The Dos and Don’ts of Cold Calling

Phones & Phones

Phoning potential customers uninvited—cold calling—gets mixed reviews in the sales and marketing world.  Some managers say it doesn’t work well enough to bother.  It’s outdated, especially amidst the prominence of the Internet, where people are bombarded with sales pitches from all angles.

Others swear by it.  It’s cheap, effective, and gives a hands-on direct connection with consumers—a great way to leverage your product and services.

Smaller businesses that use cold calling successfully know that stereotypes and stigma of cold calling is wrong.  For one thing, it’s not a blitzkrieg of pressurized sales pitches.

Cold calling is really just business development.  And what business doesn’t do that?  If you’ve made one unsolicited call to a potential client—even for just some information gathering—you’ve cold called.

But even with prior experience, cold calling incorrectly can lead to disaster.  Here are the Dos and Don’ts of cold calling.

The 6 Dos

  1. Do recognize that “no” isn’t failure.  Let’s face it: you’re going to hear “no” a lot, and that can be discouraging.  However, cold calling still provides you with valuable insight that can help refine your approach.  Think of cold calling as informal market research.  It’s a powerful way to gain market clarity and learn all about your best prospects.  Listen to what people say and put that to work.
  2. Do be brief.  It’s hard enough to get someone to take your call and listen beyond a few seconds.  The last thing you want to do is launch into a lengthy, convoluted message.  Get to the point.  Skip the “how-are-you” lead-ins—they sound insincere anyway.  Prospects appreciate directness.  State your purpose, what’s in it for the customer, and your request—a meeting, for example—in as few sentences as possible.
  3. Do be positive and prepared.  Know who you’re calling and what you plan on saying.  Trust is missing in every cold call.  If prospects can ask questions and receive answers, you’ll build trust.  Excellent listening skills are the main component of building trusting business relationships.
  4. Do be real with yourself.  Nobody likes a canned, robotic message, especially in a business-to-business or service-type business.  You’re looking to build long-term relationships, so be authentic and avoid working from a script.
  5. Do carefully craft your message.  Being “authentic” doesn’t mean shooting from the hip.  You still want to prepare a message that sounds interesting, natural and avoids industry buzzwords, jargon and clichés—all the while pushing your company message and goals.  Well-chosen words make prospects more comfortable.
  6. Do leave a voicemail.  Give your name and number, say why you’ve called, and then repeat your name and number.  People have a habit of automatically deleting voicemails, so give your prospects a chance to jot down your digits before hitting delete.

The 6 Don’ts

  1. Don’t be rigid.  Each person is different, and the conversation might take unexpected turns. Be prepared to adjust your message to the situation and ask thoughtful questions that will lead the conversation in a natural direction.  This goes back to my earlier point about being authentic (without being unprofessional) and not working from a script.
  2. Don’t forget that it’s about the customer, not just the sale.  Tailor your approach and let them know you are okay if they decline—if that’s what’s best for them.  You can still ask follow-up questions and try to guide the conversation away from a flat-out denial, but if you come off aggressive, you’re doing permanent damage.  Remember, there’s a difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness.
  3. Don’t focus on the close.  Sure, you want to schedule a meeting or make a sale, but what you’re really after is the truth of where the prospect stands, so make it easy for them to tell you.  There are some times when you shouldn’t always be closing.
  4. Don’t try to counter all objections.  Even a hint of argumentative behavior will generate resistance and defensiveness.  If your customer becomes defensive, slow down and detach yourself a little.  Then start over.  Instead of pushing back, find out what’s really behind the objection and offer a solution.
  5. Don’t hang up without a follow-up.  Schedule another call or a follow-up meeting.  Don’t let your prospect think they’re only worth one touch—make sure that, no matter their reaction to your cold call, they feel rewarded enough to warrant another conversation.
  6. Don’t take it personally.  Prospects who say no—and there will be lots—aren’t rejecting you personally.  They are just saying the product or service isn’t a good fit for them right now.  Move on.  Don’t be over-sensitive.  There are customers who will say yes.

Let businesses argue about the pros and cons of cold calling—meanwhile, implement these strategies to make it work for you.  This may also be a great time to consider how good your customer service team is and perhaps invest in some additional employee training.

Brian Zimmerman
SVP Marketing & Sales

Brian Zimmerman was a Partner at OpenView from 2006 until 2014. While at OpenView he worked with our portfolio executive teams to deliver the highest impact value-add consulting services, primarily focused on go-to-market strategies. Brian is currently the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at 5Nine Software.
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