Cold Call, revisited: Best practices for getting in the door

Cold call versus not cold calling ….blah, blah, blah

The purpose of this post is to talk about the art and science of reaching out to someone who doesn’t know you. Call it what you want.

First, let me start with a couple important notes:

  • Inbound marketing works.  It does.  It creates great, cost effective leads.  Who doesn’t want someone to walk into their store?  I did not write this to say “you shouldn’t commit to inbound marketing”.  Stay tuned, there are more considerations on the topic but I will recommend inbound marketing til the cows come home.
  • I don’t believe quota-carrying sales reps should spend their time reaching out to people they don’t know.  Organizations should invest in either an internal inside sales function in charge of reaching out to and qualifying leads for the direct reps or hire an appointment setting organization or an out-sourced tele-organization to do it instead.  It just takes too long.  Should sales reps prospect? Yes…but if you have sales reps filling their own pipeline all day you are taking away valuable selling time.cold call, warm call, prospecting

Below are the reasons and scenarios that re-inforce the need to outbound prospect:

  • To grow your business, you have to reach out to people you don’t know and don’t know you.  If they aren’t downloading content, then you have to try something else. Welcome to reality.
  • Inbound leads are the best, but if you are sitting around waiting, you will go out of business.  Inbound marketing takes time and only the best in the business have reached the kind of scale you need to eliminate outbound prospecting.
  • If marketing is happy giving you 30-50% of your pipeline, do the math.  You have to generate the rest.
  • Here is the big one. If you are selling to a specific type of customer, then you will have to knock on their door.  Here are some common use cases:
    • Specific, limited target lists — Companies will identify their target market and make those accounts the ones they HAVE to sell to.  When I was in the media business, we would get the “We sell to companies with 10,000  plus employees and have Oracle installed.” My response: “Outbound.”  Inbound marketing works great when you can sell to a wide target market but if you have to hit a needle in a haystack — Repeat after me: “OUTBOUND!”
    • F1000, etc — Sorry, same as above but I felt the need to put it on its own line.
    • New business, no brand, no marketing, etc — In this situation, prospect like mad.  And work on your inbound marketing simultaneously with outbound.
    • Small companies or consultants — Dude, I am a consultant now. I get inbound leads but my kids won’t eat if I don’t interrupt people.  Do the same.

Here is the problem:


  • Appointment setting firms still make a tremendous living calling the living hell out of lists and generating qualified appointments for their clients

Exhausted yet? Ok, here is the nut: We have to reach out to people we don’t know yet the numbers for this type of activity are not compelling.

You basically have two choices: Become more effective at interrupting people or call more.  Do both.

Here is how I train people to prospect:

1.  Make sure you are calling the right person — I wavered back and forth whether to combine this with the second bullet.  You should: Do your research (below) and then ask around in the organization– Zero out of a voicemail and ask to make sure you are calling the right person.

2.  Do 3-5 minutes of research — Before you call someone, find something, anything that allows you to connect with the buyer.   Linkedin, InsideView, Hootsuite, Radius Intelligence, Google, your CRM notes…whatever it is.  Don’t call me and read a script.  Make it personal and change the nature of the relationship from buyer-seller to business person-business person.

3. Find a referral — Is this new or controversial?  Getting referred is quite obviously the best way to earn immediate trust.  If you don’t have a referral, move to number 4.

4.  Relevance is everything — Matt Heinz once said to me: “If you are relevant, then it’s not spam”.  He was talking about email, but it is the same thing across all your channels.  We are busier than ever (Wink to Jill Konrath) and are getting blasted by marketing and sales calls left and right.  You have to show the buyer that you understand their business and can be trusted to solve their pain.   Here are some examples of usable intelligence  in order of effectiveness:

