Cold calling is a tried-and-true sales technique that has stood the test of time. There’s a reason that — even with all the new tools and technology at our disposal — cold calling still has a place in most sales orgs: it works.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy, and it doesn’t always come naturally. For many salespeople, green and seasoned alike, it’s cold calling is their least favorite part of the job.
And if you’ve done it, you know why: cold calling can be awkward, uncomfortable, and flat out hard. Given the sheer odds, you’re setting yourself up for rejection on a pretty regular basis.
But with the right cold calling techniques in place, it can be incredibly effective and move deals down the funnel faster. If you’re hoping to make cold calling a more central part of your sales strategy, or if you want to brush up on your own skills: keep reading.
What is Cold Calling?
Just so we’re on the same page: there’s a lot of sales slang floating around (don’t get us started on the acronyms) — but the definition of cold calling hasn’t changed since it originated in the 1970s.
At that time, it was mainly used in the context of door-to-door selling, which obviously has become less commonplace. Now, most cold calling happens over the phone, but the concept is the same: sellers reaching out to potential buyers with whom they’ve had no previous contact.
More specifically: the seller has never communicated with the buyer in any form or fashion, and that no third-party introduction or referral has been made. It also means that the buyer hasn’t reached out in any way — i.e., in our digital world, that means no content download, no demo request.
Why Cold Calling Works
Okay: that’s a little misleading. Cold calling doesn’t always work; in fact, the rejection rate is pretty high.
These days, it’s trickier than ever to simply get someone on the line. Thanks to caller ID and smartphones, it’s obvious when a call is coming from an unknown source, and it’s easy to send them directly to voicemail. And unfortunately, the prevalence of scammers has given cold callers a bad name, making people even more likely to screen an unfamiliar number.
There are a lot of respectable experts out there today who might tell you cold calling is dead. But there are many others (including your friends here at Ambition!) who would argue cold calling isn’t dead; if it’s not working, you just need to do a little brushing up on modern cold calling techniques and better understand how to make successful cold calls.
Bottom line: 92% of all customer interactions happen over the phone. If you can get someone on the line (literally and figuratively) and engaged from the get-go, you’re likely setting yourself up to skip the typical games you have to play to warm up a prospect — meaning you can get a deal moving through the funnel faster.
In some ways, cold calling is a numbers game; if you understand your success rate, then it’s just a matter of making enough dials to hit your target. But there’s an art to it, too. With the right cold calling strategies (and the right attitude), you can become a more effective cold caller — which (we promise!) makes the whole exercise more enjoyable.
7 Modern Cold Calling Techniques and Tricks
1. Don’t take it personally
Rejection is part of the cold-calling game. No matter how much of a cold calling pro you become, every rep is still going to deal with lots of screened calls and hang-ups. When you do get someone on the line, you never know how they’ll react — but be prepared for them to be caught off-guard (and perhaps be a little irritable or downright grumpy about it).
Like any sales activity, cold calling requires grit, determination, and resiliency. Reps just have to brush it off and keep moving forward — because the next call could be The Big One.
2. Tap into your team
Reps who are new to cold calling (or sales in general) should take the initiative to learn from the people around them. If cold calling is a key sales technique for your team, managers should foster a coaching culture that focuses on skill development: structure 1:1s in a way where you can spend time homing in on weak spots. Run sales contests that emphasize and reward the right cold calling behaviors.
And don’t forget about peer coaching: less experienced or less confident reps can learn from their more seasoned coworkers, so make sure you’re creating an environment where those opportunities are possible.
3. Learn from the experts
Your team is a wealth of knowledge — but so are your industry peers and pros. The sales community can be competitive in some ways, but it’s also highly collaborative, and many of the experts who have found success are an open book, quite literally.
There are countless books, blogs, webinars and events that can help you and your team improve key selling skills, including cold calling. Not every technique works for every person, team or market; there’s a good bit of trial and error involved. But there may be a specific tool or tactic that you haven’t yet tried — so take advantage of the resources that are out there, see how the other guys are doing it, and steal their secrets.
4. Do your homework.
Even if there’s not a way to get a warm intro to potential buyers, it’s easier than ever to familiarize yourself with them. One of the perks of cold calling in 2020 is that we can do our own digging. From company websites to Google to LinkedIn — as well as other social platforms like Facebook and Instagram — you can get a real feel for who your target is, where their experience lies, what their current role and responsibilities are, where they vacation…
Of course, we don’t recommend going into full-out stalker mode or attempting to learn their life history. But reps should be using those tools to understand their buyers’ needs and pain points (or at least venture an educated guess). That way, when reps do get them on the phone, they’re prepared to have a real, meaningful conversation and ultimately, to give a personalized pitch.
5. Start with a script (at least, at first)
There are a lot of sales experts who suggest throwing your script out the window. And yes, a script has its downsides: it can make reps sound robotic and set them up for dry, cookie-cutter conversations that go nowhere.
But having a script can be huge for reps who are just dipping their toes into cold calling: in a way, scripts are like training wheels and can give newbies the confidence to get started. Cold calling fills reps with dread not only because of the fear of rejection, but also the fear of the unknown. “What if I get someone on the line, and I go blank? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer? What if I blow it?”
A script can mitigate these fears by helping reps stay in control of the conversation. Of course, it doesn’t need to be line by line, word for word — that’s where you get into robot mode. Instead, it should feel more like a set of guidelines, with several different paths or branches based on common responses or objections reps may hear.
6. Practice, practice, practice
And then, practice some more. Role playing with managers and peers is a great way to get reps comfortable and ready to handle curveballs that may be thrown at them on a real call.
Every salesperson has some great cold calling stories — both memorable successes and epic failures. Draw on those experiences (especially the challenging ones) and get your reps used to thinking on the fly.
7. Never stop coaching
Create a constant feedback loop through coaching sessions. Instead of using 1:1s for pipeline review or temperature checks, automate what you can and spend that time having meaningful conversations about where reps are running into challenges.
Also: if you’re a manager, sit in on sales calls every now and then. Or better yet, implement a call coaching tool like Gong or Chorus (which integrates with Ambition’s sales coaching software!) to hear firsthand what’s going well and what’s going not-so-well, so you can coach up your people where they need it most.
Some teams bring their call recordings to group or department meetings. It can be a little nerve-wracking to have everyone listen to your cold calls (especially if it went off the rails), but it’s a great way to get peer feedback and to share war stories — because everyone has them.
Successful Cold Calling Does Exist
This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: there’s no silver bullet. Every tactic, technique and tool has its own challenges and requires trial and error.
So: should you put all your eggs in the cold calling basket? Definitely not. But it should be a tool in your toolkit — and if it’s not working for you, don’t give up on it. You just need to reset and reinvent your approach by leveraging modern cold calling techniques.