This post on cold calling was originally published on Dec 19, 2016 and updated with current material on June 19, 2019.
I was reading a blog post put out by another sales trainer titled “7 Ways to Make Cold Calling Easier”. It got me wondering, where do these tips come from? Were these ideas formulated by this trainer or were his insights rehashed from basic advice you can find anywhere? Was his advice based on empirical data, or was it based on opinions from his experiences in sales? And at that moment, I had an epiphany. This wasn’t the first time I came across a basic ‘tips to cold calling’ post. And it wasn’t the first time I was turned off by an article like this.
What to Watch for When Getting Cold Calling Tips.
You could choke an entire farm of horses with the various articles published every day about cold calling. In fact, Google users search the term “cold calling tips” on average about 2,000 times every month. However, if you type “cold calling tips” into Google , it will return over 100 million posts, pages, and articles. And most of these, like the previously mentioned post, are based on opinions, personal experience, or just vague, outdated ideas. You need to be careful not to follow fluff or general opinionated advice. Rather, make sure the advice and ideas you find are practical, have some data-based evidence behind them, and they work for your team.
Over the 5 years we ran our call center, our team made over 1.25 million 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, we 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 tens of thousands of cold calls we have made, the countless bad 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.
1. When Cold Calling, Don’t Read the Script. Own Your Material!
Many trainers tell you to write out a script for your cold calling sessions. A script that you stick to implies you know what the prospect is going to say. You have no idea what your prospect is going to say. No one does, not even the best salespeople. Good sales calls are bob-and-weave conversations. Own the conversation!
Higher Success Rate Tip: Map out talking points and give yourself the freedom and ability to maneuver. Build guide posts, like a sales GPS to help you navigate the sales landscape with agility. Ask questions around pain points, issues, and the topics they are getting heat from their bosses 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.
2. Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, It Makes Permanence!
Many trainers say, “Practice, practice, practice”. Wow, that’s novel! This isn’t advice. It’s common sense. Ever heard of Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000-hour rule? Practice does make you better when you are practicing the right thing. I practiced my golf swing a ton without a coach. That resulted in me perfecting my hook! You must practice with the right coaching!
Here is the problem. Often, these training sessions will have you practicing with peers. That’s not a good approach. Rather, record yourself. Judge the feel; the look; how you sound. Also, make sure you press your trainer to show you how it’s done. If they’re coaching you on cold calls, have them pick up the phone and make a few calls. If they can’t make the call themselves, then you know you’ve got someone who can’t practice what they teach! 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 practicing scripts with your peers.
Take a 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. Through testing, you become acutely sensitive of what works and what to change. You’ll have some awful calls in this period, but it shapes you for later.
Here’s 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?
3. “Set Aside Some Time for a Call” Is the Wrong Approach.
Some trainers focus on this: “set aside time to make your calls.” Again, this isn’t a strategy, it’s common sense. Plus, you need to keep your prospects in mind when you are picking the times to call. Just because Mondays and Wednesdays between 10-2 are convenient for YOU to make calls won’t 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. However, 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 may be dying, but it ain’t dead yet. And voicemail still counts as a sales touch. Also, follow up your calling activity with emails. Emails are ridiculously easy to send and customize in modern business. If you do 10 calls and don’t get a connection, send out 10 personalized emails later that day.
4. Warming Up for Cold Calling Sessions Isn’t Necessary.
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 and start talking to people. Smile, dial, use the trial and go the extra mile!
Higher Success Rate Tip: You do 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 your calls for the afternoon. At 1pm, be ready to start dialing and conversing. When you have a plan, warming up becomes irrelevant.
5. Don’t Wait for the Rejection. Build It Into Your Conversation.
Many 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 not as often as you think. Here’s a subtle distinction you need to understand. Objections happen at the closing stages of a sale and actually signify interest in your product or service. In the early stages, like when you’re cold calling, what you get is called a put-off. When you get a put-off, there’s a good chance that the prospect has already made up their 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 you address the put-offs before the prospect can bring them up. For example, if everyone is hitting you on price, get price out in the open quickly with some context. In doing so, you remove a put-off from the prospect’s table. They may still say “no”, but the conversation just shifted a bit, giving you a new window to explore.
Also, ask questions to overcome put-offs. There’s almost nothing better in sales conversations than the ability to ask intelligent, prospect-centric questions.
6. You Don’t Have Time for a Presentation.
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 not even one slide.
Higher Success Rate Tip: Consider starting with an email. Introduce yourself, mention one connection point you have with the prospect, for example, someone on LinkedIn, explain what you’re selling, briefly mention where you see a value for the prospect, and say you’ll be calling within a specific time period..
Create affinity, build rapport, and 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, humans are typically visual, so don’t send another text-driven email. Insert a chart, graph, product feature, or other another visual that will help capture their attention.
7. Encouragement Is Good. Coaching Is Much Better.
Bad sales trainers are usually cheerleaders, not 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. During a cold calling session, a mediocre sales trainer will give your sales rep a pat on the back and say, “Keep at it and you’ll get there.” That isn’t good enough. Good sales trainers are coaches. They will give your team communication ideas, listen in, and coach them to improve your cold calling skills.
Higher Success Rate Tip: Find a trainer who can listen in on your cold calling sessions, identify the areas where you fall short, and help you create a plan to improve those areas. You have a process for the way you sell. You can perform a checkup on your sales process here. But realize that you should have a process for the way you improve as well. If your organization isn’t getting ideas to build a documented improvement process from your sales trainer, then most of what they’re doing is feel-good fluff.
Hopefully the above 7 tips help you elevate your game and provide a little more substance than other blog posts and articles you’ve come across. Remember when you are prepared and hone your craft, success will follow.
For additional insights and wisdom into prospecting and the sales process, pick up a copy of Selling is an Away Game, available online at Amazon, fine bookstores and many Hudson News locations.