What is cold calling? (+6 best practices)

What is cold calling? If you’re a sales rep, chances are you’re pretty familiar with the long-standing debate already. Some still consider cold calling to be an effective prospecting strategy, while others call it a dead art.

To help you get to the bottom of this debate, and uncover the truth behind cold calling, we created a guide to understanding what cold calling is, why it’s still an effective prospecting strategy, and cold calling best practices any sales reps can use to improve lead generation and increase conversions.

What is cold calling?

Cold calling is the act of reaching out to a potential lead before they’ve expressed explicit interest in your product or service. Sales reps use cold calling to identify new prospects and to keep their sales pipeline full of leads at all times.

As a prospecting strategy, cold calls help sales reps connect with potential customers where other efforts—such as marketing campaigns—cannot. When it comes to sales opportunities, it’s a way to ensure no rock goes unturned.

Still, some reps insist that cold calling is dead, claiming it doesn’t yield enough ROI to be worth the effort. However, recent data says otherwise.

Is cold calling dead?

One of the most heavily debated topics regarding cold calling is whether or not it’s still an effective prospecting strategy. With so many new ways to reach potential customers in a digitally focused world (e.g., social media, internet ads, email), reps assume that cold calling isn’t an effective prospecting strategy anymore.

Data from the 2018 State of Inbound report says otherwise. In a survey of over 6,200 companies in 99 countries, phone calls were reported as the most successful channel for connecting with prospects, outperforming email, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and ‘other’ social media networks. That’s right, folks, cold calling is not dead!

The fact of the matter is, prospecting is too tough to ignore cold calling. Over the last few years, lead generation has been reported as the biggest challenge for many companies, and it’s not getting any easier. Generating enough leads to keep a company alive requires utilizing all prospecting channels at your disposal, and that includes cold calling.

With that said, let’s talk about how to make cold calling work for you and your organization.

6 best practices for cold calling

The key to cold calling success is to always be prepared. Save time and money by building a targeted prospecting list from the get-go. Prepare for your calls by planning what you’re going to say beforehand, and invest in the tools you need to stay organized and efficient. Learn how to do it all with the six best cold calling practices listed below.

1. Identify your target audience

Instead of reaching out to every potential customer, you should only cold call leads who fit your target customer criteria. This eliminates the chances of spending valuable time calling people who aren’t a fit for your product.

Revisit the buyer personas identified in your organization’s overall sales strategy when building your cold call list. Who is the target audience for your product or service, and what key demographics do your individual customers have in common?

For example, think about whether or not your typical customers have any of the following in common:

  1. Age. Do your typical customers fall under a specific age range?
  2. Industry. Do many of your customers work within the same industry?
  3. Income level. Is there a median income level most of your customers fall under?

Aim to cold call leads who fit the criteria of your buyer persona. This will help ensure your time is spent productively, calling relevant leads only.

2. Research individual prospects

Before reaching out to one of your prospects, take a quick moment to do some preliminary research about them as an individual. You don’t have to dig too deep, just enough to have some knowledge about who your prospect is, and what their key pain points might be.

The goal is to use your research findings to captivate your cold prospect quickly, improving the likelihood they stay on the phone with you. Look for easily discoverable information about your prospects such as:

  • Hobbies. Social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest can provide insights into what your prospects are most passionate about. For example, what topics do they follow on Twitter? What do they list as “Interests” on Facebook? Consider weaving those hobbies into the beginning of your cold call to quickly engage your prospect.
    • Example:“Do you have time to talk about how [product name] can help prevent overuse injuries when playing [prospect’s sporting hobby]?”
  • Industry or professional title. Identifying your prospects’ job titles and respective industries can be as easy as doing a quick search on LinkedIn or Glassdoor. Use this information when cold calling to ensure your pitch on the call is both relevant and captivating to your prospect.
    • Example:“Good evening [prospect’s name], I’m reaching out to [prospect’s industry] professionals who could use some help with [industry pain point]. Do you have a quick moment to chat about how [product or service] can help?

