As a tactic, cold calling doesn’t get a lot of love. It’s often misunderstood and could probably benefit from a PR campaign to change people’s perceptions. Here’s the thing, though: most businesses today still employ people to do cold calling on their behalf because it works. I should probably qualify that statement: it works reliably and predictably when properly executed. Most people muck it up, so it doesn’t work for them, and they write it off.
In this post, I'm going to tell you how to get it right. Whether you make cold calls for your agency or pay someone else to do it for you, this post will help clarify what determines your efforts' effectiveness.
There is a reason why 41.2% of salespeople believe the phone is their most effective tool for their job (per Marc Wayshak at Sales Insights Lab). Sales pros know that nothing beats the phone for gaining an understanding of a prospect’s needs and building stronger relationships — particularly when in-person connections have been eliminated.
But wait, if that’s true, why do so many people look down on cold calling? If everyone hates it, is it just a waste of time? And how do decision-makers respond to cold calling in today’s environment? Fair questions. To address that properly, we need to consider RAIN Group’s study.
RAIN Group’s study debunks sales prospecting myths
In 2018, RAIN Group conducted an important study of 488 buyers and 489 sellers, most of whom were located in the Americas (roughly 30% were in either APAC or EMEA). The participants represented 26 industries, and the majority of buyers were in C-level/VP (22%), Manager (44%), or Director roles (23%). An additional 11% were in other professional roles. What RAIN Group found is that contrary to commonly accepted myths dismissing cold calling's relevance, it still provides value for both parties.
Some surprising statistics that emerged from RAIN Group’s study:
- 49% of buyers said they preferred cold calls as the first point of contact.
- 57% of C-level and VP buyers across industries prefer to be contacted by phone. 51% of directors and 47% of managers feel the same. The only preferred contact method ranked higher than cold calls is email (preferred by 80% of buyers).
- 82% of buyers have accepted meetings with salespeople after a series of contacts originating with a cold sales call.
- 57% of C-level executives value information from phone calls with sales reps.
RAIN Group also found that where B2B purchases are concerned, contrary to conventional wisdom, buyers don’t want to hear from salespeople only at the end of their buying journey; most prospects want to hear from them early on.
- 71% want to hear from sellers during the information-gathering stage of a new project
- 62% want sellers to call when they are actively engaged in solving a business problem
- 49% want sellers to call when they are analyzing their situation and its causes
- 54% want to hear from sellers after they’ve decided to buy and are selecting a provider
- Just 30% want to first hear from sellers in response to an RFP
- Only 2% of buyers say they don’t want to engage with sellers at all during the buying process
Most decision-makers (55%, according to RAIN Group’s study) appreciate valuable content provided by sellers. The following types of content most influence them:
- Primary research data relevant to the prospect’s business (69%)
- Descriptions of the provider’s capabilities (67%)
- Content 100% customized to their specific situation (67%)
- Insight on the use of products or services to solve business problems (66%)
- Best-practice methodology based on the provider’s area of expertise (65%)
- Insight into new and emerging business issues or market trends (63%)
- Financial justification such as ROI and total cost of ownership (63%)
- Client case studies and success stories (61%)
- How-to tips, tactics, and advice (56%)
- Client testimonials (55%)
- Invitations to events (46%)
Finally, in terms of factors that influence their purchase decisions, here’s what the buyers in RAIN Group’s study said moves them:
- A seller’s focus on the value they can deliver to them (96%)
- Sellers collaborating with them (93%)
- Education on new ideas and perspectives (92%)
- Valuable insight related to their industry or market (92%)
- Sellers deepening their understanding of their own needs (92%)
It's clear what buyers really want is a trusted advisor, a consultant who can help them do their job better and make them look good, largely by adding value and delivering ROI. Buyers don’t want to be sold to, and that’s not what effective cold calling looks like. New business outreach is about getting on someone’s radar, finding ways to provide them value, and looking for mutually beneficial collaboration opportunities. The sale itself is a later hoop to jump through, and it doesn’t come through talking at someone and trying to sell them on your agency and its services.
Cold calling is not best used as a standalone tactic
This is a critical point: to make cold calling work for your agency, it should be used on a regular basis and in combination with other outreach methods. (We typically alternate emails and phone calls, sometimes interspersing social outreach). An omnichannel approach to new business outreach is needed to reach people in today’s noisy, hybrid-remote work environments.
For example, your cold email should provide relevant content of value and proof points showing how you’ve solved challenges like those the prospect is facing for clients similar to the prospect. Then, your cold call will piggyback on that email (making it ever-so-slightly less cold), and your next email will piggyback on the resulting conversation or voicemail. And so-on.
Building an effective outreach campaign
Effective cold calling campaigns require upfront planning around appropriate targets and relevant messaging. At TDP, we are big believers in hyper-targeted lists and customized messages that speak directly to prospects’ pain points. We’d rather work from a smaller list of curated targets than 100 hit-or-miss targets.
Here are some considerations when compiling your target list for cold calling:
- There is a lot of inaccurate and outdated contact information out there, not only within your internal CRMs and spreadsheets but also in subscription databases. With the high rates of turnover we’ve seen in the past year, it’s wise to cross-check your contact information against LinkedIn to confirm whether your contacts are still in the same roles at the same companies. This will save you time downstream.
- Vet the accounts (by media spend, number of employees, revenue, etc.) to ensure they will be likely to afford your services.
- Understand which types of companies in what verticals are most in need of your services and which roles will be most responsive to your help.
- Be sure your targets are decision-makers.
- Think about organizing target lists around a single vertical. That way, when you work through the list, you will probably be referencing the same pain points and relevant proof points about how you’ve helped others in their industry.
