It’s 2023, and despite what others would have you believe, cold calling ain’t dead.
I’m here to explain why cold calling has stood the test of time, along with my most actionable cold calling tips and techniques to help you improve your win rates.
Let’s start with the basics.
Table of contents
- Why everyone hates cold calling
- What is cold calling?
- 9 effective cold calling techniques
- 6 myths about cold calling, busted
Why everyone hates cold calling
Look, I get it. You hate cold calling. Everybody does.
(Everybody, that is, except the salespeople using it to generate millions of dollars in actual sales today.)
No one likes being ambushed. No one likes being caught off guard and asked to have a conversation they were unprepared to have. Some people even think of cold calling as a breach of a prospect’s privacy.
But cold calling techniques are still effective in generating sales — and the sellers using cold calling to generate millions of dollars in sales daily know it.
I’ll help you join them.
What is cold calling?
Cold calling is a sales activity in which reps reach out to potential customers, or prospects, who haven’t expressed any interest in the offered products or services.
(By the way, cold calling is under the umbrella of cold outreach, which includes contacting prospects through channels including calls, emails, social media, and mail.)
Once upon a time, cold calling was a “spray & pray” approach: Make a ton of calls and hope someone picked up.
But today’s successful sellers have sharpened cold calling into a target-driven sales communication tool, carefully curating lists of prospects most likely to buy.
Myth busted: Is cold calling illegal?
Quite often, people wonder, is cold calling illegal?
Absolutely not: Cold calling is not illegal.
However, different countries have rules and regulations put in place to limit how, when and whom salespeople can cold call. Be aware of the laws both where you work and in the regions you’re calling.
So, here’s where we stand with cold calling.
First, I’ll cover my top cold calling tips and techniques. Then, I’m going to tackle some of the myths about cold calling that (for some reason) still survive.
Top 9 effective cold calling tips and techniques
- Embrace rejection, don’t run from it.
- Focus on immediate learning, NOT immediate sales.
- Use technology tools to eliminate tedious tasks.
- Do your detective work to create a targeted prospect list.
- Follow your scripts like an actor, NOT like a robot.
- Find a calling schedule that works.
- Make the right ask and set proper next steps.
- Learn to leave effective voicemails.
- 6 best practices to live by
With all this negativity, it’s hard to see how cold calling is worth even considering. And that’s exactly why cold calling can be so effective for you.
If you master the art and science of cold calling, you can become the highest paid sales rep at your company. Like all other forms of prospecting, bad cold callers are easy to spot. So if you’re really good, you will stand out in stark contrast to your competitors. And that will make you successful.
Here’s the foundation you need in order to use cold calling to close more business, help more people, and write your own paycheck:
1. Embrace rejection — don’t run from it
Rejection is a necessary part of all sales activity, from prospecting through close, inbound and outbound. No one closes 100% of their prospects.
How to get over your fear of rejection:
Actionable takeaway #1: Create a “funniest rejection” Slack channel where team members can compete to win a prize for the worst thing someone said in place of “No, thank you.”
Actionable takeaway #2: If someone says no, but is nice about it, ask why not.
Try something like this:
“I appreciate your honesty. The hardest thing about my job is not knowing whether we can help someone. To help me grow as a seller, do you mind telling me why you don’t think we can help you?”
Don’t try to sell them here, just try to learn.
Actionable takeaway #3: Run a practice call with your colleague and have them shut you down in the rudest way possible. Every time you get told no afterward, remind yourself that at least it wasn’t as bad as that rejection!
If you keep getting told no, and you can’t shake the negative feeling, go read/watch testimonials from clients who love working with your company.
Remind yourself that you are helping people.
2. Set your sights on immediate learning, not immediate sales
You know cold calling can’t be mastered overnight, so set a goal to learn something in every conversation with a prospect, good or bad.
Here’s a quick and dirty guide on how to be a better cold caller:
Actionable takeaway #1: Start with a script and do not deviate (yet).
Actionable takeaway #2: Figure out where you consistently get stuck in the script (people shut you down >50% of the time you say it).
Actionable takeaway #3: Rewrite that section of your script until you stop getting rejected.
Actionable takeaway #4: Repeat this process until you can get through your entire script on >50% of your conversations.
Actionable takeaway #5: Analyze your sales calls. Specifically, listen to the answers prospects give to your open-ended questions. The better the question, the more they talk.
Actionable takeaway #6: Record your learnings in a journal (physical or digital) so you don’t forget how much good came from early failings.
Actionable takeaway #7: Share your learnings with your manager and other reps who are struggling.
Setting your expectations correctly and constantly learning will put you years ahead of the average salesperson.
Bonus: Check out this half hour cold calling workshop for scripts, tips, and practice with Jason Bay:
3. Use tech to eliminate tedious tasks
There are so many sales tools available to the modern salesperson that you should never have to suffer through tedious, inefficient sales activities again.
