I hate long introductions, so if you just want the "how," skip to the next section. If you're not convinced that cold calling is an effective way to help grow your business, I'd recommend reading the first section.
A business will only make money if it has customers.
Not every business will need to actively market itself. Take for example the local convenience store. You shop there because, well, it's convenient. Their customers can get everything they sell somewhere else for a better price, but it means putting in more effort.
Chances are, you won't be able to rely on this type of customer.
Cold calling can be an excellent way to find potential customers, although in this day and age it's very difficult to cold call somebody and turn them into a customer in the same conversation.
What you CAN do, is create leads which will no longer be cold, but are instead very interested in hearing what your product or service is all about, and who are willing to spend money if they like what they hear.
I split my sales process into two parts. The first part is lead generation, and that's what we'll be focusing on in this article. The second part is the actual sale, turning a lead into a customer—although we'll leave that for another day.
Lead generation is important because it creates a captive audience for the sales pitch. Many new salespeople become convinced that they are bad at selling, or that the product is no good, because they're trying to sell to people who they shouldn't be trying to sell to in the first place.
With an effective lead generation strategy, you can ensure that this huge stumbling block for many salespeople is removed. There is one caveat to this however.
If you've ever had a background in customer service, you've heard these words before:
"The customer is always right."
Well, let me tell you, in lead generation, the buyer is a god damn liar.
Not all of them of course, but you'll get the odd person who seems like the perfect lead, wants to meet your sales team, and then when you turn up at their door they deny all knowledge of ever having requested a meeting.
This can't be helped, because some people are just total assholes. Shrug your shoulders and move on. It's not your fault they're like that.
You'll also get a huge number of people who say they aren't interested in your product.
Most of the time this is also a lie, of the omission type. The bit they're not telling you is "I'm not interested in speaking to you."
Am I making this sound like an impossible task?
Cold calling for lead generation is actually quite easy. You just have to be prepared for the reality that it's going to take some determination.
You see, there are only two qualities you need to be good at lead generation. First, you're gonna need to be really damn persistent. You've got to be able to keep making calls, and you've got to be able to hurdle over the false disinterest. We'll get to the second quality in a minute, because there's a couple of easy tricks to getting into the right kind of mindset required to be persistent as a cold caller, without being the kind of "persistent" that leads to burnout.
Trick number one: Every time you pick up the phone you're one step closer to a lead.
Trick number two: If you want to know if somebody is REALLY disinterested, or just pretending, it comes down to one thing. DO they already have a similar product or service? If they do, then it's false disinterest.
It's okay, I know what you're thinking. "If they already have a product that does what mine does, why would they be interested?"
Because yours is better in some way. And if it isn't, then why the hell are you trying to sell it to people?
Once you get these two things in your head, you will start seeing solid leads stacking up one after another. Not everyone will agree to become a lead, and you'll spend a lot of time filtering out people who just aren't a good fit for your product.
Now that's out of the way, here's how to actually do it.
Section One: Before the Call
If you're going to use cold calling to find leads to turn into customers, you need their phone numbers.
Pretty simple stuff, but you're gonna need to make sure this is checking against blacklists for cold calling, otherwise you'll end up costing yourself a lot in fines.
You'll also want the person's name in advance if possible. You will get a much better reception if you can ask for a person by name rather than something generic.
Next, you'll want to organise this data into a way that you can make a lot of calls in a short space of time. This can be done with something as simple as an excel spreadsheet, but you'll find plenty of more sophisticated methods of doing this if you want to go down that route.
Section Two: The Call
A lead generation call consists of a few very small parts.
The first part is about getting the right person on the phone—the decision maker.
It might go something like this:
"Oh, good morning. Is John there?"
Now one of two things will usually happen, either you're speaking to John or you aren't.
Either way, the person you're speaking to will probably ask who you are.
Nothing fancy needed here. "It's Katie, calling from Acme Co."
It's careful to pay attention to the tone of voice of the person you're speaking to. If they sound rushed, you should be respectful and say, "Do you/ Does John have a minute?"
A quick point: If they aren't actually there, and you're speaking to somebody else, pump them for information. Ask when the best time to try and contact them would be. Make sure that John is indeed the person you need to speak to. If you can push for more information, do it. The more you know about a potential lead before you speak to them the better.
If they seem pretty calm, you might like to skip that question and replace that with a simple, "How are you doing?"
Not everyone likes this because it sounds "salesy"—and if you're not careful it will definitely come off as disingenuous. In my own experience, I will tend to say something like, "Oh hiya, how you doin, you alright?" That way, it's just a basic greeting, as you would use between friends. On the other hand, it's not essential to do it. You can actually skip it and go straight to the next part of the call if you prefer.
"I'm just calling because we've been working with a few people in your area/industry/etc..."
You need to give people a reason to talk to you.
"... and we've been able to do X for quite a few of them, and we'd like to see if we can do the same thing for you as well."
We'll explore what's happening with this part of the call in a second. For a moment, I'd like to point out that this part may need some adjustment depending on what it is your business sells.
Lets pretend you were an energy company. You might say "We've been able to help a lot of people on fixed incomes to reduce their energy bill dramatically."
Or if you're real estate, you might say "We've been able to help a lot of people in the neighbourhood sell their house in less than a month."
It doesn't really matter what, you just pick something that you do well, and ideally better than the competition, and tell the people you talk to that you'll be able to do the same thing for them.
Now at this stage, you might hear the "I'm not interested." line.