Use the information you’ve collected about your prospects to position your product or service in a way that is most appealing to them as individuals. This will help your prospects get to the “Aha,” or WIIFM (what’s in it for me) moment faster.

3. Invest in customer data management

Spending time researching your prospects is all for naught if you don’t have somewhere to store (and readily access) that information. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Sell make prospect data management a cinch, and help sales reps manage their call lists and sales pipelines more efficiently. With Sell, you can:

  • Segment prospects into call lists. You can organize your prospects based on custom tags, current status, or level of importance. Keep track of which prospects you’ve already called, which ones need to be followed up with, and where each prospect sits within the pipeline.
  • Access data offline. Unlike most CRMs, Sell’s mobile platform allows reps to access any and all prospect information offline. Even if you happen to be out of the office when a prospect calls you back, you still have the ability to access (and update) your notes and conversation history.
  • Record and keep notes on past interactions. With Sell, you can create custom prospect profiles to keep notes on past interactions with a prospect, track when you’ve called (and what the outcome was), and even store custom cold call scripts.
  • Set alerts and schedule reminders. One of the best things about a CRM is the ability to integrate all of your tools into one easy-to-use space. Rather than futz with an external calendar app (and potentially forget to mark important dates or times), you can instantly schedule reminders straight from a prospect’s profile. You can also set up alerts for when it’s time to follow up with prospects.

Sales reps can make up to 60 cold calls a day. In order to manage all those prospects and keep your workflow efficient, you need to have the right organizational tools at your disposal. Learn how a CRM like Sell can help streamline and improve your cold call process.

4. Plan your Call

When in doubt, plan it out. If cold calls tend to make you nervous, consider creating a few customizable script templates to follow. Even writing down a few key talking points can improve your confidence and keep your calls on track.

Don’t forget to also write a voicemail script that communicates the value of your product and invites the prospect to reconnect. Here’s an example:

cold calling example

To learn more about writing voicemail scripts for cold calls, visit this blog post.

5. Be considerate

Remember, your leads are busy people with their own lives — the last thing you want them to feel is imposed upon. Respect their time, and they’ll be more likely to consider your offer.

Ask your prospects if they have a quick moment to chat about their challenges and needs. If your prospect tells you they don’t have time for a conversation, try to schedule another call in the near future.

If they agree to chat, take the time to learn about the prospect before diving into your product details. Otherwise, how can you explain how the product will benefit them? Focusing on the prospect will also make them feel valued and more likely to stay on the phone.

Don’t try to push the sale on the first call. Focus instead on initiating a conversation and relationship that can be nurtured further down the sales funnel.

6. Follow up and be persistent

If you’ve ever spent time cold calling, you know that the chance of reaching your prospect on the first attempt is very slim. There are plenty of reasons a prospect may not answer their phone:

  • They were busy
  • Their phone was turned off
  • They didn’t recognize the number
  • They didn’t hear their phone ring

Even if the prospect does answer, they may not be ready to make a purchase after speaking with you. They may want to do some research on their own, or they may need to save money to make the purchase. Regardless, the key is to be persistent. After all, 63% of consumers need to hear a sales rep’s pitch three to five times before they actually believe it.

If you want your cold calling strategy to be successful, you can’t give up on prospects (even if it takes six calls to reach them). And don’t forget to follow up! If you’re not sure how, when, or how often to follow up with a prospect after the initial interaction, use this article as a guide.

Keep your pipeline healthy and robust with cold calling

Every sales rep knows how challenging lead generation can be. If you want to consistently meet your sales goals every month, you need to be utilizing every prospecting channel at your disposal, and that includes cold calls. After all, data proves that phone calls are still the #1 most successful channel for connecting with prospects. Take full advantage of this opportunity by implementing a cold call strategy based on the 6 best practices listed above.

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