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.

If you’ve found this page, it’s because you’re looking for a deep-dive into cold calling strategies, scripts, and expert advice. Well, we’re hard at work building that out for you. In the meantime, here’s all you really need to know…

Sign up for the Sell to Win newsletter and we’ll notify you when 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

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.


Nutshell offers unlimited Click-to-Call so you can record and review your sales calls.


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.

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Last updated: August 2018


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