  • Social intelligence — Social intelligence tends to be the best intelligence.   The information someone shares on social is something they care about and can make for easy connections.  You can truly personalize the message with this kind of information.  “Congratulations on your recent product launch” or just something in their Linkedin profile.  Someone once got me with the following message: “I just read your blog and decided ‘I have to talk to this guy’. I especially loved your post on x.  I work with incredible entrepreneurs like you to …”
  • Publicly available buyer intelligence — If you have nothing on social, just tie back to some publicly available information. For example, if they are an insurance firm, then mention that you help other insurance firms grow by X% for example.  There is a great post on how a young entrepeneur got a meeting with Mark Cuban.  There a number of great points in the post but one simple thing the writer did was mention the fact that he was an entrepreneur in the first sentence of the email.  He wanted Cuban to see it in his Gmail preview pane since entrepreneurs love entrepreneurs.  These little touches change the view of the buyer from “canned outreach” to a personal “I know you and can help you” message.
  • Any intelligence — I remember talking to Mike Lodato about how they lifted email conversion rates by just mentioning the local weather in the opening sentence.  To me this is less compelling, but it works for Mike.  The point remains the same, get your message as close as you can to the buyer.

5.  This is a campaign – make 6-8 multi-channel touches over the course of 2 weeks — Phone + email + social (Linkedin Inmail, retweet them, liked them, etc).  Dan McDade has a great write-up on this.  I couldn’t agree more.  Buyers are very busy.  They don’t call you back.  But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. it means you haven’t connected with them.  You want to create a patterned, consistent outreach program that consists of a mix of channels and a mix of offers and message.  Do it in a contained timeframe of two weeks.

6.  Have a  multi-channel approach — For me there are a number of reasons to use multiple channels:

  • You have no idea the best way to reach this person
  • You gradually build personal and corporate brand equity over each touch
  • When you do connect,  the buyer knew you were going to call

Think of your communications in packs of two or three.  Every voicemail, gets a email and an Inmail for instance.

*A special bullet on the social touch — The social touch is the new channel (obviously).  There are a couple important notes on this:

7.  Use dialing technology — Hey, wait a minute!  You just said you have to research.  You do, but remember the numbers we talked about in the intro – it takes lots of calls to make this wok.  You have to increase your odds.  I believe that you should use auto-dialing in the middle of your call campaign.  For the first outreach, find something compelling to talk about.  Make that crux of your first voicemail, email, and/or InMail to the prospect.  Once you have done that, use a  dialing technology.   At Tippit, we used to get 12-15 connects in an hour using Connect and Sell.  It was a game changer for us. Also,  I have heard tons of ROI stories from folks using Prospecting is a humongous roll of the dice.  You want to stay fundamentally sound yet try to increase your odds.  Dialing tech increases your odds.

7.  Build a professional compelling social profile — I hated putting this as number #7, but I felt like it went hand-in-hand with the multi-channel outreach.  Your social profiles are YOUR website that the customer will look at and decide whether they want to talk to you and they can look at it 24 hours a day/365 days a year.  I talked to a company that did a test.  They tracked the number of people who looked at a sales rep’s profile after the sales rep clicked on theirs. (The “Who’s Viewed you Profile” phenomenon).  33% looked back at the sales reps profile.  WOW.  Marketers could only hope for that conversion rate.  So, don’t hide your profile you little creeper, let them see you.  The Linkedin heat map says they are most likely to look at three things: Headline, Picture, and Summary.  Make those three areas as compelling as possible. (Can I please save specifics for another post…this post is too long).

8.  “Always be Helping” is the new “Always be Closing” — One note: this term was coined in 2007 by Scott Albro.  It has been re-used over and over and I had to make sure he got his props.  Content is the key here.  Many prospects have connected with sellers via that one helpful moment. I used to think this was a soft move, but I have actually used content on numerous occasions to open up a prospect to hearing more from me. It works.

  • Connect with content – If you find an interesting mention on the social networks, what about sending them back a piece of content that might help them find their answer.
  • Recommend a site, source, or resource —  Just help if you can.
  • Offer to connect them to someone who may help them — Someone has a problem..Offer to introduce them to someone relevant.Not content, but very effective.

