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