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What is Cold Calling and How to Do it Better

By Bill Rice
What is Cold Calling and How to Do it Better Feature Image
24 minute read

Ah, the cold call. One of the oldest sales tactics in the game that still brings a literal shiver to many of us.

But consider this: 69% of buyers accept a call from a new salesperson. Not only that, but 82% of buyers will accept a meeting with a salesperson after speaking with them on a cold call.

No matter how you feel about cold calling or how little you know about it, these statistics should make you sit up a little straighter and pick up your phone, ready to dial. While cold calling can be successful, it also takes knowledge and skill to pull off properly.

So, what is cold calling, you ask? How can you use this tactic to your advantage? How can you cold call prospects without inducing an immediate hang up or stuttering over your words?

You’ve come to the right place. We’re going to answer everything you’ve been wondering about cold calls in this post; keep reading to learn more.

What Is Cold Calling?

There are a few misconceptions you need to overcome before you can be successful with cold calling.

Many people don’t have a good understanding of what cold calling is. Not only that, but most people don’t feel comfortable cold calling. They feel it’s intrusive or wrong to cold call people. And when cold calling is utilized by sales, marketing, and other business departments, it’s usually not done with a system or plan in mind.

It’s time to overcome those obstacles and understand exactly what cold calling is: it’s a useful service that you’re providing to the consumers you’re calling that benefits you as a business as well.

Let’s start with the basics: what is cold calling?

We can break it down into three parts. A cold call is a call you make to someone that you’ve had no prior contact with who has shown no prior intent with the goal of creating new intent from this prospect you’re calling.

No prior intent means that the consumer hasn’t filled out anything on your website, they didn’t express interest in the product, they weren’t a purchased lead from a lead provider, they didn’t visit your store, call you, etc.

The cold call itself is the call you make to this contact, whether that’s a B2C or a B2B interaction. The reason it’s called a “cold” call is because they don’t know you’re calling. They aren’t expecting you to call and they’re not “warmed up” to the idea of you calling (or even your company!).

The goal of this call is to generate intent. If you’re an extraordinary cold caller, perhaps you’ll be able to seal the deal, secure a meeting, or even get a sale. However, this is unlikely, and that’s not necessarily what you’re aiming for.

With this first call, similar to the first drip email or a mailed letter, is to put you on the consumer’s radar. You’re putting your name in their mind for your product or service, you’re planting the seed in their mind that you’re generating intent and interest with them, and you’re essentially introducing yourself.

Cold Calling Rules to Follow

We know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t this… illegal?”

To put it simply: no, cold calls are not illegal. But, you do have to follow certain rules and regulations.

These rules are almost common sense type regulations, and they’re easy to follow if you’re a reputable and trustworthy businessperson (which we hope you are!).

Here are the regulations you must follow when cold calling:

1. Call between 8AM and 9PM

Cold callers may only call a home number between the hours of 8AM and 9PM. This doesn’t just mean in the time zone you’re calling from either. For example, it might be 8AM in Boston, but that doesn’t mean you can call a prospect who’s based in California because it would be 5AM their time.

It can get a bit confusing to keep track of all your prospects time zones, which is why using a CRM that keeps track of that for you can save a lot of time and energy.

This rule doesn’t apply if the person has given previous permission for that person to call them outside those hours. It also doesn’t apply to work telephones: cold caller can call a work number at any time of the day.

2. Introduce Yourself

Next is another common sense rule that you would probably do without knowing it was a rule: you must promptly and clearly introduce yourself. This means you must say your name, your company, and your affiliation.

Build this introduction into every cold call script. Not introducing yourself not only breaks this violation, but it also can come off as shady or deceptive to the prospect, which you don’t want. Be clear and up front with who you are and why you’re calling.

You want them to remember you: remember the main goal of the call!

3. Respect and Enforce DNC

A “DNC” is a “Do Not Call” list. If someone requests that you put them on your “Do Not Call” list or that they want to be taken off your call list, you must oblige.

