Cold calling is the most universally despised aspect of sales. Most non-salespeople can’t bear the thought of sitting down with a list of telephone numbers and dialing for dollars. Heck, most salespeople can’t stand cold calling, and even those who can stand it don’t necessarily have a high opinion of the technique. As one salesman of mine once put it, "I feel like I’m a pushy parrot. I call people up and do my pitch, and if they don’t like it, it’s on to the next number."
Unfortunately, cold calling is also one of the most important aspects of sales, especially for a freelance business, and if you’re a one-person-show, there’s only one poor guy or girl upon whom you can pawn off the distasteful task: yourself.
Fortunately, there is a science to cold calling, and there are ways to avoid feeling like a pushy parrot:
- Be Prepared with Best Practices – get your head around the ins and outs of cold calling, and you’ll find the task much easier to tackle.
- Write a Script That Sells – Use these 8 hot tips to prepare a winning sales pitch… in a single sentence!
Part 1 – Be Prepared with Best Practices
Follow these best practices, and while you may never like cold calling, you can make an often-agonizing experience bearable – – and profitable.
1. Don’t Cold-Call
If you can avoid cold calling, do it. Do all of the things we’re previously discussed. Working your existing customers, developing your networking skills, sending out marketing emails, all of these are preferable to cold calling. Cold calling takes a lot of time and energy, and phone bills do add up. Nevertheless, the fact is that almost everyone eventually exhausts their other marketing avenues (at least the ones that are affordable), and has to turn to cold calling, even if it’s only to drum up new clients during slow periods for your business.
2. Always Keep Prospect Sourcing and Cold-Calling Separate
Finding the right prospects is the foundation of cold calling success, and demands your full attention. Once you’ve decided that you can’t avoid cold calling, the first thing to do is to identify the right prospects. If you’re running a basic Web design business, all the cold calls in the world won’t help you to sell to Microsoft. Similarly, if you specialize in high-end coding, cold calling local businesses that don’t need more than a brochureware site is a waste of your resources. Figure out to whom you want to sell, and assemble your list of prospects before you ever pick the phone. Both Yahoo! and the Open Source Directory Project are good ways to find lists of businesses that belong to a particular category.
3. Develop a Focused Marketing Message and Value Proposition
Just because you’ve generated a list of phone numbers, don’t rush for the dialpad just yet. Before the first call, make sure that you develop a focused 15-second pitch. Especially when you cold call, you’re not going have a lot of time to make your points, so hone your elevator pitch until it’s as lean as Calista Flockhart.
Speak your prospects’ language. If you’re calling up venture capitalists, make sure that you know your NDA from your IRR and ROI (for the record, an NDA is what a VC never signs, an IRR is what a VC never reveals, and an ROI is what a VC makes sure it receives by selling IPO stock as quickly as possible). Always think from your customers’ point of view and solve their problems, not your own. Finally, make sure that you focus on one market at a time, so that you can use the same marketing collateral and message for your calls.
4. Spend the Right Amount of Time Researching your Prospects
Once you’ve sourced your prospects, and developed a generic pitch, it’s time to build a custom pitch for each prospect. The key is to spend time on preparation based on the size of the sale. Small sales don’t justify much time investment. If you’re only making $50 per sale, and it takes 2 hours of research to increase the chances of making the sale by 50%, it’s not worth the time. Simply go with your carefully-honed pitch. On the other hand, if you’re making a $5,000 sale, that extra 2 hours is well worth it.
When you research your prospects, find out all you can about the company in general and the individual buyer in particular. With the wealth of resources available on the Web, there’s no excuse for not being able to find out something helpful. For example, if your design services can help increase sales, pick a particular product on your prospect’s Web site and figure out how much more money your prospect will make after you revamp its site.
5. Make your Calls as Efficiently as Possible
Once you’ve generated your prospect list, created your pitch, and conducted your research, it’s time to make that time investment pay off. Organize every aspect of the act of cold calling so that you make your calls as efficiently as possible. Make sure that you have all the prospecting information, including your research, in an organized format before picking up the phone. One method I use is to print out the prospect’s home page and write my research notes on it. Then, when I make my calls, I move from page to page as I go from prospect to prospect.
Set a regular time each day to make your cold calls – otherwise you will procrastinate. If you make cold-calling a habit, it won’t be so hard to pick up that phone each time. A good time to make calls in the United States is early afternoon Eastern time. That way, you can reach people on both coasts.
