Cold Calling—One of the Least Liked Tasks in Sales

Businessman talking on phone at desk
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Jumping into something without any sort of a warmup—doing it cold—can be as unpleasant as it sounds. Cold calling involves getting on the phone with potential customers without an introduction at a time when the people you're reaching out to are not expecting you to do so. It's no wonder it has a reputation for being one of the least liked tasks in sales. 

What Exactly Is Cold Calling? 

The term "cold" in cold calling refers specifically to the fact that you haven't laid any groundwork for your call. If you're calling prospects who already have shown an interest in your products, such as someone who has filled out a postcard or website request for information, it's referred to as "warm calling."

Different sales experts refer to physical drop-in visits as well as phone calls as cold calling, but most salespeople think of cold calling purely in terms of the telephone. When in doubt, you usually can assume that a reference to cold calling relates to phone calls rather than physical visits.

The Challenges

Cold calling is emotionally demanding because receiving a cold sales call can bring out the worst in people. When launching into a round of cold calls, you can expect verbal abuse, prospects who hang up on you, and even occasional threats. The best approach is to remind yourself that they are not rejecting you personally. They're simply reacting to the situation. Just let any hostility roll off, disconnect, and move to the next name on the list.

Another challenge of cold calling is getting in touch with a decision maker instead of getting stuck in voicemail and never getting a callback or talking with someone who can't authorize a purchase and probably won't pass along a message as promised.

Some business-to-business salespeople find that calling either early or late in the day increases the odds of getting an actual decision maker on the phone since many executives work either early or late, and a gatekeeper won't be there to deflect your phone call.

The best time for business-to-consumer cold calling is outside normal working hours when people are more likely to be at home. Be careful to respect dinner time and kids' bedtimes, however. You'll also need to be aware of time differences in different geographic locales.

Is It Effective? 

Salespeople have mixed views as to the effectiveness of cold calling. Many believe it's the most efficient and effective way to reach new leads. Others feel that the many new sales channels available today, such as email, social media, and text message marketing, have eclipsed cold calling.

While some sales experts have extremely positive or negative opinions of cold calling, most accept the practical viewpoint that unless you have enough warm leads from other sources to fill your pipeline, you'll have to do at least some cold calling to make up the difference.

To increase chances for success, consider these tips:

  • The first few seconds are the most important. How you begin the phone call might be the biggest determining factor in whether you will be successful. Be up front about why you are calling, and state it—succinctly—in a way that keeps the recipient of the call on the line.
  • Don't worry if you're doing most of the talking. If the recipient of the call is listening and hasn't hung up the phone, you're doing your job. It's important to gather information from the potential client, but an initial silence might be a sign that you've got their attention and they're interested. Use that opportunity to make your pitch.
  • Engage the subject in conversation. While that initial silence might be OK, you still want to get the person talking about the business' specific needs. Ask about how they are doing and lead your contact into discussing issues that your product or service can address.
  • Direct the conversation to the next level. To make the sale or achieve your objective with the call, you need to get beyond the conversation stage. Once the subject begins to show some interest in what you're pitching, move the conversation toward the next logical step, whether that be a meeting or details of a sale. Get the subject thinking about the next step before actually committing to it.
  • Take advantage of social media for research. While the rise of social media might be one factor why cold calling is less effective, it also can be a tool to help salespeople. Most people have accounts on popular sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and others, and if you do a quick search before making a call, you might be able to glean some helpful information from the profile pages of the people you are calling. Since volume is important for cold calling to be successful, limit such searches to what can be found quickly and easily.
  • Avoid using a script. A lot of salespeople will swear by the effectiveness of a good script, but people are good at recognizing someone reading from a script and will hang up before you get through the first sentence. Be conversational instead. If you've done some homework or have warmed up the lead with another marketing approach, open by acknowledging that you know they opened your email or liked your post. Ask them to tell you what their needs are. People will be more responsive to talking about themselves or their own problems than they will be to listening to a scripted sales script. Learn how to use this point to your advantage.