First time cold calling? Follow this cold calling guide for a smooth start

Cold Calling Guide
Miruna Mitranescu

A cold calling guide is always useful as cold calling is not dead. In fact, almost every single startup or small business has to do it at some point. And when you’re a small company, you do not necessarily have the means to hire a professional sales person to do the job. When you’re not trained to do it, picking up your phone and start cold calling can seem terrifying – yes, let’s admit it, we are scared of the phone. Fear of cold calling is not something to be ashamed of, on the contrary. We’re here to help!

This article does not aim at giving you a whole class about sales. We merely want to focus on phone-calls – because that’s what we know best – and give you practical advice, directly actionable. To do so, we started from a blank page, and answered all the questions you would ask yourself before diving in.


Again… What is cold-calling exactly?

Basically, it means picking up the phone and calling strangers – or almost strangers – and figure out if they’d be up to buy your stuff. Why “cold”? Because “warm calling” is contacting people who have expressed previous interest in your products or services. By the way, it is not necessarily done via phone but can also be done in face-to-face, although we’ll be exploring phone strategies in this article.

Is cold-calling suited for my needs?

In the book “Traction” by Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg, the authors recall a quote: “As Steve Barsh, former CEO of SECO – acquired by MCI – said, “You get you first customers by picking up the phone.”

You might have noticed that people did not necessarily go straight to your landing page once you published it to sign up for your beta. Even worse, they did not open your email when you offered them a discount. Poor them: they probably did not realize how hard they needed your product.

Cold-calling might seem not scalable for a lot of startups, because you imagine that submitting your product to HackerNews will be enough to get numerous and faithful users. In reality, as Paul Graham said: you need to do things that don’t scale. Taking 15 min to call a potential customer can seem like forever compared to launching an Adword campaign that will bring you a hundred signups for your free trial. Yet, imagine the cost of having to loose these 100 beta users because you’re building the wrong product? Having a great phone conversation can get you incredible insights in terms of customer needs and feedback, and helps building a strong relationship with your customers.

Cold calling guide to follow step by step

This is a handy cold calling guide for everyone who finds himself cold calling for the first time. Follow it step by step in order to make the most of it.

Should I prepare my cold calls?

Yes, and here’s your homework:

  • Investigate a little about who you’re calling.

Just Google or search Linkedin to find information about your contact. Information you come across might come in handy when trying to break the ice or during the conversation.

Preparing your call also makes your more confident. According to Sam Richter, author of Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling: “Even if you’re not going to use the information, you will come across more confident and more powerful when you have information on the other person and their company”

  • Practice your intro speech to yourself

Yep, in front of a mirror. You need to do it once or twice at the beginning, after a while, you won’t need to do it anymore.

  • Don’t spend more time on investigation than calling.

You will get more information from the call itself than the research!

How should I target contacts for cold calling?

Remember that cold-calling will have no outcome if you do not target who you’re calling. You’d rather call 10 well-targeted potential users than 100 people who have no potential  interest with your product.

  • You should target people who have some power level, but not too much.

why not too high? because it’s less stressful for you, and there’s less chance of rejection.

why not too low? because it’s a waste of time if you call someone that can make no decision.

  • Do not underestimate the power of the welcome desk!

That is what we got from our personal experience at Aircall. Employees working at the welcome desk have a key role in the company: they know everyone and most of the time, completely have the power of deciding whether you’re worth the time of their teammates or not. If they like you, they can help you, so be nice.

How do I find phone numbers when I cold call?

According to your targets, there are many ways to get phone numbers, even on a low budget. Here is a non-exhaustive list of places you can start digging.

  • obviously, personal contacts
  • open startups databases like Crunchbase or AngelList
  • contact pages on companies’ websites
  • press rooms on companies’ websites
  • local chambers of commerce
  • Linkedin profiles
  • emails’ signatures: they often contain a phone number. Don’t forget to install the gmail plugin Rapportive which displays additional contact info.
  • your competitors’ clientele

You can also invest in some tools to access qualified leads lists, such as Iko Systems orMattermarks.

Should I send an email before cold-calling?

Yes, that can help in two ways:

  • First, if you’re lucky, you’re interlocutor will have read your email and recall your name – or at least, it will ring a bell.
  • Second, it can become your conversation ice-breaker: “Hey, did you get my email?”

