In 2012, the typical B2B buyer “had already completed more than half of the purchase decision-making process prior to engaging [with] a sales rep.” This means that on average, B2B sales reps were only involved in 43% of the buying journey. Today, that percentage has dropped to a mere 17%.
The informational value that sales reps once offered prospective customers has been replaced by the internet. Online product reviews, case studies, marketing campaigns and product details provide all the information B2B buyers need to make an informed purchasing decision.
Nevertheless, B2B cold calling is not dead—and it’s certainly not going away anytime soon. The question then becomes: What does successful B2B cold calling look like today?
To find out, we analyzed some of the highest-converting B2B cold calls from numerous sales reps in recent years. The result? Nine data-backed best practices for successful B2B cold calling in 2020.
Let’s get started!
1. Invest in customer data management
To be successful in any type of sales, you must begin with a thorough understanding of your customers and their needs. Cold calling is no exception to the rule. Before you reach out to the prospect, you must extensively research the customer to be prepared for the call.
So, where do you store all that customer information you collect? Considering B2B sales reps make an average of 60+ cold calls a day, random spreadsheets and scribbled desktop notes are not a viable solution.
Customer data management tools allow reps to easily access, update and store detailed customer information with the click of a button.
If you want to get the best bang for your buck, invest in a CRM (customer relationship management) software. The best CRM platforms provide a multitude of sales capabilities and benefits in addition to functioning as customer data storage.
B2B sales reps can create custom lists for organizing leads based on qualification and status, which help to prioritize and keep track of customer interactions, as well as monitor movement throughout the pipeline.
Consider using lead segmentation lists to plan and track processes, such as prospect research status.
Many CRMs will allow reps to assign their leads “scores.” The higher the number, the better the score. With Sell’s CRM, reps can choose to use default fields as scoring factors or create their own. Examples of prospect scoring factors may include company location (e.g., city, state or country) or average annual revenue.
This CRM feature helps reps better organize their day, prioritizing which cold calls to conduct first based on the likelihood of conversion or “big fish” status.
CRMs like Sell allow reps to record detailed information about their B2B leads in their customer profiles, such as:
- Company website
- Business address
- Industry type
- Current company revenue
- Email addresses
- Phone numbers
- Job title
Sell’s customer profiles also record and display any recent interaction as well as what the outcome of that interaction was (e.g., a cold call attempt with no answer). This information is helpful for advising sales reps on how to engage with prospects on the next call.
Customer notes and scripts
Sell’s “Scripts and Notes” feature provides a space for reps to jot down talking points they may want to mention in a call. Reps can also use this space to craft scripts in preparation for their cold calls with prospects.
Data management, efficiency, accuracy and organization are paramount to success in B2B cold calling. No tool offers more capabilities and benefits in all four areas than CRM software.
2. Identify the decision-makers
In a typical B2B company with 100-500 employees, buying decisions involve an average of seven people. Cold call the wrong person (or people), and your sales pitch will fall on deaf ears.
Start by identifying who or what your B2B product benefits. Is it designed for salespeople? Engineers? HR? From here, you can conduct research to identify who the decision-maker is for that particular department.
Let’s say your particular B2B product is a SaaS tool designed for HR managers. In this case, you’ll want to search for HR employees with leadership titles, such as “Manager of HR” or “Head of HR Department.”
LinkedIn is a highly effective platform for identifying these specific B2B employees. Go to the business profile page for the company you’re trying to sell to. Click on the “People” tab to view a list of LinkedIn members who are currently employed at that company.
Use the Search bar to filter employees by title, keyword or department.
Identifying key B2B buyers and decision-makers for your product doesn’t have to be a laborious task. All you need are the right tools.
3. Research your prospects thoroughly
42% of sales reps feel like they don’t have the right information to make a successful cold call. At the same time, 82% of B2B buyers think sales reps are unprepared, while 87% don’t think sales reps understand their needs.
