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“Is cold calling dead?”

In today’s noisy B2B ecosystem, where the virtues of personalization and relevance are constantly espoused, the idea of cold calling seems archaic. Pop into any social media feed or read industry publications and you’ll invariably read about unsolicited phone outreach as a spray and pray tactic from yesteryear.  

But, as it turns out, that might not be true. In the age of Covid-19 and more remote work environments, Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) and Account Executives (AEs) are finding that cold calling is more effective than ever. 

How do you make cold calling work for you? How do you help prospects see value? As daunting as cold calling may be, you can take the reins, and make it a tactic that truly works. It’s stuck around for this long — there’s gotta be something to it.


What Is Cold Calling?

Cold calling is a technique in which a salesperson contacts individuals who have not previously expressed interest in their product or service. There is no existing relationship prior to the sales professional calling a prospect.

A close relative of cold calling is warm calling, where sales reps will contact a potential customer based on previous expressed interest.


Benefits Of Cold Calling

Cold calling has endured the test of time, mainly because sales professionals need to generate activity to build pipeline. And make no mistake: Every deal starts with a conversation. Think of cold calling as simply jumpstarting the initial touchpoint to begin the sales journey. 

It’s effectiveness is objectively proven. Let’s look at some cold calling statistics:  

  • 76% of salespeople say that engaging at the right time has an extreme/substantial impact on conversion rates. 
  • 27% of sellers say making phone calls to new contacts is very/extremely effective.
  • C-level and VP buyers prefer to be contacted by phone (57%), even more than directors (51%) and managers (47%). 

Some other benefits of cold calling (that you wouldn’t necessarily achieve through, say, cold emailing) include: 

  • Reaching Net-New Customers
  • Perfecting Your Sales Pitch
  • Making A Human Connection With A Potential Customer

Cold Calling vs Warm Calling

There is one key difference between cold and warm calling: warm calling involves contacting a prospect that has had prior contact with you or your business. That is, warm prospects have engaged with your brand in both direct and non-direct response ways. 


Non-Direct prospects exhibit behavioral engagement: 

  • They have visited your website
  • They’ve consumed some form of content (case study, eBook, webinar, etc.)

Direct prospects have previously expressed interest in your solution: 

  • They submitted a request to talk with a sales representative and receive more information through demo, free trial, or pricing request
  • They’ve had completed a prior meeting with a sales rep
  • They were a lost opportunity 

The bottom line? Not all cold calls are created equal. By establishing contact with a prospect before you call, you’ll have already built a certain level of trust with them. Because of this, potential customers will be more likely to listen to your pitch and consider whether your products can fix their current issues. But with cold calling, that value has to be communicated nearly instantly in order to keep their interest peaked.


Is Cold Calling Dead? 

While a common debate in the world of sales is whether or not cold calling is a worthwhile technique, it has certainly proved to be very much useful, and is still considered one of the most cost effective methods for B2B businesses to reach new customers. 

And while it may not lead to an actual sale on the first call, it serves as an opportunity to familiarize a potential prospect with your brand and product, as well as with yourself as a salesperson. 

Pain Points Of Cold Calling 

So, why do sales professionals question the efficacy of cold calling? Per TOPO

  • Dials to Conversation: 22.5 dials to meaningful conversation is the industry average, but if you’re calling highly solicited divisions, such as IT or marketing, or very senior executives the number is closer to 30 dials to 1 conversation.
  • Conversation to Appointment:  3 meaningful conversations are required to get 1 appointment.

So it’s very difficult to connect, and when you do, you have to make it count…


Best Practices For Cold Calling

When it comes to the art of cold calling, there’s a lot of room to add your own flare. And while it is a somewhat subjective technique, there are certainly some hard do’s and don’ts when you’re calling new potential prospects. 

Do:

  • Know Exactly Who (And Why!) You’re Calling: While cold calling does mean someone who has never expressed interest before, it doesn’t mean calling someone without having done any background information on them. When you’re calling someone with the end goal of closing a sale, you should know exactly who you’re talking to, what company they work for, and the exact value your product can provide for them. Otherwise, you end up wasting both of your time. 
    • Pro tip – There is no stranger to empathy: Per Gong, getting down to business is important, but so is maintaining the human element. Don’t be afraid to start off the conversation with a genuine “how are you doing?” 
  • Pitch, listen, and then listen some more: The same Gong study found that the average successful cold call lasts 5:50 (compared to 3:14 for unsuccessful calls) and includes an uninterrupted sales pitch of 37 seconds – about 50% longer than average.
    • Pro Tip – Tone Match: Tone matching is exactly what it sounds like — matching the tone of the person you’re talking to. For example, if they’re high energy, you should be too. If they’re more skeptical, maybe tone down the jargon and take a more relaxed approach. When it comes to cold calling, tone matching is one of the most important tactics you can use in order to build better rapport. 
  • Clearly Define Call’s Purpose: Cold calling is one of those instances where you should know exactly what you’re going to say before you even pick up the phone. Because, as you probably know, you are inherently wasting someone’s time with your call. So you better make that waste of time worth it for them. Again, scripts can come in handy here before you’ve memorized your introductory pitch. 
    • Prop Tip – Be Direct With Your Words:  Opening your call by stating the reason for calling increases your success rate by 2.1X:

