The Ultimate Guide to Cold Calling

Definition of Cold Calling:

Cold calling is a form of telemarketing in which a salesperson attempts to solicit business from potential customers who have not previously expressed interest in the seller’s product or solution.

For outbound sales teams, cold calling is often the first—and arguably the most important—step towards creating sales opportunities. The goal is to make the first contact with a person or company that fits your ideal customer profile, briefly introduce your product or solution, and determine if there’s enough interest to move forward.

Sign up for the Sell to Win newsletter and we’ll notify you as more of our Ultimate Guide to Cold Calling goes live. You can also browse through some of our past articles on the subject:

PART 1: How to Qualify on a Cold Call

Skip to Part 2: Cold Calling Scripts and Tips From the Experts

Qualifying leads is the primary goal of cold calling. After all, you need to know pretty quickly whether it’s worth investing your time in a lead or not. If they’re not going to buy, you need to be able to move on to leads who will.

Traditionally, qualifying is done on an initial cold call. These days, though, lead qualification is a process — a process that should involve not just you as a sales rep or SDR, but your marketing team. If your sales organization follows an inbound model, your marketing team will pass along leads they already know are viable, and it’s your job to figure out their exact needs and sell to them. For outbound teams, the foundational work of finding qualified leads often falls on the sales reps themselves.

Briefly, let’s go over which parts of the qualifying process your marketing team should be doing so we can move on to what aspects of qualifying should still take place on your cold call.

FYI:

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Marketing’s Role in Qualifying

Pre-call qualifying

It’s best to do as much qualifying as possible before you get on the phone. Your prospects aren’t interested in answering a hundred questions, especially when they know you could have found the answers on your own. Plus, pre-call research helps you disqualify prospects before you even pick up the phone, saving you valuable time.

Generally, you should look to qualify based on buyer persona. Does the lead work at a company with the right amount of employees? What’s their job title? Can you tell what exactly they’re responsible for? LinkedIn and Google make it possible to answer the vast majority of such questions without ever talking to anyone.

If possible, you should also take a look to see if the lead has taken the right high-value actions on your site that indicates they’re interested in talking to you. The good news for sales teams at companies with inbound marketing is that your marketing team should have the capacity to qualify leads based on both website behavior and buyer persona data.

Effectively, that means that your marketing team can determine through various nurturing programs if a lead works at a company with the right amount of employees, if a company is in a relevant industry, and other characteristics that align with your buyer persona. It also means marketing can determine if a lead has taken the correct website behaviors to display interest in talking to an actual human about your product.

Ultimately, you’re going to have to sit down with your marketing team and discuss which high-value data points they are capable of measuring to define what an SQL (sales qualified lead) is to your company. In general, your team should be able to gather data that qualifies the lead as being in your target audience and may even be able to identify who the lead will be in the buying process (influencer or decision-maker).

What’s Left for You to Qualify on the Phone

Once you have achieved an SQL definition that works for your company, you should be able to focus on finding out what sorts of problems your prospect is having and figuring out if/how your product can solve those problems. Discussing 3-4 problems in your initial call with a customer correlates to an over 80% likelihood of closing that sale. View yourself less as a salesperson at this point and more as a customer advocate. When you focus on truly providing help to a customer, they’re more likely to trust you.

As a note: despite the fact that your SQLs should come to your desk with quite a lot of information, do your research before you call someone up. Make sure the lead is who they’ve said they are. Check out their LinkedIn to understand what their job title really means. Visit their company website to learn what they do and get a feel for how you can help.

Research will ensure you aren’t wasting your time and it will also allow you to skip aspects of the cold call that a prospect may find off-putting (like having to explain to you that they don’t do what you thought they did).

If you don’t want your cold calls to be so cold, there’s a way to ease yourself into that first contact. If you have email addresses associated with the names on your prospecting list, you can load those emails into LinkedIn or Facebook and create a custom audience based on just those emails. Then, run a small ad to all of people that you plan to call the following week. That way, when you reach out to them, they may have heard of you already.

