Four Ways to Make Cold Calls Less Terrifying and More Effective

Let’s start out by saying that if you don’t like cold calling… sales aint for you.

It’s ironic because cold calls definitely ranks among the most dreaded of all sales responsibilities. Even under the best of circumstances, they’re tedious, difficult, and emotionally draining.

Ineffective cold calls squander valuable resources: time, money, and energy.

What’s more, in today’s increasingly busy Internet landscape, where emails and text messages are becoming the norm for business communications, the prospect of picking up a phone and dialing an unfamiliar number—or, worse, walking into an unfamiliar office without an appointment (the original sense of “calling on” someone)—is positively terrifying for most salespeople.

That’s just not how we do business these days, right?


The cold call is alive and kicking, baby! And in my experiences, I’d even go as far to say that cold calling ranks among the best ways to establish new business relationships, particularly for entrepreneurial companies building their base markets.

It’s true that our electronic communications have made us more reluctant than ever to take unsolicited phone calls, but they have also created a world where relationships are increasingly depersonalized—an environment in which a well-timed phone call or in-person visit can make an even greater impact than ever before.

Consider these suggestions the next time you tackle a list of possible sales leads:

Check your attitude.

Here’s some food for thought – the more difficult cold calling is for the majority, then the easier it becomes for the successful minority. If we really want to succeed at cold calling, then we have to embrace it as the powerful process that it is and aspire to be great at it. Maybe this is a little foreign to our thinking.

Perhaps we’re inclined to view cold calling as an avenue of last resort, something we do only when we’ve run out of other options. Or maybe we’re intimidated—even morally troubled—by the thought of boldly approaching senior-level decision-makers to ask for their business.

Let’s admit it: cold calling requires a politician’s ego and a beggar’s shamelessness at the same time. But a lot of the most daunting obstacles are in our own heads.

Successful cold calls begin with the conviction that our products add genuine value to the market. It’s supremely difficult to project winsome confidence if you don’t believe in the product (or company) you represent in the first place.

Once we’ve acquired expertise in both the problems our customers face and the specific ways our products address them, we can begin focusing our efforts on becoming more and more comfortable dealing with executives and discussing the issues they face at a strategic level.

We can take on a more positive attitude, recognizing that cold callers aren’t bullies; they’re just the ones taking the initiative in forming mutually gainful relationships.

But then there’s that one thing… you know, the issue of rejection. People hate that.

Yet there’s no denying that cold callers will receive more than their fair share of hang-ups, unreturned voicemails, even hostile threats. They will deal with uncooperative secretaries and unresponsive answering systems.

Even when they get through to a decision-maker and get a chance to make their pitch, they’ll be told “no” time and time again before getting even one “maybe.”

Many salespeople are demoralized by that kind of treatment, but not me, and certainly shouldn’t be YOU either.

So many people give up on cold calling because they say it doesn’t work. But it only doesn’t work if you are reaching the wrong person. Rather than personalizing the rejection when someone hangs up on me, simply considers it a sign that you’ve made the wrong connection and either looks for an alternative contact or moves on to the next prospect.

Successful cold callers learn to handle rejection with grace, and that allows them to approach each new pitch with all the same energy and enthusiasm as the one before.

Remember this… people actually want to hear from us, or at least they will once they know about our business.

Be systematic.

Probably one of the biggest causes of cold call failure is the haphazard way we usually go about it. Experts agree that persevering in this kind of sales demands that we approach the task systematically, with predictable routines and lots and lots of practice.

We have to think deliberately about every facet of the process—from first preparation to the final follow-up. Without a system, it’s difficult to measure results, and because cold calling is rarely a pleasant endeavor, we have to discipline ourselves to do it.

This is why I’m an advocate for blocking out an hour each day specifically for cold calls, then sticking to it. Trial and error will reveal the best times to make those calls, but actually scheduling into our to-do lists helps make the activity more deliberate and less erratic.

In actuality, my process is a two-pronged cold calling procedure: begin prospecting during normal business hours when administrative assistants are likely to be able to help you determine the responsible party for a particular decision, then “call blitz” during those times when executives are more likely to answer the phone directly (e.g., before 8:30 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m.).

It also helps if you can start crafting a good script before the call, not so much to drive the conversation as to prepare for it.

You decide ahead of time how you want to present yourself, what reaction you want to get and how to ask for what you want.

Take the “cold” out of it.

In theory, no sales call has to be completely cold. Good callers do their homework up-front. They research their prospects’ needs and list out some clarification questions they should ask. They look for connecting points—shared values, shared experiences, shared interests that will make good conversation-starters and help keep the discussion upbeat.

Depending on the prospect it may be wise to send a targeted correspondence to prospects a few days before the call. This would be something brief and informative, in which we introduce ourselves and our products in a way that’s immediately pertinent to our prospect’s needs or interests.

Hopefully the prospect will glance at the material and be eager to hear from us when we call, but at the very least it demonstrates an effort to get to know the customer before attempting to sell something—an effort which just might make the difference between “no thanks” and “tell me more.”

If all else fails and we find ourselves in the position of having to pitch a truly cold prospect, you can always just lay it out from the get go “this is a cold call, and I bet you get a million of these…”

If going down that route, you might want to mix in a little gentle humor into the opening—at yours (the salesman’s) own expense, of course—then very quickly get to the point in order to demonstrate respect for the prospect’s time. I’ve found that, ironically, telling customers up-front that it’s a sales call (without attempting to cajole them into listening) often results in greater receptiveness to what the caller has to say.

Know your purpose.

In the broad sense, everything we do to advance business relationships is a part of the sales process, but experts seem to agree that it’s a mistake to push your product too aggressively on a cold call.

Part of the reason cold calling gets such a bad rap is because poorly trained salespeople approach it with the solitary goal of closing a deal before hanging up the phone.

You know this type – these are those annoying telemarketers for whom cold calls are a “numbers game” and who will stubbornly dial over a hundred numbers and pitch the exact same script a hundred times just to make one sale. This may work for some, but it’s not the responsible way to grow business.

Our main purpose for making a cold call is not to get signatures and credit card numbers, but to build rapport with potential customers.

What this means, of course, is that the conversation should center on the needs of the customer, not the products we have to sell. An especially enthusiastic customer may open the door for us to sell something right away, but our aim should be to learn as much as we can about the prospect’s most pressing problems so that we can be sure to address those needs head-on if and when the time to aggressively pitch does come around.

I never start talking about my company’s products and services unless they ask – I keep the focus on the prospects. By the end of the conversation, I’ll have one of three things: a sale, sufficient rapport to call back later, or a new referral. Any of those is just fine by me.

At the end of the day, cold calling is more art than science. It will probably never be something we look forward to doing each day, but by following this last week of blogs posts, perhaps you can take some of the edge off and relax into the task.

We just have to keep our sales priorities straight, adjust our attitudes, and get to work.