Thoroughly researching your prospect before cold calling them will help you avoid becoming one of these statistics. After all, you can’t sell a solution without first understanding the problem.
Furthermore, early prospect research can actually shorten the already lengthy B2B sales cycle. By researching prospects before reaching out to them, you avoid wasting time cold calling leads who aren’t actual fits for your product. You also quickly make a positive first impression by demonstrating your thorough understanding of your prospect’s company, challenges and needs.
Despite the benefits of prospect research prior to cold calling, many reps neglect the process. Why?
- Pressure to make daily quotas. Sales is a numbers game. As a result, reps often feel pressured to make a certain number of cold calls a day in order to make their quota. But if the cold calls you do make aren’t to quality leads, they ultimately won’t help you meet your quotas.
- Poor research skills. Some sales reps understand the value of researching a prospect before cold calling them but lack the skills to effectively conduct the research. For example, they may not know where to find data or how to search for it.
If you’re unsure where or how to conduct prospect research, start with the following platforms and tactics.
Blog articles and industry news
Utilize these resources to learn more about your prospect’s industry. What topics are this field’s top leaders discussing? Blog articles and news items are insights into what your prospects and their peers care about when it comes to their industry. Use this information as the framework for your pitch.
Your prospect’s company website
The website of your prospect’s company will help you understand both their brand values as well as the products the company is currently using.
Understanding your prospect’s company values will allow you to relate to them on a more personal level as well as demonstrate an understanding of their needs. Additionally, if you are able to identify what solutions your prospect is currently using, you can more effectively demonstrate why your product is better with side-by-side analysis and case studies.
In the 2018 B2B Buyers Survey Report, 36% of B2B buyers reported that they connected with thought leaders on social media to ask for product recommendations. 47% also said that they browsed existing conversations for peer insight on products.
As a sales rep, reading the same insights, recommendations and conversations as your prospect will help you anticipate their questions, thoughts and concerns — and respond accordingly.
Consider joining Facebook groups, turning on notifications for industry hashtags, following industry leaders on Twitter and connecting with them on LinkedIn to stay a part of the conversation.
4. Ask questions during the cold call
Use your cold calls as an opportunity to obtain any information pertinent to a sale that you weren’t able to find via research.
Consider crafting questions that reflect your initial prospect research. Doing so will demonstrate to your prospect that you’re already familiar with their business, their needs and their challenges. Here are a few examples of customer-driven questions:
- Ask about their pain points: “What is your biggest challenge with your current email automation tool?”
- Identify their current solutions: “As a sales manager, what current strategies are you using to motivate your team, and what kind of results have you seen?”
- Find out what they really want and why: “What is the most frustrating task when it comes to your day-to-day workflow and why? What do you think would help make that task easier or more enjoyable?
As a sales rep, the answer to these types of questions will provide the framework for your pitch, as well as prove to your prospect that you understand and care about their needs.
5. Prepare for common questions with B2B sales tools
In a survey of over 500 respondents, the top three things buyers said they want to discuss on their first call with a sales rep are:
- How the product works
- How the product will benefit their company
Being prepared for a B2B cold call means anticipating what your prospects will ask and having the tools necessary to answer those questions ready at your disposal. Consider compiling the following resources in preparation for your next cold call:
- Pricing charts: Discussing pricing with a prospect on the first cold call is a point of contention among B2B sales reps. That being said, you don’t want to ignore your prospect’s questions entirely. Consider writing up a competitor pricing comparison chart to present your costs in a favorable manner if pricing inquiries do occur.
- Product demos: Videos are engaging and interactive tools for demonstrating to prospects how your product works. Consider having some videos ready to go, along with product screenshots that explain your product’s features and benefits visually.
- Case studies: Your prospect will want to know why and how your product will benefit their company. Be prepared for that question with case studies that demonstrate your product’s benefits. Just make sure that the company in your case study is similar to that of your prospect. Otherwise, the data won’t be relevant.
