How to Do Cold Calling: 11 Steps to Build a Killer Cold Calling Strategy
Cold calling has an interesting reputation.
Some salespeople swear by it. Others won't touch it with a 10-foot pole. Still others are curious about cold calling, but aren't sure if they should add it to their sales process.
(Oh, and we can't forget about the folks who are only here because their sales manager forced them to google "cold calling sales techniques," and this article popped up. I see you.)
If you fall into one of the latter groups, this article is for you.
What is Cold Calling?
Cold calling is an outbound sales technique, in which sales reps call potential customers on the phone and tell them about the products and/or services they sell.
These calls can go in one of two ways:
- Successful cold calls pique the recipient's interest and lead to follow-up meetings.
- Unsuccessful cold calls irritate recipients and end with curse words and abrupt hang ups. (Kidding. Most cold calls are civil, though you should be prepared for anything.)
I won't lie to you. Unsuccessful cold calls are more common than successful ones. To succeed with this sales technique—and you can succeed, despite what people say—you have to have a thick skin. Don't worry, it will all be worth it when you crush your sales quotas.
Does Cold Calling Still Work?
People always ask, "Steli, I know you used cold calling to build Close, but that was years ago. Does this sales technique still work in 2023? My answer is always the same: it depends.
For most sales reps, cold calling is a wonderful strategy that helps them close more deals.
The data backs up this claim. 82% of buyers say they've attended a sales meeting after a cold call. Even more encouraging, sales reps reach C-level contacts on the first call 39% of the time, on the second call 72% of the time, and on the third call 93% of the time.
Then there's this study from the Rain Group, which found that 57% of C-Level and VP buyers across industries prefer talking on the phone, as do 51% of directors and 47% of managers.
Pretty compelling stuff, right? Before you get too excited, though, I should mention that cold calling isn't a magic bullet. It does have drawbacks, as we'll discuss in the next section.
This is especially true if you work in certain industries, sell B2C products/services, or use shady sales strategies. (To clarify, buying leads lists is a shady practice. Don't do it.)
Here's the bottom line: if you sell in the right industry and implement the effective cold calling tips I share with you below, cold calling will improve your sales process. If you don't sell in the right industry, or won't do what needs to be done to find success, you won't. Simple stuff.
The Pros and Cons of Cold Calling
As I alluded to above, there are pros and cons to cold calling.
You should know exactly what they are before you build your entire sales department around this strategy—or even add it to your current sales process. Knowledge is always power.
Cold Calling Pros
I'm an optimistic person. So let's start with cold calling pros. Here are three reasons why you and/or your team might want to start calling strangers on the phone.
Cold Calling is a Proven Strategy
Cold calling has been around for decades. It's a proven strategy that's all but guaranteed to generate results. (Assuming you implement the tips in this article, of course.)
Done right, cold calling will allow you to target high-value leads, engage them in a personal way, and answer their questions in real time. Put another way, it will allow you to build deeper relationships with your target audience than just about every other communication channel.
That's not just my opinion. According to InsideSales, cold calling has an average conversion rate of 6.3%. That doesn't impress you? Consider this: the average response rate (response rate, not conversion rate) for cold email is somewhere between 1% and 5%.
I don't hate cold email. I think you should definitely use that sales technique to contact your prospects, too. But the above stat illustrates how effective cold calling can be.
Cold Calling is a Personal Form of Communication
Talking to people on the phone is more personal than sending them an email or text message. It's way more personal than publishing content on LinkedIn and Instagram.
This is important because personal forms of communication help build trust. And, as all sales professionals know, you can't close deals without a healthy helping of trust.
By cold calling your ideal customers, you'll form a personal connection with them immediately. You can then use this connection to deepen your relationship with potential buyers and increase the likelihood of making sales—both first-time sales and repeat sales.
Cold Calling Can be Done From Anywhere
Lastly, you and/or your sales team can make cold calls from just about anywhere.
The office? Check. At home? Check. While vacationing in Aspen, CO, because you made so much money in sales commissions after implementing this sales strategy? Check!
