We all agree that cold calling is not the most effective way to generate
new business. But many of the sales professionals I work with who
make a six-figure living tell me that effective cold call training
was the basis for their sales success. So since we must cold call,
how can we be sure of achieving great results, and have fun at the
As successful sales people will tell you, what you need is a plan.
My plan involves five simple steps that will ensure your cold calling,
doesn’t leave you out in the cold:
Step 1: Make a good first impression
You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and when
it comes to cold calling, your opening line is the telephone equivalent
of a firm handshake. So avoid weak or overused opening statements
that will leave your prospects flat, such as:
- "Could I have a few minutes of your time?"
- "Is this a good time to talk?"
- "How are you today?" or
- "I was wondering if maybe you would be interested in …
Even if you do nothing else, cutting these statements out of your
cold calling script will instantly increase your success rate by up
to 20%. People buy you before they buy your products, so your first
line should be about selling yourself. The most effective way to do
this is with a little humour, and the guts to try something innovative,
"Mary? – This is Colleen Francis…"
- "Have I caught you at a bad moment?"
- "Is this a bad time?" or
- "It sounds like you’re busy, are you sure this isn’t a bad
Why does this work? When it comes to receiving a sales call, it’s
always a bad time, so having the person who’s making the call recognize
this upfront is refreshing. And when you use this approach, two things
will happen. First, your prospect will laugh or chuckle, and say "It’s
always a bad time!" The laughter’s important, because it shows
you’re building rapport. Second, they’ll probably follow with "but
what’s up?" or "but what have you got?" When that’s
been said, you’ve been given permission to move on. It’s now your
prospect’s decision to keep the call alive, not yours. What’s a more
powerful invitation than that?
Step 2: Always be honest and upfront
Once you’ve gotten your invitation to speak, don’t make the mistake
of deceiving or misleading your prospect. If they catch on – and they
will – you’ll have lost any hope of making a sale.
Instead, strengthen your argument by being upfront and honest. If
it’s not true, don’t give in to the temptation of saying things like:
- "I’m not trying to sell you anything!"
- "We’re doing a survey…" or
- "I’m going to be in your area next week giving demos…"
Your prospects are smart people; being less than honest with them
makes it difficult to build a trusting relationship. People buy from
people they like and trust, so next time, try one of these honest
approaches and see how much your prospects appreciate the change!
- "I can tell you’re busy so I’ll be quick – by the way, this
is a sales call, so are you sure you don’t want to hang up now?"
- "I’m calling from ABC Corporation and this is a sales call.
Have I filled you with excitement and anticipation?"
- "Mary, we haven’t met, and to be honest I don’t know if what
I have to say will be of benefit to you. But if you have 3-5 minutes
right now, can I suggest that we discuss why a CIO like you might
be interested in speaking with a Software Sales rep like me?"
If you use humor and get dead air, it’s over. But a cold call is
a shot in the dark anyway, so why not make it fun? Whether they laugh
or not will tell you exactly where you stand, and how you can expect
the call to go. I started using this approach about 10 years ago,
and so far only one person has taken me up on my offer to let them
Step 3: Build rapport with a third party story
Now that you’ve broken the ice, continue building trust and rapport
with a third party story. Stay away from broad, meaningless claims
- "I have an idea that can save you money"
- "We’re in the business of making our clients successful"
- "Are you looking for ways to become more profitable?"
Instead, reinforce what you’ve started to develop by honestly sharing
an experience where you’ve helped others in the same industry or position
as your prospect. This will let them know that you understand some
of their problems, and that you’re qualified to help solve them. Try
something like this:
"Mary, my clients in the oil and gas industry – CIO’s
like yourself – tell me that we’ve helped them solve problems like
the high costs associated with downtime due to new viruses being spread
on their servers, the constant need to increase disk space due to
the massive amounts of SPAM email coming through their systems, and
the high costs associated with new security software acquisitions.
Which of these is the most important to you?"
The key is to pick 2-3 problems that your company has solved for
each specific industry or executive level you sell to. These problems
must be specific enough to be meaningful, but broad enough that the
majority of your prospects can relate to them. If you don’t know what
business problems your products have solved, you’ll need to get on
the phone and ask your customers why they bought your products, what
problems your products solved for them, and how much money they’ve
saved or gained.
Step 4: Find out what matters the most
Next comes the easiest but most important step of all – asking:
"Really? Why that one?"
It’s crucial for you to understand why the prospect picked the problem
they did. Only when you truly understand their unique problem, can
you begin to offer them a solution.
Step 5: Secure the action
Now comes the good part: ask to move on to a next step, and then secure
that action with something like:
- "Mary, would it make sense for us to continue this discussion?"
- "Mary, if solving this problem is important to you, does
it make sense to arrange a meeting, say 30 minutes next week to
discuss this in more detail?" or
- "Mary, is there anyone else in your organization who’s effected
by this problem? How do you suggest we get them involved? Does it
make sense for us to get together to discuss this in more detail?"
Once you’ve secured a next step, your cold call is over. I find on
average this entire process takes less than 5 minutes; however, every
once in a while I get a prospect who’s so eager to talk about their
problems that the call goes on for another 15 or 20 minutes!
One final word of advice: be prepared for every cold call.
Practice, practice and practice again until you own your pitch. An
unpracticed cold call sounds contrived, and nothing is worse than
a salesperson sounding like a salesperson. Remember that not every
call will result in a sale or even a next step, so prepare for success,
but be prepared for rejection. People aren’t rejecting you; they’re
only rejecting the offer you’re making them. Feel better?
And don’t forget – have fun! Make your prospects smile, and try smiling
yourself. This isn’t rocket science; it’s a sales call. And once you’ve
done it a few times, your cold call reluctance will soon be replaced
by a series of successes – and commissions!