At the time of this writing, I am not sure which I naturally prefer: making cold calls or getting stabbed by my cat’s claws. The relative bliss of 20 simultaneous acute flesh wounds might top the list though. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Regardless of my preference, the cat-inflicted lacerations, unfortunately, are not going to help the company I work for make more money or advance in its business goals. So in most cases, cold-calling it is.
Many of us, at some point in our professional lives, will be faced with the task of cold-calling business prospects. Especially as an employee of a small business, where the number of hats you wear typically exceeds the number of hooks on the rack – regardless of whether the word “sales” appears in your job title.
I may have let on to the fact that cold-calling isn’t my favorite thing. But as a serial small business employee, I’ve done enough of it that I’ve learned some things that have helped. Here are the top seven in my book.
1. Take Detailed Notes
As I make each call on a list of prospects, I have my pen ready. I write down the person’s name who answers so I can repeat it back later in the conversation. As they relay information, I scribble down the high points so I can reference it for appropriate follow-up. If I don’t, there is a high likelihood I will forget within moments. And when it comes time to report to the boss about results of the callouts, I have all the facts handy for a concise, accurate report.
Bonus on writing down the person’s name. Most of the time they won’t be the end point of contact or the decision maker. But after I’ve chatted with them I can look back down at their name (If I’ve forgotten, which is likely. Short-term memory loss is the pits.) and say, “Thank you, Mary. I appreciate your help.” When I am on the receiving end of a cold call, I am much more likely to remember what the call was about, even warmly, if the person used my name. I figure even if it doesn’t result in a sale, at least it adds some friendly humanity to the conversation.
2. Respect their Time
Most of us have way too much to do at work than time available. If it is true for me, it is almost certainly true for the person I am trying to reach for my pitch. That’s why, when I do get that person on the phone, I try to lead with “Did I catch you at a good time?” That gives them the freedom to tell me if they need to schedule a callback or if they have a few minutes to talk. Then I follow their lead. If they say to call back in two hours, I make a note and call back at the set time.
The person that launches into a monologue the second you answer – we’ve all had those calls – they are so focused on themselves and their mission that they forget common courtesy. Don’t be that person. It is rude and a major turnoff.
I have to credit my teenage retail jobs for driving this point home. If you deliberately smile while the phone is still ringing, a friendly tone comes across in your voice. Not only that, it affects a genuine cheerful disposition when talking to the person on the other end. On the contrary, if you’re miserable and can’t stand making calls, that will come across loud and clear as well.
4. Believe Your Call is Valuable and Beneficial (and Be Ready to Articulate Why)
This should be done before you make your first call. Solidify in your mind why what you are offering is valuable to the other person. Write down a list of reasons, if that helps.
I don’t consider myself a “sales-y” person. I don’t have the saleswoman instinct or personality naturally. So this step helps me tremendously. If I am convinced that what I am offering to the person or business would be helpful to them, it takes a lot of the pain out of what would normally be a very awkward process for me. Furthermore, it takes away the sting of rejection.
I know that I am making a sincere, valuable offer. If they want it, great! If they don’t, no problem. I’ll just take my pitch to the next person on the list.
5. Inject Personality or Lightheartedness
Sales calls have a tendency to feel rigid, at least for me. Building on #3, I look for opportunities to insert some humor or personality into the call.
For example, if people are talking loudly in the background of the call, I might say something like, “Sounds like there is a party going on over there. I’ll pick up some donuts and be right over!” That sort of thing is my go to because I tend to be silly when given the opportunity. It is usually unexpected and disarming, and helps set a more open tone for the conversation.
I should stress that everyone has their own style. What works for me might not work for you, and vice-versa. If I can inject some lightheartedness into the conversation, it seems to help. At the very least, it causes me to have more fun!
6. Be Persistent – Ask Follow Up Questions
I mentioned I am not a natural saleswoman type. As such, I am by default all too quick to gladly accept a “no” and move on. “OK thanks for your time bye,” I’ll say fast enough to create a draft into the phone. That quickness to welcome rejection may not be the best tactic, however. As painful as it is, the most painful part – making the call and introduction – is already over. Why not just take a few seconds to get more information? Doesn’t hurt to ask such questions as:
“May I ask why you’re not interested?”
“What would be a better fit for you?”
“Is there a possibility this might be of use to you down the road?”
Or if they seem mildly interested but still tell you no:
“How about if I call you back in a month to check in?” (If you do that, refer to #1 and follow up when you said you would.)
At the very least, you’ll wind up with more information than you would have had by rushing off the phone.
Unless you have a knack for sales, cold-calling can be anywhere from awkward to downright painful. But it doesn’t have to be. If you know you are offering a product or service of value, try to make it fun and/or memorable for the prospect, smile and ask questions, you may just find that cold-calling isn’t so bad after all. Save those cat-inflicted flesh wounds and pull out that prospect list!
Have any feedback or questions? Please feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear from you! Or if any sales types want to set me straight, by all means, go ahead