How to Cold Call

Businesswoman on the phone

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Cold calling: the dreaded sales technique that can make even hardened salespeople shake in their shoes. In fact, cold calling doesn't have to be an ordeal. Here's how to cheerfully turn your cold leads into warm prospects.

Get in Touch With the Decision Maker

In business-to-business sales, you will frequently have to work your way through one or more people to reach the appropriate decision maker. It may take multiple calls before you even find out who your target is.

Often you will have to convince the “gatekeeper” - the person who protects the decision maker – to let you through. Don't think of the gatekeeper as an enemy. He or she is a potential ally, who can give you valuable information about the decision maker.

Don't ever lie to the gatekeeper about why you're calling or try to use trickery. Trust is a prerequisite for a successful sale, and by lying to the gatekeeper you violate your prospect's trust right off the bat. Instead, tell the gatekeeper what you're selling and ask who would be responsible for purchasing that product or service.

Sometimes the best approach is to come right out and ask the gatekeeper for his or her assistance – many people instinctively respond to a plea for help.

Sell the Appointment

The point of your call is not to sell your product but to get an appointment. You need to pique the decision maker's interest just enough that he or she wants to hear more.

Start by asking if it's a good time to talk; that shows that you respect your prospect's busy schedule. If they say they can't talk now, suggest another time and be specific – don't say “I'll call back later,” say “I'll call back tomorrow at 9 AM, if that's convenient for you.”

If the decision maker is willing to talk now, you need to get their attention quickly; the first few seconds of the conversation are critical. There are almost as many different approaches as there are salespeople, but here are a few possibilities:

  • Make them laugh. You might say something like, “Hi, my name is Jane Smith and this is a sales call. I know, you hate these, so I'm gonna be as brief as possible.” It's usually safe to make fun of yourself, but avoid making fun of other people or you might offend your prospect.
  • Offer something valuable. When I was selling bank products, I would offer prospects a “free financial review.” I'd meet with the prospect in their office, ask a few questions about their current bank products and advise them on the best use of their money. If you are selling a physical product, suggest a one-on-one demonstration.
  • Solve their problems. Ask “What is your biggest, most unsolvable problem?” Then list one or two ways that your product or service will help to solve it. This approach can require some pretty creative thinking, but if you come up with a good answer you are almost assured of getting the appointment.

End on a Positive Note

Once you've broken the ice and told the decision maker a little about your product, it's time to ask for the appointment. It is vital, it is critical, it is absolutely essential (am I stating this strongly enough?) to close the call assertively. It's unlikely that the prospect will be ready to ask you for an appointment, so you have to be the one to ask them.

Always use language that assumes they want to meet with you. Don't say “Would you like to make an appointment?” Instead, say “Are you available to meet next Thursday at 3 PM?” By assuming the close you make it harder for the prospect to say no.

Throughout the course of the call, be courteous and project confidence. By being polite and respectful to everyone you encounter, you are showing them that you value their time. And if you aren't confident about yourself and your product, you can't expect your prospect to be confident about them either! Just remember that your product or service is going to help your prospects (even if they don't realize that yet), and act accordingly.