Remember, B2B buyers have already done most of their research prior to speaking with a sales rep and have the information they need to make a purchasing decision. If you are to be successful at influencing that decision as a sales rep, you must be prepared to show your prospect why your product is the best in the market and do so in a way that is highly engaging and captivating.
6. Use a B2B cold calling script
To simplify call preparation, consider writing a cold calling script template that can be reused and customized depending on the prospect.
Even if you tend to perform well on cold calls, a script is still beneficial. They allow sales reps to:
- Quickly reference pertinent customer data when the situation calls for it
- Stay focused and on point
- Maintain a consistent storyline
- Be prepared to answer potential customers’ questions.
Being a successful salesperson requires focus, quick thinking and tact. Cold calling scripts allow reps to quickly reference stats and talking points, so they’re able to stay sharp and on their toes for prospects.
7. Leverage your current customers
Are you more likely to accept a sales call from a complete stranger or a company you’ve already heard good things about?
Research shows that the answer for most people is the latter. Recent data shows that “91% of B2B purchasers’ buying decisions are influenced by word-of-mouth,” with recommendations from colleagues being the #1 most important decision-making factor for 61% of IT buyers. To boot, 91% of customers say they’d give referrals—but only 11% of salespeople ask for them.
Improve the likelihood of successful cold calls by embracing referrals. If a prospect has already heard praise about your product, they’re much more likely to be receptive to your pitch and to learn about your product.
Asking for a referral from a satisfied customer could be as simple as asking them to mention your name in conversation with a colleague. While this strategy is not 100% under a sales rep’s control, it’s absolutely worth a shot. You have little to lose, but the potential benefit of a referral is enormous.
If you do ask current customers for referrals (and they say yes), consider keeping a list of those customers handy when cold calling prospects. After all, you may not always know when and if a current customer follows through with a referral. If, during a cold call, your prospect says, “Oh yes, Jane Smith told me about your company,” you should be prepared to respond with, “Ah, Jane Smith! I’ve worked with her for x years now on project y; she’s fantastic!”
Keeping a list of referring customers handy (or simply having your CRM open and ready to search) will ensure you can easily and quickly connect with a prospect on a personal level if they have been referred by a mutual connection.
8. Update your cold call lists regularly
A lot can change from the moment you identify a potential lead to the moment you actually connect with them. You have to update your customer records to effectively nurture prospects—yet almost 85% of businesses say that they are operating CRM automation databases with between 10 to 40% bad records.
Bad data can be a result of several factors, such as sales reps not recording changes in the pipeline, obtaining incorrect customer data or leaving information incomplete.
Regularly monitoring, updating and cleaning out your cold call lists will ensure no unnecessary time is wasted on dead-end prospects, and no sales are lost due to inaccurate data.
9. Follow up
While following up with a prospect isn’t technically cold calling, it’s certainly a cold calling best practice. Why? Because according to the Edelman Trust Barometer report, “63% of consumers need to hear company claims 3-5x before they actually believe it.”
One call may not be enough to convince a customer to try your product. But that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. After all, an unsuccessful cold call may be a result of timing or other factors outside of your control, such as:
- Your prospect hasn’t reached the right stage in the sales cycle (not ready to buy yet).
- Your prospect has reached the right stage but doesn’t yet have the proper funds to purchase.
- You were connected with the wrong person.
- You weren’t able to connect with any person.
None of the circumstances above warrant abandoning a prospect entirely. Continue following up until your prospect definitively says they aren’t interested in your product or solution.
Use your CRM to schedule follow-up calls with your prospect at key intervals to ensure no leads fall through the cracks.
B2B cold calling: Stay ahead of the game in 2020
Let’s face it. B2B cold calling is harder than ever. The more information a customer can find on their own, the less relevant a call from a sales rep becomes. B2B cold calling tactics must change if sales reps are to meet their prospects in the right stage of their buying journey.
Follow the nine best practices above to stay ahead of the cold calling game in 2020. By using these tactics, you’ll be able to stand out from competitors by connecting with high-quality prospects on a personal level.