Preparing for successful cold calling sprints
Salespeople who win at cold calling are typically very disciplined around time management, meeting specific target goals each day or week, and are strategic about preparing their talking points and trying to connect with the right people at the right times.
Here are some things great salespeople do to prepare for successful cold calls:
- They plan their workweek around “prime calling time” (CallHippo has found Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the best days to connect with prospects, particularly between 4:00-5:00 PM and 11:00-12:00 PM).
- They prioritize calls by importance and time zone, so the warmest leads are responded to first within those ideal target windows.
- They are prepared to leave a voicemail if necessary.
- They are clear on their immediate goal: to get a meeting — NOT to make a sale.
- They have a script ready with a strong intro, open-ended questions, relevant proof points, similar clients they’ve worked with, and responses to common prospect questions and objections.
- They quickly reference LinkedIn and Google for any relevant developments related to prospects and their companies.
- They look for ways to make personal connections with their prospects.
- They practice mock sales calls with coworkers, study other sales calls, and review recordings of their delivery to hone their craft and boost their confidence.
Without this preparatory work to lay the groundwork for a successful conversation, the hard truth is you will only be wasting your time and that of your prospects. It’s critical to be as efficient and effective as possible.
What do great salespeople do differently on cold calls?
Why do some sales calls lead to next steps, while others frustrate prospects by wasting their time (and contributing to cold calling’s already poor reputation)? The best salespeople approach it differently and take into account influential factors that others often miss.
On calls, here are some habits of top salespeople:
- They are aware of their tone, which many believe is more influential than words (Hubspot).
- They use volume, pacing, and cadence to sound more confident, clear, and intelligent (that means no “ummms…”, no mumbling, and speaking neither too fast nor too slow).
- They sit up and smile — even over the phone, the energy and confidence translates.
- They convey equal business stature because they’ve come prepared and know they have a right to win this business and can genuinely help this prospect.
- They use mirroring as a tactic. Studies have found that mirroring the other party can significantly improve negotiations and prospects' perceptions of sales reps (ringDNA).
- They are brief and concise, staying on point with their script. According to Chorus, the average successful cold call lasts 7.5 minutes, and if you are splitting that fairly evenly with the prospect, that means you have less than four minutes of talk time.
- They use positive, collaborative terms that are proven to encourage sales (like “definitely,” “absolutely,” and “we”) while avoiding terms that hurt sales efforts (like “discount,” “contract,” “we provide,” and “me”) (Gong.io, Sales Hacker, Chorus, and Ulan Group via FinancesOnline).
- They seek to understand the prospect’s needs, which means they are asking open-ended questions and actively listening.
- They are more interested in demonstrating value and earning trust than in selling.
- Before the call ends, they repeat back a summary of what was shared to confirm their understanding, thank the prospect for their time, and create a plan about what will happen next. If a follow-up meeting is warranted, they agree on a time before hanging up.
- After the call, they send a brief follow-up email restating what was discussed and confirming the next steps.
Wait—you mean I have to do this six times PER contact?
There’s an awful lot to remember if you want to succeed at cold calling. It can be tempting to cross someone off your list after making a single connection. Or, for missed connections, to assume that if two or three calls went unanswered that the next few would be as well.
It’s critical to keep in mind that success with cold calls requires persistence. If you have taken steps to set yourself up for cold calling success and you rinse and repeat across your target list, you have to know that you will be successful. Eventually. You just have to push through a lot of missed connections and rejections first. Honestly, most people find it tedious, discouraging, and mind-numbing. Few have the drive and motivation to continue pushing through with cold calls, which is why they fail to realize success with this tactic.
Here’s what you need to understand about cold calling success metrics:
- According to CallHippo, 44% of salespeople give up on a lead after the first call. If they would continue reaching out, they could increase their conversation rate by up to 70% within the first six attempts.
- Velocify also found 93% of converted leads are only reached by the 6th cold call attempt — even while 50% of leads are never called a second time. Velocify’s research also showed that prospects reached after the 7th touch are 45% less likely to be converted compared to those reached before the 6th call (via FitSmallBusiness).
- Typically, a “no” from one person shouldn’t mean you stop pursuing the account. Multiple people are typically involved in B2B sales, so it makes sense to target multiple decisions makers at your target company.
- An estimated 1-5% of cold calls turn into appointments. That is highly dependent on what you are selling and the quality and consistency of your approach. Yes, 1-5% is low. But when used in combination with other outreach methods, these rates of response and appointments increase exponentially. And those five prospects out of 100 that turn into appointments also represent business that you’d like to have versus business that you have to take.
“Just because one person says they don't have a need for your agency, that doesn’t mean it's a ‘no’ for the entire account, unless it's a C-level exec giving you that ‘no.’ On multiple occasions, a Marketing Director or Brand Director has told me their needs were covered, but when I spoke to the VP of Creative, I found they do have a need. If one department gives you a resolution, try reaching out to a different department that also utilizes agency services — again, only if the initial negative resolution came from a lower-level decision-maker.” — Jordan Mayer, VP of Client Engagement, The Duval Partnership
If you’ve ever thought cold calling was a simple “smile and dial” exercise consisting of making repetitive calls from a long list all day, it should now be clear that it is significantly more involved (when correctly executed). Cold calling campaigns that are short on strategy and long on lists are why the tactic has gained a bad reputation.
While success with cold calling depends on targeting and strategy (rather than target volume), it is also a numbers game in the sense that you must diligently track the number of touches per contact and per account to stay on track to meet your goals.
If you are doing the right things at the right times on a regular basis, success with cold calling is fairly predictable. You will have conversations, and if those are executed correctly, you will have meetings. And, if you present well in the meetings, you just may close new business with one of your ideal target clients.
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