more than anything, so don’t send another text-driven email. Insert a chart, graph, product feature, or other another visual that will help capture their attention.
The ‘pat-on-the-back’ myth
Bad sales trainers are usually cheerleaders as opposed to coaches. If a Patriots wide receiver drops a ball and trots back past a cheerleader, she’ll probably say, “It’s OK, you’ll get it next time!” When that wide receiver gets to Belichick, what do you think he’ll say — if he even speaks to the guy? That’s the difference. Good sales trainers are coaches. It’s not all about “Keep at it and you’ll get there!” It’s about real growth.
Higher Success Rate Tip: Find a trainer who can ID the areas where you fall short, and help you craft a plan to improve those areas. There’s always a process for the way you sell — but what a lot of people forget/miss is that you must have a process for the way you improve. If a sales organization doesn’t have a well-documented process for their talent and how to better aspects of it, most of what they’re doing is ultimately fluff.
Hopefully the above 7 tips help you elevate your game and provide a little more substance than other blogs and articles you’ve come across. Remember when you are prepared and hone your craft, success will follow.