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Customer Success, Sales Process

Updated for 2018: Rethink Your Cold Calling Strategy and Stop Angering Your Customers

Jacco van der Kooij

Written by Jacco van der Kooij

Founder, Winning by Design


Cold calling might seem a bit old school. After all, there are so many other less invasive ways of reaching your prospects these days. Social selling has become the new call-to-arms and with so many sales people advocating against picking up the phone, how do you decide what’s the most effective approach for you and your company?

The trouble is, many businesses are stuck in between the two philosophies. Your sales team is likely made up of a wide demographic with equal representation from legacy personnel, who go shoulder-to-shoulder with millennials, each with their own ideas about how things ought to be done.

In order to decide which approach is best for your organization, you really need to take a deeper dive into how your prospects tick. Knowing more about the psychology of buying and selling will give you a stronger foundation to build on as you rethink your outbound calling strategy.

Arm yourself with information

First, you need to get to know the people you are trying to reach, from what they actually do at their company to what trends their industry is experiencing in the market. Knowing these things will go a long way to helping you connect on a more meaningful level. It will show that you have done some legwork and that you are not just blowing smoke
Second, you should know what problem you are solving for the customer and the value of that solution (in dollars and cents, if you can).

Third—because timing is everything—have some respect for what the other person might be doing when you call. Calling with a sales pitch at an inopportune time is not going to win you any favors and it might just tank any efforts you make in the future.

No matter how confident you are, starting a conversation with a stranger can be difficult. So, let’s start at the top and talk a little about common, everyday, garden-variety psychology.

Outbound sales calls: a typical scenario

When was the last time you received a sales call at home? Think about what you were doing at the time and how it made you feel. Were you interrupted? Did you have to stop doing something in order to respond to a pitch that held little to no value to you?

Sadly, you’re not alone. Here’s a scenario:

You are having dinner with your family, having just sat down after a long day at work. The phone rings. Despite protests from your spouse and your kids, you decide to take it anyway. It’s an internet service provider trying to sell you a package that, while it sounded sort-of-maybe-pretty-good on the surface, was nowhere near comparable to the service you currently have in either speed or bandwidth. Since you answered, the sales person wasn’t going to let you go without having you hear the whole pitch. You tell the person that it’s not for you, but he is persistent. You don’t want to be rude, but he’s making you angry. Your family is giving you the stink-eye, and your dinner is getting colder by the second.

The whole situation leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It’s a waste of time for you as much as it is for the caller and results in a lasting, negative impression of the company. This means that, in the future, if you are looking for a new ISP, you are likely to write them off before you even consider what they have to offer.

This, unfortunately, is an all-too-common occurrence. We are hard-wired to shut down when a conversation turns into a pitch. Further to that, if it holds no value or interest for the person on the receiving end, it may create bad feelings that linger on.

Have you ever wondered why that is?

Our society today is such that we don’t want to be sold on anything – at least, not by a salesperson. We much prefer to make our own assumptions about a product or service and, if we do decide to buy, it has to be our idea. When we become aware of a problem that needs to be solved, we begin our search for solutions. We want help when we are ready, and not a moment before. It’s a situation where the buyer holds all the cards.

The future of outbound sales calls in a buyer’s market

All things considered, if the outcome of every single call you make was for the person on the other end to get angry and hang up, it would be easy to see how you might decide to stop making outbound sales calls altogether. However, the practice is not dead just yet. These days, it’s just a little more complicated and requires a modified approach.

Outbound calling can still be very effective in nurturing a prospect towards a buying decision but in order to get to that stage, we need to delve further into the situational data.

There are five distinct levels of outbound calls, each of which provide specific opportunities to the prospective customer. Though it may require some extra effort on the part of your sales rep, knowing these five levels and how to apply them to your outbound sales strategy will serve you well, both now and in the future.

The Five Levels Of Outbound Sales

  • Cold Calling

At the first level, the sales rep has a list of prospects. They have names, contact info, and a scripted pitch in hand, but that’s about the extent of it. The goal is to call as many people and make as many pitches as possible with the hope that something sticks. They know nothing about you, you know nothing about them. You are leveraging the law of averages, and though there is some science to back it up, it isn’t a reliable method and usually leads to a lot of wasted time and frustration.

