Just about everyone that has ever worked in the business world has had the experience of making a cold call. Even the executives you target when you perform this dreaded task probably had to make them at some point in their careers. So why is it so hard and why do they call them cold calls? It seems that categorizing them with that stigma gives them a bad reputation from the start, which makes the cold callers job that much harder. I've been in the cold calling seat for close to 4 years within the information technology (IT) industry and although it can be like climbing a steep, jagged mountain covered in evil Furby dolls when you first start, I have compiled a list of tips that can give any cold caller an advantage over the competition. These tips apply to any industry and are not limited to IT.
1.) Job Titles - When speaking to a prospect for the first time, unless you are 100% certain of their job title, make sure you always give them the benefit of the doubt and assume their title is incorrect. For example, lead information sites (jigsaw/data.com/discover.org, etc.) may list a contact as an IT Manager or IT Administrator and after speaking to the contact or looking them up on LinkedIn or the company website you find out they are actually the IT Director or CIO. We have all done this before in our calls. "Hi Jim, I had you as the IT Manager with ABC Corp?" To their reply of "I'm the CIO" and an almost guaranteed hang up afterwards.
You may have the suave skills to turn this call around, but when these contacts get double or triple digit cold calls every day, the last thing you want to do is undermine their hard work with a title that insults their intelligence.
2.) Name Pronunciation - If you ever have to cold call in the IT world, you will quickly realize that not everyone you call has an easy-to-pronounce American name like Sally, Bob, Fred or Kim. On your first day, you will run into names with enough syllables to tongue-tie the writers on Sesame Street. It is vital that when you come across one of these behemoths that you A.) Take note of the pronunciation of the name on the prospect's voicemail B.) Ask the secretary or operator for the proper pronunciation before you call them C.) When you get the prospect on the phone, clarify the correct pronunciation of their name and/or ask what name they typically go by if their first name is long-winded. I have found in my experience that this can go a long way and help you stand out from the average cold caller who would pronounce "Jaise" as Jay-zie when it is pronounced Jace with 1 syllable (actual real life example).
3.) Be Respectful - This is a major factor that every cold caller should take into consideration and is something that took me to the next level. Everyone has a different approach when presenting themselves and their company in an opening greeting, but after you do that in no longer than 10 seconds, you should always ask if the prospect has time to speak or if it's a bad time for them. You have to accept the fact that the people you are calling have their own agenda and may not have "take cold calls" blocked off on their calendar when they pick up the phone. You will ask "then why did they pick up?" They may have thought you were an internal employee, family member or friend calling from a similar number. By asking if they have time, they will usually either say "yes," in which case they respect you for asking or "no," in which case they will provide you a better time to call them back or may try to blow you off completely. However, even if they give a negative response, you will find that your numbers will improve by doing this versus simply going into your pitch without asking first.
4.) LinkedIn - DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE the power of this tool. Even if you get contacts or account information handed to you from a site or service that claims to know it all, you should always be verifying your information before calling a prospect. Depending on what service or product you are selling (I'll stay in the IT realm as that is where my experience lies), you always want to make sure you are targeting the right person and not wasting your time. As an example, say you are provided the contact, Will Smith (no relation) as IT Director for Prince of Bel-Air Corporation (also no relation). You are selling pre-packaged software, but before calling you look up Will on LinkedIn and see that his experience is strictly hardware related and nothing he does has anything to do with software. It may sound stupid, but I would say more than half of the time you are calling the wrong person. By verifying that your contact actually works within the area you are selling, you will be 90% more likely to get a meeting, sale or interest from the prospect.
I'll provide some expert tips on LinkedIn and ways to find more prospects in a future article.
5.) Attention to Detail - This is vital if you are sending out emails, meeting requests or any form of communication. You are the luckiest person on earth if you have never received an email with your name misspelled at the very top. My name is Jeff, but I've seen Jef, Jeef, Geoff, Jefff, Jefforey, Jeffy, you get the point. It's really not that hard. Again, go back to your friend, LinkedIn, and verify the spelling. If that doesn't work, talk to the secretary and confirm the spelling so you don't look like a retard and/or a foreign spam mailer.
Attention to detail is also vital when speaking to a prospect that provides you with information to follow up on. If they say they are not looking for a solution now, but think that they will in 3 months, you should be taking down the notes and marking a follow up on your calendar. Again, you may follow up and find that the initiative may have gone dead or got pushed back, but you are still giving yourself better odds than not following up at all.
6.) Short and Concise Pitch - This is where the cold can get colder. Everyone has their own method of madness when establishing their pitch. You have to keep in mind again, that most of the time (especially in IT) prospects are busy with their own responsibilities and don't have time to sit through 50 cold calls per day, where the cold caller takes 7 minutes to convey what their company does.
You want to tailor your specific message to the prospect you are calling (you don't want to be selling software solutions to a prospect that only deals with hardware and vice versa). Again, LinkedIn can be your best friend as the prospect will usually have a summary of their experience listed on their profile and/or skills listed (at the bottom of their profile) that were endorsed by past and current co-workers, friends and people they do or did business with.
My recommendation is to have a solid idea of what your company does and be able to give an elevator pitch within no more than 30 seconds. Most decision makers that you target will probably lose interest in about 15 seconds, if you don't mention a keyword that matches their current initiatives. Don't be afraid to practice and continually change your pitch until you find one that matches your style and gets consistent results.
7.) It's Tricky - I'll leave you with 2 additional tips that I picked up along the way. Google and voicemail surfing. Google is an immensely powerful tool that many people don't take advantage of. You will run into secretaries, gatekeepers and people whose only job is to keep you from speaking to the targeted prospect. When this happens and you have no other way to get the prospect's direct phone number or email address, try typing their name, the company name and/or the company phone number into Google and see what comes up. For example, try "Will Smith Prince of Bel-Air Corporation 610-484-" and see what results comes up. Try the company's website URL too such as Will Smith Prince of Bel-Air Corporation @bel-aircorp.com. Again, don't stop with these two examples. From time to time, you may come across valuable spreadsheets with additional information you can use or another site where their information is listed. Remember, you are cold calling and you need every advantage that you can get. Maintain the mindset that if you don't sell to them, someone else will.
Voicemail Surfing can be tricky, but can pay off big time. It can be as simple as using the dial-by-name feature when you first call a company or more complex as in hitting **6 when you get transferred to a prospect's voicemail. It all depends on what kind of phone/voicemail system they have set up. Sometimes, it will provide you with their extension and others it may not. I'll focus more on this in a later article, but it is worth trying by dialing * or # when you get to a prospect's voicemail to see if they have a searchable directory. This is ideal for when you have to ask a secretary to be transferred to a prospect and there is no initial dial-by-name option. It won't work every time, but as Paul Rudd stated in Anchorman; "Sixty percent of the time, it works every time."