What is cold calling? Meaning, tips, examples, and techniques
Cold calling carries a bad reputation, but it can help your business when done right. Learn the tricks and tips for bringing cold calling into the personal sales market.
Published January 20, 2022
Last updated April 15, 2022
Cold calling: the two scariest words to any sales rep in the industry. For even the most charismatic of souls, this downright medieval practice can conjure nightmares of rejection, exhaustion, and failure.
But is that the whole truth? Almost every business still uses cold calling tactics, so there must be some value in reaching out to chilly leads. It might be hard to believe in this era of open information and emotion-based sales, but cold calling still has an important place in the business world.
In this piece, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of cold calling and how to adapt it to fit your needs in the current market.
Cold calling definition
Cold calling is a form of sales solicitation from businesses to customers who’ve never interacted with the salesperson making the call. It generally refers to phone-based conversations (hence cold calling) but technically covers in-person door-to-door interactions, too.
Granted, most businesses that use cold calling today no longer adhere to the original meaning. With unknown numbers increasingly associated with scams, it’s more common for companies to use warm calling, or calling from a list of potential customers garnered through lead gathering.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the prospect is expecting the call, but it does mean more research on the caller’s part, some sort of prior connection (via a referral, LinkedIn, etc.), and an increased likelihood that the prospect won’t immediately hang up the phone.
Of course, this begs the question: Is cold calling dead? We say absolutely not—it simply requires the right technique.
How to cold call: Cold calling tips
No matter how you feel about cold calling, the fact is, it’s a permanent part of customer acquisition, especially for a fresh company. Though cold calling is statistically less successful than other sales tactics—even the most skilled cold callers only boast a 2 percent success rate—that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to improve your team’s cold calling techniques. Let’s dive into a few ways to increase your cold calling numbers without overworking your sales representatives.
Best time to cold call
If you’re going to use cold calling, you need to use it strategically. According to a recent study, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to call prospects. That makes sense when you think about it: The beginning of the week is frequently hectic as people settle in and deal with previously scheduled meetings, and nobody wants to deal with work on Fridays. Catching people in the middle of the week means you’re grabbing them when they are most relaxed and amiable.
Now, let’s look at time. It’s not useful to call prospects for a full 9–5 shift. If you call during lunch or during peak afternoon meeting times, you’re unlikely to see much success. Instead, call between 10 am–11 am and 4 pm–5 pm. Those times are the golden hours. From 10–11, people are settled in from their commutes and generally planning their wrap-ups for lunchtime. From 4–5, they’re getting ready to leave and likely avoiding work tasks, so they’re happy to take a phone call.
What do you do with the rest of the time, then? Not all of your clients and prospects are cold call recipients, so shift your sales team’s focus. When you have assigned days and/or times for cold calls, your sales team gets a break from repetitive rejection and is able to focus on building relationships with warmer prospects.
Cold calling techniques
A skilled cold caller will eventually develop their own style, but here are a few techniques we recommend while you’re trying to find your footing:
Stop running from rejection.
The entire sales industry comes with rejection and that’s okay. Not every single person or business is going to want your product and there are hundreds of reasons why. Too many sales reps get bogged down with trying to find the most likely prospect on their list because they’re determined to get a win. That’s fine for larger sales, but if you’re cold calling, make your way through every prospect. Your rejection rate will increase, but so will your number of successes. If you’re feeling full of sales enthusiasm, you can also use a CRM dialer to speed up your calls.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
People need time to make decisions, especially in today’s market when they have more access to information and options. The odds of converting a prospect on the first call are not in your favor—and that’s fine. Rather than focusing on making a sale, focus on getting the prospect into the next stage of the pipeline. If you can set up an appointment or a follow-up from an initial cold call, you’ve won.
Learn to cut your losses.
