There's one question I seem to field from sales reps on a frequent basis, more than any other: What are your best cold calling tips to improve effectiveness? And my response? I give more than simple pointers, I'm suggesting a 6 stage model to dramatically improve cold calls that I'm sharing below.
The very thought of cold calling for many sales reps, fills them with dread and fear. Often times, this fear stems from being concerned that they are an interruption to their prospect’s day. For others, it’s the anxiety that should they say the wrong thing or mess up their words, the call will nose dive. But cold calling is still very much alive and well. And when delivered with structure, thoughtfulness, and a sprinkling of humanization, you can exponentially increase win rates and conversions.
Six Stages of a Winning Cold Call Strategy
Turn your phone prospecting pitfalls into a formula for success with these six critical stages.
Stage 1. Convert your sales-y sounding call openings into pattern interrupts.
One of the key reasons cold calls fail, is that no sooner have you opened your mouth and delivered your ‘opening’, a huge alarm goes off in your prospect’s head that screams ‘WARNING: COLD CALL’. If you start your cold call by sounding like everybody else, then your prospects who are used to being cold called upon will be ready to get you off the phone before you know it.
Asking things like ‘Can I have a minute of your time?’ or ‘have I caught you at a good time?’ are openings which 95% of sales people are using when cold calling. Prospects are tuned in to these openings, and so have their objections and put-offs rolling off their tongue straight off the bat.
One of the best cold calling tips for avoiding this is through what's known as a ‘pattern interrupt’. Pattern interrupts are simply things which when said, are unusual enough to throw prospects off guard, or make them stop and ponder for a few moments. Things which are ultimately ‘out of the ordinary’. When we do this, we reduce the chance of receiving an objection early on in the call and achieve the first main objective: get more time on the call.
Here's a short video I recorded on Pattern Interrupts:
Some of the best pattern interrupts I have used include the brutally honest:
“Hi Mr Prospect, this is Rich. If I told you this was a cold call, would you want to hang up?”
…whilst asking the prospect for a peculiar amount of time which isn’t a normal rounded number, also makes you sound differentiated:
“Mr Prospect, this is Rich. Can I have 27 seconds to explain why I’ve decided to call today?”
The recipe for success here, is simply think of an opening, which is different, unusual, or makes you not sound like an average cold caller.
Stage 2. Turn your product-centric elevator pitch into an infomercial
One of the biggest problems I often see when people make cold calls, is that their idea of an ‘elevator pitch’ which they deliver at the start of their call, is nothing more than one big product dump. They verbally spew all of the weird and wonderful features their product has all over their prospect. There is no faster way of getting your prospect disengaged, disinterested, and cheesed off, then filling their ears full of your product.
One of the big pitfalls I see this approach creating, is that rapid-fire product pitches often confuse prospects when they weren’t expecting them. They misinterpret what you are selling and don’t absorb everything you are telling them. This leads to misinformed objections or increased sales resistance. DITCH THE PITCH.
Instead – treat your elevator pitch as more of an advert, which leads with a problem/s you solve and asking whether this resonates with your prospect.
“Mrs Prospect, have you ever been frustrated that so much of your sales team’s revenue is being closed by only 1 or 2 reps on your team?”
“Mrs Prospect, when on-boarding sales people, do you find it painful at how long it can take to ramp a new hire to becoming a top performer?”
By asking this question, you are positioning the problem, which you know your product can help solve. More importantly, it should be a problem that you know your ICP (ideal customer profile) will likely be facing and can identify with.
What should follow on here is a succinct impactful solution to the problem, whilst being mindful that this should still avoid being a product feature pitch. One of the easiest methods of doing this, is by starting your solution with the words ‘I help…’
“I help Sales Leaders in industries like yours, better understand what their top sales reps say differently in their sales conversations, so they can get more of their team shouldering the revenue number.”
“I help Sales Leaders in companies like yours, ramp more new hires to top performer level up to 1/3 quicker, by giving them access to example sales calls which lead to successful outcomes.”
Lead with a problem question, and then follow on with a solution.
Stage 3 – Stop talking during cold calls and engage with a question hook
As of right now, you have been doing a lot of the talking in this short cold call. The prospect has listened to your opening, and subsequently your elevator pitch. Many sales people falter on their cold calls, because they don’t come up for air and just continue to verbally spew over their prospects. Engagement is key for cold call success, and key to engagement is by asking your prospects an open question, which drives dialogue. The more you talk, the more likely your prospect is to tell you that they are running into a meeting, hang up, or ask you to ‘send through some information’.
