Yes, I know most of us hate cold calling. But for many B2B businesses it can be a cost-effective way to generate quality leads. I’m not necessarily an advocate for cold calling but I am an advocate for doing what works and doing it well so you get the best return possible.
If cold calling is accepted in your industry then you should consider making it a prospecting tool. A benefit is that you connect directly with people who are likely to need or want what you offer. And, because cold calling is an active form of prospecting you can use it to fill holes in your pipeline when other lead generating methods are falling short.
So, if you decide to make cold calling part of your lead generating system, here are some ideas to do it as productively as possible.
1. Have a Lot of Leads
First, have a lot of leads. Jeff Mayer (SucceedingInBusiness.com) mentions this in his book, “Overcoming the Fear of Cold Calling” and I think he’s right. The more people you have to talk with, the less important any one of them will be to you. It may sound cold and crass but any one individual lead is not important to you at his stage. What’s important is finding those people who want to do business with you. The disappointment of hearing a “no” from someone is a lot easier to take when you know you have a long list of other people to talk with.
2. Qualify (or Pre-Qualify) Your Leads
Before you start calling people, make sure they meet your criteria for a qualified lead. Or at least make sure they meet as many criteria as possible. Focus your calls on people who appear to have a need for what you do. Forget the rest. Your time is valuable so don’t waste it on people who don’t fit your profile.
3. Persistence is Painful, Not Profitable
Speaking about not wasting time, don’t waste too much time pursuing any one lead. This is another good point Jeff Mayer makes. We were talking recently about this very topic. His advice is to make no more than 2-3 calls to a cold lead and if you do not connect with them, forget them. Or, put them back at the bottom of the list so you don’t spend your precious time on people who simply are not ‘reachable’. They might become reachable in the future. Or they might not. Either way, understand and accept they are not reachable right not so don’t spend your precious time on them.
4. Have a Goal for Your Cold Calling Program
Maybe I should have started with this one. Before you even start your calling, know what your goal is. Are you calling to obtain or confirm information? To further qualify them? To schedule a meeting? To close a sale? Whatever your specific goals are they should be about moving your leads through your sales cycle.
5. Get Them Talking with Good Questions
We all know cold calls tend to be the world’s shortest phone calls. It seems the people we call all know how to stop a salesperson dead in their tracks. (I think they take classes to learn these sales-defense techniques.)
So, the key in making cold calling productive is to get past the initial defenses raised by the prospect and get them talking. Before you start calling, have a list of questions in front of you. Make sure these questions are relevant to the situation and help move you toward your goal.
6. Yes, Your Call is an Interruption. Get Over It.
Don’t apologize for calling someone. Sure you’re interrupting them. So what. Every thing’s an interruption these days. We’re all busy.
But we all have problems and issues that need solutions. Successful business people know their businesses need input, ideas, products and services from others to thrive. No person or business is an island. So if you have pre-qualified your leads and you’re calling them with a legitimate product or solution they could use then don’t apologize. You’re presenting something of value. You’re doing them a favor by calling.
7. Don’t Waste Time
If the person you’re calling says they’re not interested right now, don’t waste your time or theirs trying to “overcome their objection.” I know we are taught to push through the first couple of objections to get a close but that tactic is best left for a face to face meeting. On a cold phone call it’s okay for them to say “no” because they probably do not have a need or interest right now. Or the timing is not right. Or they simply do not know you well enough to say “yes”. And that’s okay.
However if you can get a person talking about their business as it relates to your product or service, you stand a better chance of breaking through their defenses and getting them to commit to a meeting or whatever the next step is in your sales cycle. (See “Get Them Talking with Good Questions” above.)
8. Remember Why You’re Calling
When you’re cold calling it’s easy to get distracted by rejection or by people who want to talk about things that do not help you reach your goal. Remember, you’re calling for a reason. Stay focused on that reason. Write it down and keep it in front of you it that helps. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted.
9. Schedule Your Calling
Set aside a block of time when you’ll make your calls. This helps get you started and not get side-tracked by other things that come up during the day. You might vary the time from day to day to see what works best. Also, it’s best to not take incoming calls while cold calling (if you can arrange this.)
10. Manage Your Activities and Monitor Your Outcomes
Because cold calling often yields a low percentage return it’s easy to lose motivation and feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Remember though, we control our actions. We cannot control the results of our actions. So, focusing on the results too much can be unproductive since you have no direct control over the results. Instead, focus on your inputs, your activities. Then observe the results of those activities but don’t get too tied up with them.
A good way to do this is to simply set an activity goal for each time you cold call. Maybe your goal is 25 outgoing calls a day. Do that for a week or two and see what your results are. If the results are what you want, then keep doing that activity at that level. If the results are not what you want, then change your activities or your activity level.
11. Warm Up First
If the very thought of cold calling sends chills up and down your spine then make your first call to a friend or customer with whom you already have a good relationship. This will relax you and get you used to talking on the phone. Then you can transfer the good karma from that phone call to your first cold call.
12. Use a Script but Don’t be a Robot
My favorite actors are those who ad lib their roles. (Think of Bill Murray. I’ve heard he never plays a role exactly as the script reads.) Sure, they start with a script but they go beyond that. They become the character and add their unique personality to the role.
When cold calling use a script to guide your words and your delivery. But don’t read any script word for word. If you do, you’ll sound like a robot, not an intelligent professional.
13. Ask For a Commitment
Finally, the most important part of your call: asking for a commitment. One of the worst time-wasters for salespeople is when leads tell us they’re interested but they really are not. They’ll say something like “Yeah I’m interested. Call me back in a few days/weeks/months”. Often we’ll spend a lot of time trying to connect with and close these people and we get nowhere.
The problem is people are nice. They don’t want to hurt our feelings by saying “no”. It’s easy to say you’re interested and then ask someone to do the work of following up. This puts the entire burden on the salesperson. And for many people it’s easier than saying “no”.
An effective way to prevent this is to get them to commit to something. If they’re willing to commit something then it’s much more likely they are interested in working with you. You might ask to schedule a meeting. Or maybe you’re asking them to commit to a call back at a specific day and time. Some people even ask for a commitment before they send information. (Not a bad idea.)
Your goal is to move the person on the other end of the phone line forward in your sales cycle, or move them to a lower priority in your database (or get rid of them). You want to filter out the leads who don’t fit and identify those who DO fit. Then you can focus your time better on people who are more likely to do business with you.
A well-managed cold calling system can be a fantastic source of qualified leads for your business. So, if cold calling fits your industry or profession and if your pipeline has some empty space that needs filling, take a look at what an effective cold calling program can do for you.