This might feel like a shot at your ego or make you upset, but you want to maintain a professional and courteous persona. Simply say, “I will take you off our list,” and move on to your next call.

4. Sales Must Be Confirmed in Writing

Maybe you strike gold can get a verbal “yes” on a sale over the phone. Great! But you can’t stop there.

You must confirm the sale in writing. You can’t truly close the deal on the phone. There needs to be a process of signing a contract or some sort of signature to confirm and settle the transaction.

5. Don’t Lie!

Again, this might seem obvious, but it’s easy to want to lie or be slightly dishonest in order to get people on the phone and talking. All this does it paint you and your business to be shady and untrustworthy, and it also violates cold calling regulations.

Sales depends on building credibility and trust with your clients, and you can’t do that if you start your very first interaction with deceptive sales techniques and/or straight up lies.

Don’t lie about who you are or why you’re calling. Don’t say you’ll take them off your call list and then continue to call them. Don’t like about your goal or objective with the call. Just be honest and open; honesty is what people and businesses respect.

How to Have Success

Now that we’re clear on what cold calling is and how you can properly and honestly do it, it’s time to get into how you can do it better. Cold calling is an art form that takes practice, dedication, and hard work.

It might not seem like dialing a number and talking on the phone would be that hard. But on average it takes 8 phone calls to actually reach a prospective customer. Once you reach them, you need to get past their almost instantaneous desire to not talk on the phone with someone they think is trying to sell them something they don’t need.

If we haven’t scared you off, here is a general framework on what a successful cold call looks like. This can help you craft a script, practice acting out calls, and set up a known structure for each call you make.

1. Know Your Numbers

Here’s where you’re going to need to do a little bit of math. Cold calling is a numbers game, and you’ll never hit your cold calling or sales quota by just randomly calling numbers haphazardly.

You need to “reverse engineer” your strategy. Look at your quota or decide how many sales/deals you want to make that month and ask yourself these questions: how many calls/contacts do I need to make in order to reach that goal?

Out of all the people you talk to, figure out your average conversion rate. Use that to calculate a general number of how many calls you need to make in order to hit your goal/quota.

This gives structure to your strategy and gives you a better idea of exactly how many people you need to talk to that week, month, quarter, etc.

And remember: the number of calls you should be making can change over time. You could change your sales goals or quota that would mean you would need to increase the amount of calls you make.

Or, best case, your cold calling skills could improve and you could improve your average conversion rate, which would mean that you don’t need to make as many calls in order to reach your goal.

Constantly re-evaluate your skill set, you goals, and your actual conversion rate in order to make the right number of calls to reach those goals.

2. Create Call Blocks

Let’s say you figure out that you need to be making 150 calls per week. That seems like a lot, so maybe you spend a solid 6 straight hours on one day calling number after number.

This is a huge mistake that many cold callers make. It’s inefficient and will mostly be unsuccessful, which results in you needing to make more and more calls to reach your goal.

Why is this so ineffective? For a number of reasons.

For one, making calls over and over for hours on end is mentally draining. You won’t be on your game after a couple hours. You’ll be tired, low energy, make mistakes, etc.

Also, not all times during the day are going to be the best for reaching prospects. Imagine calling someone in the middle of a busy workday. They’re probably not going to have the time to chat with a virtual stranger about a product or service when they’re heading to a meeting or in the middle of working.

So why waste your time calling them when they’re busy if you could concentrate your calls around times that are more effective for cold calling, like during commuting hours or around lunch time?

Our suggestion to maximize your time and success is to set up “call blocks” or “power hours” of 30 minutes to an hour of calling.

Arrange these blocks around times of the day that are most effective for calling your prospects and stay super focused and intense during that block of time. Maximize the number of calls that you can make in that time: use quality CRM, click-to-dial headsets etc. Have all the tools in place so you can whip through your calls in those specific blocks of time you’ve set aside.

When time’s up, take a break. Work on something else. Analyze your success with your calls, and how you can improve for the next call block. This will get your refreshed and ready to be intense and focused with your cold calling instead of idly dialing throughout the day.