Mike Carroll, Nutshell Head of Growth

Popular Cold Call Qualifying Methods

There are a number of methods with various acronymic names for qualifying prospects on cold calls. Let’s take a look at some of them.

BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline)

BANT was created by IBM salespeople quite some time ago and is the oldest method of qualifying on a cold call that we’ll mention here. BANT is generally considered to be fairly outdated because it doesn’t really take into account all the lead nurturing that a marketing team will be doing.

With the BANT method, salespeople focus their qualifying questions first on determining budget, next on determining whether or not the person they’re talking to is the decision maker, then on what the company’s actual needs are, and finally what the sales timeline will look like for that company. If it seems odd to you that BANT firmly encourages a salesperson to find out what a company’s budget is before finding out if they even need your product, you’re not alone. That’s one of the major reasons other methods have been invented.

CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money, Prioritization)

CHAMP is essentially NABT. While it follows the general principles of BANT, CHAMP prioritizes learning your leads pain-points above all else, making it a more customer-centric method. Additionally, where salespeople following the BANT method will drop a lead if the qualifying questions surrounding Authority reveal an influencer rather than a decision-maker, CHAMP salespeople will continue to work with the lead, trying to get a conversation with the decision maker.

GPCTBA/C&I (Goals, Plans, Challenges, Timeline, Budget, Authority/negative Consequences & positive Implications)

GPCTBA/C&I is not exactly the most catchy acronym, but it is the method that is most understanding of the modern customer journey. This method keeps in mind at all time that most customers have already done fairly extensive research on your product by the time they speak with a salesperson, so what they need really is an advisor rather than a salesperson. That means understanding the lead’s goals and plans for the product before even asking what the specific challenges are. It also means asking a lead what consequences (positive or negative) would be expected to occur to the lead should your product perform well or poorly.

Choosing Your Method

Which method works for you will depend both on your business model. If you’re selling a one-time product or service, BANT may work best for you. It allows you to move quickly through the sale and on to the next one. However, if customer retention is an important goal, customer-centric methods like CHAMP or GPCTBA/C&I will help you achieve those goals.

11 Example Questions to Ask On Your Call

  1. “Do you already spend money to solve this problem using a different product? If so, what’s working with it and what’s not? What made you decide on that product?”
  2. “Do you currently have a contract with a competitor? When is it up for renewal?”
  3. “Are you using any of our competitors?”
  4. “Are we in agreement on the potential ROI of this product?”
  5. “How does your organization make purchasing decisions? Who else besides yourself will be included in the decision?”
  6. “What potential concerns do others involved in this process have?”
  7. “Who will be overseeing the implementation of the product?”
  8. “What problem are you seeking to solve with our solution? What challenges are you currently facing? How long have you been facing these challenges?”
  9. “How long do you hope for implementation to take?”
  10. “What features are a must-have and why?”
  11. “If you don’t reach your goals, what are the consequences?”

Red Flags to Watch For

Even the most perfect SQL definition won’t stop you from getting some leads who just aren’t interested. The following behaviors should be considered disqualifications:

  • Short answers. If your lead isn’t providing you with much detail throughout your call, they’re almost certainly not interested.
  • Inconsistent answers. If your lead is continually contradicting themselves, they probably aren’t really interested in you or may not even have enough of a problem that they need to solve it yet.
  • If the lead purposefully blocks you from speaking to the decision maker, it’s time to drop them. You can’t make a sale if you don’t speak to the person/people making the decision.
  • If the lead appears only mildly interested in solving their problem or changing products, don’t waste your time. Let them know they can find you when they’re more interested.
  • Refusing to nail down a timeline. In the modern world, by the time you speak with a prospect, they should know they have a problem and have a pretty decent idea of when they need it fixed. If your lead doesn’t have an idea yet, they’re not ready to buy. Again, let them know how to get in touch, and don’t waste your time.
  • Any sort of unethical or generally creepy behavior should also disqualify your prospects. It’s not worth jeopardizing your and your company’s professional reputations for a lead.

Qualifying your leads is such an important step for salespeople. It should never be skipped. Rather than throwing things at a wall and hoping something sticks, approach each potential prospect strategically and only continue the conversation if they’re interested in purchasing.

Part 2: Cold Calling Scripts, Tips, and Techniques (Straight From the Experts)

Picking up the phone and dialing a stranger with the expectation of building a sales relationship can be a daunting task, even under the best circumstances.

With that said, however, cold calling is still alive and well in 2018, and many companies are still using this traditional sales tactic effectively. To help improve your own cold calling process, we posed the following question to nine experts:

What’s the best cold call script you’ve used?

Some responded with a specific script that they currently rely on, while others provided tips and techniques for success.

Take a look at their responses below and add some fire to your own cold calling process:

P.S.: Hate your current CRM? Still working off spreadsheets? Register for our “Intro to Nutshell” live demo and see why sales teams love us!

We buy houses to either flip or hold them as rentals. We cold call people in and around Atlanta to see if they would like to consider an offer on their property and sell their home.

Our cold callers use MOJO Dialer so that we can make calls rapidly. We average 70.2 calls per hour, which accounts for the time spent in conversation as well. Every hour that we make calls, we get 1.13 leads, which is a 1.6% conversion rate.

We average 27 leads to get a contract signed that turns into a deal for our company to purchase a discounted house for a flip or a rental. So we know that we have to make calls for about 21 hours to get a house under contract.

What we like about this script is that it’s not a word-for-word script.

No cold call goes exactly the same way, but our team handles the same objections and questions consistently. We have laid out how to handle those objections in the most sequential way possible and bolded them so that it’s easy for our team to find in the heat of the call.

Avoiding the word-for-word script allows our team to focus more on building rapport with the prospect and dig a little deeper instead of treating a cold calling script as a checklist and not listening to the prospect’s needs.

Script

Hi, I am looking for [PROSPECT NAME]

My name is [NAME] and I am sorry this call is out of the blue….but I was calling about a home I believe you own on [ADDRESS].

I am actually looking to buy a home in the neighborhood and wanted to see if you had thought about selling it…or would consider an offer?

“No” response:

I completely understand, do you have any other properties you would consider selling?

“Yes” response:

Great! It looks like the home is X square feet. Is that right?

Great! Have you done any major remodeling to the kitchen and bathrooms in the last five years?

Did you have a price in mind?

“In the future” response:

Ok great, are you thinking in a couple of months?

My partners [PARTNER NAME] or [PARTNER NAME] will reach out to you to introduce themselves.

“How did you get my number?”

I have a third-party company named LexisNexis that I send addresses of homes we are interested in and they send us phone numbers if they have them.

“How much are you offering” response?

My partner actually runs all the numbers and the condition of the home is a big factor…have you done any major remodeling to the kitchen and bathrooms in the last five years?

A final note on prequalifying…

The four pillars of prequalifying are really important. The more of these you can get from the owners, the better.

The four pillars are:

  1. Condition of the home
  2. Timeline to sell
  3. Motivation
  4. Price

Top questions for the condition:

Have you done any major remodeling to the kitchen and the bathrooms in the last five years? How is the A/C unit and roof? Is it a three bedroom, two bath house?

Top question for timeline:

We usually close the transaction in 14 to 30 days, does that work for you?

Top question for motivation:

If you were to sell this home where would you move to next…would you stay local or move out of town?

Top questions for price:

  • You have owned it for a while…what do you think it is worth?
  • How much are you looking for?
  • If I can get you a cash, as-is offer what is the best price? If I pay all the closing costs and there are no real estate commissions?

Shawn Breyer
Owner of Breyer Home Buyers

When it comes to cold calling, the most significant aspect is to be different. Decision makers get spammed all day with calls and emails.

To effectively break through the monotony, you can’t sound like a robot and you must sound different than your competition. My sales scripts vary depending on how the conversation flows, but overall I follow the same five steps to ensure success:

1. Thank them for picking up.

This goes a long way to separate me from the pack. People like to feel in control and when you thank someone, you make them feel the illusion of control without actually giving it up; like pumping their ego. The key with cold calling is you need to be in control. You have very little time, so the conversation needs to be under your control the whole time.

