Is your product (at least somewhat) ready? Then it’s time to get it in front of your potential customers. You might have a lead generation system in place already, though, being an unknown brand, it wouldn’t be wise to wait for inbound leads to come in by themselves. Not only does it fail to allow for targeted outreach but it may even fail to generate enough leads. For that reason, pick up the phone and talk to your targets. But read this article first to explore our best calling practices. Experienced seniors, don’t stop reading! The practices we cover apply to all types of business calls - cold or warm, communication with existing clients, talking to your internet provider, and more.
First of all, what is “business calling”?
By “business calling”, we are primarily referring to (particularly in this article):
- Cold calling - probably the most challenging, in that the other side doesn’t expect your call, doesn’t know who you are, and, most of the time, doesn’t want to talk to you at all.
- Warm calling - calling based on a shown interest: potential customer downloaded a demo, requested pricing but also includes calls from already existing customers.
We found out that calling is not that different from having a face-to-face conversation. Sure, for those who rely on chemistry, it might be a little harder but you pay attention to the same things you would in an offline conversation; you perceive words and voice, tonality, and emotion. All of this gives you a rough idea of how the other party feels, how you should adjust yourself and react, and how far to go in questions.
Is cold calling ineffective/outdated?
We’ve heard it so many times already, so we can’t “not touch” this topic. Generally, we can identify ourselves with this claim. If cold calling was effective, there’d be call centers all around us. However, in doing business, you’ll find phases where it works just fine, like PMF (product-market fit), where you need to quickly target and reach out to a specific group of people. So no, cold calling is not always ineffective. We mostly use calling as a complementary activity to emailing and LI prospecting. Together it helps convey our message to potential customers via various channels, and we like that.
Check these prospecting buyer interest statistics throughout channels by Hubspot.
What’s up with calling lately?
Calling has undergone significant changes in the past few years. According to HBR1, customers make more than 50% of the buying decision even before they get in touch with the sales representative. And when they do, they don’t want to hear the product updates and information, they’re too busy for that. Instead, they want to solve their NEED and PAIN. Moreover, generation Y and Z predominantly use messenger and chat platforms. A phone call from a stranger is usually pushing them out of their comfort zone. Others want to meet you immediately; they see no sense in chatting over the phone.
Despite these circumstances, we can still confirm that cold calling is effective for the following reasons:
- Predictability, scalability - calling to a specific sector raises the same topics and sees a repeat of the same objections, making them easier to handle
- Targeted outreach - compared to inbound activities, you can pick, and reach out to, your dream customers, the ones you believe will benefit from your solution the most
- The full attention of the other side - compared to emailing, once you get connected, there’s usually less distraction
- Real-time feedback - unlike emailing, you get an immediate reaction
- Effectivity - compared to meetings, calling saves time on traveling, and you’re still getting your questions answered right away
Quantity & Quality - get the right mindset.
Knowing that cold calling is still in the game should make it more appealing to everyone. To succeed, you need both quantity and quality. According to HBR research2, you have to call your targets 6 or 7 times to reach 9 out of 10 people. About 50% of sales representatives give up after the second try.
What to expect when you get hold of your targets? Division. Statistics:
Out of 10 calls, there’s going to be:
- 1 super-fit - the ideal customer
- 2 interested - the conversation will go on
- 4 neutral - not good, not terrible, you’ll have some chat
- 2 unfits - the product doesn’t solve their problem
- 1 I-have-it-all - has everything sorted and doesn’t need your services
It’s necessary to set up expectations: do not just try and see what will happen. Look up industry specifics, what the conversion rates usually are, and set up your numbers accordingly. Embrace the fact that you won’t solve everything on a single call. Until you complete several dozen calls, do not jump to any hasty conclusions. Quantity matters. Call at least 20 numbers before you evaluate your performance. You will also know your statistics - around 10 of them won’t pick up. Statistics will help you with planning.
Should you have a call script?