Field sales teams don't have this luxury. They have to travel to each of their prospects and engage them in face-to-face conversations to close deals.
That's not a knock on field sales. Those reps make loads of cash. But the fact that you can cold call prospects from any location is a huge perk.
Cold Calling Cons
It's not all rainbows and unicorns. There are drawbacks to cold calling, too. Here are three things to consider before building a full-fledged cold calling strategy for your sales team.
Cold Calling is More Invasive
Some people hate cold callers.
That's probably because the sales reps who called them in the past didn't read this article and, therefore, didn't know how to cold call prospects effectively.
Regardless, the fact remains: not everyone will appreciate your phone call. Some of the people you contact will feel like you've violated their privacy in some way. After all, they didn't ask you to call them. And once you do, they can't just hang up without being rude.
You need to be prepared for this. Realize that not everyone you cold call will be excited to talk to you. Some might actively try to shorten your sales pitch and get on with their day.
On a related note, salespeople don't always like cold calling either. In fact, 63% of professional sellers say cold calling is what they dislike most about their jobs. So, if you want to boost your rep retention rate, you might want to put your cold calling ambitions on hold.
(Note: if you teach your reps to cold call the right way, they won't hate doing it. Just sayin'.)
Cold Calling Can Be Difficult to Get Right
Anyone can master the art of cold calling. But that doesn't mean it's easy. You have to follow proven best-practices, then adapt your approach based on experience and accumulated data.
SPOILER ALERT: in the next section of this article, I'm going to give you a basic cold calling script. It will help you get started with this sales technique. But to generate the best possible results, you'll need to adjust the script to fit your unique business and target audience.
If you don't adjust your script, you won't find success with cold calling. Unfortunately, the only way to make the proper adjustments is to assess your data and test different approaches.
There's another element of the cold calling process that you'll need to figure out: when to call your prospects. Call at the right time, and you'll probably enjoy a fruitful conversation. Call at a bad time, and your prospect may be unavailable. Or worse, completely unreceptive.
You won't always time your cold calls correctly. But once you call enough prospects, you'll get a better feel for when they're available and when they're not. But this takes time and effort.
Cold Calling is a Harder Strategy to Scale
Finally, cold calling isn't as scalable as, say, cold emailing.
You can't contact 1,000 people at one time. You have to call each prospect individually, wait for them to answer, and deliver your sales pitch or leave a voicemail. Then you have to do it again. And again. And again. I'll be honest, the process can be exhausting at times.
Now, there are ways to boost your cold calling productivity.
The Close Predictive Dialer, for example, will allow you to call multiple numbers at once. The platform will then automatically connect you to the first person who answers the phone.
SEE CLOSE IN ACTION WITH OUR ON-DEMAND DEMO →
Close also allows users to record voicemails before they make calls. If your prospect doesn't answer the phone, you can leave them a message with one click, then call someone else.
These two features are super useful and will help automate the cold calling process. But they still won't allow you to contact as many people as you could with email, text, social media, etc.
How to Make Your First Cold Call: 11 Essential Steps
Ready to cold call your first prospect? Here are 11 cold calling techniques you can use to connect with more potential customers and close more deals.
1. Create a Target Call List
First things first, create a list of companies to contact. There are plenty of ways to do this.
You can use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find businesses that match your ideal customer profile. Simply tell the tool who you want to sell to, and it will generate a collection of leads.
Or, use a solution like Leadfeeder, which will identify who visits your website, which company they work for, and if they might be interested in what you sell. Leadfeeder will then help you pinpoint the right decision maker to contact and give you their contact information.
It probably goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: only add companies to your target call list who actually need your products and/or services.
I definitely recommend quality over quantity in this situation. A giant call list won't help you. A call list filled with red-hot leads will—even if it only has two dozen names on it.
2. Find Out Who to Cold Call
You've created a list of companies to contact. Now you need to find the right individuals to reach out to. Start by thinking about who can benefit from your product/service the most.
At Close, for example, we sell CRM software. Sales, marketing, and customer service teams are most likely to appreciate our tool. So, if I was going to cold call a company to pitch our product, I'd want to contact someone in one of these three departments. But who?
