Cold calling can provoke a range of negative connotations, from puzzlement that anyone in business still practices it today to disdain from salespeople who can find any number of creative excuses to avoid punching in a number. In an age when texting, tweeting, and posting updates on Facebook have eroded the frequency of actual conversations, making overtures to prospects by phone seems hopelessly outmoded. When executed properly, however, cold calling can generate a better response than more contemporary marketing channels. In one study by Vorsight, cold calling resulted in meetings with high-ranking executives 78 percent of the time, compared to a paltry nine-percent success rate using email queries only.
Research, then call
"Cold calling works when it is done in conjunction with finding the right information first," says Mark Hunter, a sales consultant since 1998 who goes by the name The Sales Hunter. "It's really kind of informed calling."
The first step for cold calling success is to know the purpose or reason for the call before you pick up the phone. One approach for starting the conversation is to focus on something personal, such as mentioning a local sports team in the prospect's area. But Hunter prefers either referring to a bigger business issue—such as the legal or economic angle of a topic relevant to the prospect—or something having to do with the product or service you're selling.
"The majority of your calls will go into voicemail, but don't get concerned about it," Hunter advises. "The objective of a voicemail message is to create awareness." Creating that awareness begins with a three-part communication that consists of an introduction, the benefit or core message, and a recap of who you are and your phone number—in less than 15 seconds. A core message might be: "Hey, I've got some new information regarding the trends that could be occurring next year. Love to share that with you. Give me a buzz at [phone number]."
"I'm just giving a very quick piece of information. I'm not telling them exactly what I've got because I don't want to give them enough reason not to call back," Hunter explains. While it would be inappropriate to call a CEO every other day, Hunter does recommend reaching out to mid-level managers at least six times over the course of a month through a combination of phone calls and emails, on different days of the week and at different times.
"A great time to catch people live is right at the top of the hour," Hunter confides. "Most meetings are scheduled for an hour or a half hour. A busy busy person will dash back in their office a couple of minutes before the hour. Suddenly the phone rings, and they pick it up before they realize it's an outside call. I've used this technique for years and it works. I've even reached CEOs with it."
Secrets for getting your call returned
"Cold calling is actually the only opportunity-finding or appointment-generating process that is directly under the control of the small business owner," says Wendy Weiss, whose business handle is The Queen of Cold Calling, and who is the author of the free downloadable ebook, The Cold Calling Survival Guide. "You target the company you're interested in introducing yourself to and you do it. It's very direct."
Identifying the characteristics of a qualified prospect in concrete terms is the first step, she says, such as prospecting at companies with at least 100 employees. Second, have a compelling message—for example, the problems that you or your product or service can solve—with some type of script prepared beforehand. "I don't mean something the sales rep is going to read word for word no matter what the other person says," she notes. Instead, be ready to handle logical questions or objections that might come up in the conversation. But always focus on getting the result you want from the call, whether it's setting up a meeting or sending information—whatever your desired outcome is.
Weiss's clients have had a lot of success following her carefully structured four-part voicemail campaigns, leaving different messages about one week apart, and supplementing with emails if the address is available. If a client hasn't gotten through to the prospect by the last call, Weiss urges them to leave a final message like this: "I've been trying to reach you to discuss X. I haven't heard back from you and I know you're really busy, so I'm assuming this isn't a good time for us to have this conversation. I don't want to make a pest of myself, so I won't be calling you again [for a certain timeframe]. If you're meaning to get back to me, I'll welcome the opportunity to discuss X."
"This is actually the most returned message," Weiss admits. "Most salespeople call for awhile and then they stop calling, but they never tell the prospect they're not going to call again, and the prospect expects the salesperson to keep calling. We've found that a good percentage of clients have been able to use this very successfully to get prospects to return calls."
Practice makes perfect
In the world of real estate, brokers typically represent either a seller or a landlord. Since 1982, NYSPACE has carved out a unique space for itself. The real estate consultancy represents only tenants looking for commercial space in Manhattan.
"The only way to develop new business is to cold call," says Vince Sheehan, NYSPACE's president. "We need to go out and sell our concept, which is alien to some degree, because everyone thinks of a broker as representing a landlord."
Sheehan has a team of 15 agents, each expected to make 100 calls a day, though that goal is often elusive. Their message follows a structure advocated by Hunter and Weiss: explain who they are, why they're different, and how they can help the prospect. Sheehan himself leads the company's in-house training process of new hires, then has them sit with an experienced caller, then consult with him again, before letting them make their hundreds of phone calls on their own.
While they do follow a script—developed, in part, with Weiss's help—Sheehan admits that it's more a loose guideline than a rigid template. Most of the new hires lately have been middle management people who typically know how to talk with people already. Still, in-house seminars that Weiss has conducted keep the sales team fresh.
Other than a few holidays, Sheehan's approach has few off-limits times for making calls. The effort is obviously paying off, as the most productive workers generate six-figure incomes, he reports. "This is a hands-on business," Sheehan concludes. "You want to be talking to someone you trust. You're not going to get that from Facebook or Twitter."
There's no doubt that cold calling is still a viable method for contacting qualified prospects and building loyal relationships in ways that surpass other marketing channels, such as social media platforms and email. When done properly, it can be a valuable workhorse for getting through to key contacts and helping to keep the sales pipeline filled. That's a conversation every business enjoys having.