How not to make a cold call

Cold calls – let’s face it most people don’t like them. They can seem pushy and they’re often inconvenient. In case you’ve been living off the grid and don’t know what we’re talking about… a cold call is a phone call from a company or business you don’t know, who are trying to sell you something. It’s one of the easiest things to get wrong for anyone working in sales. But it’s also not that hard to do it well…if you know how!

My experience of cold calls

A few weeks ago, I received an inbound call from Laura, somebody who we didn’t know and who wanted to sell us her branding and printing services. When you make a cold call you have to start to build rapport with the person you are calling fast.

It’s not all about you

Laura spent the first 4 minutes talking about her company. She missed the all-important topic of what benefits her company would bring to me.

As a business owner, I believe in business karma – I really try to give out what I want back. If I’m cold calling I want people to be nice to me, so if people cold call me I try to do the same for them. On this call, Laura continued to talk about what her company does. So being nice I said, ‘just send me an email with the information and I’ll take a look’.

Are you selling the benefits?

Most people will send you the information and either not follow up, or follow up without purpose. When Laura sent me the information she still didn’t mention any of the benefits of working with her. It’s probably one of the worst cold calls and follow-ups I’ve ever had. It was like watching somebody drowning and not throwing them a life ring!

Do your research!

Laura phoned again with the same tactics as last time – sell, sell, sell and no research! She did not engage with me at all. She did not ask what I thought, what I wanted or what stage I am in my business. It was also obvious that she did not know anything about me or my business.

The number one thing I want you to take from this is to do your research. You need to know who you are talking to! Cold calling isn’t for everyone. It’s tough, often brutal! If you’re putting your neck on the line you should at least know who you are talking to – it’s not 1986! Use Google or LinkedIn to find out more about your prospective customers.

Watch what you say

Although Laura didn’t know anything about me or my company, she did say ‘We do branding and we think you could do with a rebrand’. I asked her ‘what is it about my website that needs rebranding?’ – she didn’t ask about the history of my brands or when we last updated them. Laura replied ‘well, your brand looks tired and it’s very dated’.

So of course, I asked which brand, as I have two – one of which hasn’t been updated for some time. So she could’ve potentially been right. When Laura said it was Alison Edgar -The Entrepreneur’s Godmother, I was shocked as we’ve only just updated the website. I know for a fact that it isn’t ‘tired’, but her comment itself was extremely blunt.

During this stage of making a cold call, do not fall into the trap of giving your opinion!

What to learn from this experience

Outbound calls can be effective, but only if you do the research first. If Laura did her research she would’ve known that: I’m a sales trainer and my website had just been rebranded.

When your research turns up a great prospect – for Laura it might be someone whose website isn’t mobile-friendly, or hasn’t been updated for 5 years – you have to find the right way to engage with them. You would never phone a potential client and say ‘your website is rubbish, it’s not mobile-friendly and it doesn’t represent your brand’. You need the person you’re calling to come to that conclusion on their own without being pressured. Use open questions to understand their needs and mindset. Then you can find the right angle

Remember, when cold calling it can take up to 12 touch points to make a sale. The purpose of Laura’s calls should be to make an appointment and explain the benefits face to face, not to sell straight away.

How do I introduce myself?

When I’m making a call to learn about a potential client I say:

‘Hi, I’m Alison Edgar – The Entrepreneur’s Godmother and I work with small businesses to help them increase sales and this ultimately helps them to make more money. Which department is it that deals with that? I think it’s Jenny in HR, is that correct?’

Knowing the name of the person you want to talk to is essential. It is also more likely to persuade the gatekeeper to let you past.

‘Hi Jenny, I’ve had a look on LinkedIn and I can see that you have quite a large sales team. The purpose of this call is that I have worked with blue chip companies and also a lot of small businesses and I make a really good impact on sales teams when I do work with them, I just wondered how you currently do your training?’

See what I did there?

Not only am I giving an introduction about what I do, but I’m also specifically asking Jenny how she currently trains her teams. This helps me ask open questions.

Asking open questions creates room for clients to indicate if they’re interested or not. If they aren’t interested then you can always ask ‘do you mind if I ask your reasons as to why you do not want to progress any further?’ There can be a variety of reasons for someone to decline your business; time, money or it just might not be right for them – this does not mean that it is a ‘no’ forever and there may be an opportunity for working together in the future. However, it is essential to respect someone’s reasoning. No one will want to be bombarded with phone calls if they are not interested.

Following up

Most sales are made between the 1st and 12th touchpoint (and they are typically made after the 5th). So, following up is an essential part of the process.

Remember, if someone doesn’t get back to you, it doesn’t always mean they aren’t interested, sometimes people are just busy and they haven’t had time to contact you. What you want to do is test intention – are they still interested or are they avoiding you?

If you cannot get hold of someone by phone, you can always send an email. It’s less intrusive – they can respond at their convenience. Again, you can use open questioning techniques to see if they are interested in moving forward.

To wrap it up

Cold calling doesn’t have to be a negative experience – it can be a great way to connect with new and potential clients. If you think that someone could benefit from your products or services, don’t be scared of contacting them. Just do not contact them without doing your research – knowledge is power and people are more likely to buy from someone that they like, know and trust!

Alison Edgar MBE
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Alison Edgar MBE

Alison's mission statement "When it's delivered correctly, sales and customer service are exactly the same thing", does not come from a textbook, but a combination of my passion and experience of international hotel management and sales for some of the world's top blue-chip companies. Based on her work with entrepreneurs, Alison is now fortunate enough to work with multi-national conglomerates such as Sky, The Discovery Channel, Yell, and The European Commission, to teach their teams to think intrapreneurially which encourages growth mindsets, outside of the box thinking, and ultimately leads to an increase in both company-wide innovation and results.