2. Avoid hesitation and get to the point.

Decision makers are busy people. Getting to the point keeps you looking professional and shows that you are respectful of their time. I’m asking for time on their calendar, NOT a sale.

That’s key. I’m selling the meeting, not my services.

3. Always provide a response to their objection.

More times than not, the decision maker will always have some sort of objection and this is where you have to be on your toes. The key is to fully agree with them.

Do NOT say “I understand.” That will spell D-E-A-T-H for your sale. Saying “yeah, you’re right” puts the illusion of control back in the prospects hands and shakes them up. They will not be expecting you to agree with what they are saying.

4. Relate their problem to one we are solving for a current client.

Saying that a current client said the same thing does two things:

First, it lets them know they are not alone. Humans are not made to be alone. We strive for some community. That leads into the second thing it does, it already begins to prime them to group themselves in with our client base.

Because I said that they are similar to another one of our clients now twice, they begin to group themselves in there and are typically open to hearing more.

5. I directly ask for the meeting.

I want to respect their time, so I ask to schedule a separate meeting to talk about this further. The word “chat” is important too. “Talk” is too serious and it sounds like it could last a while. Chatting is light, breezy, and non-committal. It gives the impression that this is not a sales meeting, but more like a quick catch-up over coffee.

Howard Foster
Business Development Rep at Catapult New Business

The goal of cold calling is not to conduct a needs analysis, pitch, close, or even to engage in a conversation. The purpose of cold calling is to move from an interruption into a scheduled meeting where you will have the prospect’s undivided attention.

How do expert sellers do that?

It’s not by sharing all of your information up front in a 30 to 60-second elevator-style pitch.

Instead, seasoned sales professionals create call scripts engineered to ask questions that yield predictable answers. This back-and-forth helps transition the prospect’s state of mind and leads to an increased likelihood of securing a meeting.

Here’s an example of my script for cold calling. This script format has led to generating millions of dollars in new business for agencies small and large:

Caller: Hi [PROSPECT NAME],

My name is [NAME], and I am with [COMPANY]. Are you doing well today?

(NOTE: This begins the interaction with a question that has a predictable answer.)

Prospect: Uh. I’m fine.

Caller: That’s great [PROSPECT NAME]. Have I caught you at a bad time?

(NOTE: This question has three predictable answers: “Yes,” and they hang up. Or, “No,” and you continue. Or, “Yes, but what’s this about?”)

Prospect: I am about to run to a meeting. What’s this about?

Caller: I understand and promise to be brief. Again, my name is [NAME], and I’m with the creative shop [COMPANY]. I’m calling because we’ve helped clients like you drive sales at retail.

Can I ask, are you familiar with [COMPANY]?

(NOTE: Now I’ve succinctly restated my name, the agency name, and shared our value proposition. Unless you’re one of the top 10 agencies in the world, most people won’t have heard of you. However, when they say no, that’s your invitation to share more information.)

Prospect: No, I’m not. What do you do?

Caller: We’re a fully integrated creative agency that helps clients in your business category like [CLIENT A], [CLIENT B], and [CLIENT C]. Our clients tell us that we’ve helped them improve their sales at retail by up to 89%.

Can I ask, are you still VP of Marketing?

(NOTE: Now I have succinctly provided background on the agency and provided proof of credibility by naming clients. I’ve also restated our value proposition and tied it to tangible results. To keep the prospect engaged, I end with asking another question with a predictable answer.)

Prospect: Yes, I am.

Caller: Great. Well, I know you’re busy. And, although I don’t yet know if we are a good fit for you yet, why don’t we schedule a brief call. Most everyone gets value from learning how we have improved our clients’ sales at retail.

Would that be of interest?

(NOTE: I’ve demonstrated empathy, restated my value proposition for the third time, and asked for the meeting.)

In that brief exchange, the first step of your sales process is completed. This script has led to millions of dollars of new business wins from enterprise companies.

