"The Navigator" News Blog

How to Overcome Cold Call Reluctance

Apparently, the old “How to overcome cold call reluctance” techniques are making their rounds again.  I’ve gotten three webinar solicitations in the last two weeks for webinars like these, and looking at the outlines, it’s the same old crap about managing rejection, stress handling techniques, and the like.  Those are great techniques for salespeople who are cold calling – in 1993.

What I’m about to say is a change in my own viewpoint, so if you attended one of my seminars on prospecting a year or more ago, don’t say, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s not what you said then!”  You’re right.  It’s not.  Sales is evolving, and we (I) have to evolve with it.  It’s time to redefine what cold-call prospecting really means – and along with that redefinition, we can realize that it might be even MORE important now.

There’s an old saying:  “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success!”  Well – conventional cold-call prospecting still succeeds, but at a much lower numerical rate than in the past.  But maybe we can redefine it and modify it to help our numbers, and in so doing, help some of you overcome cold call reluctance.

30 years ago, the numbers looked like this.  If you were calling from a good database, not doing the “person who” call, and using a strong introduction, you would generally get a contact (speaking to the person you wanted to talk to) on about one of every three times you dialed the phone.  Then, if your introduction was strong, you’d get an appointment on one of every 2-3 contacts.  Hence, if you were doing it right, you’d get an appointment on one of every 6-9 dials.  That’s a pretty good number.  Most of the time, salespeople working from a good database could average 20 dials per hour, so an hour of focused cold calling got you 2-3 appointments.

Of course, there were other techniques like “schmoozing the secretary” that came into play for when you didn’t get a contact, or when you needed human help to get to your person.  Technology has pretty much made those techniques obsolete.

Now (in most B2B industries), you’re lucky if you get a contact on one of every ten dials.  From what I see, the contact to appointment ratio has dropped as well, but not as drastically – now it’s more like 4 contacts yield one appointment – most likely because one-size-fits-all messaging isn’t as effective.  What that means is that now, doing it the old way, it takes about two hours of focused cold calling to get one appointment.  That’s frustrating – and it feeds into cold call reluctance.  Nobody likes to fail – and these numbers mean that you’re failing 39 of 40 attempts, as opposed to 5 of 6 attempts 30 years ago.

HOWEVER – when I have done cold calling training with my clients, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon.  When salespeople leave a strong voice mail (more on that in a minute), their LinkedIn profile views go up in the next couple of days.  Who’s viewing them?  You guessed it – some of the people that they tried to call.  That means that whatever they said to the prospect interested the prospect enough to check them out, even if they didn’t return the call (even 30 years ago, returned calls from voice mail ran about 10-20%, so that’s never been a strong lead generator).

That is a success.

The purpose of cold calling is simple.  We want to find people who could buy from us but don’t know we exist, and spark interest in them so that they might buy from us, now or in the future.  If prospects are interested enough in what you said that they type your name into LinkedIn and look you up, you have sparked at least some interest in them.  Next, of course, you should request a connection on LinkedIn (I outlined a LinkedIn strategy a couple of weeks ago).  The idea is to get on their radar screen, and stay there.  And, if you can pick up 3-4 new LinkedIn connections from an hour’s worth of prospecting, you’ve won.

In redefining prospecting, we need to think of creating awareness that you exist as someone who can solve problems for your customers.  The old cold calling strategy held that any call that didn’t result in an appointment was failure.  In fact, I used to teach that salespeople should make three attempts to reach a prospect by phone before leaving a voice mail.  That’s obsolete – the voice mail should now be considered a messaging medium, just like social media or LinkedIn, with the objective of creating awareness.

With that in mind, here’s my recommended new prospecting process:

  1. Start with a good database. The data you begin with still matters.  You should have a database of targeted prospects using whatever demographics work for you.  I normally recommend searching by geography, type of business, and size of company.  If you know what they do, where they do it, and how many people they have to do it, you can usually get a good database.  This database should include contact names and titles.  Most quality databases do.
  2. 3 minutes of research. Yes, I said research.  I used to recommend against this, because in the old “only an appointment is success” model, extensive research slowed down the process and cut into the number of quality dials.  Now?  Your message – whether delivered voice to voice in the case of a contact, or by voice mail if not – must be personalized.  It should speak directly to your prospect, his/her position, and the company’s anticipated needs.  2-3 minutes on their website and the person’s LinkedIn page should get you there.
  3. Call. When you call, be prepared to deliver a great and short, impactful introduction about how you can help the prospect with a possible need that you spotted.  Remember – attention spans are short, and your introduction should be.  The numbers say that you might get a contact only 1/10 of the time, but you’d damn well better be prepared for that call.  Some industries will do much better than that 1/10, and if you’re there, that’s a good thing.
  4. Leave a voice mail. Again, this is a departure from the past.  Leave a short, impactful voice mail about how you can help, with multiple ways of contact.  Invite your prospect to call, text, or look you up on LinkedIn.  Leaving an email address is fine IF it’s simple and comes across well in a message. Mine is troy@troyharrison.com, so that lends itself to a voice mail.  If yours has dots, dashes, and is complicated, you might want to skip this.  Remember, though, the first sentence must hit hard.  You want to capture interest before they hit the delete key.
  5. Watch your LinkedIn views. As I said before, you’re likely to get LinkedIn views from those you prospect. When you do, reach out, connect, and take a long-play approach to messaging them.
  6. If nothing happens, wait a couple of weeks and call again, varying your message.

Is it as immediately gratifying as the old, one appointment out of six dials, method?  Nope. But I don’t think those days are returning any time soon.  And this method still allows you to take control of your destiny, which is what cold-call prospecting is all about.

So, if you are experiencing cold call reluctance, think of it as spreading your message.  After all, that’s really what cold calling is all about, and always has been.  We just have a different path to motivating people into their Buyer’s Journey now.