cold calling guide

Cold Calling Tips and Tools: A Guide to Phone Sales Success

Miruna MitranescuLast updated on January 2, 2024
13 min

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A cold calling guide is in high demand.

It turns out, making unannounced calls to prospects can be a nerve-racking process, and cold calling is still an effective selling tactic. In fact, almost every single startup or small business will rely on cold calling to entice potential clients at some point. The idea that cold calling is dead is simply untrue.

And when you’re a small company, you may not necessarily have the financial resources to hire experienced sales professionals to do the job. When you’re not trained to do it, picking up your phone and starting to cold call can seem terrifying.

Fear of cold calling is nothing to be ashamed of. 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 slate and answered all the questions you would ask yourself before diving in.

What is cold calling exactly?

Basically, it means picking up the phone and calling potential customers to see if they’d be interested in your product. That is to say, are these prospects qualified leads.

Why “cold”? Because “warm calling” is contacting people who have expressed previous interest in your products or services. By the way, your cold sales pitch doesn’t need to be via phone, it can also be done face-to-face, although we’re only be exploring calling tips and strategies in this article.

Myth: Cold Calling is Dead

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

Cold calling is a source of awareness

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 your business. It probably seems that submitting your product to HackerNews will cover lead generation.

The reality is just like 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 lose these 100 beta users because you’re building the wrong product? Having a phone conversation can get you incredible insights in terms of customer needs and feedback. This prospecting phase helps to build strong relationships with your ideal customers.

A step-by-step Cold calling guide

This is a handy cold calling guide for everyone who finds themselves 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 who you’re calling

The difference between sales cold calls and nuisance calls is the fact that sales calls are researched and could potentially provide genuine value to a prospect.

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

Preparing your call also makes you 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 call scripts and intro speech to yourself

Yes, in front of a mirror. Repeat your introduction and call script until it becomes second nature. Once this happens, you can abandon the script. This will help you sound persuasive and more natural.

  • Don’t delay calling in favor of more research

Prospect research is an essential part of any phone sales strategy, but once you get the information you need to sound educated, there’s no need to procrastinate. You’ll be able to uncover more valuable information during the call.

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.

The de facto prime directive of sales: speak to the right person.

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

Why shouldn’t you target the CEO and other high ranking employees? Because it’s less stressful for you, and there’s less chance of rejection. These are very high-level prospects, and they’re probably too busy to hear sales pitches. It’s better to reach out to someone with influence but who still has their hands in day-to-day operations.

Why shouldn’t you reach out to lower-level employees? Because they have no decision making power. You could have the best sales script in the world, but unless it impresses the people with spending power, it’s wasted. Plus, your sales efficiency will suffer if you have to ascend the ranks of an organization just to make an impactful pitch.

  • Do not underestimate the power of the welcome desk!

Of all the tips and tricks, this one comes straight from firsthand experience at Aircall. Employees working the welcome desks of businesses have a key role in the company. Namely, they know everyone rather well, and most of the time, they have the power of deciding whether or not you’re worth the time of their teammates. A lot rides on this first impression. If they like you, they can help you, so be polite and affable.

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.

  • Personal contacts. These professional and personal connections are a captive audience. You’ve already established a relationship, so they’re a great resource for starting out.

  • Open startups databases like Crunchbase or AngelList. With a little bit of perseverance — and even better, a little bit of web scraping skill — you can compile a list of dozens of potentially qualified leads.

  • Company contact pages or press section. A good resource when conducting industry vertical searches for prospects. (Tip: Find out who uses your competitors’ products)

  • Local chambers of commerce. Good for local sales calls or regional-based sales processes.

  • Linkedin profiles. Self-explanatory, social media (even Twitter) is a great tool for prospecting. Use in conjunction with targeted company research.

  • Email signatures. They often contain a phone number. Don’t forget to install the Gmail plugins which display additional contact info.

  • Subscription-based software services. You can also invest in some tools to access qualified leads lists, such as LeadIQ or ZoomInfo.

Should I send an email before cold-calling?

Yes, sending an email before your initial phone call can help in two important ways.

First, if you’re lucky, your prospect 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?”

There’s something about sending a preliminary email that makes the sales call seem more official, and less like a nuisance call. The fact that you’re committed to making contact creates a perception of value: If they’re this insistent that their product could add value to my business, maybe I should hear them out.

When is the best time to make cold calls?

Time management is a real pain when doing cold calling. You might often read advice that says, “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 spend an entire hour calling cell phones without a single answer. So, be patient, and once you’ve started your sales calls, 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 5 p.m.

Remember also, you may be calling prospects in time zones than yourself. Make sure to not call at an inappropriate hour. This can hurt credibility.

What tools do sales reps use for cold calling?

