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Cold Calling: both art and science

There is a common misconception that cold calling is about three very simple things: a script, a list of numbers, and a telephone. In truth it’s a whole lot more than that and a long list of names is not as good as a well thought out targeted list. As for the script that does not stand alone, it needs to work as part of a wider process. Beyond all that, the environment matters as does the mood of the caller. If you’ve ever had a call from a noisy call centre factory at the end of their shift you will know how bad it can be to be on the receiving end!

There is a lot you can do to make cold calling a success. Every person within a small business should make calls, it’s a good skill and one that should be practised several times a month at least.

Finding a reason to call, other than just to sell them something, is a really big help. Find a compelling event or trigger. It may be something as simple as seasonal, which changes people’s buying habits and their needs. It could be a significant local or world event. Or it may be a business change or regulatory change that compels buyers to look again. If you can, associate the call with a trigger event that gives justification for the call and removes some initial inertia in the mind of the target. Also, by being aware of what is going on in their market you are more informed and able to deal with any questions that may come back to you as a result.

Before you begin

Having a long list of people to call is not going to work for most businesses. The old days of picking up the yellow pages and starting with ‘A’ is not how to start. Begin with a list targeted at your ideal audience. That already gives you a better idea of the approach to make. Then segment the list into different calling groups based on the message you want to give or their perceived need. Subtle changes to the message to match the segmented groups can make all the difference. Keep the list to hand and work through it, don’t lose momentum by fumbling around between calls trying to find who is next.

Sometimes it may be good to pre-empt a call with an email. If you’re responding to an inquiry often that’s the best way. Send an email thanking them and let them know you will call them, give a date/day and also state morning or afternoon (or evening), don’t be prescriptive on the time, but whatever you do make sure you make the call as promised. This makes the call less ‘cold’ to the recipient.

If it’s a first-time call an email may not be the best approach. What you can achieve in a three-minute call far outweighs multiple pages of a pdf attachment.

Make sure you know who you are calling. The buying needs of the CFO may be somewhat different to the CIO or CPO. If it’s lower down in the organisation there may be spending limits and approvals processes. You won’t necessarily know these, but it helps to have an idea of what level or position you are pitching to and what is the recipients buying persona.

Getting to the target is not always easy. Assistants are employed to block cold callers amongst their myriad of other tasks. Remember, if it’s tough for you to get through then it’s tough for everyone else and that improves your chance of success when you do get through!

Be nice to the gatekeepers. Educate them, make them informed about your product and company, that gives them knowledge which will always be useful when your company comes up in conversation. It shows you are interested in them and you are an open organisation/individual and here to help them too.

Knowing the person’s first name helps of course. How you use that in the call to get to him/her also matters. Whether you ask to speak to “Mr. Smith”, “Paul Smith” or whether you ask, “Is Paul available right now?” all depends on what your research tells you will work best for that organisation or individual. You can self-approve the right to use a first name by a simple opening technique: “Is that Mr. Smith?….. Oh, hi Paul it’s xxx calling…”

The script

Be efficient with your time on the call. This is not about rushing and does not mean you skip vital elements. Neither does it mean you rush through the script. Keep the script even-paced, use intonation for emphasis – but don’t overdo it, you’re not auditioning for the Royal Shakespeare Company!

You have an objective but don’t over-dramatise it, keep it simple and, above all, focus on the value of the outcome. You are there to solve a problem or to add value, that’s a very positive message to have.

I hate it when people call and offer a question like “How are you today?” - this is a HAYT Crime! So don’t use it. Let’s be honest, you don’t care how they feel, just as long as the call delivers the objective. And they certainly don’t know you, so why would they care? Asking a question like that is a waste of time. The best you can get is nothing helpful by way of conversation, the worst you can get is they tell you exactly about how they feel and it’s not good!

If you want an icebreaker in the conversation relate it back to what you are trying to do. If it’s an old customer, then use that to say you missed them as a customer. They don’t have to respond but it will reinforce who you are and get them thinking about your product. If it’s a completely new customer then the ice will thaw when you offer something positive, rather than trying to engage them in a verbal handshake.

Objection Handling

Listen to the word “No” and learn to understand what that word means. It is a word you will likely hear a lot, but it is also a word with a thousand meanings. Timing of the call, timing of the potential purchase, change of circumstance and many other factors conspire to produce a “no”. Very often these are not a rejection rather an opportunity for you to qualify better and to understand what is driving that response. Very often a “no” is an opportunity only to overcome an objection rather than a flat-out refusal. And remember, no is not personal; it is not about you.