Here are some of my favorite tools:
ConnectAndSell – I use their service to avoid everything I hate about cold calling (manually dialing, navigating phone trees, waiting on hold, talking to gatekeepers, scheduling follow up). I just get placed into live conversations with my prospects right when they answer.
Outreach – Outreach’s product has continuously improved to meet the needs of modern sales teams, and their service and support are second to none. It’s useful for many things, including full sequence management (phone, email, SMS, and social).
DiscoverOrg – You’ve definitely heard of them. They’re basically the gold standard in company and contact data, but they also provide insights into buying triggers that would normally add hours of research to your plate.
Nextiva – A fantastic choice if you need a VoIP phone system that’s easy to set up, and is light-weight and reliable.
If you are using Salesforce CRM, you’re in luck. Just about every single sales productivity tool in the world plugs in with them.
If you are using another CRM, never fear. There are standalone versions of many products, plus you can use Zapier to connect disparate systems.
Look out for the two most common excuses of the lazy seller: “Someone else picks the tools” and “I don’t have a budget for sales tools.”
4. Do your detective work to build a targeted prospect list
The burden is on you to build the most targeted list of people to contact so you’re not wasting time on every call figuring out whether you can help the person who picked up.
(Editor’s note: Need leads? Check out this article on finding warm leads in surprising places.)
You’re going to get rejected a lot less if you’re smart about who you reach out to. Be sure that you are only adding companies and contacts to your prospect list who you believe you can help.
Common company traits to look for:
- Size (revenue, employee count, # of locations)
- Related technologies
Common contact traits to look for:
- Tools they use to perform their job
- Who they report to
- Who reports to them
If you call someone who doesn’t fit your ideal criteria, you’re stealing their time. If you call someone who can benefit from your offer, you’re helping improve their life and business. Don’t spend your precious time trying to reach people who don’t need what you’re selling.
5. Follow your cold call script like an actor, NOT a robot
Cold calling is a performance. You need to be able to get in a zone just like actors do.
Actors use scripts for most of their work. Yet somehow not all television shows and movies sound like a bunch of robots beeping at each other.
They’re full of real human emotion! So it must be possible to use a script and talk like an actual person, but you can’t just read your lines.
It’s easy to get great at utilizing a script in cold calls if you’re willing to put in the work.
How to utilize cold calling scripts (with examples)
Step #1: First, memorize your introduction and value proposition. If you know how to explain who you are and why someone should care, you’ll be better able to adapt to the conversation without going totally unscripted.
“Hi, this is Rex with Company XYZ. I wanted to see if what we do to help sales reps gain insights from historical win/loss data can benefit your team. Did I catch you with two minutes?”
Step #2: Then, write out open-ended questions that will unlock your conversations. When you ask these, you have to be prepared to listen, not just wait for your turn to talk again.
“Once your sales team closes a deal, how are they leveraging that success to source and close the next deal?”
Step #3: Next, come up with clear answers to common objections. When you’re first learning to cold call, you won’t be great at these on the fly, so, write them out word for word.
“We’re really more focused on top of funnel right now. Our closers are great. So we’re good for now, thanks.”
“That’s actually one place where win/loss analysis can do the most for your team. Imagine having an analysis of all opening pitches based on how much revenue they brought in. Your entire team could be optimizing their call and email messaging to fill their funnel 2-5X faster.”
Bonus: Check out these objection-handling scripts.
Step #4: Finally, practice until you’re blue in the face.
Get someone else to pretend to be the buyer. If you’re in the same room, close your eyes so you can only hear them, not see them.
Ask your assistant to slowly increase their level of resistance to your script.
This one tip alone will yield incredible results.
Start with zero objections. Just walk through the process of winning the next step.
Then move to one small objection up front that you have a scripted response for.
Eventually, you should practice handling up-front objections like, “I’m not interested,” and end of call objections like, “Just send me an email.”
6. Find a calling schedule that works
If you call prospects with no particular schedule from 9am-5pm each day, you’re missing an opportunity.
By keeping track of when prospects are more likely to answer the phone, and when they’re more likely to speak with you, you can better focus your efforts during times it will make a bigger impact.
Actionable takeaway #1: Look at activity records of those prospects who have purchased. What days are they most likely to answer the phone? Spend your time on those days focusing on high-quality prospects.
You can also look at time of day prospects are most likely to answer.
Hint: InsideSales found that Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to have a conversation on the first dial. Just remember that other people have heard that too, so you’ll need to find what works best for you.
Actionable takeaway #2: Structure your time into “offensive” and “defensive” chunks.
Most prospects are in the office from about 9am-5pm, with a break for lunch somewhere from 11:45 – 1:15. People are more likely to answer the phone when they’re not already engaged in their work. Calling around lunch, or towards the end of the day can improve connect rates.
Find the times of day when you’re most likely to get a conversation and focus your efforts on connecting with the highest quality prospects during that time. Use other times to plan, prep, write new sequences, and tweak your script.
