Top 10 Cold Calling Tips (part 1)


Focusing on Success

"It's important to focus not on the number of calls that don't result in a sale (or an advance towards your objective) but rather on the number of calls that do. With enough calling, there will ALWAYS be advances. Some of these advances will turn into sales."

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Part 1 of 2

1. Be Courageous

Cold calling takes guts and a thick skin. Sales in general is full of rejection and cold calling certainly has it in abundance. But to be successful in sales you have to be able to drive results and the phone is one of the quickest ways to do that. What if you make a bunch of calls and everyone says no? Like most things in life, it's better to face the results directly and understand your position completely. New lists can be acquired, new markets approached and scripts can be altered. It's better to understand and make adjustments based on what's learned than to do nothing and hope for the best.

When you reach voice mail, your message should say you'll be sending an email with a link to your website/brochure/whitepaper/case study. If they click through the link (which you will be watching for with your email tracking system, right?) they are a warmer prospect and should be called persistently but gently until you reach them.

If you don't have their email address, your message should say "I'd like to send you a link to our website/brochure/whitepaper/case study but I don't have your email address. If you are interested in receiving it, please call me back and leave your email on my voice mail or email me at ...". A small percentage will reply but the ones who do will be solid leads.

It's important to focus not on the number of calls that don't result in a sale (or an advance towards your objective) but rather on the number of calls that do. With enough calling, there will ALWAYS be advances. Some of these advances will turn into sales.

2. Have an Objective

What is the objective of your call? Is it to make a sale on the first call? Are you trying to set-up an over the web demonstration or face to face meeting? Your objectives need to be clear to you or you can't steer the call in the direction you want. Your process and script need to support your objective. If you have multiple potential objectives, you need to be ready to think on your feet and follow the path of least resistance. Or be ready to steer the conversation back on track. Finally, your objective needs to be attainable and help you and the prospect. Don't just tell them everything you know and let them off the phone without trying to advance the sale. Example:

Prospect - "John, thank your for outlining your lead generation process for us. Let me think about it and get back to you".

Cold caller - "Thank you for taking my call this afternoon. At this point, most people like to see a demonstration of our capabilities before making a decision. When would you have some time, maybe Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, to take a closer look?".

3. Get to the Point

People are busy and can't afford to waste time. Don't waste their time! Tell them where you are calling from and why. Ask them for permission to proceed: "Is this a good time to talk for a minute?". Ask them how they are involved in what you calling about. If they're not the right person, ask for a referral, thank them for their help and move on. If they are too busy, say that you really just wanted to schedule a time to speak and ask for an appointment.

4. Be a Human Being

Human beings have patterns of social engagement. If I offer to shake hands, generally the other person responds in kind. If I say "good morning", people usually reciprocate. To not do so violates our social norms and people won't do it without a good reason. People also have patterns of dealing with unexpected or unwanted telephone calls. They generally listen until the caller takes a breath and then say "I'm not interested" or simply hang up. The skill the caller needs to develop is an ability to break the latter pattern (hanging up) and engage the former (human social engagement). So act like a human being on the phone. Don't talk at people, talk with them. Respect that you may be catching them in the middle of doing 10 things or not at their desk. If they start to abruptly disengage, say "I'm sorry, it sounds like I caught you at a bad time. When would be a better time to call?" Sometimes they'll say tomorrow, at which point you'll ask "what's better, morning or afternoon?" Whatever they answer, say "how about" and name a time.

5. Question to Engage

People are more comfortable when they feel in control of the conversation. And people tend to like to talk to people who are good listeners. So let them talk! The best way to get them to start is by asking questions. Once you unlock the door holding in the words, the call will be extended and move in a positive direction. The skill to be developed is to learn to ask open ended questions, warmly and naturally, in a sincere way. People are good at detecting when people are being false so be real. Also, avoid asking questions that can be answered with the word "no". Example:

Wrong Way - "Are you involved with generating sales for your company?". "No", click.

Right Way - "How are you involved with generating sales for you company?". "Well I get involved when..."

Once they start talking, you can engage and qualify them with further open ended questions. Then close for the advance or sale.

 I'll be posting tips 6-10 over the next couple of days.

Top 10 Cold Calling Tips (part 2)

"Closing is asking to go to the next step in the sales process, nothing more. So in a cold call, you might close for a follow up meeting. In the second meeting you close for a demonstration. After the demonstration, you close for a product trial/proof of concept or pilot program. At the end of the pilot, you close for the sale. We used to say you close when the prospect is ready. How do you know? Well the reality is that there are sometimes signs but sometimes not. So the answer is ABC, “Always Be Closing”."

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Part 2 of 2

6. Manage Your Intent

People are very good at reading other people. Studies have shown that two of the most prominent members of the natural world that share this talent are human beings and dogs. Humans are so good at it that they can do it over the phone! So try to manage your intent before making calls. If you are thinking “I’ve got to make a sale at any cost” or “I’ve got to schedule a demo today no matter what”, the prospect will hear that and they will recognize that you are putting your interests before your own. They won’t trust you and they will not buy or advance. Try thinking “I’m reaching out to prospects today to help them and if I can’t it’s okay. I’ll be direct and tell them so.”