  • The headset is your best friend

Aside from the well-documented arm cramps and “hot-ear syndrome,” a headset can improve call quality by isolating your voice and blocking external noise. Jabra brand products are commonly used by sales organizations, but personal headsets (like Bose noise-canceling headphones) are also popular.

  • Consider cloud-based solutions

Depending on the nature and volume of your cold calling techniques, 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.)

The other huge benefit of a cloud-based phone system is integration with popular CRM software platforms. These online resources collect individual prospect and client information and share it across teams. This makes collaborative selling, SDR-AE handoffs easier, and even customer support more streamlined. For most phone integrations, all vital call data is automatically logged in the correct client profile based on matching contact information.

  • Power dialers and productivity tools

For larger-scale cold calling operations, power dialer software is a great way to efficiently call a long list of numbers. Essentially, a list of numbers are automatically scraped or pre-loaded into a list or spreadsheet. Then, your phone software will sequentially call each number. This saves time by eliminating manual dialing and creates a repeatable process for heightened sales efficiency.

Tips and Best Practices for Cold Calls

How do I introduce myself when cold calling?

This shouldn’t give you trepidation, there are three easy steps to follow.

  • Be direct and clearly state who you are and what you do.

  • Don’t ask “Am I disturbing you?” This gives an immediate opportunity for a brush off. Just say “I hope I’m not disturbing,” and proceed.

  • If it’s not too complicated — and if it’ll increase authority — it’s a good idea to explain to your prospect how you got their contact information. “I’m calling on behalf of your client Z..” – or even “I read about your company in an article on ___ and I think ____ can improve your {insert process here}…”

Don’t worry about introductions, this is just a necessary part of cold calling and will become second nature with time.

How to position my sales pitch when cold calling?

We recommend against using verbatim calling scripts, but there should be a well-practiced routine that varies slightly between reps.

The first step is to ask open-ended questions that evoke detailed responses. These questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. Furthermore, speaking must take a backseat for this phase of the prospecting journey. It’s more important that you let them explain their setup, goals, and thought processes.

Active listening for sales professionals

Active listening is a helpful sales strategy for this achieving this goal. Essentially, active listening is using verbal cues (and non-verbal cues when in-person) to indicate that the speaker’s words are being heard and appreciated. The goal here is to:

  • Show the prospect that their words have value

  • Encourage the prospect to expand on their ideas

  • Foster an empathetic bond between prospect and seller

  • Establish a trustworthy working relationship

For a more detailed breakdown of active listening for sales professionals, check out the aircall blog linked here. But basically, you want to fill small pauses in conversation with encouraging words that show you’re hearing and absorbing the speaker’s information.

Once the prospect has finished a completed thought, you should drive the conversation to continue down a related path. “How,” “what,” and “why” based questions are the foundations of prolonged and engaging conversations.

More recommended prospecting questions

One more time: you must REALLY listen! It is the only way you will figure out what your prospect needs. If your product or service cannot do anything for them, you will save you both a lot of stress and time. If it’s the perfect fit, it will be much easier to convince him/her to try it out.

Once you’ve used active listening to discover the prospect’s needs, follow this advice from Todd Vollmer. From 20 years as an enterprise sales leader, he recommends you get answers for 5 specific areas, abbreviated as 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?

Prospects who want to talk more about your technology and emerging market than how it can specifically help their business are suspect. They might just be seeking free advice, and have no intention of actually purchasing your product. This intent can be uncovered using the questions mentioned above.

You should also be wary of over-the-top enthusiasm for your product, as strange as that sounds. Prospects who assert your product is ready to change the whole company’s operational scheme are usually not the decision makers. The people in power are normally more measured. In this case, make sure you know exactly who all will be involved in the decision-making process.

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. Otherwise, the goal should be to continue the conversation. Scheduling another interaction is the best result: either another call or demo.

If you need them to try out your product, simply set up a call for the same time next week.

Remember to document these next steps in your CRM. It’s vitally important to have all the info ready when making handoffs between sales team members.

What if I’m rejected when cold calling?

This is the number one reason why people are afraid of cold-calling. Unfortunately, it will happen. 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 going to happen and remain polite.

Our advice: Review the game footage. A lot of the time, the prospect was a poor use-case-fit, and there was nothing to be done. Other times, the prospect may have been in a bad mood, in which case, your politeness may keep the door open for future opportunities.

However, if a call went well but you still received a “no,” you should review your call recording. Maybe you could’ve taken the conversation in a different direction, or maybe you missed an opportunity to handle an objection. Practice makes perfect, and critiquing conversations with sales managers will build confidence and knowledge with time.

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 that confirms your mutual agreement to move forward in the sales process.

Cold calling takes time to become natural, but once you get in your reps, you’ll be ready to deploy this effective sales strategy.

Published on December 15, 2014.

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