If you do get a negative response schedule a follow up call. It can be months away (in which case just the month you will call will probably suffice). Let them know you would like to call back and relate to them their objection as the reason why the call should be scheduled thus. This could be one of your Plan-B options so don’t waste the call, always go for an outcome that leaves an opportunity for later if you can’t get your objective.

Have a Plan B

If you get a voicemail then have a script ready for that. If you get an assistant or colleague/partner have a script for that also. It seems bizarre nowadays that we are not prepared for a voicemail when we make a call, knowing just how many do go to voicemail. Be clear in your voicemail that you will call back and give an indication when – then be sure to stick to it.

If you get a voicemail a second time do not use the same script. Accepted some of the detail may be the same but it needs to build on the first message and needs to imply to the customer that you are specifically aiming to talk to them and that you are aware of the previous call(s). A voicemail message should be clear what it is about. That helps when you call back later as an expectation has been set. If you leave a message avoiding some of the key content then even before you call back the customer is suspicious at best, rather than curious.

Know your follow up

Before you make a call, be sure to know how you will follow up. If your objective is to get a meeting, an email and meeting invite makes the perfect follow up. If you got a rejection be sure to follow up and thank them for their time. For voicemails or where you got blocked, it doesn’t make sense to follow up until you got the breakthrough. Even here you can have template follow up emails but, again, if you have the capacity, a little amount of personalisation goes a long way.

Set the scene

Make sure you are in a quiet room or office, use a headset to help you concentrate and make sure you have everything you need to hand – the script, notepad and pen, and diary.

Deciding when to call the customer also matters. Not everyone works 9-5 and for some calls it needs to be at home in the evening. Here again be careful on the timing of the call. Some cultures frown on evening calls and even those with a more relaxed approach have a tolerance. Late evening calls are probably out for most people! If they are a busy person then try early in the morning when they are organising their day ahead and have a few minutes whilst working through their diary. The best times to call are Tuesday afternoon or, better still, Thursday 2pm-4pm.

I prefer to put the script on one of my screens right in front of me. It allows me to talk heads-up rather than looking down, that helps with my voice and also provides a positive body posture. You may even want to try this, or standing up, if it works for you stick the script to the wall in front of you. Whatever works!

Now practice. Read the script, be nice clear and slow. Do this for as many times as your comfortable. Then repeat stopping at a random point a short way in, imagine you have been interrupted. What techniques will help you get back on script? Try this several times so you know how to weave your way around these obstacles. Get to know the script well enough that you don’t need to use it, but don’t let it become a recorded message, it still always needs to sound fresh and personal.

Don’t make calls off the back of a busy meeting or maybe after you’ve had a negative meeting. Clear your mind of bad thoughts, perhaps make a call to someone who will put a smile on your face, listen to a short meditation tape or life coach speech. Whatever works for you, be sure to be in the right place mentally before you start.

Make that call!

Before you pick up the phone be clear in your mind what you want from the call. Have an eye on the prize at all times. Whether it’s aiming for a meeting, or to set up a call with a senior, or perhaps to get them to buy on the call, be sure to remain focused and know, very clearly what you’re trying to achieve. Have a backstop in case you miss your objective and be sure to achieve that if your main objective fails.

With the right environment and attitude, a well understood script, plans to deal with objections, blockages and voicemail you’re all set to go, so make that call!

Achieve your first objective or fall-back to Plan-B but always achieve something from the call. Then, immediately update your records, set any diary details and make notes in your CRM system. If it is a meeting then later deal with the email confirmation, not now.

After each call a short swig of water and onto the next one. Don’t rush from one straight to another but don’t procrastinate either. A steady measured pace of progress is key. If you feel you’re getting stale, then go get a cup of your favourite beverage and just clear your head for a minute of two, then straight back into it.

Follow up

The outcome of the call will determine the follow up. If you got a voicemail then none needed until you get that breakthrough. If you had a string of voicemails for one prospect then perhaps an email to let them know why you are calling and then set the agenda for another call, setting the day/date and what part of the day.

If you are constantly being blocked, try emailing the blocker. Help them understand the value of your call without going into too much detail. Work with your blocker to get access not against them.

If you achieved your objective, then a follow up is important. If it’s a meeting then sending confirmation, thanking them for their interest and setting a simple agenda for the meeting. Template responses and follow ups are fine and, if you want to send a short attachment, keep it very simple and no more than a few pages. If you can reference anything specific to the call or make it more relevant rather than a simple template that too helps.

Cold calling done well can be enjoyable! A great sense of achievement but, more than anything, it’s where the journey begins and its only by calling customers to start the process can you get to win business. Everyone in a business should undertake cold calls as a regular part of their role. Leaving cold calling solely for business developers means you’re missing out on some of the fun stuff!


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