How to Master the Art of Cold Calling: Advice From 5 Salespeople
“We’re not interested.”
“How did you get this number?”
“Take me off your list.”
These are just a few of the phrases thick-skinned sales reps are used to hearing when cold-calling. For them, these types of reactions are positive: receiving a hard “no” means reps can focus on other prospects. Every “no” is one step closer to a “yes.”
Done successfully, cold-calling can result in new business, lasting professional relationships and recurring revenue. However, it takes more nuance than dialing.
“You can make 200 calls a day but if you don’t have a strategy, then you are setting yourself up for failure,” Shannon Heidloff, a senior strategist at DoorDash, said.
Expect plenty of rejection. A recent study from Topo said it takes an average of 18 calls to reach a buyer. Heidloff said ample research and preparation are essential to each call, and urged fellow sellers not to fall into the trap of a blanket pitch.
Buyers don’t like “being sold to,” Heidloff stressed. Conversation and personalization go a long way. Researching the caller, identifying their needs and inserting your product are the first steps to closing a deal.
Built In spoke with five salespeople from sales teams across the country for their advice on how to master the art of cold calling.
Tips for Cold Calling
- Know your industry
- Identify key decision-makers
- Know when to move on
- Always be prepared
- Establish next steps
SR. STRATEGIC MERCHANT LEAD-MIDWEST
Know Your Industry.
Know who you are calling and research the industry. Take time during non-selling hours to study trade publications, recent legislation that impacts their industry or community and trends. Google “buzzwords” or industry lingo that you can pepper into the conversation to build credibility. Skim the news to see if anything major is going on that could impact the call. Stay informed and knowledgeable. This might sound time-consuming but it will build instant credibility and lead to a more efficient sales cycle in the long run.
Have a strategy for your day, down to the hour. Do research, get organized and find a place in your home or office that lends itself to a productive and efficient work environment. Then start dialing.
Identify Key Decision-Makers.
The first thing is to know who you are calling and if the time of day makes sense based on their industry. Business owners and operators have to actually run their business during the time you are calling and these cold calls, as opposed to scheduled meetings, can be a nuisance. For example, if you are calling on restaurants, avoid calling up to 30 minutes before a shift starts, which would be their lunch and dinner hours. This “pre-shift” time can be stressful and the last thing someone wants when they answer the phone is to hear an overeager rep. Set call blocks for 60-90 minutes in the morning and in the afternoon when you know there is a bit of downtime and you will most likely get a better reception.
Spend 10 minutes studying their online footprint to figure out where to call and who to ask for. If this isn’t obvious from their website, social media or a quick Google search, write down a few questions to ask before you call.
Make sure you know the goal of the call and the key decision-makers, as a one-call close is rare. Let whoever you are talking to know that their time is valuable and you appreciate it.
Know When to Move On.
Know when to move on. Have a short list of questions prepared in advance that you can quickly reference based on a number of scenarios that you might encounter, but remember not to take anything personally. Any person who is cold-calling any type of business needs to know that there will be hundreds of calls they will make that end with some sort of a let down. It might take 15 calls at different times of day to find the actual decision-maker and then once you reach them, they might instantly dismiss you.
However, persistence is crucial and so is a tough mindset. Move on from the hang-ups and agitated gatekeepers. Realize that you have no idea what they are dealing with in that moment or in their personal life. You are interrupting their day and their job and possibly taking them away from paying customers. If you sense that it is a bad time, end the call in a polite and professional manner. Ask a quick question about when would be a good time to try back or glean any sliver of information that you can. Reach out on a different day of the week or time of day. If you get the same gatekeeper every time you call and they shut you down every time, then reach out via social media, LinkedIn, etc.
Always Be Prepared.
Once you’ve got someone on the phone, what strategies have you found to be most effective for keeping the conversation going and turning that person into a customer?
Be ready to pitch. We have all made a dial during a cold-calling block of time, not expecting to reach anyone and suddenly the decision-maker happens to be available and will give you five minutes. Be prepared! The worst thing you can do is to actually reach the person you’ve been looking for and stammer or stumble into a pitch. You need to make a good impression or you will lose credibility.
First and foremost, ask them for their direct email and cell phone number, as having the correct information for the future is key. Have questions ready that will directly speak to their services and align with what it is that you are selling. It will show that you have done your research and will open up the conversation. The more they talk, the more you can learn about what their needs are and how you fit in. Gain agreement along the way and make sure to ask open-ended questions.
Once you hit the allotted time-frame, ask for more time or a better time to continue the conversation. Thank them for their time and acknowledge how busy they must be. Earning trust early in the partnership will set everyone up for long-term success. If they are buying in, make sure to be enthusiastic but not over eager, and create a sense of urgency without sounding desperate.
