Cold calling is any attempt to solicit business from a potential customer, via the telephone, who may or may not know about your company.

Whether your company is new and doesn’t yet have the connections or financial means to avail itself of other forms of marketing, or your sales team wants to ensure that all potential prospects have been exhausted, cold calling represents a “ready-to-go” method of finding new leads.

Though it’s not always considered the most effective, cold calling is an important technique in any salesperson’s arsenal. In its truest sense, a cold call is cold – not merely the initial call in a chain, but one that comes entirely out of the blue. As the prevalence of social selling grows, this is an important distinction to make. However, social media can also impact positively on “true” cold calling due to more being known about the prospect than ever before.

Even a prospect who is a good match for your product or service will not necessarily be receptive, which is why the effectiveness of cold calling is often called into question.

Making an effective cold call is tricky because the variety of possible responses from your prospect. Many times, the recipient will simply hang up; in the worst case scenario, you might even receive verbal abuse. Furthermore, the comparative attractiveness of cold calling is decreasing in comparison with more modern types of prospecting including:

  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn),
  • Text messaging
  • Referrals from current clients
  • Webinars and networking groups

Even sending “cold emails” – which requires a much lower time investment per prospect – tends to be preferred by salespeople, even if it has not proven to be any more effective at generating leads.

Debates about the effectiveness of cold calling are nothing new. In recent years, however, a number of market analysts – and a spate of negative coverage among trade publications – have called its purpose into question. Who is right?

LET'S LOOK AT THE DATA

At first glance, cold calling might not seem the most promising way to reach decision-makers. Research by Leap Job found that only 2% of cold calls result in an appointment, while the Ovation Sales Group found that the average salesperson prospects for six-and-a-quarter hours to set one appointment.

Research by LinkedIn found that less than 2 percent of cold calls resulted in a meeting, while a study Research by Baylor University found that only for every 209 calls made, only one appointment or referral was set. When we think of how few of these appointments will actually be converted to deals, it seems more inefficient still.

But how much of this is down to bad technique – and why do a number of sales managers still insist that phone is favourable? While it’s true that methods like “cold email” are far quicker and more scalable than using cold calls, there is still a case to be made for human interactions over online ones.

  • Firstly, an answered telephone inquiry will provide you with immediate feedback as to whether or not a prospect is worth pursuing.
  • Secondly, it’s easy for emails to be ignored, sent to spam or otherwise filtered out (or, if they are opened, disregarded due to a “mass email” feel).
  • Thirdly, it’s important to remember that while younger sales professionals tend to favour digital interactions, older and more senior decision-makers might very well respond more readily to a telephone interaction.

Before you stand a chance of making an effective cold call, you need a well thought-out approach. Thinking carefully about “when” and “who” can significantly increase your chances of success. You then need to know how to handle and follow up the call.

1) Plan call times wisely

Typically, the people you wish to target – those with the power to influence and make decisions – are some of the busiest people within an organisation, which means you need to think carefully about the best time to call. will not be available from 9 to 5. They have too much to do to during the day to answer phone calls from unknown numbers – and they’re guarded closely by assistants and less senior team members. If you want to reach these people, the best times to call are early in the morning or late at night.

Where possible, avoid Mondays - when people are settling into their working week - and Fridays, when they’re winding down for the weekend. By mid-week, your target person will generally have dealt with the week’s most pressing issues and are less likely to perceive your call as a distraction. You also need to think about the right time to call. Senior members of staff tend to arrive earlier in the morning, so call before 9am to have a better chance of reaching them. You could also aim to call between 5 and 7pm, when people have tied up the day’s work and have more time to chat.

2) Set a schedule

Once you’ve experimented with the right time to call, set yourself a target number of calls per week and schedule a window to make them. This will help you get into a rhythm. When your prospect picks up the phone, you might like to ask, “Is this a good time to call?” If it’s not, schedule a time that is.

3) Target the right person

Although sales will always be something of a numbers game, you can increase your chances by making sure you’re talking to the right person – that is, someone for whom your solution is relevant and who has the power to make a purchase or to sell your solution within their organization. Bear in mind that while the latter might not always be the ultimate decision maker within the organization, they might be just as useful and easier to reach (LinkedIn is a good place to determine who these people are). It’s better to spend ten minutes making sure you’re talking to the right person than delivering your pitch to the wrong one.

4) Preparation is key

Sales is not about selling products; rather, it’s about selling solutions to your customers’ problems. This applies just as much to cold calling as to any other type of sales technique. Research your prospect and think about how you can present your product in a way that will appeal to them. You might also want to use a script to keep the conversation concise and on track – if you’re not sure where to begin, simply take a basic outline and tailor it to your needs. Always make sure you have a reason for calling and a vision for your prospect’s business; for example, you might choose or tailor a pre-existing offer.

5) Follow up and be persistent

As a salesperson, you’ll know that most sales don’t happen after the first, second or even third call. Be (politely) persistent and follow up – you’d be surprised how many people don’t. You might not always get the in-depth meeting you were hoping for, but you should at least aim to secure a referral (and when you contact them, you’ll have the kind of credibility that money can’t buy).

6) Things not working out? Be aware of where you could be going wrong.

The nature of cold calling means that even the most skilled salesperson is never going to have a 100% success rate – but if you find yourself having a streak of “bad luck”, look closer and make sure there’s nothing you could be doing betterimprove. This guide to common cold calling mistakes should help you identify potential pitfalls!

7) Track your progress with data

Metrics are as key for cold calls as for any other area of sales - monitor your cold calling conversion funnel to see how you’re doing.

It’s little wonder that many sales professionals dread the thought of making cold calls – after all, you’re delaying someone else’s day in order to get something you need. Yet, as with almost all other prospecting techniques the execution makes all the difference between rejection and success.

By thinking carefully about your approach and preparing well, you can turn cold calling into a valuable tool. You might still hear a “no” far more often than a “yes” – but, if you handle things properly, the opportunities for closing big deals are there. This is especially true if you make use of social media to research your prospect as thoroughly as possible before making the call.

What’s more: have you ever wondered how some sales professionals are able to exceed quotas and maintain high rates of success, even while those around them are struggling? This is usually - at least in part - down to a properly honed cold calling technique. There’s a wealth of cold calling tips available for enhancing your technique – why not see how much better your success rate could be?

Blaze new trails to success with Trailhead—the fun way to learn Salesforce and CRM basics.

Whether you want to Learn CRM Essentials, Sell Lightning Fast, or Keep Customers Happy, there's a trail ready for you to explore.