  • Knowing the problem

At the second level, you have your pitch and all the relevant contact information as in level one, but you also know a little bit about the problem your product/service/solution can solve for the customer. This is one step better than a straight cold call, but you’re still swimming in open waters.

  • They are predisposed

At level three, the prospect has already taken some type of action. They have downloaded a white paper, article, or tip sheet from your website in exchange for their contact information. You know that there is at least some level of interest on their part, but it’s still a far cry from being ready to buy. Some might view this as an inbound activity as opposed to outbound, but this is a common marketing method that has some significance as it builds your authority in the market. At this stage, your call would not seem out-of-the-blue.

  • You have established relevance

Relevance can be established when the prospective customer has taken some kind of action that can be interpreted as a signal they are looking for the solution you can provide. This action can be something like taking an action on your website (clicking a CTA, for example), a response to your funnel campaign, or based on your internal lead scoring.

  • They are actively engaged

Level five is the pinnacle of outbound sales. The prospect has requested a callback, they have downloaded your content, signed up for a free trial, requested a quote, or otherwise demonstrated their sincere interest. They are convinced that you have something to offer and have taken the time to reach out. They want to talk to you. Now, the ball is in your court.

Traditional cold calling is a waste of everybody’s time, but it’s complicated

To summarize, level one is a straight up cold call, plain and simple. It has little regard for the customer’s problem, there is no context to build on. There is absolutely no question that this type of outbound sales strategy is obsolete, ineffective, and we can all probably agree, a total waste of everybody’s time.

However, levels two through five have potential to fill up your pipeline. Think of this as “WARM” calling – and even though it’s a cute way of rethinking your “cold” outbound sales calls, it is actually a useful anagram that, when applied, can give you a distinct advantage for your efforts.

outbound sales calls

“W” answers three important questions that allay a customer’s typical uncertainty:

Every prospect you call is going to have three questions they need answered right away:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why are you calling?
  3. What’s in it for me?

The goal is to answer these questions as quickly as possible – before the customer starts thinking them.

“A” invites you to ask questions rather than launching a pitch

Asking the right questions, complete with appropriate context, will show the person on the other end that you have done your homework. For you, it ensures you are speaking with the right person. Think of it this way: your time is valuable too. If you are selling something, you don’t want to be wasting time (yours or theirs) talking to someone who is not part of the decision-making process. You need to establish that what you are pitching resonates with that person.

“R” is about establishing relevance

In today’s business landscape, nobody has time to waste on conversations that are out of context or irrelevant to either party. There is plenty of information available on the internet about most of the people you might be targeting, their titles, their responsibilities, the company they work for, and the broader industry they serve. Put some time into researching these elements and you will be armed with relevant information that you can leverage in your conversation.

“M” is for making it happen

Sales is all about making somebody’s life easier. The more you know about the value of the solution you bring, the easier it will be for you to invite others to engage with it. You might do some research into what their competition has done in certain markets or how others have already been successful. Providing a case study is helpful, as it will illustrate the problem, following a logical progression of actions that lead to a positive result. You might invite them to participate in a helpful webinar; whatever it is, it should relate to the value your solution will bring to them and/or their company – and it should always encourage them to engage with you at a later date.

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of WARM is to engage, to start the conversation. If you are able to deploy this technique successfully, the sale will be less of an effort on the part of the rep because the customer will come to the buying decision on their own. Be present and available to answer questions along the way and be ready to illustrate how certain examples can be modified to apply to their business situations if need be.

In conclusion: a few more insights into cold calling

When connecting with your customers, you should always consider cultural and regional realities as well as the everyday philosophies of the industry at large. In some cultures, cold calling is acceptable while in countries like Germany, for instance, it may be illegal.

Keep your calls within business hours, avoid meal times (unless you have been asked specifically to call during lunch), and be respectful of your customer’s time.

Once committed to employing a WARM approach to your level two-through-five outbound sales calls, you will no doubt be having more meaningful, significant, and fruitful conversations.

Be customer-focused in all of your outbound contacts. Think about their problem, ask questions that are in context to those problems, and approach them with insights that could provide value – not just for their company, but for them to be more successful in their position.

It’s all about the dialogue. The better your conversation, the better your sales will be.