It also has the secondary benefit of pulling back slightly from the prospect, allowing them to feel in control. Some of the best cold callers liberally sprinkle “I’m not really sure if we can help you” or “Now that you’ve heard why I’m calling, do you think there’s a fit?”

7. Best Day/Time to Call

Below is an overview of a study done by MIT. Download the entire study (15 pages) by clicking below.




The behavioral study revealed when sales representatives had success around calling web-generated leads. To find these facts, we looked at leads that were captured through a web form, and attempted or called at least one time. Summarized below are some of the more interesting findings related to speed and timing when responding to web-generated leads:

1. Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to call in order to contact (by 49.7% over the worst day) and qualify (by 24.9% over the worst day) leads. Thursday is the best day to contact a lead in order to qualify that lead (by 19.1% better than the worst day).

2. 4–6pm is the best time to call to make contact with a lead (by 114% over the worst time block). 8–9am and 4–5pm are the best times to call to qualify a lead (by 164% better 1–2pm, the worst time of the day). 4–5pm is the best time to contact a lead to qualify over 11–12am by 109%).

3. The odds of calling to contact a lead decrease by over 10 times in the 1st hour. The odds of calling to qualify a lead decrease by over 6 times in the 1st hour. After 20 hours every additional dial your salespeople make actually hurts your ability to make contact to qualify a lead.

4. The odds of contacting a lead if called in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drop 100 times. The odds of qualifying a lead if called in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drop 21 times."

This study refers to web leads but I think its major points are relevant. Your business may certainly be different but these were the findings after millions of calls over a broad range of businesses were analyzed. One important take away from this study is that even more important than day of week or time of day is how quickly leads are called back (which is technically not a cold call but there it is).

8. Close

When I first started my career in professional selling, I was like most people, reading books on sales and trying to learn the “art of the close”. After being in sales for a small number of decades, here are a few valuable lessons I’ve learned about closing:

Closing is asking to go to the next step in the sales process, nothing more. So in a cold call, you might close for a follow up meeting. In the second meeting you close for a demonstration. After the demonstration, you close for a product trial/proof of concept or pilot program. At the end of the pilot, you close for the sale. We used to say you close when the prospect is ready. How do you know? Well the reality is that there are sometimes signs but sometimes not. So the answer is ABC, “Always Be Closing”. Here are some simple examples I like:

“Now that you’ve heard what we do it sounds like there might be some interest in taking a closer look. (no pause) When would you have to time to see a demonstration of our capabilities?”

“Now that you’ve seen a demonstration of our capabilities, are you ready to move forward with a pilot program or do you need more information?”

In a cold call, you may be closing for different things and everyone has their own style. You should feel comfortable with whatever you’re saying. Be aware of the situation, be alert and don’t be afraid to try to close multiple times.

When training phone agents, I like to use the following analogy. When we were kids we had birds, either parakeets or canaries, which would occasionally escape from their cage. The younger kids would start screaming, my parents would start yelling and the escapee would be fluttering and flapping all over the house. Exciting times! The challenge was to catch the bird without hurting it and put it back in its cage before it found an open window and flew away for good. Let me tell you, my family was rarely that focused, determined or CAREFUL! Amazingly, 9 times out of 10 the bird was back in the cage unharmed within a fairly short time (which felt like an hour).

I like the analogy because good salespeople want to help their prospects but must overcome similar challenges. So close gently, matter-of-factly and warmly. Anyone can frighten off a prospect by being overly aggressive or rude so don’t do it. The skill is moving the sales process along with the prospect hardly feeling it. And once you ask a closing question, for goodness sake be quiet. You know that right?

9. Manage Objections

Every business hears different objections so your preparation might need to vary from what I’m outlining here. The operative word is preparation, as in to “prepare”. You should prepare your responses to common objections and have them ready when you start calling. Here’s a good example. Let’s say you make your call, get to the point, be a human, have control of your intent and they say “We’re all set.”

Here’s how our agents respond “John, are you all set because you’re not really the right person for me to speak with, do you already have a supplier or is the timing not right?”

Here’s how we respond to their answers:

Not correct person - "Who handles this in your company? Would you have their phone number handy? How about their e-mail address?"

Timing - "When would be a good time to speak again? Can we pencil in some time to talk then? (no pause) What works better for you, mornings or afternoons?"

Supplier - "How do you get involved with selecting suppliers in this area? Would you be interested in receiving a quote from us so that you could compare our pricing, value and customer service with your current supplier? Great, when would you have some time to…..[close for appointment]."

10. Thank Them and Get a Referral

Whether the call concludes the way you wanted it to or not, thank them for their time and smoothly ask for a referral. Try to help them focus on a particular source to make it easier for them to think of one. Here’s an example: “Mary, thank you for speaking with me. I’m looking forward to demonstrating our capabilities next week as discussed. By the way, are you aware of any other department or division within your organization that might be interested in our services?” Jot down the name and let Mary go.