When is a good time to do cold calling?

Time management is a real pain when doing cold-calling. You might often read advices who tell you “dedicate 1 hour per day to cold calling” when in fact, you will soon realize that people are not just waiting for your call behind their desk right when you are ready to call them.

You might just spend one hour calling cell phones that don’t pick up. So, be patient, and once you’ve started your cold-calling sessions, be ready to answer the phone if someone calls back.

Obviously, avoid times of day when you wouldn’t want to pick up your phone: lunch-time, such as Monday-morning meetings, Fridays after 5p.m.

What tools do I use for cold calling?

  • Headset is your best friend.

Science has not been really clear on whether we’re all gonna die of brain tumor because of cellphones, but, hey, better safe than sorry. Plus if you don’t have a headset, your phone is just going to burn your ear after a while, and it’s really uneasy to take notes while holding something in one hand.

  • Consider cloud-based solutions

Depending on the nature and volume of your cold calling sessions, your personal cellphone might be enough. Yet, be aware that there are phone solutions much more efficient and cheap that can help you empower your phone-calls. We, at Aircall, developed a product that enables you to set up your company’s phone number anywhere in the world in 3 min and cascade calls across your teams, on existing devices. It also offers great productivity tools such as shared notes and a feed of all activities.

    During the cold call

    Here are some tips and best-practices to follow while cold calling.

    How do I introduce myself when doing cold calling?

    Three steps here:

    • Be direct and clearly states who you are and what you do.
    • Do not ask “Am I disturbing you?” but say “I hope I’m not disturbing” and proceed.
    • If possible, explain how you got the contact: “I’m calling on behalf of your client Z..” – or even “I read about you in this article and …”

    See? Easy as 1,2,3.

    How shall I present what I offer when doing cold calling?

    • You should FIRST ASK QUESTIONS to your (potential) customer
    • You should then LISTEN to your (potential) customer
    • I mean it, you should REALLY LISTEN: it is the only way you will figure out what your interlocutor needs. If your product or service cannot do anything for them, you will save you both a useless conversation. If it’s the perfect fit, it will be much easier to convince him/her to try it out.

    Once you’ve figured that what they need, follow this advice from Todd Vollmer, an enterprise sales professional with 20 years of experience: get answers for 5 specific areas he calls PNAME:

    Process: how does the company buy solutions like yours?

    Need: how badly does the company need your solution?

    Authority: who can make the purchase happen?

    Money: do they have the funds to buy your solution? how much does it cost them not to have your solution?

    Estimated Timing: what’s the time-frame for decision making?

    (example from Traction, by Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg)

    What warning signs should I be aware of on the phone?

    • People who are making you talk about your technology, your emerging market… you might end up just giving free consultancy advice but close no deals.
    • People who claim your solution is going to change the whole company’s process. They usually are new to the company and think they will revolutionize it.

    Should I define some call to action at the end of a cold call?

    Yes, you should always have a call to action in mind to end up a phone-call. If you’re lucky enough, your contact will want to close the deal right away: in that case the call-to-action is pretty obvious. If you need them to try out your product, schedule another call with them, asking: ‘Let me call you back, same time next week?’

    What if I’m rejected on the phone when doing cold calling?

    THAT is the number 1 reason why people are afraid of cold-calling. Unfortunately, it will happen. A lot. There is no magic recipe against permanent rejection: it’s hard and it takes a lot of energy. You just need to be aware that it’s gonna happen and remain polite. Our personal advice: you might wanna prepare a piece of chocolate in your secret drawer and add 9Gag as a bookmark just to clear your mind every once in a while.

    After your first cold call

    The work does not stop when you hung up the phone. It actually continues and you still have some tasks left after your first cold call.

    Should I send a follow up email after a cold call?

    Yes, now that people have your name and voice in mind, just add the last touch to make sure they will remember you. Make sure to finish your email with a direct question, like “Do you agree with this closing agreement?”, for instance.

    What tools should I use to keep track of cold calling sessions?

    You’re about to call tens, maybe hundreds of people, it’s hard to remember who replied what. In addition to the collaborative notes you might want to use in Aircall, you can use a basic Excel sheet.

    So don’t wait any longer, go pick up the phone!

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