Most companies have multiple SDRs, marketing associates, and customer service members. How do you know which person to call? Here's my suggestion: call the employee with the most seniority. This person will have more buying power than the people below him/her.
Think about it: if I pitch Close to an entry-level sales rep, they'll have to ask their boss for permission to spend company funds. But if I go right to the top of the food chain, I'll immediately talk to a decision maker and can close the deal faster.
3. Find Their Phone Number
Now that you know exactly who you want to cold call, you can focus on finding their phone number. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds. Here are a few tips to help you:
- Talk to customer service: Call your target company's customer service line and ask them for the phone number you seek. Your success rate with this strategy will be super low. But every once in a while, you'll walk away with the right contact information.
- Check for personal outlets: Your prospect probably has a personal LinkedIn profile. They might have their own website, too. Peruse these online outlets to see if you can find their phone number. There's a decent chance that this tactic will work.
- Ask your network: Still can't find your prospect's phone number? Reach out to your personal network. You may know someone who has your prospect's contact details on file. They might be willing to share with you. Or, better yet, give you a referral.
- Send an email: Most people guard their phone numbers like nuclear launch codes. They're generally more lax with their email addresses, though. If you can find your prospect's email, contact them and ask for their phone number.
- Use a prospecting tool: It's time to bring out the big guns. Prospecting tools like the above mentioned Leadfeeder, Clearbit, and Crunchbase simplify the phone number sourcing process. Just know, you'll have to pay to use these services.
4. Research Prospects
You found a few dozen companies that will benefit from what you sell. You pinpointed specific individuals to contact. You even found their direct phone numbers.
Now you can get down to business and start calling prospects, right? Not quite…
Before you dial your first number, take time to research the people you plan to talk to. Who are they? What goals do they want to achieve? What pain points do they struggle with? How can your company's products and/or services improve their daily processes?
I don't care if you're the best cold caller in the history of the world. If you don't know your prospects like the back of your hand, you won't succeed with this sales strategy. So, do yourself a favor and study your prospects before you get them on the phone.
5. Create a Cold Calling Script
When the Kansas City Chiefs step on the football field, they have a plan.
They've spent the entire week studying their opponent. That way, when Sunday rolls around, they know which offensive plays and defensive alignments will help them win.
You need a plan, too. Your plan is called a sales script. You create it by taking everything you've learned about your prospects—their likes, dislikes, daily challenges, etc.—and combining it with your company's value proposition, to stimulate your prospect's interest.
This article has 19 of the best cold calling scripts (with templates!) around. You should check it out when you have a chance. In the meantime, here's a quick script to get you started:
I'm (Your Name) with (Your Company Name).
I work with (Prospect's Job Title) to (Service You Provide) and (Value You Provide).
From this point on, you'll have a short conversation with your prospect. This is the perfect time to learn more about this potential customer and answer any questions they may have.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating your own cold calling scripts:
- Use the phrase "How are you?" This is a great first line—even if you've never talked to the prospect before. Why? Because it's unexpected and will grab your prospect's attention. It's proven to boost cold call success rates bya whopping 660%. Heck yes!
- Don't use the phrase "Did I catch you at a bad time?" Some experts recommend this line because it makes the prospect feel like they're in control. Unfortunately, research shows that the phrase makes sales reps 40% less likely to book a meeting.
- Ask opened-ended questions. Once you get past initial pleasantries, be strategic about the questions you ask your prospects. Specifically, ask them open-ended questions, i.e. questions that can't be answered with a simple yes or no. This will force them to engage in the conversation with you and boost your chances of success.
- Watch your tone of voice: Consider this: 7% of spoken communication is comprehended by the words you say, 38% by the tone of voice you use, and 55% by your facial expressions and body language. But when you cold call prospects, they can't see you, which means your tone of voice is extra crucial.
6. Think About Objections
Every seller has to deal with objections. The way you handle them while cold calling will largely determine the number of follow-up calls and/or in-person meetings you book.
Some of the most common objections you'll hear are:
- "It's too expensive."
- "I don't need this product/service right now."
- "I already use a similar product/service."
