How to Make a Cold Call

Cold calling works. Period. For a few years there was actually a debate about this, as social selling gurus gained “fame,” one of their favorite mantras, “cold calling is dead,” was actually embraced by a fair number of salespeople.  Standing back, it is easy to see why. It is human nature to abhor rejection, and rejection over the phone carries with it a harsher sting than someone invisibly deleting your email or social message. But those gurus were wrong, and more and more sales people understand that.

The Facts About Cold Calling

I am not romantic about cold calling. Nor am I romantic about social selling, even though I probably use the tools as well as most. There are different mediums one can use to create new opportunities, and it doesn’t make sense to eliminate one medium simply because another medium is available. There is simply nothing about any medium that makes it an exclusive choice. Like a toolbox, you use different tools for different purposes.

There are people, however, who are romantic about “social selling,” and they believe that older mediums—like the telephone—are no longer valuable. Mostly, these folks sell “social selling.” They have set up cold calling, something many salespeople don’t like, as a straw man to have something to rail against to gain clients.

My friends at Sales for Life published this post as evidence that cold calling was facing its demise. This is a rebuttal.

Cold Calling has a poor conversion rate. The article uses Keller Research Center’s research to show that conversion rate at 1 percent. That research was based on real estate agents, not B2B sales professionals. Your conversion rate is your own. Your cold calling may not work, but my cold calling works just fine.

Only 28 percent of those cold calls engaged in conversations. Same research, but be that as it may, if I could speak to 3 out of every 10 people I connected with, that would be more than enough. But again, you need to skills to engage people in conversation.

Forrester says 37 percent of order takers and 27 percent of explainer archetypes will be displaced. Why do people hate cold calling? Because they are conflict averse. Guess what makes you are order-taker or an explainer? Being conflict averse. But so does hiding behind social platforms and using email.

Salespeople are becoming obsolete, with 1,000,000 sellers losing their job to self service e-commerce.There is zero doubt this is true, but Twitter isn’t going to save you. Neither is LinkedIn. Only business acumen and deep chops can help you. You are either a trusted advisor, or you are something less than that.

B2B e-commerce will top 1.1 trillion dollars and account for 12.1 percent of all B2B sales.That number will grow. It is irrelevant to any argument about cold calling, and that number will grow regardless of whether or not you passively wait for opportunities to come to you. I would argue that aggressively pursuing a seat at the table is better advice.

There are more people involved in buying decisions, requiring a team selling approach. This has nothing whatsoever to do with cold calling.  In regard to an argument about cold calling, it should be ignored.

Nine out of ten top-level decision-makers don’t respond to cold outreach.Again, if you have nothing worth their time, this is true. But that speaks only to your chops, and says nothing about the medium. You are free to believe what you want, but when your competitor fearlessly picks up the phone and has something to say, believing this will hurt you. You are better improving the value you create. That said, every day people use the phone and schedule appointments with decision-makers. This “statistic” is suspect at best.

75 percent of B2B leaders say that they regularly use social media in their decision-making process.What’s interesting here is that the people who would recommend you use the telephone would recommend you all use every other channel. This statistic is suspect, and says nothing about how social is being used.

Salesforce reports that 74 percent of buyers choose a salesperson who is first to add value and insight.But how do you cut through the clutter on social? How do you engage in real life conversations where you can share your insights? What’s the fastest way to get in front of a client and share your insight? Still, nothing about cold calling.

20 percent of salespeople add value to the process and have five times greater engagement with buyers.Well, that make sense. There is a top 20 percent for a reason, is there not? What does it say about cold calling?

84 percent of B2B leaders start their buying journey with referrals and cold calling cannot reach the vast majority of B2B decision makers. Seriously? The same folks that fear the phone are even more timid when it comes to asking for referrals. So much passivity, so much waiting. Are you going to live forever? Does speed to results count for anything? This “data point” is more than suspect. If this were true, your pipeline would be made up of 84 percent referrals, and it something less than that–and closer to 0 percent.