Yes, all of us should. If you’re a beginner, make double sure you have it. Don’t worry; the idea is not to create a list of A to Z instructions to read (and sound) like a robot. Even experienced salespeople still use it - in the form of a mindmap, or list of questions to ask. Asking means leading the conversation, so it can help you gain control and navigate, in order to hit your goal (whether it’s a meeting or sale). Only if you lead the conversation, are you able to influence the other side. Sales is not a matter of destiny.
You’ll see for yourself - after some calls, you’ll find using a script very natural and start using it simply as a support tool. Below is what the rough structure might look like:
We got this inspiration from our colleague Matúš; he uses "5 x I". Let’s take a look:
“Good morning, Mr./Mrs. XXX (OR I am trying to reach Mr./Mrs. XXX. Is this the right number?). This is Matúš Kučera, from *Company Name*.”
“Mr./Mrs. XXX, I understand that you work in procurement. I am reaching out regarding suppliers and tender management providers in *their company name*. Are you the one responsible for this specific area?"
“Our solution helps buyers and companies such as CompanyA or CompanyB manage their buying processes, whether it is suppliers’ evaluation, internal purchase, or announcing tenders online. By digitizing the internal purchase system, you save 30-80% of the related costs. Our customers can monitor and evaluate suppliers and therefore prevent themself from working with unsuitable suppliers, and on the contrary, they strategically gain sight of suitable ones.“
List of questions:
"How do you manage purchasing?"
"How do you evaluate your suppliers?"
"How do you manage tenders?"
"Where do you see priorities in purchasing?", etc.
Summary: “We discussed X, you also mentioned your priorities in purchasing are Y.”
Bridge: “Did I mention all the important things, or would you like to add anything else?”
Pull: “I can see that it’d make sense to meet in person and talk about how our solution could help you and your company. Are you free on Monday at 10 am? Can I have your email address so I can send you a confirmation?”
The right approach and principles when calling:
- Who asks questions, leads the conversation
- Start your conversation with a familiar topic - name, position, company
- Avoid using the word “an offer”
- Instead of telling people what you do, describe how you help them
- Be specific and speak in a simple manner
- Finish every remark with an open question
- Be inquisitive
- Ask just one question at a time
- Put some positive energy into it
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself - authenticity is always better
- Dig deep if the potential customers admit they’re solving a problem, ask “why is that so” in various forms but make sure it doesn’t sound aggressive or arrogant
Now when you’re backed up with the theory, let’s see how it can be applied.
An essential part of cold calling. Calling an unknown person to sell to is a waste of time. Try to find the people you’re about to call on LI or company pages and get to know them a little. It should take about 45 seconds. Ideally, you should always have their name, position, and responsibility within their company. Anything above that, helping you in the call, is a plus.
Get ready for a prompt “Why are you calling me?” Only if you’re able to answer this right away can you gain credibility and get into a conversation. But don’t waste minutes - overpreparation, in addition to postponing the call, won’t help.
Set up your call’s aim and have it in front of you as a reminder, should the discussion go off-topic, you can get back to it. Your aim shouldn’t be “get them in a meeting” necessarily, because, oftentimes, if you do, without proper qualification (needs, pain, and problems they’re solving), you might realize, within 10 minutes of meeting them, it’s a waste of time. Not so great, right?
2) Make them talk:
How do you feel when an unknown number shows up on your phone screen? Probably not the best! Your potential customers feel the same. Think of what you’d like to hear after you pick up. What gets your interest? What makes you talk? It’s been proven that for the first 3-5 seconds of any call, the receivers usually don’t understand much, and try to make sense of what is going on. At that moment, they decide whether to continue the call or not. How to arouse their interest? Use what they know. Ask if you’re talking to *name*... and mention position, company, an article you read…, in other words, show you did your homework. This also gives them space to acknowledge this is a business call.
After you get a reaction, introduce yourself and tell them the reason you’re calling. Try to answer their questions and objections before they have even asked them. Catch their attention and interest. Show them they’re in good hands and that you know what you’re talking about. Mention the usual problem in their sector; you’ll be more relevant. A question should end this short intro, and if you took the previous steps correctly, you’ll have a high chance of continuing into a discussion.