When prospecting, I believe you should do three things:

  • Always try to include an important piece of content with your written outbound touches. Not your datasheet dummy.
  • If you identify something the prospect is having problems with,  lead with the content. “I thought this might be helpful to you.”
  • Track whether they click or open it or not. (I use ToutApp and many people use YesWare)

9. Sell the next step not your product — People struggle with this ALL THE TIME.  I learned this from the appointment setting guys.  If you try to sell the product in your messages or the minute-and-30 seconds you get someone on the phone, you will fail. Instead, focus on getting them to set up a time to talk.  Ever talked to Mike Damphousse?  I sat on a training call with one of his reps.  Here is how it went:

Rep: “The buyers keep asking me a technical question.”
Mike: “Sell a meeting with the right person to answer that question.”
Rep: “After I give them my brief intro, they ask me product question”
Mike: “Sell the meeting to get the right person on the phone to present it properly”

Insert objection here, receive same response.

If you are selling a meeting, then you can handle every upfront objection that comes your way. Emails are the same thing.  Don’t sell them on email. Get them interested enough to set up a time to talk to you.

10.  Then nurture, but don’t “check in” — If you know it is the right person, then continue to stay in the hearts and their minds.  When you do, use content instead of “checking in”.  Here are some personal examples:

  • Invite them to an event — I reached out to a prospect and invited them to an event I was part of.  She wrote back and said: “We should talk”
  • Send them content with “I thought of you when I read this” — I sent a piece to someone last week who wrote back — “Thank you, I am going to be in San Francisco next week. We should meet face-to-face”.  The blog post I sent was not written by me…FYI.

Trust is built over time.  Just because someone won’t talk today, does not mean they won’t talk ever. Stay close, but please, please, please don’t call to “check in on their current…needs”.

11.  Marketing should outbound too and support these efforts — I just met with a client who has 500 companies they want to sell to.  We are creating an outbound calling function to support these efforts. Marketing has taken the lead definition and is supporting sales by only spending money on leads that fit this profile.  The absolute, very best was to reach targeted accounts is to work in conjunction with marketing to create a true multi-channel campaign.  See this example.  Also, marketing needs to fill the content funnel for sales. I talked about content before, marketing should be creating content and providing sales an easy place to get to the content. The content should be mapped to common pains/needs/challenges so sales can easily grab it and share based on what they hear or where they know the buyer is in their process. (another long conversation for later)

12.  Other tips for prospecting:

Ok…there you have it.  Please use the comment field to add more, I am sure you have something. PS, my fingers are bleeding.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • Mike Kunkle

    Craig, this is an awesome post. One of the best I’ve read on prospecting in awhile and pulls together insight from various sources with great links. And weirdly close in content to some things we’re doing, which I guess is just a tribute that it’s the stuff that many are finding to work. Impressive work, man; kudos!

    Here’s a crazy tip that worked magic in a previous B2C company, developed by the company’s #1 and 2 top producers (a manager and rep who frequently worked together – and they were #1 & 2 by a LARGE margin): If you don’t get an answer to your first call, hang up and call right back. The frequency at which it worked, surprised me. I dubbed it the “Double Tap,” after the rules from Zombieland. Still makes me laugh, but it worked. Not sure it’s a cross-over for B2B… haven’t seen it tried there, but it sure got results for the top producers I mentioned, and everyone else who tried it, in that business.

    Double tap, baby. But don’t forget the cardio. 😉

    • craigrosenberg

      Kunkle — I forgot the “double tap”. I used to tell reps to do that after 5pm, the caller figured it was their wife or husband!

  • Great information Craig. I like #10 “Then nurture, but don’t “check in”. you really want to “build” a relationship and the point you make about inviting them to an event is a good way to stay connected while feeling personal.

    • craigrosenberg

      Leo — thanks for coming on man!

  • Great post, too much for me to digest in one sitting! But I’m curious who handles validating/cleansing the list and how you get their direct number? So if Marketing sources the list, are they accountable for 100% of those names being accurate (valid phone, valid email, still at the company, title is right)? Or is that the job of the teleprospector? And then how in the world do you get direct numbers? Getting an extension is hard enough, much less a real direct line! We’re just launching a teleprospecting function, and we’re spending 75% of our time on sourcing and validating lists from well-known companies (not random fly by night outfits with big Excel sheets).

    • craigrosenberg

      Matt — Great comment. (i will vote it up). Direct numbers — Here is a great post from my buddy Steve Richard on how to get direct numbers –

      On “who” owns list cleansing. I don’t have a preference, but I just want to make sure it happens. Typically, I recommend people pay extra for validated lists initially and just fill the database with confirmed contacts. That’s costly but totally worth it.

