Cold calling is alive and well, survey finds

Those who have been sounding the death knell for cold calling may have to reconsider their thinking. Customers are still receptive to cold calls. 

A recent survey of 1,000 executives, ranging from Fortune-ranked companies to small- and medium-sized businesses, conducted by DiscoverOrg showed that nearly 75% of decision makers took a call or gave a salesperson an appointment as a result of a cold call.

The data makes a strong case for the effectiveness of cold calling at a time when skepticism has been placed on the cold call and increasing attention has been devoted to social media, blogging, white papers and search engine optimization.

Keys to success

Of course, the decision makers surveyed weren’t high on all cold calling. It has to be done right. And the opening minutes of a cold call are the most critical. The challenge is to get the prospect past the “I’m not interested” or “I’m happy with my present supplier” responses.

The best way to do that is to get prospects interested enough in your opening statement to give you time to make a presentation.

Here are five tips that will help your sales staffers open a cold call successfully:

  1. Establish rapport immediately. Studies show that getting an appointment during a cold call depends 65% on the rapport the salesperson establishes with the prospect and only 35% on the product or service. Unless you get the prospect’s attention quickly, having the best product or service won’t result in a sale.
  2. Identify key problems. Prospects become customers when salespeople solve problems for them. The difficulty with problems is not in finding them but in getting prospects to admit to them. To overcome the initial barrier of resistance, try to find out exactly what’s important to the prospect and why.
  3. Distinguish the prospect’s goals. A salesperson becomes invaluable to the prospect when the salesperson shows that he or she understands the prospect’s goals and has the ability to help the prospect reach them.
  4. Develop the ability to persevere. Once problems are identified, back up your solutions with persistence and determination. Don’t consider the possibility of failure. The ability to persist is what it takes to overcome the most difficult obstacles in opening new accounts.
  5. Understand the objectives and strategy of the prospect’s current supplier. It’s not enough to think about how to convert a prospect into a customer. You also have to think about winning the battle with the present supplier, your competitor. Try to evaluate the present supplier’s position, strengths, weaknesses, strategy and resources.

Demonstrating credibility

It’s not enough to tell prospects you offer better service or quality than your competitors during a cold call. Prospects want to hear specifics about why you’re better.

Here’s a formula that helps show the difference more effectively:

  • Present unique qualities. What can you offer that nobody else can? Try to convert the value of your products or services into financial results.
  • Highlight advantages. What do you do better than the competitor? Give prospects what they need to understand the unique qualities of your product or service.
  • Establish parity. If there’s little difference between you and a competitor, look for minor ones that may add up to a competitive advantage.
  • Offset disadvantages. Are there areas in your product or service in which competitors have a definite edge? Focus on the advantages you do have to offset these disadvantages.

What prospects want and need

Cold calling can’t be successful if you don’t know what prospects want and need, think and feel, like and dislike. It all boils down to getting information. It’s not enough to ask questions. You have to prove to the prospect that you’re listening.

Two tips that may help:

  • Paraphrase. Repeat in your own words what prospects say. It lets them know you’re listening and have a clear idea what’s being said.
  • Summarize. Repeat in your own words one or more main points the prospect has made.

It takes courage, discipline, practice, patience and desire to make cold calling pay off. Attitude drives all of these behaviors. We behave as we believe. What we feel on the inside, we generally demonstrate on the outside.

That’s why pessimists have such a poor record while optimists excel at cold calling. Even when turned down for an appointment, cold calling encourages salespeople to do more research on a prospect and come back with a successful approach.

Adapted from the book “Lessons from 100,000 Cold Calls,” by Stewart Rogers, a sales trainer.

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