You did well in the introduction and now you’re opening the conversation. Questions will get you into a discussion, so ask, be proactive, and:
- don’t speak more than the other side
- don’t interrupt the other side
- don’t add to what the other side wants to say
Listen carefully from the beginning to the end. You listen not to answer, but to understand, so that potential customers know you hear them and that you care. Otherwise, they will be reluctant to share anything with you. And, most importantly, end all of your reactions with a question. How to do this naturally? Use the technique of mirroring:
The potential customer: “We don’t control the onboarding process much.”
You: “You’re saying that you don’t control the onboarding process?”
The potential customer: “Yes, the way it looks now is ….”
Have a set of questions ready and keep them handy (they can be a part of the call script). If you lose your place, they’ll help you get back on track.
4) Next Step:
At the end of the call, you need to use the information you’ve gathered. Schedule the next steps on both sides. For it to happen, you need your potential customer’s commitment, whether it’s a meeting with the board or a different small step. By having them committed, you significantly lower the risk of if not happening. What really works for us is the SBP technique from the book “Proactive Selling”, explained in the chapter “Should you have a call script?” above.
P.s.: Push-backs and negative feedback from calls can be discouraging at times... Check the tips below to keep a positive mindset and bounce back after unsuccessful calls.
Do you sound unnatural?
Practice your energy not on what you say, but how you say it. Focus on your energy level. You might have heard that people actually perceive your voice more than the message you’re conveying. Are you calm? Scared? Boring? Or are you confident and optimistic? Your energy level determines whether the other side trusts you or not.
Well, that’s good news, isn’t it? This basically means that you do not have to know every small product detail to amaze your audience. Instead, you have to make them feel good being on the phone with you. They need to talk to a human being rather than a robot.
Picture Source: Seeken.org
Try this mockup with a colleague. Ideally, a colleague that also makes calls and does not necessarily sell the same product as you. Set things up first - the colleague is your potential customer, and you’re calling him/her with a usual use-case. The important thing is keeping a smile on your face!
Hard to keep yourself in the flow?
Follow these tips to reach maximum productivity:
- Make a time-slot in your calendar and stick to it.
- In this time slot, call and call only. Do not browse the web, etc.
- Call to a set of similar contacts. Like, companies never contacted before or follow-ups. Choose a homogenous group, where the topics will be similar.
- Make yourself comfortable, get coffee, water, a quiet room, do not let anyone distract you, and don’t get distracted by other tasks.
Is your stomach turning upside down?
Hah, here you should know you’re not the only one. We’ve all been there, with heavy hands, fighting with picking up the phone. Most importantly, don’t hesitate with the first call. Warm-up by calling your parents; they’ll be happy! Or call your colleague. You’ll lose the initial fear.
Unable to get people talking?
When you feel like you’ve tried everything, and the person still won’t talk to you (“We have a full solutions’ coverage.”, “I have no time to talk.”), there might be the last hack. Say “I understand what you’re saying, and I respect it. Before I say goodbye, can I ask how you solve *problem* today? This breaks down the barrier of sales rep/potential customer, as you’ve given up in your target’s eyes. However, if this doesn’t open any conversation, then it’s likely that nothing will.
Here is a collection of education materials worth checking out, by Close.com.
Wrapping it up...
Ta-dah! We’ve gone through the theory and practical information on how to do business calling. As mentioned before, our best practices work not only when doing cold calling, but also, more generally, when calling anyone - smile, start with what they know, ask questions, be specific, clear, and authentic. Oh, we know it’s hard, and it’s not for everyone but don’t give up until you’ve given it your best! Our colleague Martin has moved his cold calling skills to a level where he gets the recipient’s shoe size, so … kidding … but you never know! :) Over time, calling becomes more natural and waaaaay better. Trust us on this; we’ve made around 25,000 cold calls.
Check how cold calling falls into your prospecting strategy here.
1 hbr.org “What Salespeople Need to Know About the New B2B Landscape”, by Frank V. Cespedes, Tiffani Bova, Aug5 2015
2 hbr.org “The Best Practices for Lead Response Management” based on James Oldroyd and David Elkington research