      My buddy Lars Nilsson believes you should load up all the accounts and let the sales reps use netprospex,, insideview or whatever to fill the contacts as they go.

      • Thx Craig, and saw your tweet on direct dial which is great! I don’t really understand your 2nd part though. So we’re using Jigsaw and ZoomInfo, to build lists by industry/title. That takes time and costs money, but then we’re having to go through and actually validate the accuracy of those names before we pass them on to the CRM/MAP for targeting. 2 passes for every name, the 2nd of which is really time consuming (check LinkedIn, call the switchboard and check name directory, validate email domain, etc…).

        • craigrosenberg

          Agreed. Validating “who” to call is time consuming. If you put raw, unfiltered data into the system, the sales reps have to call in and cleanse on the fly.

          There are options: Some companies have a team cleansing data. Rep productivity goes up a minimum of 10% when you do this. Basically, they have either low-cost resources in the background validating data on both of your outbound team. Trish Bertuzzi who is one of the foremost experts on inside sales sees this as a coming trend.

          I mentioned before that you can also use companies to do that for you like Reachforce, Readycontacts where they confirm contacts and guarantee they exist and validate contact data.

  • Craig,

    Great one. Outbound sales prospecting is one of the most under-blogged areas in sales. A few weeks ago we wrote an article titled: Don’t Hop on the Inbound Marketing Train Just Yet, CEO’s.

    It highlights some of the point above. This is truly a gem of a post.

    CEO | Rivalry

    • craigrosenberg

      Thanks Jon — much appreciated!

  • Craig, this is a beauty of a post. Very helpful culling so much of the better tips in one place.

    • craigrosenberg

      Thanks Lori!

  • Tibor Shanto


    Great post, I would however question the Harvard Business
    Review and Huthwaite stats quoted early in the post. To me they smack of the Bradley Effect; I can tell you from first hand 2013 experience that executives do respond to cold calls, the reality is just not reflected in the polls.

    What it does come down to is the message, and how it is delivered. A good outbound calling strategy and practice is built around the philosophy of “Prospects are created not found”, versus the sloppy practice of calling and hoping to find, like the blind squirrel running into a nut. Those are the call reflected in the polls. The outbound callers the bough from are reclassified to value providers not cold callers, no matter what the first contact was.

    And yes 70% – 80% of calls end up in voice mail, the question then becomes what you do to leverage and benefit from that by generating return calls. I wonder how return calls are dealt with in the “poll”?

    Great stuff.

    Tibor Shanto

    • craigrosenberg

      Thanks Tibor.

  • Ed ONeil

    Great post as always.

    • Ed — sorry it took four months to respond. Thanks for the compliment

  • Brooks Lambert

    Great stuff! Thanks for great content in a direct actionable format.

  • Great use cases. They sum up to “If you know what kind of folks you want to talk to and most of them aren’t beating a path to your site right now – don’t wait, call them”.

    Our reps at ConnectAndSell do their own prospecting because we feel that helping starts with the first conversation. We don’t feel like we are wasting our top reps’ time because of the numbers you mention – 10+ conversations per hour means they just wait a few minutes for the next one. It puts a lot of pressure on marketing to deliver quality lists, but their reward is at least they know someone is going to actually talk to their leads instead of having them come back for nurturing. We also have marketing provide context – “Just bought Marketo”, “Just raised a $10M venture round”, “Hiring inside sales reps” and such, organized into calling sessions to keep our reps in a contextual groove.

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  • kenny madden


  • Thank you, Craig. This is a very helpful and lot informative article. As it’s stated that helping is always better than promoting or advertising, I liked this idea a lot. The whole article is much alike to what we work.
    #7 Headline, Picture, and Summary- Looks like these tips will work out great…

    Great Job!! (y)
    Adma Maharjan, Community Manager @Simplify360

  • A Producer

    Awesome speech. Right to the point on all sales channels. Great stats, enjoyed reading it.

  • Well worth the read and worth reading again. Great advice on the multichannel approach. Thanks

  • Mason

    I’ve spent the last few hours prospecting the web for quality articles and this is top shelf. I particularly enjoy the theme of shifting from a informational, problem solving role into a helpful and inquisitive role.