Establish Next Steps.
Ask them how they prefer to communicate going forward.
If you happen to end the call with a “yes,” then clearly define what comes next. Follow up within a few hours with detailed next steps and most importantly, a “thank you.” Guide them through the onboarding process and don’t falter with the follow-up communication. The initial stage of a partnership is still part of the sales process in many organizations, with the ultimate goal being their success. This can bring you referrals and a solid reputation in the long run.
STRATEGIC ACCOUNT DEVELOPMENT REPRESENTATIVE
How do you prepare ahead for a cold call?
At Tray.io, we prepare for cold calls ahead of time by researching the industry, account and prospect: for example, reading articles, blog posts, Twitter and their LinkedIn. This way, we know about the prospect's role and day-to-day before the call, so we can use a persona-specific targeted talk track.
It’s important to use the right messaging when prospecting. We approach a potential conversation with a business development professional differently than we would a conversation with a CEO, product manager or an engineering leader. When it comes to handling objections, our team works together to come up with responses to common ones so that we are prepared and ready to go when they inevitably arise.
"We prepare for cold calls ahead of time by researching the industry, account and prospect.”
What strategies do you employ to ensure you’re getting in touch with the right person and you’re actually able to get them on the phone?
There are several different types of personas across an organization that can benefit from our solutions, whether they’re in product, engineering, marketing ops, or IT, among many others. To ensure we’re reaching out to the right person, we focus on professionals that are at the director, VP or C-Suite level.
By researching our prospects ahead of time, we get a pretty good idea about their roles and responsibilities. When we connect with a prospect over the phone — leveraging sales intelligence tools like ZoomInfo and Lusha to improve our connection rates — and someone says that they’re not the right person, we always ask who is, and if we could be connected to them.
Once you’ve got someone on the phone, what strategies have you found to be most effective for keeping the conversation going?
When I personally reach out to a prospect over the phone, I’ll pull up the email that I’ll have sent ahead of the cold call. That way, when I do connect with the prospect, I have a point of reference and can personalize the conversation based on my research.
In sales and business development, it’s important to make a good first impression by being clear about intentions upfront. That’s why I mention that a call is a business development call, and I ask the person I am calling if they have a minute to speak. As we engage in conversation, I try to answer any initial product or technical questions that arise, without immediately trying to get them to the next step with us. That way, we can establish rapport.
Once we get to that next step, we loop in the appropriate folks here internally, ensuring that they have everything they need to solve the prospect’s challenges and turn them into a happy customer.
SENIOR SALES REPRESENTATIVE
Turning a Stranger Into a Customer
My strategies for keeping someone on the phone change based on who I am speaking with. Being a chameleon is one of the most important tactics. It allows me to be quick on my feet and relate to each individual.
Every time I pick up the phone, I try to make the other person feel as if theirs is the only business I am reaching out to. I like to personalize each conversation and provide a little information about myself. I drop a seed of knowledge about the company and my intention and always follow up with multiple questions about them and their business. I validate their feelings, match their tone and add a piece of information about the product itself that they may have not heard about to peak their interest and see what entices them.
SENIOR SALES REPRESENTATIVE
Preparing for a Cold Call
I prospect a lot from websites. I always make sure I know exactly where the potential customer is located and align my talking points with the services listed on their website.
I try to locate any pain points as well. For example, if I see they are traveling 50 miles for work, I let them know how many requests we have within about 10 miles to peak interest.
I’ve been at HomeAdvisor for over two years. I’ve heard every objection you can think of. So before going into a cold call, I always remind myself that I am here to help service professionals. Stop worrying so much about selling people on your service and listen to common objections.
SENIOR SALES REPRESENTATIVE
Identifying and Talking to the Right People
Cold calling sales is an art form. It requires proper coaching and appropriate mindset training. At HomeAdvisor, our sales team is trained to call individuals with whom we have no previous relationship or communication and sell them on how and why they will benefit from our service.
You can figure out if you have the right person on the phone within the first 10 seconds of the call. If the person answers with a scripted introduction to the business or company, most of the time that is not a decision-maker. A decision-maker or business partner will answer the phone with an unscripted introduction like, “Hello, this is John.” Their introduction will not be as rehearsed because they are busy running the show.
Confidence is the most important asset to any sales role. To get around any gatekeeper, call with a purpose. Sales representatives must call with the impression that a relationship has already been established. For instance, if I know the owner’s name, I will approach the conversation like so: “Is John around?” or “Is John in the office today?”
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies.