Learn the Basics of Cold Calling

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Define cold calling.
  • Explain where cold calling falls in the sales process.
  • Understand the key elements of a successful cold call.

What Is Cold Calling?

Have you ever received a call from someone you don’t know, asking if you’re interested in insurance—or maybe a vacation package? That’s cold calling. It’s a technique used in the early stages of the sales process to find prospects who might be interested in a product or service.

The cold calling process starts by gathering a list of prospect names and telephone numbers. These might be ones you researched yourself, lists of sources your company has bought from paid researchers, or a combination of the two. Next, it’s best to draft a basic cold calling script to guide your calls—this ensures you offer and request the right information. Then, start dialing.

The goal of a cold call is simple: Verify that a prospect is interested enough in your product or service to seriously consider buying it. This requires asking a series of open-ended questions to gauge interest and need. This helps you identify what business problems they have and if your product or service can solve them. You can also determine if they’re likely to purchase and what their budget is. If your cold call is successful, your contact becomes a "warm" prospect and is sent to an account executive (sales rep) who will follow up with a sales pitch, demo, and final offer that will close the deal.

As we stated above, cold calling happens early in the sales process in the prospecting phase. Cold calling is not the only method of prospecting most companies use, however. Other methods include cold emailing, contacting leads through social media, and capturing leads online via contact forms.

The Cold Calling Effect

Cold calling is still a very effective way to begin the sales process—according to a study by sales research group RAIN, 70% of buyers connect with sellers and generate meetings following cold call outreach.

The advantage of cold calling is that, unlike more indirect forms of contact like email, it provides an opportunity for real-time, two-way communication. This gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself, your company, and your product or service, and directly address questions or concerns in the moment.

Check out these statistics, also from RAIN Group:

  • 69% of buyers have taken cold calls from new companies in the past year.
  • More than 80% of buyers take meetings with salespeople who call them first.
  • 71% of buyers want to hear from sales teams when researching how to improve their business.

A woman sitting at a laptop, wearing a headset, places a cold call from a list of contacts on her laptop screen. A smiling man on the other side accepts the call.

Warm Up to Cold Calling

Before you start dialing, it’s important to know what makes a cold call successful. As prospects will likely be unfamiliar with you, your company, and what you’re offering, you need to carefully share this information in a compelling way to grab their attention.

You also need to collect vital pieces of information about them—including who the key decision-makers are at their company, what business problems they have, and how likely they are to buy a product or service like yours.

Perhaps most importantly, you need to build rapport so the prospect is more likely to stay on the phone with you—and take calls from a sales rep later.

All of this can be achieved with a series of open-ended questions, relatable anecdotes, and shared information. Let’s break it down:

  • Be compelling: Most people aren't sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. That means as soon as a prospect picks up the phone, you should share your name and a quick hook that ties in your product or service. You can do this by underscoring a unique prospect need uncovered during research, or by making a personal connection.
  • Ask smart questions: After a quick introduction it’s time to ask an open-ended question. This helps get the prospect talking—and keeps them talking. The goal is to collect information about their business problems, budget, who the decision-makers are, and anything else that might be important for framing a formal sales pitch.
  • Make a plan: When you've collected enough information to qualify the contact as a warm prospect, make plans to follow up with more information. Ask for a date and time to call back, confirm their contact info, and thank them for their time. Give them your contact information so they can reach out with any questions.

It’s helpful to draft a script to guide your cold call. Here’s a sample:

You: Hi, is this (prospect name)?

Prospect: Yes, can I help you?

You: (Your name) here from (company name). We specialize in (product/service). I connected with (mutual contact) last week and he/she said you’re dealing with some (prospect need/problem). I’d like to help—can you explain a bit more about what you’re dealing with?

Prospect: Oh, you know (mutual contact)? That’s great. Well, we recently … (contact shares more information about needs/problems). 

You: Oh, yeah, I’ve been seeing that a lot. So I’m hearing you say (repeat need/problem). Can you explain more about how (problem) is affecting your business?

Prospect: Well, … (explanation of business implications).

You: Okay, well I think I can help. We have some products/services used by other companies in your industry struggling with similar problems, like (list company names that would be recognizable). I’d love to put together a custom solution for you to review, then we can discuss together. No obligation, of course. When’s a good day and time? Should I include anyone else on the invite?

Prospect: I could do (date and time). And yes, probably best to include (manager).

You: Great! Let me just get your contact information and I’ll get this set up. I’ll also send my direct phone number and email with the calendar invitation so you can reach out with any questions.

Prospect: Perfect—looking forward to it. Thanks!

Don't forget to keep the conversation light. You're interrupting someone's day, so make your call worth their while. If the prospect seems open to humor, make an occasional joke. This can build rapport, which can help you connect on future calls.

Now that you know the importance of cold calling, understand its core elements, and have a rough script in mind, let's get ready to make those calls!

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