The Definitive Guide to Cold Calling (Backed By Research and Data)
Cold calling — more than any other tactic in a sales professional’s toolkit, has a bad reputation.
… one that it may deserve because of poor execution.
In fact, cold calling is a powerful sales tactic that can be amazingly lucrative.
But few sales professionals do it consistently. And even fewer do it well.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to master cold calling.
- Developing the right mindset for cold calls
- Crafting your cold calling script
- Overcoming objections
… and more.
Let’s get going.
Table of Contents
- Reach the Right Person
- Engage Callers From The Start
- Talk From a Script
- Make It Easy To Say Yes
- Optimize Your Calling Schedule
- Practice Again and Again
What is Cold Calling?
Cold calling is simple in theory. You’re calling up a prospect that you’ve never interacted with before in the hope of turning them into a customer. It’s similar in many ways to cold emailing, but you’re contacting your prospects by telephone.
While the idea is simple, cold calling is an enormous challenge to execute successfully.
It’s incredibly difficult to successfully pitch someone on your services that you’ve just called out of the blue. And doing it consistently is even harder.
Does Cold Calling Work?
Cold calling can be so daunting that it’s not uncommon to hear marketers say cold calling is dead.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In our new remote reality, cold calling is more important than ever.
According to research by the RAIN Group, 82% of decision-makers accept meetings with sales professionals who proactively reach out. And the top-performing sales pros book 52 meetings for every 100 contacts.
With outside sales teams grounded and work from home on the rise, sales teams that have adapted by implementing a strong cold calling game are thriving — and going into 2021 more successful than ever.
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The Psychology of Cold Calling
To be successful, you need to understand and master the mental game of cold calling. Let’s look at some common barriers to success and how to overcome them.
Fear of Rejection
Let’s be honest. Most of us hate cold calling because of the rejection that comes with it. In fact, the average success rate for cold calls is around 2%.
Top-performing cold call sales professionals know that rejection is an essential part of the sales process. And they know most of their peers will shy away from picking up the phone.
That’s why they embrace rejection as an opportunity to level up their performance and stand out. And you can use it to your advantage, too.
- Be persistent. With many calls going to voicemail, it can be hard to reach prospects. The most successful cold call sales professionals reach out again and again until they make contact — often six times or more.
- Use rejection as motivation. It’s completely normal to feel defeated when you’ve finally gotten a prospect on the phone, only to get shut down. Let rejections motivate you to keep making calls.
44% of sales reps give up after the first no — and you don’t want to be among them. Cold calling is a numbers game, and if you keep calling prospects consistently, you’ll make the sale.
- Practice handling objections. The more cold calls you make, the better you’ll get at turning a no into a yes. Run practice calls with another member of your sales team. Have them throw sales objections at you, and try to keep the conversation going and get to a yes.
Fear of the Unknown
As salespeople, fear of rejection can prevent us from even picking up the phone — much less getting a yes.
But your prospect also has fears that can prevent you from making the sale. And the worst by far is fear of the unknown.
Look at things from your prospect’s point of view. Even if you have a killer product that’s delivering amazing results, they don’t know that. They’ve never heard of you before. They may not know your company. And listening to a sales pitch may not be worth their time.
That’s why straight-up cold calling has that 2% success rate. And it’s why you need a different strategy: warm calling.
Reaching out to warm leads who have previously established contact with your business is far more successful, generating success rates of up to 40%.
Warm calling will dramatically elevate your sales calls, replacing awkward introductions with smooth sales pitches your prospects will welcome. It’s an essential part of a strong sales call strategy.
Building Your Cold Calling Process
The key to making successful sales calls consistently is a well-thought-out process. You’ll need to source qualified leads who are a great fit for your offer, engage them on the call, and make an ask they can easily agree to.
Reach the Right Person
When you’re cold calling, it’s critical that you reach the right person — someone who’s in a position to say yes to your offer.
