Conquer the Art of Cold Calling
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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Conquer the Art of Cold Calling
For my very last Success Story interview of May, I spoke to Andy Paul – an accomplished salesman of over four decades, and number eight on LinkedIn's Top 50 Global Sales Experts list.
Like most charismatic careers, sales is an art form; it's not just about pushing a product or service. It's about building relationships, understanding customer needs, and convincing potential buyers that your offering is the best option.
This was news to me. I'd always assumed that sales consisted of facts and figures; it was a career for the logicians among us. As it turns out, though, sales go far deeper than that. It's about intuition, psychology, and charisma (not to mention a tonne of practice).
If you're a salesperson yourself – or perhaps a fan of The Office – you'll be familiar with the dreaded cold call. "Hi, Ma'am. Would you be interested in purchasing our card stock?" No, thank you, comes the reply. You've only got a few seconds to make an impression, and you've just blown it.
What if I told you that those first few seconds are perhaps the most important of the entire call? And maybe even the moments before the call has even begun? Andy enlightened me on the art of the cold call and shared his top tips for making them a success. Let's dive right in.
Introducing: The Cold Call
A man by the name of John H. Patterson was one of the first salesmen to use cold calling as a means of getting new customers. This was during the 1800s – so by cold calling, I mean face-to-face canvassing. But it wasn't too much longer before telephones became popular and cold calling became the telephone salesperson's bread and butter.
Patterson worked for the National Cash Register Company selling cash registers (surprise). He used something called the N.C.R Primer; it was a strategy of his own invention, in which his salesmen were given a set of scripts to memorize and use when cold calling. The Primer helped Patterson's salesmen to seem more credible when selling to potential buyers.
Why was this revolutionary? Well, it meant that salespeople could now sound completely knowledgeable about their products, without having any prior experience or expertise. They could focus on other aspects of the craft – charisma, confidence, and so on – and let the product sell itself.
The Cold Call Today
Cold calling is still used today as a means of generating leads and sales, but it's evolved quite a bit since Patterson's time. For one, there are now many more ways to make a cold call than there were in the 1800s. You can make a cold call via email, social media, or even text message.
Another big change is that people are far less likely to answer the phone than they were in Patterson's day. This is due, in part, to the prevalence of caller ID and spam filters. When was the last time you picked up a call from an unknown number? Exactly. So if you're going to make a cold call, you've got to make it count.
Here are a few interesting facts I picked up from some light research whilst writing this:
- No matter how you look at it, the odds are a little grim. 92 percent of people believe unidentified calls to be fraud, and 79 percent of impromptu calls go unanswered as a result.
- Over 30 percent of lead calls will never receive a call back – even the ones that sound promising.
- There's still hope for the cold call, though. If salespeople proactively reach out, 82 percent of their calls will result in a meeting. Not only that but, making an effort to call multiple times can increase conversion rates by 70 percent.
- And finally, a super interesting one – in successful cold calls, the salesperson uses 65 percent more "we" statements!
That last one was just a fun fact, really. But it does show how important it is to personalize your cold calls and make them sound like a conversation rather than an interrogation. And that's not all you need to do.
Let's hear from our guest, shall we?
Preparing For the Call
When it comes to sales, Andy Paul is no stranger. He's sold everything from computers to small businesses to complex communications systems that sold for tens of millions of dollars to some of the world’s largest enterprises. He’s closed hundreds of millions of dollars in products and services before starting his own company.
Impressive, right? It stands to reason that he'd know a thing or two about the art of cold calling, having made a living from it. I expected him to talk about the 'perfect sales script' or how to handle objections, but instead, he impressed upon me the importance of pre-call prep.
"You want to take advantage of every bit of intelligence you can have about the buyer, before you have these conversations," Andy said. "As a seller, you want to take advantage of everything available to you. You need to be very thoughtful and intentional about it. Treat every customer uniquely and prepare for them uniquely."
This is far from the traditional view of salespeople. In stock-standard telemarketing, everyone's on the same script, and it's all about blasting through to as many people as possible as fast as possible.
