The Cold Truth About Cold Calling

OK, can I see a show of hands of all salespeople who find cold calling personally enriching?

Yes, there are always one or two out there who love pounding the phones and have the skin of an armadillo when it comes to rejection. But for the rest of us mere selling mortals, why does cold calling seem so painful?

Recently, I was sitting across the desk from a salesperson on my team and we investigated that very question. I asked the salesperson “Why is cold calling or prospecting the last thing on your list?”

The answers were predictable and ones that I have heard many times
in the past…

“It’s nearly impossible to get a target on the phone these days.” Harder than before when everyone had a secretary screening calls?

“With all the different ways to communicate these days, our clients are harder to reach consistently”. Hmmm, more ways to reach the target should be an advantage.

I am not sure our customers buy that way anymore.” Really? So you want me to believe that our future customers are making all of their critical and even not-so-critical buying decisions without engaging with real people at some point in the process?

“The market is saturated with competitors who are confusing the target and taking up his valuable time”. Gee, I hope that all of these competitors aren’t the same as us with the same message, or we have a far greater selling issue. But maybe that is the heart of the matter.

Cold calling should describe the current relationship between seller and buyer, not the probability that the seller has something of value to provide to the buyer. That should be
determined long before contact is made.

Yes, there are competitive and market forces in play that affect every possible transaction or relationship. But few can argue that a capable salesperson, properly prepared, armed with the right message, talking to a prospect who actually has a real need, has more than a good chance of capturing the attention and a reasonable amount of first-contact time with that prospect. (We’ll assume for this discussion that the sales person is skilled enough to know when and how the contact is most likely successfully reached by whatever means employed.)

But what are these criteria that make a capable salesperson more likely to succeed?

It all starts with preparation and that is nothing new in sales but often the first shortcut that is taken. 

How many times have you heard, “How can I know everything I need without talking to the customer first?”  And how many times when preparation isn’t part of the process does that first call end with, “Forget it, that prospect is not responsive or not interested in talking to us” or “He didn’t have much time to talk to me, but their doesn’t seem to be much opportunity there in any case”? 

With the increase of access to people’s professional contact information, every day we all are subjected to an increasing amount of attempted contacts by someone selling something to us.  What separates the successful attempts from those that annoy the prospect and guarantee that the caller will never get another opportunity to dialogue with the prospect is the level of preparation that occurs before the call.  An informed and compelling message will almost always garner enough of the prospect’s attention to allow for an opportunity to follow up with a more detailed discussion.

So what are the basics of preparation?

1) Knowledge of customer’s current internal  business situation- financial, competitive strength and market position, strategic and tactical initiatives

2) Knowledge of customer’s current external market conditions that could influence their internal situation.

3) A firm understanding of the seller’s portfolio of products or services and how those products or services could specifically map to solving a customer need.  Far too often salespeople offer their portfolio of solutions to the customer hoping they will indicate which could best help them satisfy a need.

4) A roadmap of the process the seller would employ to help solve the customer’s need through the consumption of the seller’s product or service, in simple terms. 

5) An understanding of the seller’s competitive market and why the client would want to purchase that product or service from the seller.

It’s pretty obvious when you really think about it.

So the next time, a salesperson pooh-poohs or discounts the value of cold calling, in whatever form, before they pick up the phone or keyboard again, make sure they have taken the time to research and understand: the customer’s business and the relationship between the product or service and the customer’s need, the product or solution your salesperson would suggest to solve their problem, and the reason the customer should buy if from your organization.

Perhaps the next cold call won’t end up so cold after all.



About Tod Kerr

Tod is a senior corporate leader with 20 years of experience managing business operations in numerous functional areas, with a focus on developing and marketing business to business technology solutions to world-wide high tech markets that allow customers to operate their business more efficiently by driving out costs, improving productivity, and creating value for their clients.
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