That means preparing before the call. That way, you’ll know all about your client when you speak with them. And they’ll know who you are, too.
Qualify Leads Before the Call
I’ll keep it simple: never ever ever get on a call with a prospect you haven’t researched ahead of time.
Researching a prospect enables you to learn details about their current business needs that can enable you to tailor the call to their priorities and hold their attention. And you can also pick up personal details, like how much they love surfing or that they’re huge Red Sox fans, that can enable you to make a personal connection more easily.
Make sure you have a clearly defined buyer persona that helps you to identify who your best prospects are.
As you flesh out your buyer persona, focus on these key characteristics:
- Job title
- Job responsibilities
- Company industry
- Company headcount
- Company annual revenue
In addition, you’ll want to warm up your leads. With inbound leads, looking at website behavior is a great way to do this. If prospects have viewed a webinar or downloaded a resource from your site that’s relevant to your offer, they’re likely ready to talk with you.
With outbound leads, you’ll want to initiate contact with leads prior to the call to familiarize them with your brand. The key is to give prospects something relevant and helpful, without asking anything in return. You might invite them to an event, provide a free resource, or introduce them to a business connection.
If your company has a well-developed sales operation in place, your sales and marketing teams should be able to help with lead qualification. Collaborate with other team members to streamline your workflow.
Confirm You’ve Reached the Decision Maker
You’ve got a target you’re trying to reach — but that’s not necessarily who picks up the phone.
You might need to talk your way through a gatekeeper such as an executive assistant to reach your prospect. And with job roles frequently changing, you may find that your prospect has moved on to another role.
Take the time to confirm that you’re speaking with the appropriate contact — and if you’re not, politely ask if they’ll connect you.
Be patient. You may need to reach out a few times before you talk with your prospect. If you can’t connect quickly, send a follow-up email with a scheduling link so that you can avoid an endless back-and-forth over the phone.
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Engage Callers From The Start
Great job. You’ve gotten your caller on the line.
Now the challenge is to hold their attention.
Typically you’ll have no more than thirty seconds at the start of a call before you lose your caller’s attention. Here’s how you can stand out.
Memorize Your Opening
Know what you’re going to say when the prospect picks up. While you don’t want to robotically rattle off a scripted introduction word for word, it’s critical to plan out a relevant, engaging introduction that highlights your value proposition quickly.
Remember all that customer research we did earlier? The opening is where it really becomes critical. You’ll want to clearly connect your value proposition to your prospect’s current business problems, so they want to learn more.
Use Trigger Events to Be Relevant
One of the secrets to successful outreach is great timing. If you know your prospect is in the market for your solution, you’re far more likely to attract their interest.
Top-performing sales pros don’t leave great timing up to chance. There are plenty of publicly available sources of information that can help you to know if a company is in the market for your solution.
Search recent news on your prospect, and set up Google Alerts to keep tabs on future updates. You’re looking for clues like:
- Funding. When companies close new funding rounds or report strong annual revenue, they’re much more likely to buy from you — because they can afford the investment.
- New executive hires. New C-suite hires are often looking to get great results for the company and are open to innovation.
- Company expansions. Opening new offices is a sign of strong company growth that can indicate readiness for continued investment.
- Major company news. Significant company milestones, such as winning a large contract or the release of a major product update, can be an opportunity to say congratulations and start a conversation.
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Talk From a Script
Scripts are a salesperson’s best friend. When you jump on a call, you don’t have to think on your feet or make small talk — it’s all laid out for you in the script.
You can get started today using a script on your sales calls. Take advantage of proven sales call scripts to quickly put together a workable template, then iterate and refine as you go.
Using a script isn’t just a matter of reading line-by-line. Follow these steps, and you’ll come off like a total pro.
Talk Like a Real Person
Scripts give you a framework for your call, helping you to remember the key points you want to make.
But the most important thing is to build rapport with your prospect. It’s critical to be approachable and engaging, and connect with the other person on a human level.