Bonus Tip: Confirm the Sale or Advance

Please confirm all appointments when you make them, via email. People forget things all the time and you don’t want to work this hard to get an appointment and have the prospect forget about it as soon as you hang up. On the day before the appointment, email or call them as a reminder. Oh, and write it down in your book so you don’t forget it either!

How to Hire a Sales Superstar: 10 Tips from the Trenches

How to Hire a Sales Superstar: 10 Tips from the trenches

Finding a true sales superstar is never easy. It’s especially difficult to hire a budding superstar – someone who is affordable, that you can count on to hit the ground running, who will produce superior results quickly, and who will stay with your firm for the long haul. The ten tips below will help you determine if the person sitting across from you can make the big difference you need in your bottom line.

Your overall goal is to establish the following:

  • Can this person do the job? Do they have the skills necessary to be successful?
  • Will they do the job in your environment? Are they a good match with your product or service?
  • Will they fit in with your company culture? Will they last?

1. Are they new to sales?

If they’ve never held a commissioned sales position, it is very important to determine if they can handle the rejection that comes with the turf. The most successful sales people in the world sell 10-20% of their prospects, meaning that the best they can hope for is an 80-90% rejection level. Most people who leave sales early in their careers do so because they can’t tolerate this level of rejection. Questions such as these – “What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever done? Give me an example of how you are persistent. If I asked you to call thirty strangers right now, how would that make you feel? If I hired you, tell me what your first week would be like.” – should help you assess their tolerance level and persistence.

2. If they’ve been in sales for a while, what is their approach or methodology to selling?

Ideally, the candidate will respond with a clear, detailed response that makes sense. It really doesn’t matter if it’s totally different from how your product or service is normally sold (see question 10 for the exception to this rule). The more detailed their response, the better. If the details seem to excite them, better still. They should also be able to explain how they respond to the different reactions of their prospects, and their process should end with a sale being made.

3. How successful were they in their previous sales position?

If they claim they were very successful, ask about their biggest sale. While being friendly, get very specific about the details. You’re trying to determine if this person is a “sales fake”, someone who tries to take credit after the fact for a sale made by someone else (or when he or she played only a minor role in the effort). You want figures, how the lead was generated, names of decision-makers, locations of meetings, names and roles of team members involved, what went right, what went wrong, and how they managed the process. Repeat this line of questioning for their top three transactions. If you really want to dig, ask about their first and most recent sale with their current employer. You can also go back to their prior positions and ask the same questions. A successful sales professional will have most of the details readily available and will be comfortable with this line of questioning. If they get nervous or uncomfortable or confuse themselves, this is a big red flag.

4. If they claim they were moderately successful, ask the same detailed questions as above.

Listen for their weaknesses and strengths. What weren’t they doing right? What did their boss have to say about where they needed to improve? Would working in your company under your system produce better results for this person?

5. Have they had formal sales training?

A moderately successful sales professional who is working hard, but is not skilled, can sometimes be transformed into a top performer by a strong sales manager and a solid sales training program. It can therefore be a positive thing if a person who has been moderately successful has had little sales training. It’s a red flag if someone has had lots of sales training and is still only moderately successful.

6. If it’s unclear where they need improvement, ask them to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 on the following criteria, with 5 being the best.

Interestingly, most people assess themselves fairly accurately on this type of test:

  • Prospecting
  • Contacting
  • Qualifying
  • Presentation/Information Gathering
  • Trial Closing
  • Managing Objections
  • Closing

Do their strengths match your needs? If your product or service is highly dependent upon prospecting and they rate themselves a 2, this is a red flag. If they rate themselves a 5 on prospecting, a 5 on closing and a 2 on presenting, could you turn them into a sales superstar by strengthening their presentation skills?

7. Who was their best manager and why?

Hopefully, the profile described will match the sales manager and top management in your organization. If not, it’s a red flag. (An example of a mismatch would be “I liked my manager because he really let me run my own show” when you know your manager favors a structured, report-oriented approach.) Also ask about their worst manager and why.

8. What was the best job they ever had and why?

Ideally, their answer should offer a close match to your culture and environment. Successful people generally leave a position within the first 12 months not because of a lack of results but because of cultural mismatches. Also ask about their worst job and why.

9. Ask them to describe a customer service problem that they solved.

You don’t want a hypothetical situation. You want to hear about an actual problem that they solved on behalf of a customer. If they can’t think of any, it’s possible they either never had a customer or they were indifferent to their problems.

10. What is the sales cycle like for the product or service they are selling now?

Does it match your sales cycle? What sales cycle do they feel most comfortable with? Have they ever sold anything that matches your sales cycle? Some very successful sales people need transactions like the rest of us need air. They will never be happy if the sales cycles are long (actual sales cycles rather than wishful thinking). On the other hand, many big-ticket sales professionals may feel stifled by the process-oriented approach favored when selling in smaller transaction sizes.

Finally, ask yourself the following questions: Is this person credible? Would you feel comfortable working with them on an ongoing basis? Do they have energy and enthusiasm? Do they seem knowledgeable, trustworthy, and reliable? How you feel in your initial meeting is probably how your prospects will feel.

If you receive a positive response on all of the points above, you’re sitting across from a sales superstar!