3. Use a Script (Outline)

No matter how good you think you are, you must have a script or an outline prepared for your cold calls. A script forces you to think about your approach and process before you even dial the phone. It prepares you for different prospects, scenarios, and dialogues, that you might have. Think about what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it.

However, you want to avoid sounding like a monotonous robot reading a script word for word. Create your script in the form of an outline. This gives you details and prompts of what to say in different situations, but it still allows you to speak and converse naturally.

Each call and prospect will be different, so an outline/script gives you a framework to work off of.

4. Practice Your Openings

Now that you have a script, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. Think about it: an actor doesn’t just get a script and walk on set the next day ready to go. They need to go over their lines, practice their delivery, and inject their character and personality into the written words.

And that’s exactly what you need to be doing with your cold call script, especially with your opening. The cold call opening is arguably the most important part of the call since it will determine whether you hook the prospect into continuing the conversations, or if you make them want to hang up on you right away.

So practice your outline, particularly your opening, over and over again. Make sure you practice out loud to yourself and role play with other people in order to really get it right.

5. Overcome Call Anxiety

We get it: making cold calls is hard and uncomfortable.

You sit there, staring at your first number that you’re supposed to dial, rehearsing everything that could go wrong. Worrying about the person being mean or rude to you. Getting nervous that you’ll forget what you’re supposed to say, or talk to fast, or that they’ll reject you, etc, etc.

This is where your call blocks you set up are going to motivate you. Those set and specific times are going to push you to get started and work intensely no matter what.

You should also use an auto-dialer in order to eliminate your anxious hesitation before making the call. Simple press a button and you’re off. No stopping now!

More on the idea of “no stopping”: during your call blocks, don’t stop for a break. This will allow call anxiety to return. Also, don’t stop and celebrate when you have a sale or a success. Use that success to push yourself forward to keep making calls.

Practicing your script and really knowing your opening will also help to cut down on call anxiety since you’ll know exactly what to say and when. The only thing that’s going to get you truly comfortable is doing it, so you just have to go for it!

6. Embrace the “No”

It’s inevitable that you’re going to get a lot of “nos” when you’re cold calling. In fact, you’ll get mostly “nos” or hang ups or dial tones.

Embrace that. Think about it: the worst thing that can possibly happen is they say no. The “no” has nothing to do with you personally or even with you as a company. It has to do with the customer/prospect, their needs, their wants, their state of mind, etc.

So don’t take it personally! Accept it and move onto the next call.

7. Use Open-Ended Questions

A lot of times, us salespeople just talk right through our script. We don’t pause to listen to the person we’re speaking with and let them talk.

If you ask open-ended questions instead of breezing through your own speech, it will allow them speak freely. This will expose to you opportunities and angles to actually understand what it will take for them to buy or what they really need in order to be comfortable with your product/service.

You’re going to learn so much more about what will make that consumer buy from you if you open the floor so that they can talk freely. It also makes you seem less aggressive, and makes them feel like they’re the one that’s supposed to be talking.

8. Use Trigger Events or Lead Your Conversation with Some Context

Even though this is a “cold call”, you should have some reason why you’re calling them, right? You want to lead with that reason to give context as to why you’re calling them.

The worst kind of cold call is when you call someone and you just lay into your script and the person on the other end of the line goes, “what in the world made you want to call me today?” In less polite terms, they mean, “why the heck are you bothering me?”

Leading with context will answer that question and help them understand why you’re reaching out. Certain “trigger events” can explain this context. For example, let’s say your service has an specific seasonal enrollment period. You could lead off by saying, “Hi, I’m Bill from [X company] and I’m calling you because it’s the open enrollment period and you have a limited period of time in order to consider your health insurance needs,” etc.

With aged leads, it can be a bit more difficult to identify the triggering event to the lead. Be sure to look into the aged lead file and use that to set up your context. For example, let’s say an aged lead submitted an inquiry a few months ago about their mortgage refinancing options and you’re a mortgage company.