Forrester says 70 of execs say salespeople are unprepared to answer their questions, and “there is no way a salesperson on a cold call can be as prepared as a social seller.” What? So as soon as I dial, my business acumen dissipates? I’ve somehow lost my experience and situational knowledge? This makes no sense, and as such, should be ignored.

90 percent of marketing professionals say you need an account-based marketing approach.Targeting? Multiple stakeholders? Messaging? Bell bottoms. This is nothing new. It’s fashion.

The average salesperson makes only two attempts to reach a prospect.“Success in social requires many touch points through a variety of channels.” That isn’t success in social, it’s success in prospecting and developing relationships. One of those touches should be the phone. Another should be face-to-face. Use social, too. This statistics adds nothing to the case that cold calling is seeing its demise.

Be careful what you believe. You are entitled to believe whatever you want, but you are not free from the consequences.

 The Real Reason Your Cold Calling Fails

People who fail at cold calling usually share the same faults. Here they are:

You’re not making enough calls. Cold calling doesn’t work when you aren’t making enough calls. If you make between 6 and 10 calls a day, you aren’t really prospecting. That isn’t enough calls to give yourself a fair chance at success. To make cold calling work you need an already researched target list and 60 to 80 faster dials. That number will not only produce appointments, but it will also give you enough reps to get better faster.

Your value proposition is weak. If your cold calls aren’t producing results, one of the primary reasons for the failure to obtain appointments is that your sales call value proposition isn’t compelling. How would you like someone to “stop by,” to introduce myself and my services?” The great benefit your dream client can expect is a chance to listen to you talk about yourself and your company? You can see why they might pass. To make cold calling work, you have to ask for a meeting where your dream client receives the value.

You ask for too much, too soon.Asking for big commitments early on causes resistance. If your “ask” is open-ended when it comes to time, you frighten your dream client off. They believe you may wear out your welcome by sitting in front of them for 90 or 120 minutes. Even asking for an hour can be too much. A smaller commitment, like 20 or 30 minutes instead of an open-ended request, is more palatable. And your dream client can say “yes,” confident that they can bail out if you aren’t creating value.

You don’t ask twice. Cold calling won’t work if you don’t ask for a meeting twice. You should expect a “no” to your request for a meeting on your first attempt. Your dream client says “no” to everyone who calls, not knowing how to tell who is worth meeting and who isn’t. The first attempt elicits an objection, a test to see if you might be worth meeting. You must ask twice.

You haven’t resolved their fears.You can’t succeed at cold calling without resolving your prospect’s fears or concerns. You will hear “We are already working with someone.” You’ll hear, “We are happy with the people we work with now.” You will also hear “Just mail me information,” and “I don’t have time right now.” None of these objections to a meeting is likely true. In fact, some of your competitors are meeting with people who gave them these objections. Your prospect’s real concern is that you aren’t going to make a meeting worth their while, that you don’t have any real insight, that you can’t really help them, and that they are going to regret meeting with you. You have to promise that none of these things are true.

 Why My Cold Calling Works

First, let’s start with the basics. You need a good list. Cold calling will  not be successful if you are calling the wrong people. The phone book is not your list. Your list needs to be developed, and made up of people who buy a product like yours, or people who have a need for a product like yours.

The Critical Skill: Confidence

Confidence is the key to cold calling.

You must believe that you are someone worth meeting with. You must believe that you can create value for your prospective client. You must believe in your product or service.

Are You Someone Worth Meeting With?

If you don’t believe in your heart that you are someone worth meeting with, neither will your dream client. If you’re hesitant or tentative, you will give off the signal that you don’t believe the meeting you are asking for is worth your prospective client’s time. If you want your dream client say “yes” when you cold call, you have to believe that you are someone worth meeting with.

How you feel about yourself matters.

Is This Meeting Worth My Time?

You must also be confident that you can and will create value for your prospect during the meeting you are asking them to give you. You are selling a value proposition for that individual meeting. If you are unconfident about promising to use that time wisely, your dream client is right to refuse your request.

You must know that you can benefit your dream client during the meeting, even if they never buy from you.

