Mention cold calling and many entrepreneurs and salespeople will break out in a cold sweat. But does cold calling (often called outbound marketing) have to be scary? Much of the fear comes from a misunderstanding of the objective and expectations of that first potential customer contact. Here’s how to warm up those calls.
I never used to enjoy cold calling, even though I recognized it as a necessary strategy to increase business. That’s why, over the years, I’ve discovered ways to change cold calling to warm calling, which I feel a whole lot better about.
Many years ago, when I was a sales rep for a book publishing company, I wondered how I could increase business. After all, there were only so many bookshops, library suppliers and wholesalers and I was already calling on them all. Then one day I was passing a cash-and-carry wholesaler, and popped in to see if they carried books. On discovering they didn’t, I promptly asked to speak to the manager. To cut a long story short, they bought several thousand books, and for a while, I was their only book supplier. This particular cold call landed me one of the biggest new clients my territory had ever seen.
That’s why I have no doubt that cold calling is still a valid sales technique. The two main challenges are: 1) people don’t like to do it and 2) the success ratio tends to be low. The question is, why?
Why Do People Fear Cold Calling?
Fear of rejection is a big reason people don’t like cold calling. Another reason is that people are concerned they will come across as pushy. After all, when we think of cold calling, we often think of annoying and sometimes sleazy telesales people calling us at dinnertime. And we don’t want that to be us, do we?
Rejection: It’s All in the Numbers
Salespeople are generally optimists, but there is a difference between being optimistic and being delusional when it comes to recognizing how difficult it is to get someone to buy what you are selling. According to the research firm TOPO, only 24 per cent of sales emails are opened; it takes 18 dials to connect to a single buyer; and call-back rates are lower than one per cent.
Rejection is an integral part of selling. Even the best salesperson can’t expect to call 50 prospects and sell to every one. The majority of calls, in one way or another, will end in rejection. It’s a numbers game.
What’s the Biggest Cold Calling Myth?
The biggest myth is that your objective is to get a sale. Now, that sale may be your long-term goal, but it shouldn’t be your first objective. If you look at the objective of a cold call as the start of building a relationship with a prospect rather than making a sale, you will feel a lot less pressure.
Cold Calling and Gatekeepers
When making a cold call, it’s not always clear if the person you’re talking to is actually the buyer. In fact, he or she may be a gatekeeper, someone who guards the person you need to connect with. Your immediate objective is to discover who has the power to buy. Second, you need to sell yourself to the gatekeeper so that he or she becomes your supporter and will tell you who’s the right person to talk to and how to reach them. Rather than try to get around gatekeepers, recruit them. Never underestimate the power of these people as they often have the clout to recommend a buyer meet with you.
When is a Cold Call Not a Cold Call?
When you’ve warmed it up! The biggest challenge with a cold call is simply that you are approaching a stranger and expecting them, at some point, to give you money. Remember, cold calling doesn’t have to be random calling. When you are building your prospect list, don’t forget to ask everyone you know for referrals, because there’s nothing more powerful than being able to say, “Jen suggested I call you.” And don’t forget the six degrees of separation. LinkedIn is an amazing resource for finding someone in your wider network who knows the person you want to cold call. Ask if they would be willing to make a referral.
If you can’t find a connection, research your prospect online to learn details that you can use to relate to them. It may be as simple as, “I hear that you’re on the board of the art gallery,” or “Is that a British accent? Whereabouts are you from?” The key is to break down the barrier of unfamiliarity as quickly as you can.
How important are first impressions?
In spite of what I said earlier about telesales people being annoying, you occasionally come across one that you actually warm to. Typically, these callers aren’t rigidly following a script, or maybe they really believe in the product or service they are selling. For whatever reason, you feel they may have your best interests at heart. The result is that you listen to them. In no other form of selling is a first impression as important as in cold calling by telephone — and nowhere is it tougher.
Whether you are cold calling by telephone or in person, remember it is far harder to close down someone who is smiling (yes, smiles do transmit across phone lines), pleasant and showing interest in you than someone who obviously just wants to get straight to a sales pitch. Your personality can be an asset or a liability, it’s up to you, and you have approximately 10 seconds to warm up that cold call by making a positive first impression.