When you're cold calling, Andy explained that this simply doesn't cut it if you want to make sales and conversions. It's essential that you take the time to research your buyer and understand their needs before picking up the phone. This means looking at their website, LinkedIn profile, and any other public-facing information you can find.
"If you have intent data, you want to factor that in, and you want to make sure you've done your homework sufficiently before you have those first calls," Andy said, "Because I believe that you can't predict in advance which of the interactions of the buyer can have the most impact on them."
I love this take on cold calling. Honestly, I think it relates to a lot of other areas in life. How many times in your early career did you blast out the same cover letter and resume to a hundred different companies, only to hear zilch? Personalization goes a long way – and though it requires more effort, the payoff is worth it.
Daniel Kahneman's Peak-End Rule
When you look back on significant or pivotal experiences, what are the memories that stand out most vividly? Odds are, they're not just the moments of great happiness or pleasure, but rather those that had the most intense emotional impact.
This is what Daniel Kahneman calls the peak-end rule: We judge experiences largely based on how they felt at their peak (the most intense moment) and at their end (the last moment we experience). These are the two points we base our decisions on.
This rule has important implications for cold calling. Some would say that it makes them more predictable; if you can build to a peak in the middle of the call and finish it off with a bang, you're more likely to make a good impression.
Others might say that it makes the process more challenging because you need to focus on making each call as positive an experience as possible.
Andy is a firm believer in the latter.
"From the perspective of sales, think about the buying experience. You can't predict in advance which interaction you have with a buyer is one that they'll consider the peak event."
I found this to be a fascinating take on Kahneman's rule – and I think it makes total sense. Making a sale doesn't start and end with your cold call. It's an entire process, one that begins with the buyer's first encounter with your product or service and ends when they make a purchase (or, in some cases, don't).
The key, then, is to think about the entire buying experience – and not just your cold call. What can you do to make the buyer's first encounter with you positive? What can you do to make the purchase decision an easy one? How can you provide value?
"For me, the baseline measure of value is that as a result of interaction with you, the buyer is closer to making a decision after that interaction than they were before that interaction. They've made progress. That's what buyers want. If they don't see a return on the investment of their time and attention in you, then they'll stop giving you time."
Of course, this isn't always easy. It takes effort to put yourself in the buyer's shoes and think about the entire buying experience. But it's worth it – because if you can make progress towards a sale, you're more likely to close the deal. Cha-ching!
Practical Tips: Provide Value, Always
Now that we've covered some introductory concepts, let's get down to Andy's take-home cold calling advice.
"The basic way that sellers have to look at every interaction with a buyer is, 'What is the value I'm going to provide?' What's the value the buyer needs from you, in order to make progress during this interaction? And in getting this value, what are they going to commit to doing as the next step?"
This is such a great attitude to have because it immediately puts the focus on the buyer and what they need. Nothing about 'providing value' makes me think of scammers or manipulators. It's simply about being helpful and useful in order to move the relationship forward.
Andy emphasized that, above all else, providing value to your customer – whether that be through helping them reach a decision, sharing information about your product, or solving a problem – is the key to success when cold calling.
"That's your baseline. Does this interaction help the buyer move closer to making a decision? And if it doesn't – if you don't know how that's going to happen in advance – then why are you doing it? Why are you taking the buyer's time? Why are you taking your time?"
Excellent points. If your objective is to inch the customer closer to a buying decision, then it only makes sense to provide value in each and every interaction. And if you manage to maintain value throughout the whole process, you'll be playing right into Kahneman's rule by ensuring that every memorable interaction is a positive one.
"This is the question you ask your sellers. What value does the buyer need from us now, in order to move forward in their process? If a seller doesn't know, then they need to go back. Keep asking questions, dig deeper, make sure they really understand this."
Can you think of a cold call in which you had no idea who the person on the end of the line was? It almost feels like you're dehumanizing the person by attempting to sell them something without knowing anything about them. But how do you change this? How can you provide value to a total stranger?
