How to Improve Your Cold-Calling Skills
Let's face it: Nobody really enjoys making cold calls. But the fact is that cold calling remains a part of life whether you are a business owner, a job seeker, or even a volunteer looking to raise money for your local non-profit group, says Eliot Burdett, co-founder of Peak Sales Recruiting in Ottawa, Canada. "Even with the rise of the Internet, which has changed the way people buy, having the ability to connect with someone cold on the phone remains a valuable skill for anyone to have," he says.
The problem, quite frankly, is that like any skill, cold calling requires practice. And even then, the numbers don't always add up, says Joanne Black, founder of NoMoreColdCalling in Greenbrae, California, and author of a book by the same name. "People who cold call will make between 100 and 150 dials, talk to between 18 and 20 people, and schedule six to eight appointments," she says. "And if they're lucky, close one deal."
We've compiled some expert tips below to help you improve your odds of closing more deals with fewer dials.
Dig Deeper: Improving Your Cold-Calling Technique
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Set a Calling Schedule
Set a target number of calls per week and schedule time every day to make a portion of these calls, Burdett advises. "This kind of discipline will create rhythm and the calling habit, don't procrastinate, just do it," he says. "The more calls you make the easier it gets."
The best times to call are early or late in the day when potential customers are less busy and more likely to answer their own phones. You may also prefer to use a hands-free device or headset that allows you to stand up and walk around when you're talking to sound more energized.
One of the first questions to ask might be, "Is this a good time to talk?" If it isn't, ask the person when a better time might be. Then, get them to schedule it on their calendar. Then, when you call back, they'll be expecting you. Pick a quick and clever way to break the ice - perhaps with a short dose of humor.
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Communicate Value
Start your call by promising brevity and keep your promise, says Stephanie Hackney of Branding Masters in Austin, Texas. "Before you lift the receiver, you need to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what you provide has value to the people you'll be calling on," she says. "Once you know that, and you can show why your potential customers care, create simple wording that briefly communicates that value and answers the customer's primary question: What's in it for me? As a customer, I don't care what you have or what your product does, I want to know how it benefits me. How does it make my life better, easier?"
One key is to communicate the benefits of what you're calling about, not just its features. Remember also to focus on what your customer needs, not on what you have.
Questions you should be keeping in mind, Hackney says, are:
• Is your product and/or service offering solving your customer's issues, or is it simply something you want to offer?
• Have you adequately researched the market to determine there is a real need for what you have to offer? If not, then go back to the drawing board until you are able to answer 'yes' to that question.
Dig Deeper: A Sales Force Built on Cold-Calling
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: How to Head-Off Objections
You should know every reason your potential customers might have for not wanting to give you the time of day, Hackney says. One way to prepare for this is to script answers to every objection you can think of, and then think of and answer more. Identify a list of several meaningful and probing questions that will stimulate a conversation and allow you to develop a relationship.
Role-playing is perhaps the best way to develop the list of objections, says Hackney, especially if you can convince an uninterested (and therefore more objective) person to play the role of the customer.
If you are asked a question you can't answer, don't make up an answer just to fill the silence. "Offer to research the question and to get back to the customer," Hackney says. "You will be seen as honest, professional and interested in your customer's success."
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Think Research
If all you're only goal in making cold calls is to close deals, it's easy to get frustrated when someone hangs up on you. That's why you should change your focus and think of the calls as research time, Burdett says. "Don't just call and hard pitch, because everyone hates to have their day interrupted by a sales call," he says. "Instead try think beforehand what challenges the prospect is dealing with and then use the call to collect insight, validate your assumptions, share insight about what solutions exist and what might work for them."
Then, you make your calls, use what you have learned about your customer's needs and leverage it, says Hackney. "Once you know, to the core of your being, that your offering can solve someone else's pain," Hackney says. "It will be much easier to communicate it to the customer."
Dig Deeper: How to Leverage Sales Research
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Know Your Competition
Before making calls, it is critical to know who your competition is. Know what they offer, along with their strengths and weaknesses, and make that part of your script. 'But never, and I do mean never, belittle your competition," Hackney says. 'Every company has its strengths and weaknesses. You have yours as well."
The key, she says, is to succinctly communicate the differences between yours and your competition's offerings without resorting to bashing which will help you look more professional, and most importantly, will make the customer feel that you have their best interest at heart.
If the customer can't see any difference between what you're selling and what the competition is offering, you have not done a good job of communicating what makes you unique and the best solution, Hackney says. Or, your offering might not be the best fit, in which case you could choose to recommend a competing product or service that's a better fit to your customer's individual needs. The point is to try and address these kinds of questions and distinctions before you place the call.
Dig Deeper: Tools on Researching the Competition
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Follow Through
One of the most important lessons in business is to follow through on commitments, Hackney says. "Be true to your word and deliver what you promise," she says. "Just knowing that you will do so makes it easy to communicate a caring attitude and professionalism to customers. After all, that's all most customers want: someone to make their life easier."
It also makes sense to employ a sales tracking system such as SalesForce.com as a way to stay on top of your discussions, emails and campaigns.
Dig Deeper: Mastering the Follow-Through
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Warm Up Those Calls
Of course, there are many ways to set up your calls so that if they're not hot leads, they're at least warm. To get there, one tip is to get referrals.
"The only way for business owners to get hot leads, close more than 50 percent of their prospects, reduce their sales time, ace out the competition, and incur no hard costs, is to receive a referral introduction to their ideal client," Black says. Referrals work as an instant connection and address the two biggest issues that all salespeople face:
1. Getting the meeting at the level that counts.
2. Converting prospects to prime customers.
So how do you go about getting referrals? Black says there are two key ways. First, ask your current clients to introduce you to people they know. Second, create referral metrics for your company. That can include: How many people you ask each week, the number of referrals you receive, the number of referral meetings you conduct. Also measure the increase in revenue and profits and the reduction in your cost of sales.
It could also be wise to invest in lead-generation programs so that some of the outbound calls are more warm than cold, Burdett says. There are also countless online social media tools available to help warm up your calls and generate leads. You and your colleagues should see social networking as an opportunity to meet clients and open up entire social pockets of exposure. Check out:
• Google Profiles
Dig Deeper: Using Social Networking Sites to Drive Business
Improving Your Cold-Calling Skills: Additional Resources
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cold Calling, by Keith Rosen. Alpha, 2004.
Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling, by Sam Richter. Beaver's Bond Press, 2009.
Cold Calling Techniques That Really Work, by Stephan Schiffman. Adams Media, 2007.
Lessons from 100,000 Cold Calls, by Stewart L. Rogers. Sourcebooks, 2008.
Darren Dahl is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, North Carolina.