With practice, you can tell pretty quickly whether a prospect is interested and worth talking to. If you know your conversation isn’t going anywhere, end it. Talking to a prospect you know is a dead-end is not only a waste of their time, it’s a waste of yours. It also does nothing for your morale. It’s okay to jump into every pool, but if the water’s freezing, get out and move on.
Follow your scripts, but stay open.
Your script exists for a reason, but it’s not written in stone. Every prospect is different and responds to different levels of energy, vocabulary, and directness. One prospect might be extremely chatty and ask a lot of questions while another might have limited time and just need the bullet points. Both are equally viable customers, but you have to be able to shift your sales style accordingly to keep them engaged.
Cold calling strategies
Now let's look at a few strategies. These are actions you want to perform for every cold call, no matter what your style:
You don’t need an entire client profile, but you should know the essentials. Search for your prospect on social media and check internal correspondence to see if they’ve interacted in any way with your company. If you’re coming up blank, take a look at similar prospects and their pain points. You want to enter the conversation with something other than just your product to offer.
80 percent of sales happen after the fifth contact attempt. Even if your prospect didn’t sign up or agree to an appointment, send that follow-up email anyway. You never know what might happen.
Keep track of your records.
Who did you call? When did you call them? Did they pick up? Did you leave a message? Did you send a follow-up email? Did any concrete results occur after the call or email? Those metrics will keep you organized and on track. It’s unreasonable to attempt to remember these details for hundreds of prospects, so write them down. Better yet, enter them into a CRM.
Follow these cold calling examples
Strategies and techniques are useful, but let’s see a cold call in action. Keep reading as we walk you through a cold phone example and a cold email example to see just how the experts do it.
Cold phone example
Here’s a fantastic sample script from G2:
“Hey there! [SALES REP NAME] from [COMPANY NAME] here.
You’re hearing from me today because it looks like your organization loves to focus on honest, superior customer service. At [COMPANY NAME], we’re all about that, too. We’re backed by awesome customers like [CUSTOMER 1] and [CUSTOMER 2], and [INSERT SOCIAL MEDIA PROOF].
These organizations typically see [RESULTS - base results on prospect wants and needs such as increased sales, cost savings, etc.] within [TIME] after implementing us.
[PROSPECT’S NAME], I would love to connect with you about your specific needs and what your resources currently look like. I also have a suggestion for how to [RESULT]. Give me a call back at [NUMBER] when it’s convenient for you, or feel free to reply to the email that I will be following up with. Thanks!”
This script capitalizes on several key points.
- It refers to how similar companies benefited from the product.
- It indicates that the caller knows basic information about the recipient and is not calling completely blind.
- It doesn’t push the product, but rather suggests a time to connect and discuss.
- It reminds the prospect that they will be receiving a follow-up email, which makes them less likely to delete that email.
Obviously, this script is not ideal for every single cold calling situation—that script doesn’t exist. For more script examples in difference scenarios, though, we suggest checking out our top 16 examples and templates.
Cold email example
Sometimes, you’re reaching out with an email before you ever get the prospect on the phone. Cold emails are arguably harder than cold calls. Not only are you losing the human touch of vocal communication, but it’s also likely your email will be sent to the spam folder or deleted before your prospect even realizes your good intentions.
Because of that, your cold email needs to be perfect when someone finally opens it. Here’s one of our favorite examples:
“Hi [NAME OF PROSPECT],
I came across your name on [SOURCE] and was wondering if you could help me out. I have a solution for [INSERT INDUSTRY PROBLEM OR PAIN POINT] that I think [COMPANY NAME] could really benefit from, but I’m having trouble connecting.
Who is the right person to discuss this opportunity with, and how may I reach them?
I appreciate your time.
[INSERT EMAIL SIGNATURE]”
This is a fantastic cold email for several reasons:
- It tells the prospect why they are being contacted. This immediately makes the prospect feel more at ease because it indicates that their information wasn’t sold.
- It gives a direct action for the prospect to take that does not involve the exchange of any money, which is a low-pressure CTA.