In an analysis of over 90,000 cold calls, Gong.io found that callers who started out with a friendly opener got response rates more than six times better than the average caller.
The top-performing opening line was super simple. “How have you been?”
One especially effective technique for building trust is mirroring. In mirroring, you align your tone of voice, attitude, and speech patterns with your prospect.
Mirroring can make a powerful difference. In one study, researchers at Stanford and Northwestern found that when negotiators mirrored their partners, they were five times more likely to reach a deal than when they didn’t.
Pay attention to how you’re feeling. When you come across as positive and upbeat, you’re much more pleasant to talk to — and it’s easier for potential clients to share what’s on their minds. If you’re feeling tired or flat, try listening to some classic pump up music to get in the zone.
Listen, Listen, Listen
It’s the most fundamental rule of marketing. Customers don’t care about you. They only care about themselves.
In fact, people spend 60 percent of their time in conversations talking about themselves.
That’s where your prospects’ focus is. And that’s where your focus should be, too.
In fact, top-performing sales reps are the only ones who listen more than they talk:
On a cold call, you will start feeling the urge to start telling your prospect all about your amazing product and how it will change their life.
That’s normal. But you must resist. Notice when you’re feeling the urge to speak, and instead keep listening and asking probing questions to find out more about your prospect’s needs.
By listening, you make your prospect feel valued and understood, and you gain valuable insights that can help you to serve them better. It’s an incredibly simple tactic — yet it’s shocking how few salespeople do it well.
For the most part, top sales pros shut up and listen. But there’s one exception: you should be ready to ask great open-ended sales questions that get your prospects talking.
Plan these out as you create your script. Ask specific, targeted questions that can help you understand your prospect’s current systems and processes.
Consider asking questions like:
- What are your company’s biggest priorities this year?
- What challenges have you faced in the past when trying to solve these problems?
- What’s prompting you to do something about this now?
- Who are the other stakeholders that will be involved in the decision-making process?
Once you understand what’s working for them now — and what isn’t — you can guide the conversation toward how their business could be transformed with your solution.
As your prospects share information, one of the most powerful strategies for gaining their trust is repetition.
By simply repeating back key points that your prospects have made, you demonstrate that you were really listening to them and give them an opportunity to clarify or extend what they’ve already shared.
And you continue to build rapport, smoothing the path for future conversations.
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Make It Easy To Say Yes
When you cold call a prospect, you should always have a specific objective in mind — an action you want your prospect to agree to.
And every step of the conversation should move your prospect toward taking that action.
On a cold call, you’re not trying to make the sale. You are trying to start a conversation with your prospect about how your solution can solve their business need.
To be successful, you simply need to continue the conversation. That could look like:
- Sending over a resource after the call, like a video or an information packet
- Scheduling a follow-up call
- Setting up a product demo
Just like with earlier phases of the call, it’s important to listen here. Having a conversation and getting your prospect’s feedback on the best next steps can make it much easier to move toward a deal. Sales professionals with the shortest sales cycle spend 53% more time in their first meeting discussing the next steps in the process.
If your ask isn’t aligned with your prospect’s needs and priorities, you’re going to hear no — a lot. Be realistic. Target potential customers who are a good fit for your offer.
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Optimize Your Calling Schedule
If you want to start getting wins from cold calling fast, the simplest way is to stick to a consistent calling schedule.
But how many phone calls do you need to make? And when should you make them?
Don’t just blindly make calls and hope for the best. If you take that approach, you’ll soon see week after week of disappointing results.
Instead, work backward from your sales goals — and reverse-engineer a calling schedule that can help you hit them.
Using our cold call worksheet, you can calculate exactly how many calls you need to make to hit your sales targets — based on your monthly quota, average deal size, connect rate, and conversion rate.
While there’s no such thing as a “best time” to call, there are some general guidelines. A HubSpot study found that response rates tend to be best early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
That said, the optimal calling schedule is different for everyone — and the only way to know what works best is to take a data-driven approach.
