Cold calling. Many of us move through it only to return later in life, for others is a 9-5 and a few actually enjoy it! Cold calling still strikes fear into many and has bad memories for some. So what is the role of cold calling and has it evolved in a world of inbound marketing?
Cold calling for most of us is a sweat inducing prospect, probably because of a natural aversion almost all of us have to rejection, or the prospect of rejection. Even with good intelligence to prepare your approach, rejection is inevitably part of the process, and it can be tough to remember that this is a rejection of the pitch and not a personal rejection of the caller. Rapid recovery becomes an important part of the art of cold calling, but more on that later.
The value of cold calling has sustained over time, and in some specific cases there are few alternatives to jumping on the phone and introducing yourself. Uncomfortable as it may be, the personal approach still wins business.
First, a definition helps. Cold calling is an uninvited first contact with a suspect (potential prospect) who you believe may be receptive to your sales message, and it usually happens by phone. The part about being receptive is important because if you’re simply pitching to a list then you are essentially playing roulette with both your time and your contacts whilst upping your rejection rate, and no-one wants that. With the plethora of tools and resources available now, doing advanced research is easy and valuable to both your brand and your peace of mind so there is no excuse for being unprepared no matter how leads come to you. Number one in that research is any previous personal contact between the suspect and the company, for there is no more final rejection than calling a recent ex-client.
Those guys who tell you that cold calling is purely a numbers game are wasting your time and sapping your energy, and they are probably thick-skinned enough for you to simply ignore in any case. Call volume is only ever opportunistic but research is probabilistic, and your company and personal brands gain credibility from well researched outreach.
The usual objective of a cold call is to get permission for a longer contact later (A meeting or follow up call) and attempts to close a sale on first call – the “turn up and throw up” model – are fraught. You may be lucky but in most cases, you’re interrupting someone’s day so if you don’t hit an empathetic note they won’t take another call from you. I’m talking only B2B here and I’m not referring to random B2C calling from a purchased list, which is a whole other level of pain.
So why and when do we cold call? Often this is the best approach for making senior connections and is certainly the main way to prospect if you are offering coaching services or strategic consultancy. If you’re a startup and you aren’t carrying a previously developed address book with you or you’re in a new market sector, then you have no choice but to try and build a network from scratch, and cold calling is highly targetable.
How do we cold call? Assuming we have a somewhat qualified list to start with the focus is entirely on the pitch and tailoring it to the suspect. The essential for cold calling is a personalised contact pitch designed to intrigue and invite further discussion; it respects the callee’s time and so are designed to be short and specific; they are not a full product or service pitch but an expression of potential benefit; they contain some insight; if possible, they reference a recommendation to call. Lets take each of these apart.
Your pitch on a cold call has to be tight. This is an uninvited contact so you have interrupted something. Respect that interruption, acknowledge it, and explain why you are calling from their perspective benefit and not yours. Generalised sales cases don’t work so you need to work your market intelligence here. You have value to deliver but little time to do it in and you need to get buy-in for a follow up action. Even if prompted, you want to try and get a date for another call or an in-person meeting rather than deliver the pitch during the first call. For your full pitch you want time and attention. A rushed pitch now will not drive success.
Warming up the contact a little is easiest by knowing why you’re calling and what the benefit is for them, and then working that angle by first validating your assumption directly – am I right in thinking, I read recently, I saw your presentation… Empathy is a major sales tool and you can’t gain empathy without research unless the suspect has a lot of patience for a drawn out Q&A, which they don’t. If you have a relaxed response and someone who seems to have all day to chat then you are probably too low down the organisation for influence or decisions, so check your research. After all, none of us mind being targeted, its flattering and implies we are valuable, but we hate being randomly selected like a number on a roulette wheel. Referrals can be hugely valuable as long as the relationship between both parties is understood.
So why doesn’t sheer volume work? You might have skin as thick as a rhino but it’s hard to sound as fresh and enthusiastic on the 105th call as you did on the 5th. Raising your game after a long series of rejections or failed connects is tough for everyone, especially if you don’t really know why you’re calling. You won’t sound convincing or interested and a good suspect could easily be turned off by a jaded approach. If you do get a run of rejections then take a short break to centre yourself and raise your game.
Your goal shouldn’t be to browbeat contacts into responding to you, but to find prospects that are receptive to your approach. Anyone you call that asks you to send proposals or literature is politely rejecting you so don’t score or forecast them and either reset the call or go and find others that see the value in your pitch. It isn’t a battle of wills but a matching of need and opportunity that you have uncovered. Certainly don’t confuse cold calling with random activity and definitely never assume sheer volume will bring success. Call smart and call well. Good luck out there!
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