You could open with, “Hey, this is Bill from XYZ mortgage company, and I just wanted to reach out to you because a couple of months ago you had asked about refinancing your mortgage. I wanted to see if you were able to do that or if you found any quotes/information on that?” That’s when you can lead into your open-ended questions and the rest of your script.

Giving context means they’ll be more likely to engage with you because they understand why they’re calling.

On the Call

OK. Now you’re set up with your script and you know what to do. Now it’s time to get on the call. Let’s look at specifics on how to be successful now that you’re on the phone.

1. Goals

Make specific goals. This is similar to understanding your numbers and your sales goals. But make it a bit broader.

What’s your intent with this batch of calls? What kinds of intent or interest do you want to push on the call?

Is it to make a sale? Is it to give them more information? Is it to sign them up for a newsletter? Or is it to remind them of your product/service? Answering these questions will give the call more direction and purpose for you to be successful.

2. Stories

The easiest and most effective way to engage someone is to tell a story. Monotonously reading through a script is boring, and people can tell that all you’re doing is trying to sell them.

A story feels more like a conversation and feels more like a true interaction rather than a sales pitch. To go back to the mortgage company example, start by saying, “I know your kids are graduating soon. It’s definitely a time of change and transition, especially with the home they grew up in, right?”

You can also tell stories of how your product/service has helped people, how your business came to be, etc. These are the types of engaging dialogues that you should have built into your script.

3. Questions

Questions, like stories, are also great for engaging the person. People like to talk about themselves. And as we said earlier, askign questions is a great way to not only keep the person on the phone, but also to get valuable information from them that you can use to sell your product/generate interest with that particular person.

Don’t just sit there with your script and tell them or lecture them. Many cold calls turns into a lecture instead of you asking them about what they need, what concerns them, what they’re looking for, etc.

And all those questions can then be pivoted into stories about how you can help them, which will inform them of all the information you want to get out to them.

4. Silence

Silence is good. You don’t need to fill every second with you or them talking. It’s OK to have moments of silence. In fact, it’s good.

Talking every second and not giving them a chance to breathe or think is annoying. They’ll get frustrated and it will feel like an annoying salesperson won’t stop talking.

But silence on your part is what allows the person to answer you and ask you things, which is exactly what you want. Remember, this is a call, a dialogue, not a straight sales pitch.

5. Tone

With in-person sales, you can use your body language, visual aids, you facial expression, etc, to convey emotion and meaning. On the phone, all you have is your voice, which makes your tone 1000 times more important than usual.

Think positively and makes sure you’re in a good mood and smiling during the call. You know how you can just hear when someone is smiling? This will come out during your delivery, so practice your phone voice/tone and make sure it gives off positive and good vibes.

6. Avoid Easy Outs

You might have the best opening, a great story, and the person on the other end says, “Well, now’s not the best time.” The easy out would to instantly say, “Let me send you [X]” or even just saying, “OK, sorry to bother you, goodbye!”

Just because you want to avoid being pushy doesn’t mean you should take the easy out. In that situation, you could easily say, “Is there a better time I could give you a call back?” Or, you could say, “I’d love to send you more information or give you my contact info so we could speak another time.”

7. Lead with Them

When you’re asking questions (hopefully open-ended ones), telling stories, giving them specific context, etc, you’re leading with them. Calling someone and instantly lecturing them or giving them too much information right from you will feel like you’re leading them, dragging them along on a call they didn’t sign up for.

Instead, you want to structure the call so you follow their lead. What do they want to tell you? What are they telling you they need to know more about? What products/services do they need? What’s their life/business like?

8. Listen

A lot of these tips lead up to this one: really listen to them. As long as you’re asking questions, allowing for silence, and following their lead, you should be listening to their answers. Not only does this make them feel heard, but it gives you information on how to proceed, how to handle the call, write down information they tell you, etc.

9. Don’t Waste Their Time

You don’t want to waste your time or their time. If you hit a brick wall or you run into an issue where it’s just not a fit, you don’t have to try and force it to work.