Using an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet, keep track of how many responses you get at different times of the day. Determining when you’re getting the best response rates will enable you to make calls at the times when you’ll get the best results.
Practice Again and Again
For most people, cold calling doesn’t come easy. The fastest way to get better is to keep showing up, day after day. It’s that simple.
But here’s the thing:
Simply making a ton of cold calls doesn’t guarantee success.
After all, there are plenty of mediocre sales reps out there who have made thousands of sales calls — but never improved their skills.
The key is to evaluate every call you make. Ask questions like:
- Were you focused on a specific sales goal?
- Were you confident?
- Did you build real rapport with your prospect?
Review the most important elements of the call after every call you make. What went well? Where could you have improved? Make a habit of evaluating your calls, and you’ll quickly improve.
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Avoid These Rookie Cold-Calling Mistakes
Experienced sales pros know that making the wrong move can quickly end a call, no matter how great your plan is going in.
If too many of your calls are ending with a no — or worse yet, a hangup — take a good look at your cold calling game. You might be making one of these simple mistakes.
Nobody likes to be cut off mid-sentence. If you’re regularly interrupting your prospects on calls, you’re killing your chances of getting a yes.
While interrupting is terrible for your close rate, it’s a totally natural behavior.
After all, silence can be awkward — especially when we’re talking with strangers. And when there’s a silence, we often reflexively jump in and start talking, even though our prospect may be in the middle of saying something.
Part of listening is being aware of your own reactions. If you feel the urge to cut in while your prospect is speaking, resist the temptation and stay focused on what they’re saying.
Many inexperienced sales reps go rogue and start improvising. But the script is your most important asset on a call. It’s your plan to guide the call toward a close.
And without it, you’re far more likely to flail around and waste the caller’s time — and your own.
Flexing your script to the needs and interests of each caller is fine. Throwing it out completely is not. Make the most of your time, and stick to the script.
No matter how well you’ve prepared, it was all a complete waste of time if you throw your script out the window.
Pitching Too Soon
Jumping to your sales pitch at the start of the call won’t get you anywhere. Your prospect doesn’t know you, doesn’t have a reason to trust you, and will be turned off by an aggressively salesy approach.
Instead, take time to build rapport with your prospect. Once you’ve described your offer, talked through initial questions, and picked up cues from your prospect that they’re interested in your offer, you’ll know it’s time to transition to your ask.
Failing to Meet Objections
Every salesperson gets objections. That’s how sales calls work.
If you wait until you’re hearing objections on a sales call to start thinking about what you should say, you’ve waited way too long.
Most sales objections fall into a few common categories. Understanding them will help you address any objection easily in the moment.
As you make more calls, you’ll find that certain objections come up again and again. Top-performing sales pros plan responses to common objections in advance so they can handle them smoothly and move more prospects toward the close.
Here are a few you’re sure to come across.
“I Don’t Have Time”
I don’t have time. Perhaps the most basic of all sales objections.
On a lot of calls, you’ll hear this right out of the box. After all, it’s true. You’re reaching out to busy decision-makers with very full schedules — and you need to prove your value to them.
Your best bet? Address this objection as soon as you get on the phone.
Here’s how Steli Efti does it: “Maybe this isn’t worth your time—the last seven people I talked to said the exact same thing at first. But after a brief conversation, they were all glad they took the time to learn more. Just give us three short minutes to figure out whether this is a wise investment of your time.”
Sujan Patel suggests a more direct approach: “I know I’m interrupting you; can I have 25 seconds to tell you why I called, and then you can decide whether to hang up or learn more?”
Whatever you go with, you’ll hear this one a lot — so have your response ready.
“Just Send Me An Email”
Yesware’s own Ian Adams crafted the Best Friend Formula, a surefire way of overcoming a wide range of objections by reassuring prospects you’re on their side.