All you need to say in reply is:
"Thanks for being honest with me. So you feel like you already have the best deal on (your product or service)?"
Chances are they'll say yes, or just put the phone down on you.
If they've put the phone down, just move onto the next number. If they've said yes, here's the reply:
"A couple of other people said the same thing at first, and then we've found that..."
Again, what you say next will depend on your product. You'll start by reiterating the first point you made in a manner which makes yours sound better than the competition.
Let's say your business is selling solar energy panels to homeowners:
"we've found that we're able to save most people 30 percent on their energy bill..."
You'll then want to introduce another benefit.
"... and increase the value of their homes by $3,000."
Once you've said this, it's very important that you do not pause to let the other person speak. Simply go straight into the next part of the call, which is going to depend heavily on what you're trying to sell.
A small point here: Never talk over the person. That's just rude, if they start to say something, let them finish. It could be invaluable, and we'll look at that in more detail in the next section.
This is going to be the first qualifying question. You'll want to ask who they currently use at the moment for a service if you're trying to get somebody to switch to use you instead of the competition.
If it's something they haven't had before, you're going to try and uncover some kind of "pain" that they can get rid of by having your product.
"Who do you use for your internet provider at the moment?"
No fancy gimmicks here, just a straight up honest question.
You should already know your competition inside out. You should know exactly what you can do better than them, so that no matter what they say you can reply with:
"Perfect! For our customers that have switched to us from X, we've been able to..."
The next phrase will bring it back to the benefits you mentioned before, but don't rehash it word for word. Just say it in general terms.
The next step is to move straight on to the close, so you end up turning this call into a sales appointment. Don't let go of control of the conversation. Keep it going.
The closing statement could sound like:
"We'll be in the area on Tuesday and Thursday, when can we come and see you?"
And that's basically all there is to generating a lead from a cold call.
Now, there are going to be a whole bunch of times when the person you speak to will want to veer off of this script. This is not a bad thing, because if they're still talking to you what they are actually doing is giving you more information, which we'll take a look at in the following section.
Section Three: Going Off Script and Handling Objections
A sense of empathy is going to help you out a lot here.
Most successful cold calls will not flow from saying hello to arranging a meeting without at least a few moments where the person you're speaking to will want to tell you something.
These may be objections:
- "I've never heard of you guys before."
- "I'm going to be moving house in the next three weeks."
- "I'm too busy dealing with another problem to look at this right now."
First off, don't get discouraged. Hearing objections is actually a signal that you're going in the right direction. An objection is actually the person volunteering more information than what you asked for.
All you need to do is address that in a calm and reasonable manner. Acknowledge what they have said, and evaluate how that would impact the process of taking them on as a customer. It might well be that today simply is not the right day to make a sale, or to arrange for an appointment. If that's the case, you just ask if it's okay to call them back another time.
On the other hand, they may just be looking for some reassurance that becoming your customer is not going to cause disruption to their lives.
All you need to do here is state the facts.
"It's okay, we have lots of customers who've been in your position, so what we did was X."
Once you've handled the objection, just go right back to the closing statement asking them to meet with you for a formal sales meeting.
And that's basically it.
Cold calling is not about delivering super-powerful sales pitches. It's just about getting to the point quickly and simply. Be respectful of people's time, listen to what they tell you, and ALWAYS push past the "I'm not interested."
Just remember, if they REALLY don't want to talk to you, they will ask for their number to be blacklisted and hang up on you. Otherwise, it's just because they don't believe you've got anything special to offer them. Your job is to show them that you do.
Section Four: The Law of Averages
At first it will take time to get used to your script for the call. You'll need to develop your responses to particular objections. Your goal is to sound natural, relaxed, and not like a machine reading from a script.
If you've never cold called before, this will probably take a week or two. If it takes longer than that, you need to be more mindful about the conversations you're having rather than just going through the motions.
Once you're familiar with the script, a good target to aim for is one out of every 50 calls should convert to a warm lead.
Section Five: Tips & Tricks
1. Act like you know the person and that you've spoken before. People are less receptive to strangers. An easy way to do this is to say "How've you been?" early in the conversation. Most people don't question it, and the ones that do you can count on the fact that they've spoken to enough cold callers in the past that they aren't keeping track of every person they spoke to. That's why cold callers use CRM software after all.
2. If you're in B2B, mention you've helped their competition, and you'd like to try and do the same for them as well. If you're B2C, mention one of their neighbours in a vague way: "One of our customers on XYZ street."
3. Match their speaking style. If they speak quickly, so should you. If they speak softly, so should you.
4. Don't lie about your products. This will be discovered sooner or later, and it'll ultimately result in your time being wasted as well as theirs. Even worse, you'll create a bad reputation.
5. Make a note of everything the person you're speaking to says. You never know what will be relevant later.
6. Record and listen to your own calls (make sure that you tell the people you are speaking to that you're doing this). This is the best way to improve.
7. Never give up. I've gone days without getting a single lead, followed by getting more than double my target for the day for two weeks in a row. The only common link between one call and the next is your own frame of mind.
8. Develop commercial awareness. If there's a big event on that's going to result in lots of people being busy, target a different group of people who won't be affected by it.
9. Ask as many qualifying questions as you can. Be direct and don't beat around the bush. You're not asking these questions for the sake of it, you're asking to make sure that you can genuinely benefit the person you're speaking to.
10. Obey the law. Cold calling is subject to regulations, and ignoring these is asking for trouble. You don't need to play dirty to get ahead. Just be consistent.