Early on in that conversation, you should be doing some qualifying to make sure that the call is worth both of your time and energy. The worst thing that you can do is if there’s no fit, you can find a way to end the conversation. This frees you up to move onto the next call that could be a perfect fit.

10. Stay on Track

These are a lot of things to keep in mind: questions, your script, your goals, your time, what they’re saying, stories, etc, etc. But be sure to stay on track. Make sure that your sales call is sort of a wandering path that is actually headed in the right direction instead of a wandering path that leads nowhere.

11. Be Positive

We touched on this with the “tone” section, but you want to be positive. Your positivity will radiate into your tone and your attitude on the call, which the person on the other end will pick up on.

Listen, we get it. It’s easy in cold calling to get frustrated and to even get irritated, offended, or upset after dealing with someone who was rude or irate or after not getting a sale that you really wanted.

But you have got to flush that out, move on, and stay positive. Each call is a clean slate.

This is where call blocks will help you as well. 30 minutes to an hour of positivity is doable for everyone. It’s really easy to pump yourself up and make sure you’re positive for that short period of time instead of trying to maintain it for 6 straight hours.

Success Rate

The last thing we’re going to go over is the success rate of cold calling. As you can probably guess, certain types of leads and prospects are going to be easier to convert to sales or convert to intent/action than others.

Think about it: calling a referral gives a better chance of success than calling a random number out of the phone book, right?

Let’s look a bit closer at success rate for different types of leads in order of conversion probability.

1. Referrals

Of course, your success rate is going to be highest with referrals. It makes sense, right? This lead comes from somebody that’s worked with you or knows you very well, has endorsed you, and has likely talked you up to the person they’re referring. This generally gives a very high conversion rate of around 70 to 80% that you should be able to convert into an actual deal/sale.

Obviously it isn’t a sure thing, but generally if they’re qualified lead and you get a referral, that should be a slam dunk.

2. Inbound Leads

Another one that should be relatively high is an inbound lead (someone coming to your website, your Facebook, your Facebook messenger, etc). Somehow, they’ve reached out to you, know who you are, etc.

With these leads, there’s probably a very good chance that that will turn into a closed deal because they’ve already indicated interest or intent, and they’ve likely heard of you before. You’ve already been run through a “filter”, so to speak, so you have some trust and credibility already. This makes it much easier to have success with a cold call.

3. Real-time Leads

The difference between real-time leads and inbound leads is that real-time leads still indicate the interest and intent that inbound leads have, but you haven’t built up that trust or credibility yet.

That makes the cold call a bit more difficult since you’ll have to “prove yourself” in a way to this type of lead. These take more cold calling skill in order to convert since you have a lot more work cut out for you.

4. Aged Leads

The same goes for aged leads. Not only is the trust/credibility aspect not there, but the intent that they showed could be from weeks or months ago, so much so that they don’t remember, or perhaps they’ve moved on from the intent they had.

This is where supplying context is going to be key, since it’s going to remind them of their intent and build trust in you that you’re not calling for no reason. That being said, aged leads are tough to convert, so be ready for a challenge!

5. Consumer Data

Consumer data can give you an excellent amount of leads, but they’re, to put it bluntly, cold. Ice cold.

But, these are the types of leads and prospects that many business make most of their calls to, since they’re often the most abundant and easily accessible. You’re talking sub 1% conversion rate because you’re just picking people out of the phone book and trying to do your best to segment them down to somebody that should be interested in your product.

But for a whole variety of reasons, um, they’re probably not. And of course there’s no intent or trust already built in. This is by far the toughest to convert with a very low success rate.

So… Is Cold Calling Effective?

Yes, but you must have a system! This article gives you a good starting off point and a great foundation in order to set up your cold calling system.

If you need some specific help besides “what is cold calling”, check out our other posts on the topic on our blog. Feel free to ask any questions as well in the comments below!

About Bill Rice

Bill Rice is the Founder & CEO of Kaleidico, a lead generation agency. Bill specializes in mortgage marketing, legal marketing, lead management, and sales automation.

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