- It’s short. No one is going to read a long email from a stranger. They just won’t. Especially a sales email. Short, to the point, with a clear CTA. That is the way to go.
Just like with cold calls, however, this template might not be exactly right for your prospect’s situation. Take a look at 7 cold email templates for a variety of situations so that you can create the most dynamic cold email campaign possible.
Cold calling statistics
In sales, there’s no hiding from the numbers. Cold calling is a controversial sales topic and because of that, there are hundreds of studies on its effectiveness, when to do it, how customers react to it, and whether or not you should do it at all. Before we jump into numerical success rates, let’s lay out a few cold-calling pros and cons.
Cold calling and customers
Despite its negative connotations, cold calling isn’t universally hated by buyers:
- 75 percent of prospects in select industries have attended an event or scheduled a meeting based on a cold email or call.
- 82 percent of buyers say that they accept meetings with salespeople who reach out to them over cold calls. (*Note buyers, not prospects.)
- 57 percent of C-level buyers and VPs list cold calling as their preferred method of initial contact (compared to 51 percent of directors and 47 percent of managers).
- 69 percent of buyers have accepted phone calls from new providers in the past 12 months.
Clearly, cold calling is more successful than the average person gives it credit for. That said, even buyers who prefer cold calls aren’t always impressed by the quality of that call and the results hurt sales. In fact, 82 percent of B2B decision-makers think that sales representatives making cold calls are unprepared. Getting a prospect to answer a cold call is only half the battle—it’s moving a sale forward that counts.
Cold calling success rates
Now, let’s take a look at the more difficult numbers on cold calling success rates:
- It takes an average of eight call attempts to reach a general prospect due to a mix of recipients ignoring calls or sales reps calling during inconvenient times.
- Only 28 percent of cold calls are answered, let alone engaged with. 55 percent go unanswered, and 17 percent are non-working numbers. The non-working numbers percentage increases for fledgling companies using purchased lists.
- An average of 1.5 hours of cold calling every day for five days will gain one appointment or referral. That is considered a positive cold calling outcome.
- 80 percent of all calls go to voicemail and sales reps are unprepared to leave a convincing voicemail message.The average prospect won’t listen to a voicemail from a sales person for longer than 30 seconds, and most sales voicemails run longer than that.
Those numbers, while disheartening, are not surprising. Cold calling takes a monumental amount of time and effort, and may not always be worth it. At the end of the day, it simply depends on whether the return on investment outweighs the cost of labor.
That said, we’ve established that buyers are not opposed to cold calling. Therefore, if your cold calling campaigns have been unsuccessful, it’s likely the problem lies not in the calling itself, but in the quality of those calls.
Is cold calling dead?
No, cold calling is not dead. However, in the 21st century, it shouldn’t be your primary prospecting tool. And to use it effectively, you’ll have to take modern culture into consideration. Cold calling isn’t dead—it’s simply in a new era. By using the tips in this article, you can reimagine cold calling for your sales team in a way that revitalizes the beginning sections of your sales pipeline.
Cold calling strategies create long-term success for your company when they do one (or both!) of two things. First, cold calling informs prospects that your product or service can solve their problems. For completely cold leads, simply getting your brand on their radar is an investment. Secondly, cold calling introduces prospects to the next step in the pipeline. Don’t focus on making the sale with a cold call: focus on warming up the customer.
Increase your cold calling success rate with a powerful CRM
If you’re going to try to win the cold calling game, you need a fast, organized, simple customer relationship management system on your side. Zendesk Sell is the key to a successful cold calling campaign. With Zendesk Sell, you can gather leads, manage customer contact lists, and compile customer information before you ever pick up a phone. You can also see your result statistics in real-time and communicate with other departments easily as prospects move into the sales pipeline.
Cold calling can feel like a chaotic and desperate practice, but it doesn’t have to be. Request a demo of Zendesk today and see how a sales automation and sales engagement solution can transform a cold process into a hot strategy.