7. Make the right ask and set proper next steps
You’re not looking to close a deal on a cold call — not even close. But you do need to make an ask. When you do, set clear next steps so both you and the prospect agree on how to proceed.
Prospects don’t want to be ushered through your selling process. You’ll have better success if you instead help them through their buying process.
Getting your prospects agreement on next steps, and even letting them adjust and give feedback early can make a big difference in deal flow.
Gong.io found that sellers with the highest deal velocity spent 53% more time discussing next steps.
8. Learn to leave effective voicemails
On average, cold-calls result in a voicemail over 90% of the time.
You are not average. But it’s still a rare event when a prospect actually picks up the phone, right? So, master the art of leaving an effective voicemail.
First, decide what strategy you’ll use to capture the prospect’s interest in the voicemail. Remember, the goal isn’t to start selling in your message, but to pique their curiosity enough to call you back.
How to leave voicemail that gets your prospect’s attention
Step #1: Decide what you want your prospect to know after they hear your message. Is it that you’ve been recommended by someone they know? That you can help them solve a problem you know they face? Or maybe you just want them to know who you are.
By choosing just one message to deliver, you can avoid leaving rambling, long voicemails. It also helps when you need to leave a 2nd, or 3rd (or 4th!) message since you won’t run out of relevant things to say.
Step #2: Next, write your scripts. You should have a few scripts ready, each of which communicates a different, specific message.
For example, you may want scripts that leave each of the following impressions:
- “I come highly recommended by somebody you trust.”
- “I understand the challenges you face, and I believe I can help.”
- “I have solved the problems you face for others, and I believe I can do it for you.”
- “I have something urgent to speak with you about”
Step #3: Leave your messages. You’ve done your planning. This is where execution comes into play. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
- DO keep it under 20 seconds.
- DO use an upbeat, friendly, and energetic tone of voice.
- DO insert some urgency.
- DO use your prospect’s name and your name.
- DO NOT try to sell in the voicemail.
- DO NOT sound desperate by telling them about a deal, special offer, or discount.
- DO NOT leave a voicemail only once.
Step #4: Now that you’re regularly leaving great voicemails, make sure you keep track of which scripts work best. Do some testing and continue to improve them!
Need a tracker? We’ve got 13 downloadable Excel trackers here.
9. Follow these 6 best practices for cold calling
Cold calling is effective if you’re following these best practices.
- DO make rejection fun instead of feared.
- DO practice, practice, practice.
- DO prepare great questions and rebuttals.
- DO NOT waste even one dial on a prospect you can’t help.
- DO NOT go off-the-cuff before you’re ready. (Stick to the script!)
- DO NOT spend time with tasks that can be eliminated or automated with technology.
Now you’re prepared with the right mindset, the right tools, and the right techniques to live at the intersection of quality and quantity. That’s where all the success is!
And, just for fun — let’s bust some myths about cold calls.
6 myths about cold calls, busted
It’s time we stopped listening to the so-called “experts” who say it’s a waste of time. These are probably the same people who go about cold calling the wrong way by failing to follow the tips listed here.
We debunk the following cold calling myths espoused by these naysayers.
6 cold calling myths debunked
- Cold calling is dead.
- Cold calling is an outdated practice.
- Cold calling is a forced activity.
- Cold calling is too interruptive.
- Cold calling causes reps to become too “robotic.”
- Cold calling is a “numbers game” and quality is not important.
1) “Experts” have declared that cold calling is dead
With as much negative press as cold calling has gotten, it’s hard to stay faithful. Leaders of emerging industries have been calling for an end to the cold call for years – everyone from social sellers to inbound marketers.
And for the record, cold calling is NOT DEAD.
2) It’s easier to claim it doesn’t work than figure out how to do it right
If you have tried cold calling once or twice and not found immediate success, you’ll find it easy to join the haters. Like any sales skill, it takes a lot of sustained effort to master.
3) Many salespeople are being forced to cold call, and the tedium is driving them crazy
There are lots of ways to not enjoy the activity of calling strangers to sell them things. All it takes is one manager demanding “50 dials a day” to ruin your appetite.
4) We’ve begun overcompensating for the “buyer’s journey”
I personally love the idea that we need to sell how customers want to buy, and I’m a huge proponent of setting up a sales process accordingly. But we’re applying this concept to all parts of the process equally, so now we’re afraid to interrupt people.
5) Nobody wants to be a robot
Scripts are a cold caller’s friend, but most people haven’t learned how to use a script in a natural way. This forces them into talking like a robot or going off the cuff and not knowing what to say at all – a sure recipe for disaster.
6) Fast food taught us that quality & quantity are enemies
For decades nobody walked into a McDonald’s expecting a high-quality meal – they expected a lot of food for a low price (I’d bet this is why they’ve launched a host of new fancy menu items). This is how people tend to view cold calling, as some low quality, high volume means of getting business done.
Conclusion: Stop listening to the so-called “experts.” Cold calling is not dead!
Updated by Kendra Fortmeyer @ Sales Hacker 2023