- "Now is not a good time."
- “I need to run this by my boss."
When a prospect whips one of these objections your way, listen to them. Do your best to understand where they're coming from. Your prospects are human beings. As such, they'll appreciate a sales rep who doesn't immediately dismiss their concerns.
That doesn't mean you should hang up the phone every time you experience resistance in the sales process. I suggest preparing for objections before you receive them. Plan your responses to the main objections you receive. That way, you can handle them effectively.
7. Remember: The Goal of Cold Calling is to Connect, Not Sell
This is so important!
When you cold call a lead, you're participating in a discovery call, not a sales conversation. Your goal is to learn if this person is a legitimate prospect or not.
That's not to say that cold calls never result in sales. Every once in a while, you'll catch a prospect at the perfect time. They'll need exactly what you sell and will have the budget to pay for it. But these situations are rare. More often than not, you'll need to book a follow-up call.
8. Before You Dial
Okay, you're just about ready to cold call your first prospect. Before you get on the line, check a few things to make sure you don't waste yours or your prospect's time:
- Equipment: Are you using special equipment? Check all external microphones, headsets, etc., before your call to make sure they're operational.
- Location: Are you in a quiet, distraction-free space? You'll have a hard time connecting with prospects if there is a lot of background noise.
- Preparedness: Have you read through your prospect research and sales script? Make sure you feel comfortable with both prior to your cold call.
Also, let's talk about voicemails. You won't get a chance to talk to every prospect you cold call. You'll need to leave some of them messages. You should be prepared for this as well.
The voicemails should be short and include essential information, such as your name, your company name, why you're calling, your contact information, and next steps. Read this blog post to learn everything you need to know about leaving stellar voicemail messages.
9. During the Call: Set up Next Contact
It doesn't matter if you're talking to gatekeepers or the actual prospect you hoped to reach. Either way, make sure you establish when you'll speak to them again.
This can be done in a couple of different ways:
You can schedule a follow-up meeting before you hang up the phone. This is the preferred option, but it usually only works with prospects who are very interested in what you sell.
If you can't get your prospect to commit to a follow-up meeting, simply tell them when you plan to reach back out. You can say something like, "I'll call you again next Tuesday. That way, we can talk about (Insert Your Offering) in more detail. Does that work for you?"
10. Follow Up
Your first cold call to a prospect shouldn't be your last—unless you close the deal in your first conversation or the prospect tells you to stop calling them.
Both of these situations are rare, which means you need to get used to following up. If you don't, you won't make many sales. In fact, it can take up to 8 calls to reach a prospect now, and persistence is becoming more necessary.
One of the best things about following up with prospects is that it will transform your cold calling efforts into a warm calling strategy. You won't be a random stranger anymore. After the first call, your prospects will begin to recognize you and your company.
This is great news! It's much easier to sell to people who know who you are. Why? Because humans inherently trust the people they know more than the people they don't. Since trust is essential in sales, name recognition is a huge step towards closing a deal.
11. Make Your Second Call
You just made your first cold call. Now what?
Call the next prospect on your call list. Doing so will give you a chance to connect with another potential customer. It will also help you improve your cold calling skills.
Here's the truth: most newbies suck at cold calling. They get too nervous. They talk about pricing before they stress the benefits of their products/services. They forget to schedule a follow-up meeting. The only way to stop sucking is to practice. A lot.
So don't hesitate. Dial another number and run through your cold calling script again. Then do it again. And again. And again. Your hard work will pay off.
Level Up Your Outreach
There you go, 11 sales tips you can use to crush it with cold calling. As long as you implement these strategies and techniques, you should be able to close more deals.
You know what else will help you close more deals? The right software. That's why you should take a long, hard look at Close, the CRM of choice for thousands of small businesses.
With Close, sales professionals can easily manage contact data, build automated email and text messaging sequences, and supercharge their cold calling efforts with Power and Predictive Dialers. And I haven't even mentioned the pipeline management and lead scoring tools that Close has, or the fact that our platform integrates with dozens of other apps.
Try Close for free for the next 14 days to see if it's the right sales tool for your team!