By shifting the prospect’s state of mind with short questions with predictable answers and focusing only on scheduling a meeting, you’ll discover yourself bringing into better balance the necessary components for success in the great combined art and science of cold calling.

Christian Banach
VP, Group Account Director at Catapult New Business

Today, cold calling is practically a waste of time if you’re using the same old aggressive tactics that turn most prospects off. The key is not to push but to pull back.

These steps are to be created in your own words and style:

1. Research

Find a reason to call. You read an article, noticed a new product they have introduced, etc.

2. Intro (Use Push/Pull) and Ground Rules

Using the above information, the intro should sound something like this:

“This is [YOUR NAME] with [COMPANY] and I see that you guys are doing [REASON FOR CALL]. So, I thought it might make sense to see if we may be able to work together on it, but I don’t want to assume you are not already set in that area…”

Continuing on (establish ground rules):

“…So I thought it would make sense to take a few minutes, ask some questions and see if what you do and I do might be a fit, if it is great we can discuss further and if not, that’s okay too. At least we didn’t spend a bunch of wasted time, sound okay?”

3. Ask Questions

Questions should be open-ended and allow for the person to talk about whatever it is you called about (your research). Then ask additional questions but no more than a few and NO SELLING!

4. Summary

Recap the conversation.

Example:

“So [CUSTOMER NAME], based on what you’ve said, it sounds like it makes sense for us to discuss this further (if it does), what do you think?”

5. Clear Next Step

Set up a next step, not a callback but a true “on the calendar” appointment for the next step that you both agree on.

6. Short Recap Email

You must recap what was discussed and put it into a short email.  This is not to boast about you or your company but to show that you actually listened and confirm your understanding.

Greta Schulz
CEO of Schulz Business SELLutions

When I started out in sales, I was afraid of how the other person would reply to my ice-breaker, which often sets the tone for the remaining conversation.

The standard “Is this the right time to talk?” would constantly get me a “no.” Mainly because people respond in kind. They pick up negative questions unconsciously, without giving them a second thought. Until I switched to “How are you?”

This polite inquiry is perceived as something natural, non-intrusive. Prospects don’t need to come up with an excuse to dodge you, they’ll just answer on the spot. Just make sure to rehearse it so it sounds like you really mean it.

Marcel Andrei
Customer Success & Product Marketing at Paymo

We have developed two methods, one is the golden hour. The other one is “jazz improvisation.”

Those who play jazz know that improvisation is encouraged, within the boundaries of a song’s chord progression and rhythmic structure. Instead of playing off a musical score, you compose on the spot using your musical experience and insights to inform your playing.

In the same way, all sales calls can be personalized and dynamic, within the parameters that are established previously. The “jazz improvisation” consists first of gathering full information of your client so that you can transmit to your prospects a certain sense of familiarity.

And the most important…stop using scripts in your calls, since they are usually impersonal and prevent conversations from flowing naturally. The calling process (and sales in general) must be customized to meet the individual and specific needs of each client. In my years of experience I can recommend that today it is not important to plan your first call in detail; instead, it’s best to focus on gathering information about the prospect.

Unless you sell something cheap that does not require much attention, asking questions to discover more information about your new potential customers will create better results in the following call.

Sophie Miles
CEO & Co-Founder of elMejorTrato.com.pe

Hi [NAME],

This is [YOUR NAME] with [COMPANY]. How are you doing?

Awesome! I just sent you an email about [SOLUTION], but before I get ahead of myself, is that something you and your team handle?

Okay awesome, do you guys see any issues with [PROBLEM SOLUTION SOLVES]?

Yeah I hear that a lot, well [1-2 SENTENCE ELEVATOR PITCH]

(This is where I ask a few qualifying questions.)

It seems like this would be a good fit if you deal with [PROBLEM SOLUTION SOLVES]. I’m looking to schedule 15 minutes on your calendar to walk you through what we have. Do you have your calendar in front of you?

Notes:

I really like the question at the beginning asking if this problem area is something that the employee/team would handle.