A good question hook after delivering your infomercial is an effective means of exposing a possible problem being faced by a prospect and building intrigue to continue the discussion.
And there is no creative or intelligent question, which needs to be asked here. Too often sales reps are guilty of trying to think of magical questions, which expose pain. The route to success here is by simply getting prospects to expand on why a specific problem you mentioned before particularly resonated with them.
“You mentioned Mr Prospect that you’ve been frustrated with the fact you only have one or two top performers on your team, can you tell me more about that?”
“Can you give me an example of an instance, when it took a particularly long time to get a new hire ramped quickly?”
Once you’ve got your prospect to admit they have a problem, there’s a strong likelihood that you will get more time with them.
Stage 4 – Don’t attack objections, embrace them
One of our biggest objectives in sales is to lower sales resistance. The more resistance we create in our prospects, the more difficult it will be to achieve outcomes we desire. Receiving objections and push-offs on cold calls will happen. It’s part and parcel of the game. The trick here is not to combat objections with pushiness, but to embrace them with empathy and humanisation.
I once worked with somebody who whenever they received an objection from a prospect, they would take it as some sort of personal insult. They would respond with an aggressive tone. All it resulted in was more of an eagerness for the prospect to hang up.
When we sound more human and empathetic, we often get the same in return from our prospects.
Lets imagine you received a common objection such as:
“We don’t have budget for this right now”
Start responding to the objection with acknowledgement of the prospect’s situation, but then provide a possible resolution:
“I understand Mr Prospect. In fact, the majority of people I speak to don’t typically have a budget set aside for solutions like ours. That’s why I would be keen to just see if there is an opportunity for us to help you, and if there is – we could figure out a business case together if it makes sense.”
Sometimes objections are just too tall for us to overcome. Sometimes, prospects simply don’t want to talk to us or don’t see value in our products. That’s fine. Accept it, and move on. There’s plenty more fish in the sea as they say.
Stage 5 – Don’t close your prospect on the sale, close them for more time
Too often, when sales reps achieve their objective of getting a prospect engaged on a cold call, they think this gives them the right to turn an unscheduled outreach into a discovery call. Please, please, please remember, that your cold call is an interruption to your prospect’s busy day and you should treat their time with respect. Even if your prospect appears engaged and happy to talk with you, understand that the quality of conversation you can have with them on a scheduled call or a meeting, will be far more productive. I’ve often seen sales people try and move their cold call into a full on needs analysis, and it frequently delivers a half-baked outcome. Not to mention a prospect who feels you have not been mindful of their time.
The objective of the cold call is simply to win more time with your prospect at a more appropriate time. Period.
The best way of achieving this objective is by acknowledging that you are an interruption and proposing a secondary conversation, once you have identified surface pain.
“Mrs Prospect, I appreciate I’m an interruption to your day and you have things you want to be getting on with, when would a good time be later this week to have a more exploratory conversation about how we might be able to help you?”
“Mrs Prospect, I know you weren’t expecting this call, so when would a more convenient time be next Monday or Tuesday to continue the discussion?”
Not only are you getting the meeting closed down here, but in the process you are positioning yourself as a respectful trusted advisor, not some pushy sales person.
Stage 6 – Don’t be wishy-washy; be thorough with your scheduling
I remember when I first began cold calling, my prospect asked me to call them back ‘next Wednesday morning’. With a big smile on my face chuffed that I had ‘booked the meeting’, I told them I would call them then and hung the phone up. Next Wednesday came along, I tried to call them back, and I was met with the dreaded voicemail.
Where had I gone wrong?
My scheduling at the end of the cold call was like a leaky bucket. ‘Next Wednesday morning’ was a non-specific time and I hadn’t even sent the prospect an invite to lock the time down on his calendar. It was no wonder he was a no-show. This may seem like an incredibly basic error, but it’s amazing how often in my career I have seen sales people fall guilty to not properly locking down the next appointment with a prospect.
Meetings/next calls/follow ups with prospects should be agreed upon with a specific date and time, and booked in with a calendar invite, which is accepted by the prospect. Furthermore, ensure the invite includes specific instructions to the prospect about what the objective of the next call will be, and any dial in numbers of links they need to follow. Anything less than this, and your ‘booked meeting’ is nothing more than a flimsy verbal confirmation.