Business Cold-Calling: Tips & Advice
Cold-calling. Ugh! Very few people enjoy it — be they a sales rep or a decision-maker. But, yet, it persists...despite many pundits declaring that the days of cold-calling are over. Why? Because it's still effective.
The reality is that most people are better salespeople in person than they are over the phone, via email, or through a form letter. And, as a society, we're trained by our parents to be polite to others. So, when a sales rep shows up, unannounced, to our office...while we may want to simply hide and ignore them (and many decision-makers do) we often find ourselves having an on-the-fly face-to-face meeting with somebody who is hoping that our needs and their solutions match up.
So, looking at this sales-tactic from a sales associate's perspective, how can you — the sales rep — make your cold calls more effective, as painless and productive as possible?
In my 13+ years of being in B2B Sales - I've found some pretty reliable best-practices of cold-calling.
Basics of Cold-Calling
- Be prepared. Have some samples, business cards, appointment book, a notepad and pen on you at all times. Know where your scheduled meetings are going to be and target a few "stop ins" accordingly. A prime opportunity? That prospect that has been ducking you for the last 6 months via phone and suddenly went dark on email. A few free samples, a genuine smile, and a professionally gracious approach will often get you 10-15 minutes of their time to pique their interest. Have a few questions prepared...but be ready for anything. You may get turned down, you may get told you're asking for the wrong person, you might be asked to leave. In all scenarios, be prepared...and be professional.
- Use your eyes — as well as your ears. When you pull into a prospect's parking lot, count the cars, look at signage to see if they have other locations, scan the space you're in for brands and product to see which of your competitors they might be using. All of this information will help you to better understand your prospective customer, what is important to them, and where your product / service may be able to address a need.
- Be respectful. You have just walked, ostensibly uninvited, into their space. Check your ego at the door, ask for information; don't demand it. Be humble, yet confident and professional. And, if they ask you to leave...chin up, shoulders back, and vacate. Cold-calling is a tough gig...it's a great tool, but its not always the right one for the job.
- Acknowledge the elephant in the room. "Hi, my name is Lincoln and I'm the local rep with ABC Company here in Des Moines. I saw your "No Soliciting" sign out front so I want to be respectful of that and let you know that I'm not here to try to sell you anything today. The reason I stopped in is to drop off my business card for the person in charge of making the decision regarding Widgets123. Offer your card to the receptionist, but do not force it on him/her. Allow them to "take" the card from you. This acceptance of your card gives you permission to move forward. "What I'd like to do - rather than just stopping in unannounced next time - is contact your buyer and schedule a meeting. I assume that is their preference?" Generally the gatekeeper will acknowledge this. "Great! Who should I get in touch with to schedule that meeting?" At this point, you should know what to do next, write down the name, number, and any other information you can gather. Stick to your commitment of not trying to sell them anything. If they ask questions, certainly answer them, but do not pressure them to buy anything. If you violate their trust by pressuring them, you've identified yourself as somebody who cannot keep their word.
- Samples. Bring enough for both the decision-maker and 1 or 2 gatekeepers. The gatekeepers will remember you when you call back to schedule that meeting and its never a bad idea to have the person that can drop you into voicemail purgatory on your side. Everybody likes free samples, so bring plenty to share.
- Follow up and Follow through. Whatever you told them you would do (send information, call back to schedule a meeting, remove them from your list, etc) — do it. Nothing is worse than somebody who cannot keep their word.
Cold-calling is an art and it can be either your best friend or your worst enemy. Personally, I enjoy it. I love meeting new people, having quick conversations, and feeling like I've added value to somebody's day. Most people find my approach refreshing and it's gratifying to know that (regardless of the outcome) I represented myself and my company well.
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