Do You Even Believe In Your Product?

A lot of salespeople pretend to believe in their company or their product or their service. These salespeople are easy to identify because they are the one’s speaking loudly about how they believe in their company. The people who do believe in their company never have to say anything.

A lack of belief in your company or your product or your service will betray you. You won’t come across as confident because even you don’t believe in what you’re selling.

Confidence Game

Confidence changes what you say and how you say it. Confidence gives your prospective client the certainty that they can trust you with their time. It’s difficult to sell something that you don’t believe in. It makes you feel like you are a fraud.

One of the reasons so many salespeople struggle to make cold calls is because they lack the confidence, and they lack the chops. Professionals lack neither.

The Real Benefits of Cold Calling

The goal of a cold call is to gain an appointment. But in making your calls, you gain much, much more.

The discipline to prospect. When you adopt a cold calling approach, you prospect regularly. What separates successful sales people from those who struggle is their discipline to prospect. You become opportunity starved, you become more desperate, and you don’t produce results.

Cold calling is like exercise – the more you do it, the easier it becomes. You develop a discipline others lack.

You develop a fearlessness. If you’re afraid of calling someone on the phone, you are not a peer. You are not someone your prospect can trust and feel confident in. You get an intestinal fortitude that makes hearing “no” ten or twenty times easier. You can continue on forward without missing a beat because you’ve developed this intestinal fortitude, something your fearful competitors haven’t got.

The ability to ask for commitments.If you cold call, you are asking for the commitment of time. You’re asking over and over again, and it starts to become more natural. You develop better language choices, better strategies, and you become more effective at it.

Selling is about conversations around value in the future. It’s about collaboration and coming up with an idea that will help your clients. It’s about value creation, and it’s about gaining commitments. The first commitment you ask for is the commitment of time, and cold calling is the best, fastest way to get that first commitment.

There is No Longer a Debate

The first post I wrote in defense of cold calling was July 17, 2009. The rumbling from the social selling crowd had grown so loud, it was necessary. The post was titled “The Anti-Cold Calling Crowd Are Charlatans. Period.” That post is as true today as it was the day I wrote it.

In 2009, the idea that social selling and inbound marketing were going to replace the telephone was gathering steam. The people who sold social selling and inbound tools and services set up cold calling as a straw man, knowing that a large portion of salespeople hated cold calling. They offered social selling as the replacement, suggesting that no one should dare interrupt another human being, that it was rude, and that it was no longer effective. Not only did salespeople buy this, big companies bought it, too.

The tools at the time were Twitter and LinkedIn Groups. Twitter was where you were supposed to go to listen to your prospective clients. LinkedIn Groups was where you were supposed to go to comment on your dream client’s posts and questions as a way to warm them up before trying to move them to engage in real life. Neither Twitter or LinkedIn groups are known for their massive engagement potential with B2B buyers of goods and services now. Instead, it’s Instagram and SnapChat.

In 2010, I won a $1,000,000 account using LinkedIn to connect with the prospect and to ask for an appointment. It was a simple, direct InMail. That year, I also booked multiple speaking gigs, a few of them International, after the people who hired me followed a link on Twitter back to my site. This is because social tools benefit content creators most of all, and don’t do nearly so much for the content consumer, the content curator, or the quota-carrying sales rep.

Over the last few years, some voices in the social selling and inbound spaces began to speak honestly about the need to make outbound cold calls, including the very same organizations that created graphics that suggested to connect and engage, and never cold call. The voices that suggest that you should never pick up the phone are growing increasingly rare. What were once loud, confident, aggressive voices disparaging the phone are all but a whisper, with the exception of a few who discovered social selling in the last year or two and believe the party is still in full swing.

For almost 8 years, a few of us have been in the wilderness eating locusts and honey. A few of us have strongly admonished salespeople to continue to use the phone as their primary tool, suggesting that the social tools were important, but by themselves not enough for non-content creators to succeed. There is no longer a debate. Outbound is vital to success in sales, and cold calling is the fastest, best way to results.

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