Cold-calling cowardice

With the multitude of telemarketers out there, it seems like cold-calling is no longer a viable way to prospect. What advice could you give me to cold-call more effectively?

First of all, cold-calling still works. Working referrals is more effective than cold-calling, but if you are starting a new business, developing a new territory or starting a new position, you will have to make cold-calls.

Still, the last thing in the world you want to sound like is one of the telemarketers who call at dinnertime. They don’t send these telemarketers to sales training; they send them to breathing control school, where they teach them to talk longer than anybody I know without taking a breath.

Here are my rules for making cold-calls:

  • Don’t sound like a salesperson — make sure your tonality sounds like that of an old friend or, better yet, an ordinary human being who is uncomfortable making a sales call. A little self-deprecating humor goes a long way.
  • Be honest and forthright — let them know up front why you are calling.
  • Be respectful of the fact that you have interrupted them and ask for their permission to take up a short period of time.
  • Describe what you do in the form of two to three problems and frustrations you can help them solve.
  • Ask if they have any of these frustrations and let them talk.
  • Don’t try to fix these problems on the phone. Avoid anything that looks at all like a sales pitch.
  • Suggest they “invite” you in to discuss these frustrations in greater detail to see if you can help.
  • Set the appointment and confirm it by giving them the opportunity to back out before you hang up.

Suppose I am selling cellular phone service. Here is what my cold-call would sound like.

“Hello, Bill? This is Larry Lewis calling? Does my name sound familiar? I wasn’t sure that it would. Well, let me tell you why I’m calling. I work for _______ and I’d imagine that the last thing you want to do today is talk to another salesperson. However, if you will give me 30 seconds, I can tell you why I am calling and then you can decide if it makes sense to continue this conversation. Will you give me 30 seconds if I stick to that time frame? Thank you.

“I typically work with individuals who are basically satisfied with their cellular phone service, except that they are frustrated by the fact that they can’t always get a signal throughout the Western Pennsylvania calling area or they sometimes lose their connection in the middle of their conversation, defeating their purpose for having a mobile phone in the first place. Or they have been surprised at the size of their phone bills and expected that their calling plan would be more inclusive. I don’t suppose you have any of these concerns?”

If you don’t get a nibble, move on. If you do, ask them if they would be willing to spend a minute to talk about it. When it sounds like they’re frustrated enough to be willing to give up 30-60 minutes of their time, suggest they invite you over for a sales interview. If they agree it makes sense, tell them to get out their calendar. Find a mutually convenient time. Before you hang up, ask if they are sure they want to meet to talk about it.

Before you pick up the phone to make your first call, stand up, put a smile on your face and think about how you felt the last time you called your best friend with a joke. Think of the person on the other end as that person, someone who really wants to hear from you.

Now repeat after me: “Some will, Some won’t, So what, Next!” Lighten up. Remember, the prospect is not your mother. The worst thing that can happen on a cold-call is the prospect hangs up on you. Big deal.

When it comes to cold-calls, you don’t have to like them, you just have to make them.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based sales training and consulting firm. Send him your comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224. He can be reached by phone at (724) 933-9110.