Cold calling doesn’t have to suck.
Salespeople who practice, embrace and win at cold calling will agree: It pays off.
The best part: You don’t have to repeatedly crash and burn while cold calling to learn how to make it work.
Instead, use this cheat sheet that includes the most-effective cold calling techniques – some gathered from research, some pulled from industry experts, and some found by hardcore salespeople who tried and tried until they perfected them.
To increase your prospecting success, here’s your ultimate cold calling cheat sheet and it can also be used as a checklist:
Plan your approach
Your call may be made cold, but your approach shouldn’t be. To plan your call well and make it feel warm:
Know your purpose – and work exclusively toward it. It could be to set up a meeting, get an invitation accepted, gain agreement to a trial or find right-fit prospects. You can’t make successful cold calls without the result at top of mind.
Plan voicemail scripts. You’re likely to reach more voicemail than voices. Prepare a few scripts geared toward different types of prospects. Even better, track results (number of callbacks) to see which works best and bears repeating the most.
Try this one. It’s a proven voicemail approach: “Hello Shirley. I’ve talked to a lot of (job title) regarding (your company’s value proposition). If this is a concern of yours, please reply to the email I will send after this call. I’m John Jones from Apex Inc. Again, my name is … from … Thanks!”
Think “learn” first, “sell” second. You likely know that most cold calls end in rejection (about 98%, according to one Gong.io study). So approach them with the mindset that you’ll learn more about why prospects don’t need your solution than actually selling.
Check your list. Don’t blindly trust that everyone on the list you have is a good prospect. Check that the company, household or person fits the buying persona you or your bosses created. It shouldn’t take any more than a quick Google or LinkedIn search.
Align the company. Make sure the business on your call list aligns with all or most of these criteria: industry, size, geography, and technology you already work with most.
Align the prospect. Make sure the person you aim to talk to aligns with all or most these criteria, which are similar to those you already work with: title/role, tools they use to do their jobs, people who they report to, people who report to them.
Set the right goal. Try “50 in 150” – 50 calls in 150 minutes. That means three minutes per call. With some going straight to voicemail, some being hang-ups and some being quick rejections, this formula gives enough time for a few quality calls that get to the point.
Smile. Smiling helps you avoid sounding like a robot. A smile projects a voice with a more positive vibe. Plus, a University of Kansas study found that smiling helps people recover more quickly from stressful situations. And cold calling can be stressful.
Be persistent. One, two, three calls? No. Six. That’s how many calls salespeople need to attempt. At that point, salespeople have a 90% chance or reaching their prospects, according to InsideSales researchers.
Open the call
Every second counts. Prospects’ time, patience and interest are short-lived. For a professional and focused open:
Buy time. You need a fantastic five seconds to buy five minutes, according to research by Gong.io. So the first five seconds are critical to success.
Ask “How have you been?” It’s an interrupter, researchers found. It’s an honest question, and it makes prospects pause long enough to wonder, “Do I know you?”
Make it clear. After you say hello, using the prospect’s name and introducing yourself and your company, say, “The reason for my call is …” The reason needs to be something that benefits the customer, not you.
Share your core competencies. Explain in simple terms (no jargon or acronyms) in 15 seconds what your company does and who you’ve done it for.
Talk as much as you listen. In sales, you might have been told that it’s important to listen more you than talk to uncover needs. Cold calls require more talking, though. The Gong.io study found that salespeople talk 54% of the time in a successful cold call.
Get personal. Winning pitches start and continue with statements that prove to prospects you already understand their pain because you work with customers just like them. Keep the focus on them, not you, like this: “I work with technicians for small companies who are typically looking to increase efficiency without spending a ton of money. That sounds like you, right?”
Be an actor, not a robot. Actors use scripts 90% of the time. They tap emotions to sound authentic. They seldom leave the script because the pre-written word is usually more effective than off-the-cuff words. Keep that in mind. Yes, you want a natural conversation. But most of it needs to be within the lines of your scripted explanation and responses.
Know when to let it go. Word-for-word scripts are not relationship builders. The more comfortable salespeople get at cold calling, the more they want to follow conversation outlines – not hard scripts – for consistency.
Qualify the prospect
You don’t want to waste your time or unqualified prospects’ time. To uncover needs and find the right prospects:
Ask big open questions, such as, “What are your top three priorities for (something related to your solution) right now?”
Ask trigger questions that focus on an event or circumstance that caused a bigger change. For instance, “I noticed that you’re going through a restructure. What kind of impact is this having on your department?”
Ask probing questions. Once you’ve uncovered a concern, issue or emotion, ask questions such as, “What does that mean to you and your team?” “Can you tell me more about …?” “What’s an example of that?” Or “What is the implication of that on your time (or employees or work or efficiency)?”
Ask sweeper questions, such as, “What else can you tell me?” Or “What areas haven’t I covered that you want to talk about?”
Uncover three or four issues. The most effective cold calls uncover three or four issues prospects face, researchers found. They all might not be pressing, but they can help make prospects recognize a need. Know several for your ideal prospects and ask about each.
Propose an action
Know an action you want to propose before you call. Once you qualify a prospect, propose it.
Try the CSR Approach. Get prospects to agree to a common Challenge you uncovered with qualifying questions. Tell or remind them about your Solution to the challenge and how it’s different from others. Then show them Results – facts, stats, awards, customer testimonials that prove your solution is right. Say, “Do you see how that lines up?”
Focus on benefits. When you recognize qualified prospects, focus the conversation more on how your solution will benefit them and less on product features. Help them see how your solution will save them time, improve their efficiency or maximize their profits. Then ask, “Does that sound like something you need?”
Be prepared for objections. Have a list of responses for the most common objections. Answers need to focus on the benefit that counters prospects’ objections.
Focus on one. From your questions and prospects’ responses to the three or four problems you mentioned, pick the one that spiked emotions most. Use that as the catalyst for your proposal to action. “You said that … is an issue right now. I think you’d agree that our solution is capable of impacting that in a positive way. I’d like to set up a meeting for us to discuss just how.”
Close to the next step
Successful cold calls close with agreement to an action that is mutually beneficial. Here are proven ways to gain it:
Don’t be afraid to get to the next step sooner rather than later. The Gong.io research found that “next step” questions and agreements account for half the conversation time in successful cold calls. Part of their success is based on keeping prospects engaged with information that hits the mark early in the call.
Offer a try. “Dan, now that you’ve heard how our expertise can help you, would be willing to give us a try?” For customers, a trial close feels a lot more like trying and a lot less like buying.
Ask them to imagine. Say, “Just suppose we could make that customization a reality. Do you see yourself going forward on this?”
Ask to look at the calendar. Say, “Do you have your calendar handy to set up a meeting?” Prospects might be reluctant to immediately agree to meet, but they’re often willing to look at their calendars and the possibilities.
Ask for what you want and shut up. The goal of a cold call is to set up a real call. So ask for it and wait for a response: “I think the best place to start is to schedule a meeting to learn about …. Do you have time Wednesday or Thursday afternoon?” Silence.