As you make your calls, listen to what your gut tells you about the call. If you don’t think it’s going well, explicitly ask, "Are you inclined to buy?" If the answer is "No," cut your losses and move on. If a call goes well, set up the next call and outline your next steps before you hang up. Finally, always follow up and keep your promises.
Picking up the phone to dial for dollars may never be easy, but if you arm yourself with the right plan, it can pay off for your business.
Part 2 – 8 Hot Script Tips
Ok, so you’re ready to start cold-calling, but every time you pick up the phone and dial, you find your tongue tied in more knots than one of your aunt’s macramÃ© planters. What should you say? What shouldn’t you say? What you need, gentle reader, is a script.
No one expects an actor to entirely ad-lib an Oscar-worthy performance – even Tom Hanks needs a script to follow. There’s no reason for you to hold yourself to an even higher standard than a three-time Academy Award winner.
While a movie script and a cold-call script are very different, in both cases a little script-doctoring can make a big difference in the power of your performance. Here are eight simple tips from the script doctor to make your cold-call pitch as effective as possible.
1. Identify Your Audience
You can’t be all things to all people. If you’re a Web designer, selling to the sole proprietor of a retail store is very different from selling to a marketing manager at a major e-tailer. List your audience’s likes, dislikes, and hot buttons. If you don’t know what those are, research them. If you still don’t know, guess, and refine your audience as you go along. The point is, fine-tune your script for your target.
2. List the Business Benefits of Buying from You
Here’s where you get into the mind of your audience. List all of the business benefits that your customers get when they choose your solutions. Can’t think of any? Better find another line of work. Make sure that these benefits are concrete and reflect the way that your audience things. “Get a cooler Web site” is not a business benefit. “Reduce dropped shopping carts by 50%, increasing monthly revenues by 15%” is.
3. List the Possible Objections to your Good or Service
…and list the responses that overcome those objections.
Guess what? When you make cold-calls, you’re going to hear a lot of objections. That’s actually a good thing. If someone comes up with an objection, it shows that they bothered to listen closely enough to apply you pitch to their situation. That gives you a perfect opportunity to overcome the objection and make a sale. To capitalize on that opportunity, sit down in advance and try to list every possible objection, and then compose the best possible responses to overcome those objections. Trying to overcome objections on the fly is likely to be more frustrating and less fruitful.
4. Hone a One-Sentence Pitch
As we discussed in Part 1 od this article, you’re not going to have a lot of time to make your pitch. Boil it down to the essentials so that you can deliver it quickly (and naturally), and get to the important part of the call: listening to what your potential customer has to say.
5. Call and Ask for a Specific Person
Even at a large company, it’s surprisingly easy to get through to the right person if you ask a specific question. For example, one of my clients wanted to sell software to IT departments that would help them better manage their Websites. I simply called up the main switchboard of a major portal and asked, “Who is the person in your IT group that is in charge of Website performance?” Two minutes and a little chit-chat later, I had a name, phone number, and email address.
6. Make your Pitch
When it comes to the actual pitch, there is no magic, and there is no substitute for practice. If you stumble, pick yourself back up and make that next call. Some people are more naturally talented than others, but the ultimate determinant of success is persistence.
This is the step where you make or break your sale. The temptation is to relax and let down your guard once you finish your initial pitch. Don’t! If anything, completing the initial pitch is the easy part – all you have to do is follow a few simple directions.
Really listening to your prospects is hard. You have to swallow your pride and resist all those urges to say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” when your prospect begins to raise objections. You have to go against your instincts to defend yourself. Just remember, you’re not here to convince your customer to buy from you. You’re here to help your customer convince herself to buy from you. Without listening carefully and understanding her exact business needs, you can’t possibly do that.
8. Work Off your List of Benefits and Objections
Once you understand your prospect’s situation, match it up against your list of benefits and objections. Pick the benefits that matter most to your prospect and explain them. Ask for objections (“Are there any factors you can think of that could prevent a sale?” and overcome them. If you run across any objections that you haven’t prepared for, do the best you can, and make sure that you’re prepared for the next call.
If you’ve gotten through your pitch, explained the benefits of your solution, and overcome your prospect’s objections, your script has done its job. Now it’s up to you to follow through and close the sale. Good luck, and happy hunting.
Chris Yeh is a partner at Porthos Consulting, a sales and marketing consultancy that focuses on delivering measurable gains in lead generation and revenues. Chris and his work have been featured in Fortune, the Financial Times, and the New York Times. He earned his MBA from Harvard Business School.