Here's where the four pillars come into play.
The Four Pillars of Value
In his book, Sell Without Selling Out, Andy talks about four pillars in sales interactions. "There are four main pillars of selling: connection, curiosity, understanding, and generosity," he shared in our interview. Let's take a look at each pillar up-close.
Under this pillar, you've got those initial few minutes when you first reach out to a prospect. You're trying to make a connection and get them interested in what you have to say.
In order to connect with buyers, you need to understand their motivations, fears, and concerns. This is where Andy's point about doing prior research really comes into utility; if you research your buyers before you call them, you'll have a much better understanding of what makes them tick.
"If you've built the connection – if you've built this level of trust – it's basically the customer giving you permission to stick your nose into their business."
This is key. Once you've connected with a buyer, they'll be more likely to trust you and open up about their needs. And once you understand those needs, you can start providing value.
The second pillar is curiosity, and it goes both ways. Sellers need to be curious about their buyers, and buyers need to be curious about the sellers.
Why? Because you can't afford to ask every prospect the same boring old questions. Tailor your questions to the specific buyer, and probe a little bit to get beneath the surface.
"Ask the questions, and make sure you understand. Don't just default to your usual set of 10 or 12 questions that you ask, but keep digging till you really feel like you understand. Confirm it with the buyer. But then you have to go a step further."
Why a step further? Because, as Andy explained to me, customers don't always know what they want themselves. They might not even be aware of the problems they're facing.
"This is where many sellers just stop. They might say, 'Well, we've asked these 10 questions. I'm going to reflect those back to the buyer.' But buyers don't always understand completely what the opportunities are, or even what the scope of their problem is."
To sidestep this common issue, sellers need to be generous with their time and information. Share your insights, even if the buyer doesn't ask for them. Help them see the potential in what you're offering, and demonstrate how it can solve their specific problems.
The third pillar is understanding, and it's all about taking the time to listen – and listen carefully.
"When you get a chance to reflect back to the buyer, sellers need to get in the habit of saying, 'What did we miss then?' Just when you think you understand everything, what are you missing?"
- What are the buyer's top priorities?
- What are their pain points?
- What is the timeline for this purchase?
- How does this product compare to others on their horizon?
- Why is this product a good fit for them?
Without being equipped with these types of answers, sellers will find it difficult to move the conversation forward.
The fourth and final pillar is generosity. This is about going above and beyond for your buyers, and consistently reminding yourself that value for the customer is your top priority.
Obviously, you are trying to make money. Almost everyone is trying to make money. But you can't lose sight of the fact that, if you want to be successful in sales, your number one goal should always be to help the customer – because that's what leads to repeat business, and referrals.
"Discovering is not a one-time event; it's something you do every time you interact with the buyers. You keep asking questions and learning. You're trying to uncover what that one thing is. What's the thing that's most important to the buyer?"
While I haven’t got time to cover each pillar in complete detail, Andy’s book is filled with insights just waiting to be unleashed on your sales strategy. You can find the book here.
Wrap-Up: Your Call To Value
Sales is an incredibly broad and complex topic, and beneath it are hundreds of sub-topics and strategies. Cold calling is just one part of the sales journey – but I'm glad to be writing about it, because I truly think the premise of 'providing value' relates to so many aspects of our lives.
It also reminds me why I feel weird about scammers and telemarketers. There's no prior preparation; these people make no genuine attempt to understand your needs and preferences, and there's certainly no desire to know you as a person. It's all about what they can get from you, which is the complete opposite of providing value.
When it comes to cold calling, think about Andy's advice. How can you approach your cold calls, cold visits, cold emails, etc. in a way that genuinely provides value to the person on the other end? How can you come with an attitude of curiosity and generosity, rather than greed or pressure?
Remember: it's all about moving the sale along. You're not going to close a deal on the first call, but if you can provide value and help the other person see how you could be a valuable partner, then you're well on your way.
Thanks for reading, once again! You can find my full interview with Andy right here – I highly recommend a listen.
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