Cold calling is the practice of soliciting business via a phone call placed directly to someone with whom you want to do business without prior contact or referral. An example of a cold sales call would be obtaining the telephone number of a company which you think you can do business with off a directory or their website and then calling them with your proposal or pitch. Like other non-passive sales techniques such as unsolicited in-person pitches, cold calling is often regarded as either difficult or downright terrifying. Of course, this not limited to phone calls as the same struggle is faced in person. While the degree of hardship associated with the practice can vary depending on your personality, the basics can be learnt by anyone and can be improved upon with practice.
Learn to handle rejection
No matter how good you are as a salesperson you will almost always get far more nos than yeses. However, due to the somewhat more intimate nature of phone calls, the instantaneous rejections coming one after the other can be quite demotivating. You must, however, realise that going from one rejection to the next without any loss of enthusiasm is one of the keys to success in the cold calling (or any other endeavour in life really). If you let rejection (or a string of) dampen your spirits, this will affect all of your subsequent phone calls. The lack of enthusiasm in your voice will make the person whom you are selling to even less likely to bite. This is because the enthusiasm, sincerity and conviction that you convey through your voice during a sales call make you more convincing and increases your chances of turning a potential customer into an actual one.
Don’t let excessive politeness cost you
Let us get this out of the way as soon as possible: no one particularly enjoys being marketed to if they can help it but this does not stop marketing from being the backbone of all commercial activity. This means that while politeness and courtesy should be used at all times in your communications with potential customers, you should not use language that will allow your targets to weasel out of your calls. Examples are the likes of, “Can I have a few minutes of your time?” and “Are you busy at the moment?” Both of these come with what are pre-packaged excuses, particularly the second one for which a simple “yes” is enough to send you packing. Remove such language to make it harder for your calls to be offhandedly dismissed.
Script your calls
You can also write down the lines you plan to use during your calls, particularly the part where you introduce yourself and your offer. Doing this allows you to pore over, analyse, revise and rehearse the call(s) beforehand. This is especially useful in cases where the script proves to be particularly effective and can be shared for reuse by other salespeople in your organisation. When writing a script, remember that you are only writing one half of the conversation so you have to account for as many of the common responses as possible.
Learn to bypass gatekeepers
Receptionists, secretaries and personal assistant can all be a nightmare for salespeople (or anyone else for that matter) who wants to gain access to their bosses be it in person or via phone call. As most of the publicly available company telephone numbers are answered by these people, it pays to know how to deal with them and navigate your way to their superiors. Some sources suggest mild trickery (e.g. telling the answerer that the phone call is private or personal when asked about its purpose) but this may backfire by gaining you your phone meeting at the expense of your perceived trustworthiness.
Avoid value proposition language
Value proposition language is the kind that is almost always used by people who are trying to sell you something and we have all learnt to spot it from a mile away. When someone catches any whiff of such kind of language, their guard goes up and they become a much tougher audience to sell to. Think of the way you get tense when another person says they have a great new investment that makes you lots of money in two weeks. As I mentioned earlier, most people dislike being marketed to so you should try to avoid language that makes this immediately obvious because at best you will lose most of their interest and attention.
Lead with research
So since I just advised against using obvious value proposition language, how then can you best deliver your (literally phoned in) pitch? Well instead of jumping directly into your proposal you can lead with a series of questions that are relevant to the role, profession, field and line of business of the person whom you are calling. Ask questions such as how they are currently solving a certain challenge or problem (which your service or product solves); enquire if they are satisfied with this solution. These questions must be relevant to what you are selling or proposing so that when you switch to your pitch the other party will not feel ambushed.
Given their nature, timing is important when placing unsolicited phone calls. Your calls are more likely to be effective on certain days of the week and times of day over others. Research suggests that the best days for making a sales call are (in descending order of effectiveness) Thursday, Wednesday and Friday. The best times are 8 am—9 am and 4 pm—5 pm. Note that said research focused exclusively on US businesses.
Most adult human beings are busy and have a lot going on in their lives. This means that given enough time, even a seemingly successful cold call from your end will eventually get forgotten. That is why persistence is necessary. After an initial inconclusive or unsuccessful cold call, you can make additional follow up ones. These calls can range from the kind meant to follow up on all those undecided people who say, “I’ll think about it” to repeat attempts at winning over people who have already declined your offer. Do not misinterpret this as advice to power through any objections and protests that are raised by the recipients of your calls. Your interactions with potential customers and clients have to at all times stay civil, courteous and, above all else, respectful.
Use a landline number
When you use a landline number to make an unsolicited call, not only are your chances of getting answered greater but you will be taken more seriously. First impressions matter, they say and a landline caller ID makes it easier for your recipient to imagine that you are an established business and hence deserving of his/her full attention.