Cold calling has gotten such a bad name that you think that prospects can easily find you over social media and contact you when they have a need that you can satisfy. We all wished we lived in this fantasy world. This may be the future, but this is not happening today. The only people who make money doing this are those who promote this malarkey. I believe that cold calling gets a bad name since people are simply bad at it or don't think much about its importance. In this post I will define cold calling, outline what to focus on when cold calling and how to avoid some common mistakes. If you give some thought to these, then not only will you embrace cold calling but become a pro and start generating results.
What is cold calling?
According to Anthony Iannarino in his blog titled, "What Cold Calling Means," he says that cold calling means calling
"someone who is not expecting your call in order to initiate a sales conversation. What makes it cold is that they aren’t expecting your call."
Why you should cold call?
One of the things we underestimate is the power of our voice. According to Julian Treasure, a voice expert, who says in his Ted Talk that a human voice is "one of the most powerful sound in the world." To be effective,he recommends that you follow these four qualities:
- Honesty -- be straight and clear
- Authenticity -- be yourself
- Integrity -- doing what you say; trust
- Love -- wishing people well
Tips on cold calling
I am not going to give any cold call script here since if you are in sales you know how to talk and know what to say. Below I have listed some of the things I pay attention to that may help you when making a cold call. Just because the prospect does not know you does not mean you don't know the prospect. I don't make a cold call unless I know a little bit (and sometimes a lot) about the prospect through research, social media, news, press release, blogs, etc. It isn't really a cold call if you do this, but more of a "room temperature" call.
1. Record your message on your voice mail or an audio recorder and then listen to it. Would you call yourself back? Get an objective feedback from others and see what they think and how they would make it more effective. Be open to criticism. It is better to hear a brutal face-to-face criticism then a polite no from a prospect. A lot of people in sales can't deal with the former and keep making the same mistakes and then blame it on cold calling.
2: Put yourself in your customers' shoes who is probably very busy, scared and time constrained, so what do you think would make him talk to you or even return your call? He is living in his own world and he is asking himself: "Who are you?" and "Why are you bothering me?"
3: Refrain from selling anything on the call. You just want to "sell" couple of minutes of prospects' time. The purpose of a cold call for me is not to sell anything but sell time, and the initial call can't be more than couple of minutes. If you can't sell couple of minutes then you are probably not resonating with prospects. Also, speak slowly and remain under control but let the prospect be in charge of the call at all time. You are taking up his time. He has the clock.
4: Are you solving a problem that is cheaper, faster, better and smarter than how they are currently doing it? If you need more than five minutes to get prospects excited then the answer is no. You have to do some research before you make the call. The burden is on you to know this not the prospects.
5: You have to pretend like you are calling to get a job---a job to sell. Unless they hire you and let you in, you can't sell. Note, prospects have the keys to their needs, and unless you get the keys, you can't enter their dungeon of problems to rescue them with your solution.
6. Practice saying "hello," since it is the first thing you are going to say and you definitely don't want to lose the sale at "hello." We have all seen this famous scene from the movie "Jerry Maguire" where Jerry gets Dorothy back with a simple "hello," (At least that is what she tells him.) Now It may not be that easy for us with prospects, but why blow the sale at "hello." All good conversations start with this word, so don't rush it and start pitching.
7. Next, introduce yourself and simply ask for couple of minutes. Once given, give a straightforward 90 second sales pitch and then ask if this is something they would like to know more about. Since you asked for couple of minutes, don't go over since you want the prospect interested and know that you stick to your word. This may not seem that important, but note it is not what you sell that matters today, but how you sell, so sell with honesty, credibility and integrity right from the start.
8. Create if-then plans. I got this idea from Heidi Grant Halvorson who describes this in her post at 99U titled, "How to Use If-Then Plans To Achieve Any Goal." You need to plan this before you make the call since you don't want to think on your feet. You may think you can, but you will not be that effective as you would be if you have put together an if-then plan on what potential scenario will play out. It could be as simple as if (the call goes to voice mail) then (leave a message with a 30 second pitch and request two to three minutes of their time). You can create this so you can handle just about any scenario that is likely to come up.
9. Focus on impact of the call rather than volume of calls. If you don't know for sure that you can help a particular prospect, do not call them. The old way of thinking cold calling as a numbers game means that you are selling a commodity and you will find that most of your prospects don't buy commodity products from salesmen today. The only time cold calling works is if there is a value that the prospects accrue through working with you in his buying process.
10. Know what is working. It makes no sense to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. If what you are doing is not working, then change it and try something different. Do not be afraid to experiment. There are no hard and fast rules to success. You will have to learn, think, act, and tweak till it starts working.
11. Cold calling is not the only thing. There are a lot of other ways to get customers and cold calling should be just one part of the equation. For example, social media is very powerful, but do not underestimate the power of the voice and connecting with someone by talking to them.
12. Watch out for Fluid Buying. I got this idea from the Gartner webinar by Tiffani Bova. titled, "The Future of IT Sales." Just because you are starting a call does not mean that the prospect is also starting from the same point when it comes to buying. The prospect may be at any of the following stage: Identify, Qualify, Propose, Approve or Deploy. You have to be able to able to have the right pitch at the stage where the customer is so you are adding value. This is why cold calling is not for newbies but everyone from inside sales to the CEO. Your success will depend on being part of a cold calling culture.
13. Don't view cold calling as a hit or miss. If you view it as a numbers game then it is all about you and not the prospect. If you want to target a CEO then get your CEO to make the call. If you have a technical product then get your CIO to target a company's CIO. The C-levels should be your best cold callers since they have the position, knowledge and gravitas that will likely get their calls returned so you don't end up wasting a lot of time. Remember your job is to guide the process not be a lone ranger. Selling is a team sport.
14. Change is your number one obstacle with prospects. People don't embrace change no matter what they may say. When you call, the gain of change has to be greater than the pain of change in your message so you don't get eliminated quickly.
15. Enjoy the process. If you are not having fun doing what you are doing people will detect your lack of authenticity. It is hard to fake joy.
The two most important things to remember when you make a cold call: Do not waste your prospects' time and make sure you repeat the key soundbite you want the prospects to remember after you hang up.
What are common cold calling mistakes to avoid?
According to Jill Konrath in her video "Top 3 Cold Calling Mistakes," she talks about these three common mistakes to avoid:
1. Conduct your pre-call research and make sure you have a real tight 90 second pitch that sounds like you are talking to your grandmother.
2. Avoid self serving verbiage such as "state of the art," "leading edge," "seamless," etc, instead focus on customers' needs the way he understands them.
3. Don't quit too soon. You may need to try call, email and even use social media to get through. If you can help the prospect then go for it.
What if you are an introvert?
This was what Rhonda Ramos commented in a thread in LinkedIn she initiated in the group "On Startup - Community for Entrepreneurs." She comments that "I feel what is mostly holding me back is fear of rejection. I am very much an introvert, until I can warm up to someone and that does take time."
We all go through this when we face rejection so what I do is go for a walk and say "hello" to everyone who walks by. Believe it or not almost all will say "hello," some more friendly than others. Talk to people with dogs since they love talking about their dogs. Since I don't know much about dogs, I always ask what kind of dog it is and then it normally leads to a conversation. If I see someone the first time it will be simple as that and then talk more once there is familiarity. I have run into so many interesting people, including an ex-Air Force hero of the First Gulf War, who I call Captain Art, who rescues Basset Hounds. He does not talk about his heroic feats to anyone but me since I showed interest in his dogs.
I like to say to people that all conversations start with a "hello" and similarly all sales conversations start with a "hello" too, so just get good at saying this one word and who knows where it will lead.
As I said cold calling is fundamental to sales. Focus on selling yourself by getting five minutes and nothing more. You have to start small and not overwhelm the prospect since if you make them think too much, then they are going to say no. Focus on selling five minutes and get a quick win and then you can go for the next quick win and so on. Think of it as a process and the cold call is the first step. You do want to make it with the expectation that you are going to be successful. Do not play numbers game but a success game.
Finally, as you know when a rocket is launched, most of the fuel is used up to get the rocket off the ground, so I say use up most of your fuel to launch your sales effort off the ground for the cold call. If you can't launch your sales off the ground with cold calls, very few of your sales opportunities will reach the orbit.