    Thanks a lot Craig

  • This is such a great article, I really love it. We are about to do our first outbound marketing stint and it proves we are on track…but got lots of great ideas, thanks for this, I feel like we will be on fire…..look our.

  • Sree Ram

    Craig ! Beautiful post … I am a late bloomer on reading this post … (almost a year … Phew!) … My formative years were into inside-sales and I worked on the ‘Tippit’ account before it was brandished as ‘Tippit’ … I worked in Marketing creating in-bound opportunities as well … Although I manage Sales from a higher management perspective now … I see reps especially in India not being taught too well on sales fundamentals and I think your article (or speech … ) could be an eye-opener for them. You have covered all dimensions and perspectives in a perfect blend … One thing I have preached all teams I have mentored so far is to Plan, Prepare, Prioritize and Execute … Every week’s work should be planned and prepared for before the week sets in … That gives one enough room to anticipate and maneuver through all hurdles in a logical and an organized manner … I will present this article to my team as well so they can understand fundamentals much better …. Well ! keep inspiring …. Look forward to read more such brilliance from you ….

  • Awesomesauce 🙂 Btw. the Dan McDade link is broken, here’s a working one ->

  • Great detailed article. I especially like the links you selflessly give to external sources. Giving value before receiving. Thumbs up!

  • Alejandro Antonini

    Great post, thanks for sharing! A few years ago I incorporated the Six Sigma methodology into an outbound prospecting program (combination of calls and emails). We actually pulled the data which validated which combination works best, and why.

    Check it out in the white paper in my blog:

    Six Sigma Strategy for Outbound Prospecting!blogger-feed/c48e

  • I always preferred emailed the person before to make the call less ‘cold’. Check out as it will find the emails and send a series of emails to the prospects for you.

  • Excellent, Craig. We are just starting prospecting —heck, implementing sales—, and this is of tremendous help. Thank you for this!

  • Thomas Janes

    U all could use me i broke sales records off the decades. In an 8 month period had me change their way of giving prizes And lowered comissiom by 90% when I’m making 1500 by lunch time daily and vto with no less than 30 calls and 70 slew daily same strat kinda, made it up. Incoming made it so z cause prob be fixed in first 30 secs hearing their tone and 3 to 5 key words then 8 and a half to win me over and I went from their ex record holderr at 380% to goal to 1740% my first month ever doing sales like that. Finished around 2400% best month steadily stayed at 2k won every 100$ gas card weekly new ipod each week and outta 5k employees 100% aa always and no one ever even did of my sales in a day in a week/month usually single handedly won .my team 250 pizza party twice and dinner with HBO and showtime execs every time they came to town. This was at charter communications n I still have my mailed paperwork. As trophies. But if love something like that again or if anyone needs a Darth Vader manipulative force at their side im your guy. or

    From Louisville, traveled seen 42 states before I was 20 in door to door sales. 30 now
    and stil willing
    “..and i still haven’t found.. What im looking for”

  • Melanie Stringer

    Great article! What would you say is the best plan? 1. LinkedIn 2. Call 3. Email? How long to wait between each and how long to wait until the second wave of three above plan?

  • IgKttYm

    Great post. We cannot only depend on Inbound. I’ve been using to find leads and MailChimp for outreach and make a plan based on these criteria. Has worked out great:)

  • Sarah Shelby

    Looking for b2b leads but don’t know where to get started? Check out and search over 30 million b2b contacts with full contact information including emails with social media profiles.

  • Josh Rhodes

    Great Post. Very Helpfuf.Getting leads and then tracking them is the most difficult task in social media strategy.Most efficient and time saving way is to use prospecting software like Datanyze, AeroLeads etc as it speeds up the work and do a lot more than just verifying emails. If we are getting such a great tool for free trial then it’s really commendable.

  • Great post, thanks for sharing!

  • i also any time prefered tool its will be find the emails & send a series of emails to the prospects for you.

  • Craig, one helpful post here! I love how you broke it down to the specific and crucial elements. For those seeking to be proactive in cold emailing, a targeted list of prospects is the best way to go about. That’s why I recommend our tool at