Most cold calls end up with a gatekeeper or a Junior Leader. It’s important not to pitch to them too much giving them a chance to say “no.” It’s far better to get to the decision maker before ranting about your own product.

Junior employees are 62% more likely to reject a sales pitch than a Senior executive according to velocify.com. This shows that pitching to the wrong person not only means they probably can’t write the check, but they are more likely to tell you “no” than refer you up to those who are the decision makers.

If you’re not talking to the right person it’s important to find out early and sell them on connecting you with the right employee. In reality, a “can you connect me to the right person” pitch should be the most common for cold callers.

Devan Baucom
Lead Revival Specialist at Aktify

Too many sales gurus say that cold calling is dead and the truth is they just don’t want to do it.

Sales training will usually identify that roughly 75% of salespeople never even follow up one time with a prospect. So if you are struggling financially, you MUST cold call.

The process:

  1. Identify yourself (first name only) and the purpose of your call.
  2. Make a pitch with a real testimonial or just state why you are calling.
  3. Ask your first “Stump/hook” question as soon as possible.
  4. Ask the next two “Stump/hook” questions.
  5. Wait for them to invite you in for an appointment or lead with an assuming the sale question like, “When are you in the office or when does your sales team meet?”
  6. Handle objections, if they even come up.
  7. Get a day/time on the calendar and send a calendar invite!
  8. Get the cell phone number from the decision maker and text them the day before the meeting and ask how they would like their coffee.
Script

Caller: Hi [PROSPECT NAME],

It’s [NAME] with [COMPANY].

We are offering complimentary one-hour sales training workshops to increase your team’s performance, perhaps you would like to have your team evaluated on their effectiveness in the top ten skills based on top income earners.

How many people do you have on your sales team?

To be sure I’m not wasting your time tell me, do you have a standard for how many dials per day your sales team makes?  (Stump question)

Prospect: Um um um…

Caller: If I could make your life easier, what are the top two things you would want to enhance with your sales team?

Prospect:  Why don’t you come in so we can talk?

Set the appointment and make sure to get their cell phone number!

Handling Objections
  1. Objection: “Oh, we are all set.”
    Caller: “I can appreciate that, but would your sales guys tell you that they are satisfied with their current income? Why don’t you buy them lunch and I’ll come in and test their abilities, fine-tune their skills, and give them some motivation?”
  2. Objection: “We have in-house trainers.”
    Caller: “I hear what you are saying, but do you know how many advisors the president has?
    Prospect: “No.”
    Caller: “Clearly not enough, right?”
    Prospect: “Hahaha.”
    Caller: “But seriously, (insert stump questions).”
  3. Objection: “We’re satisfied.”
    Caller: “Do you and your sales staff deserve more?”
    “We are here in [LOCATION], and are servicing our community business owners by helping them to increase their sales staff performance to make even more money. We typically will come back every six months to a year for further professional development. Would you be open to attending one of these sessions?”

Remember: You are building a relationship because everyone buys eventually.

Tamara Bunte
Sales Coach at Tamarabunte.com

My best trick for cold outreach was always to offer value directly to targets that had a high enough Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) to be worth the effort of building a relationship.

The best currency I had back then was to offer some brick and mortar / mom-and-pop type businesses links and exposure online by interviewing them about their best practices.

This interview or visit started a relationship and gave me plenty of reasons to ask qualifying questions and to really understand what they were doing, what was working, and what they were struggling with. Not only did this help me close some sales, it gave me a lot of general understanding in the market.

The best tip I ever got was to flip my expectations. Don’t look to make one sale. Look to make 100 calls. Take a stack of 100 pennies and start taking them down as you make your calls each day. Success is moving the pennies and taking the rejections. It’s not about the sales.

Robert Graham
Founder of Keepify

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Last updated: October 2018

Comments

Ben Goldstein says

October 29, 2018

Re: "Is now a good time to talk?"

Well, they had enough time to pick up the phone, didn't they? : ) I say, don't ask that question in the first place...it gives them an excuse to lie to you.

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