In many salespeople’s view, cold calling is a torturous hazing ritual designed to eviscerate your confidence and drag you into an abyss of mental despair. From a prospect’s perspective, cold calling likely is a frequent annoyance that drains their phone battery and puts them in the awkward position of having to be the bad guy and hang up.
But there’s a middle ground — actually, more of a higher ground. After all these years, cold calling is still a popular practice in most sales departments, and for good reason: It works. Sure, it requires a lot of practice, a resilient attitude and a firm understanding of proven cold calling best practices, but it works and will continue to work as long as salespeople take the right approach.
[Editor's Note: If you are working on a call script at the moment, you can fast forward to our cold calling scripts article.]
To give you a crash course in cold calling, Yesware CEO Matthew Bellows served up some valuable pieces of wisdom. During one of Bellows’ first jobs, he sat behind a salesperson who spent three months trying and failing to make just one successful cold call. The salesperson was eventually fired, and Bellows knew there had to be a better way. Since then, he’s been on all sides of the sales process, and has a unique perspective into what works and what doesn’t.
Step 1: Buy some tape
If you work in an office, you’ve probably seen photos of loved ones pinned to cubicle walls or stuck to computer monitors. It’s a way to make your workspace a little more comfortable, and perhaps to remind you of whom you’re doing all this work for. But for salespeople, looking at a photo of a loved one while cold calling can improve performance.
“If you look at that photo while calling, you increase your close rate because you're thinking about another human being,” Bellows said.
It’s easy to reduce every person on the other end of the line to a faceless ATM just waiting to reject your card, especially when you’re 50 deep into that day’s call list. But tricking your brain into thinking you’re on the phone with a loved one can help you relax, and inspire a friendlier, more conversational tone. It reminds you that you’re talking to another person with hopes, dreams and headaches of their own; as we’ll find out in a bit, this is important to the overall success of your call
Step 2: Have some inside info
Bellows hasn’t just made a Rolodex factory’s worth of cold calls in his career, he’s also received them. And to his dismay, too many of those calls start something like this:
“Would you take 10 minutes of your time to understand what I’m doing and consider buying from me?”
“Why would I do that?” Bellows said.
Jumping into a cold call without substantive information on your prospect is a fool’s errand. You come across as selfish, conceited and clueless — oh, and disrespectful. And lazy. And entitled! Instead, you should arm yourself with relevant information about the person you’re calling, the company they work for, and what they and their business may need.
During our chat, Bellows demonstrated how inside info can improve a cold call by using me as an example.
“Hey Josh,” he said. “I know you're a writer and constantly struggling with ways to manage all the different freelance jobs that you have. Can I show you this new freelance billing and tracking system that would help you keep track of all the invoices you sent out, so you can make sure you get paid faster?”
Um, yes you can!
“I just think about you as a human being and what problems you might struggle with, and can I provide you something that would be a benefit,” Bellows said.
People, said Bellows, tend to be self-centered, and think of themselves and their needs first. In sales, your first thought should be of the prospect. What do they want? What do they need?
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Step 3: Qualify upfront
When Bellows “cold called” me, he used the information he’d found on me to formulate a question with a somewhat obvious answer. Of course I struggle to manage all my freelance jobs. And of course I would like to hear about something that could ease that particular pain.
He also asked me the question right away, allowing him to know, within a matter of seconds, whether or not the conversation was worth pursing.
And, thus, he qualified me upfront.
“Within 10 seconds you can tell me if you’re interested in this thing or not,” Bellows said. “That’s great, because then we can proceed to develop a rapport — or not.”
Qualifying upfront is efficient and respectful, as it saves you time while not wasting the prospect’s. So after you’ve gathered some inside info, use it to formulate a question with a somewhat obvious answer. Then ask it within the first 10 seconds. If they say no, move on.
Now wait a minute, you might be thinking. If the prospects answer the question with a no, shouldn’t I still try to convince them to buy my product? I’m a salesperson after all. I should sell!
That is a rookie mistake.
“A simple way to tell if a salesperson is any good or not is to ask them about convincing,” Bellows said. “Bad salespeople try to convince other people to buy their stuff. Good salespeople try to find people that are already interested in buying their stuff.”
Not every prospect is worth pursuing, and not every sale is worth making. Your goal shouldn’t be to create an interest out of nothing. It should be to find existing interest, and nurture it.
Step 4: Find common ground by being yourself
There’s an interesting conundrum to the sales call. Common sales wisdom teaches us to focus on the customer and make the entire conversation about them. Yet another piece of wisdom tells us to develop a rapport with the prospect. Well, developing a rapport requires both parties to get to know each other. So how can you develop a rapport without divulging anything about yourself?
First of all, you can talk about yourself. The key is to do so organically, and honestly. It’s the prospect’s world after all, and you’re just a guest, but that doesn’t mean you can’t comment on the scenery. Just respect what they choose to show you.
“This is the most human skill there is,” Bellows said. “It’s the ability to have a conversation, to listen and share back and forth, back and forth.”
Now this isn’t a crash course about how to hold a conversation, but if we can stress anything, it’s the recurring theme of honesty and authenticity. If you can do that — if you can truly be yourself — the rest will follow. Because most of the people you’re calling have been through this before, and they’re uniquely attuned to all things phony. If you try to be something you’re not — pretending to follow March Madness, for instance, just because the prospect does — you’ll complicate your chances of developing a real rapport, and you’ll distance yourself from any true common ground.
“If I get on the phone with someone who’s very different from me, someone I'm not used to talking to, someone I maybe don’t particularly like, then I gotta find some commonality, find some place where our interests intersect,” Bellows said. “Luckily, as human beings, there are a lot of them. We all want to be happy. We all love our family. We all want to succeed.”
Step 5: Determine the legitimacy of objections
There are plenty of resources out there pairing every imaginable sales objection with every imaginable rebuttal. And while these can be useful, they’re only useful if you first determine the legitimacy of the objection.
“How you deal with each objection is different depending on what the objection is, who the person is, who you are, and what you’re selling,” Bellows said. “The question you need to ask yourself when you come to objections is, ‘Is this a real objection, or is this a bullshit objection?’”
We don’t have the budget, we’re happy with our current provider, we don’t have the time to make changes; whatever the objection is, don’t try to counter it until you determine if the prospect is being honest or if they’re making an excuse to get off the phone
Bellows gives an example of what to say when you’re met with, “I just don’t have the budget right now.”
“‘Is that the real reason you don’t want to talk right now, or did I miss something? Because you said you were interested in solving this problem. You said you wanted more analytics on your email so you can understand what’s happening when people open your emails. Did I miss something, or is it actually about the budget?’”
If it’s actually about the budget, then countering their objection can be a productive route to take. What about next quarter? Does the budget open up? Would it be worth doing a trial so by the time it expires you have the budget and are ready to go?
But if it’s just an excuse, it’s time to move on. Remember what Bellows said about convincing?
Go forth and dial
Most steps in this cold-call crash course share a common theme: Being human. Taping a photo of a loved one to your monitor encourages you to use natural language and treat a prospect like a friend. Entering a call with information about your prospect shows them respect and helps facilitate a real conversation. Determining the legitimacy of each objection allows you to approach that objection in a productive and respectful way. Qualifying upfront is not only efficient, it doesn’t waste the prospect’s valuable time, and maintaining honesty and transparency throughout the conversation helps establish common ground, which cultivates rapport.
“You have to relate to the person on the end of the line as a human being,” Bellows said.
[Editor's Note: For more on cold calling check out our article on cold calling scripts.]