You’ve just had an initial call — and it’s gone well. But when you suggest scheduling a follow-up call, your prospect hedges with, “just send me an email.” With this response, you build trust with a prospect to turn a no into a yes.
Here’s how you’d work around the objection to get a meeting booked:
“I’m Not Interested”
When a prospect tells you they’re not interested, they’re not blowing you off arbitrarily. In most cases, they have a specific reason why they don’t think your product is a good fit.
Dig deeper to find out the real reason they’re hesitating. They might not expect to get ROI from investing in your product. They might want additional features. They might be satisfied with their current solution. They might not be in the market for a solution like yours.
Once you understand why your prospect is holding out, you’ll be in a better position to have a conversation that leads to a sale.
Always Follow Up
With cold calls, following up is even more critical than with other marketing channels. A well-planned cold email sequence can get open rates above 70%. But over 90% of cold calls go straight to voicemail.
Persistence is key. 50% of sales reps never follow up at all — and that means building a strong follow-up routine can help you stand out from your peers.
When following up on cold calls, take a multi-touch approach. Make follow-up calls, text your prospects, and send emails until you’re able to connect.
Follow Up By Voicemail
Since you first reached out with a cold call, it only makes sense to continue following up by phone.
It’s easy to start rambling in a voicemail, just like in a phone conversation. To avoid this, have a clear idea of what you want your prospect to take away. Your job is to let the caller know who you are, where you can be reached, and why you’re calling — all in about ten seconds.
To stay on track, have a voicemail script ready to go, just like you script your calls. For example, this simple script from Mike Brooks helps you to demonstrate you’ve done your research:
Hi [FIRST NAME], this is [CALLER’S NAME] with [COMPANY]. You and I haven’t spoken yet, but I’ve been doing some research on your company and I think you’re a great fit for [SOLUTION]. We can provide you with [BENEFITS] and I know you’ll be happy if we spend just a couple of minutes discussing how this can help you.
When you get this message, please call me back at [NUMBER]. That number again is area code [NUMBER] and ask for [CALLER’S NAME]. I look forward to speaking with you.
Follow Up By Text
Following up with your prospects by text is the perfect complement to your cold calling efforts. It’s quick, non-intrusive, and enables you to stay top of mind.
Particularly if your prospect is in a more conservative vertical, it’s best to get permission before texting. On the other hand, prospects in emerging, tech-friendly spaces tend to embrace texting.
Aim to be friendly while maintaining professionalism, like Aja Frost does in this example:
Hi, Jimmy. I did some digging and found the answer to your question about monthly volume. It’s not straightforward, so we should cover it on another call. Are you free tomorrow at 1 p.m.?
Follow Up By Email
With a multi-touch follow-up strategy, you’ll also want to follow up with your prospects by email. Check out our guide to get all our best sales email follow-up templates, and be sure to keep these basic points in mind.
- Keep it short. Especially when you’re following up on a cold call, your goal is to get a callback. Long-winded emails don’t help you reach that goal.
- Focus on the benefit. It’s tough to get decision-makers to set aside time to hop on a call, so you’ll want to highlight clear benefits your solution could provide to them.
- Make a clear ask. Be clear about what you’re asking your prospect to do. For example, with Yesware’s Meeting Scheduler, you can easily cut out the back-and-forth and allow your prospect to book a quick call at a time that works for them.
Cold calling is a strategy with clear benefits that many sales professionals avoid. To be successful, it’s critical that you make a plan and stick to it.
Go to your calendar and schedule your cold calling blocks right now. Choose times early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Once you’ve gotten started, you can begin experimenting from there.
Be sure to follow up with your prospects. Consistent follow-up can help you reach more prospects and get some early wins.
Keep it up, and you won’t just start closing more deals… you’ll build new habits that will transform your career.
About the Author: Chris Collins is a copywriter and conversion strategist for B2B and SaaS companies. He specializes in research-driven copy and content that helps brands engage visitors and turn them into customers.
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