Cold Calling Best Practices

Jesse Hopps

“Cold calling is the process of approaching prospective clients, typically via telephone, who have not agreed to such an interaction. The word "cold" is used because the person receiving the call is not expecting the call or has not specifically asked to be contacted by the sales person.”

- Source: Wikipedia

Benefits of Cold Calling

  • Lead Generation - cold calling can be argued to be the most effective and efficient direct marketing technique. Leads are generated when inside salespeople introduce your company’s product/service to a prospective client and/or book appointments for senior Account Executives.
  • Predictable Results - cold calling has the potential to be a fully defined, repeatable, measured and managed process with predictable results. Since there are clear metrics that exist for dials, contacts, leads, and sales, this process can be consistently improved until the winning formula is established.
  • Direct Sales - with web-conferencing tools widely available these days, many organizations have found that cold calling results in direct sales which have a much lower cost than traditional, face-to-face, outside sales.
  • Cost-effective Marketing - even when a lead or sale is not generated from a cold call, value can be extracted in the form of inexpensive marketing. A good inside salesperson can make over 200 calls/day and send out 10-20 “services overviews” or other collateral that increase brand & product/service awareness.
  • Skill Development - People with limited or no sales experience can be quickly taught how to effectively introduce your organization, and develop their sales skills very quickly given the volume of calls per day.

Levels of Cold Calling Process Maturity

  • Level 1 - Initial/Ad Hoc: sales process is not documented. Dials, Contacts, Leads, and Sales goals are not established or measured. No consistency in productivity levels or sales results. Each salesperson uses a different method to create interest, demonstrate value, and generate leads.
  • Level 2 - Repeatable/Intuitive: sales process is well known but not fully documented. Dials, Contacts, Leads, and Sales goals are not measured. There is limited consistency in productivity levels and sales results. Some information sharing occurs between experience salespeople and newer recruits.
  • Level 3 – Defined: sales process is documented to include: Introduction, Value Statement, Problem, Solution, and Close. Scripts are developed to ensure all salespeople follow best practices. Goals related to Dials, Contacts, Leads, and Sales, are set on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.
  • Level 4 - Measured & Managed: sales process is fully documented including call procedure, objection responses, and economic value arguments. Metrics exist and are monitored for Dials, Contacts, Leads, and Sales. Reporting on leads and opportunities is completed with forecasting tools. There is a clear formula for effectively converting a prospect to a new client.
  • Level 5 – Optimized: sales process is defined, repeatable, measured, managed, and optimized. Scripts are continually adjusted to improve effectiveness. Metrics are used to identify poor performers, or areas that need to be worked on from each salesperson’s perspective. Sales Growth Teams are formed to share best practices across the inside sales department.

Cold Calling Best Practices

    1. More Activity Equals More Sales: while there are many factors that cannot be controlled by your salespeople, dialing the phone is not one of them. The more calls that are made, the more contacts, leads, and ultimately more sales will result. Top performing reps should be making over 200 calls per day when dialing into new territory. Of those 200 calls, 10% contact can be expected. Of those 20 contacts/leads, 10% (2) are likely to become sales, given a solid product or service.
    2. Capture Metrics: it is absolutely critical that you capture metrics for dials, talk time, contacts, leads, and sales. Additionally, all contacts with prospects should be documented in a CRM system for future reference, database scrubbing, market research intelligence etc. Determine the reasons why prospects are not buying, such as “not interested”, or “not a good fit”, to identify where your salespeople need coaching.
    3. Pre-call Research: this is a highly debated topic in cold calling. One school of thought is that the more you know about a prospect going into a call, the better you can position your products for their needs. Unfortunately, it takes 2-5 minutes to review the prospects website to gather insight, and more often than not, the call will go into voicemail without the target answering. This leads to lost productivity, and a much reduced dial rate per day. Our recommendation is to do very limited pre-call research, unless a conference call has been scheduled to identify the fit with your product, or you are conducting a very specialized calling program for a very specific target audience.
    4. Provide Concise Value Proposition: prospects decide within 30 seconds whether or not they are interested to learn more about your product. The most effective way to generate interest is to provide a very brief value statement such as “we are an advisory firm that helps marketing professionals be more effective”. The goal is to get the prospect to give you 5 minutes on the first call to qualify the opportunity, rather than sending info.
    5. Minimize the Risk: the best way to get a prospect to give you 5 minutes, is to ensure they know that you are not going to keep them on the line for more than a few minutes on this initial call. Try saying: “you will know right away if this is a fit. If you like what you see, we can continue. If not, I’ll be on my way.” Then be quiet. Let the prospect respond by asking how they can very quickly evaluate your product. Usually an online demo of your product is a good bet. Delivered effectively, this introduction can yield a 70% lead conversion rate, unless the prospect really is in a meeting at the time, or cannot spend a few minutes discussing this now.
    6. Take Control of the Call: once you have a prospect interested in learning more about your product, you need to assume control of the call without being aggressive or controlling. To do this, use questions that have a limited number of answers, rather than open ended questions which may lead to a need that you cannot provide a solution for. For example, asking a question like: “between Demand Generation, CRM, or Strategic Planning, which is the most important priority for you currently?” This type of question lets the prospect feel in control, while the salesperson can limit the scope of the discussion to items where their company can add value.
    7. Use Questions to Engage Prospect: to keep your prospect engaged through the pitch, ask directed questions that stimulate conversation in veins that are related to your product’s features and benefits. Top salespeople ask up to 10 times as many questions as poorly performing reps. Use our SPIN Selling Questions Tool to develop strong leading questions.
  1. Use Scripts, but Don’t Sound Scripted: it is critical that you map out a structured call process with an Introduction, Value Statement, Problem, Solution, Objection Responses, and Close. For new reps, using a script can be helpful for getting the hang of the pitch, but be careful that your reps are not sounding like they are reading to the prospect. Practice pitching, like how actors practice their lines, is a very effective way to script presentations but ensure that the prospect feels like they are having a genuinely unique conversation.
  2. Listen Intently & Take Good Notes: top salespeople are notorious for taking meticulous notes and leveraging this knowledge to demonstrate value on subsequent sales calls. Showing that you were listening intently and understand the prospects needs is a simple way to increase your close rate. Don’t forget to add these call notes to your CRM system so that other staff can quickly get up to speed on what was learned during your call.
  3. Follow Up Diligently: don’t let leads slip through the cracks. Like dialing, this is one element of the sales process that you do have control over. At the end of every call, be sure to set an actual appointment for your next contact. Knowing that it takes about 10 calls to get 1 contact, don’t waste time trying to get back in touch with prospects; be proactive and set call back times.

Pound for pound, cold calling is the most effective form of direct marketing, since it provides a dynamic, personal touch that can build trust unlike a well-crafted email marketing communication. The key success factors for making cold calling work include: measuring the process to increase productivity; providing a compelling value statement to generate interest; and taking control of the call.

Remember that a good rep can make over 200 calls per day, which should result in 10-20 contacts, and 1 sale or highly qualified lead. Be careful to monitor burnout, as it is very common in contact centers that have high performing reps pumping out cold calls and intensely focusing on 5 minute sales pitches with an eye toward a “one-call, one-close”, or a sale on the first call.

Break your sales process down into its components and coach your sales reps to perfect the introduction, value proposition, build the need/problem, present a convincing solution, handle objections, and close. Finally, make results visible with a sales board, and provide incentives that keep your salespeople motivated to keep their phone engaged for 7+ hours per day.