Don’t:  

  • Ask Who You’re Speaking With: As we mentioned above, you should know exactly who you’re calling, what their title is, and the decision making power they hold at their company. Asking “who am I speaking with today?” sends the message that you haven’t done your research and are simply wasting their time. 
  • Ask If Now Is A Good Time: It’s never going to be a good time for the recipient, especially when it’s a cold call. Don’t give them an out right away by asking. If they really need to go, they’ll tell you. 
  • Don’t Excuse Yourself: Remove the phrase “sorry for bothering you” from your sales vocabulary, pronto. Why? Because you’re basically telling the person that you plan to annoy them with the call, rather than add value to their work life. Consider saying “can you help me?” rather than starting off with an apology. 

Don’t Sell On The First Call: The first cold call to a prospect should mainly serve as a discovery call, with the end goal of making sure you’re both on the same page by the end of it. Rather than trying to immediately pitch your product or service, use the first call as a way to get to know them better, and try to communicate the way your product could potentially solve their pain points.

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Step-by-Step Guide for Successful Cold Calling

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, especially considering that only 3% of buyers actually trust sales reps. Every sales team should have a process, because it helps streamline tasks and make the team more effective in achieving goals. The same goes for how you cold call. There are two parts to a sales call: the pre-call preparation, and the actual execution. 

Pre-call tasks include things such as:

1. Segmenting Your Prospect List 

If you believe in the notion “fail faster,” then by all means don’t bother organizing your calling list. Because you will fail. A lot. 

Put simply, shot-in-the-dark cold calling strategies won’t result in successful conversions or conversations. Instead, take the time to craft a segmented list of prospects that you’ve already researched, and that you know are likely to benefit from what you’re selling. While this may seem tedious, when prioritizing leads, sales reps have seen 49% more contact attempts and extended their discussion time with prospects by 88%. 

2. Using Org Charts and Department Insights

Organizational charts and department insights empower you to use a multi-threaded approach to securing a meeting by understanding department structure (aka things like reporting, budgets, head count, etc). 

Per Gartner, the typical purchasing group for a complex B2B solution involves 6 to 10 decision makers. 
Org charts are a great, under-rated tool. Understanding the hierarchy is essential because it helps you move up or down the org based on chart info and proves to be far more effective than the “smile and dial” approach.


How to leverage org charts in prospecting? Oh yes, ZoomInfo has it.


3. Identifying Accurate Direct Dials Phone Numbers: 

Lame analogies disclaimer: Sales is very much a contact sport. And your team needs to connect. Literally. 

Not convinced? Consider the average call-to-connect rates. It takes 12.73 dials to get a connection when calling a list of prospects with direct phone numbers and 18.83 when calling switchboard numbers. 

Your time isn’t being put to its best use if your contact information isn’t accurate and up-to-date.

4. Use An Autodialier

Automated dialers allow users to automatically call through lists of uploaded contacts. And considering the fact that sales reps are making anywhere between 45 and 100 calls a day, the time-saving potential should not be ignored. And additional features such as click-to-dial and pre-recorded voicemails eliminate error prone and repetitive tasks.

On the other hand, the following are some tasks you should make sure you’re following through on during the actual sales call:

5. Use A Script (Especially When Just Starting Out)

Sales scripts are a great tool to have on hand, even for the most seasoned sales rep. They help create a setup for a quality conversation without worrying about stumbling over words. It also makes training new SDRs far easier, and makes the task of cold calling less daunting. And the great thing about scripts is that you can personalize them as much as you want to fit the needs of any given prospect.

Let’s take a look at a sample ZoomInfo sales script:

Hi XXX this is ___ from ZoomInfo, how are you?

Are you familiar with ZoomInfo?

We work with some similar companies like XXX and XXX and what we do is identify companies with planned projects, initiatives, and those doing a ton of research on XXX and XXX and looking to make a purchase within the next 30-60 days.

We tie all of that back to the decision-makers involved and map out the whole company from top to bottom  – giving you direct-dial phone numbers, verified emails, and mobile numbers.

And the reason for my call is to see if you have some time this week or next week to learn a little bit more about how this all works.

6. A Cheat Sheet for Your Product or Solution 

You have to be prepared for objection handling, questions you may not have the answer to, and more. So knowing exactly what your product does is crucial to mastering the cold call because you need to convey precisely the value it can add to the prospect’s existing tech stack. 

For newer SDRs, having that information in front of you can be helpful when starting out. 

You can’t prepare for everything, but you orchestrate your sales outreach based on variables, like personas, verticals, and more. For example, at ZoomInfo, our SDRs use something like this to ensure they are hitting all the right points and saying the right things to the right personas:

For Someone In Sales:

We’ve got….. 

  • 150 million contacts worldwide
  • 46 million direct phone numbers
  • 21 million mobile numbers- important during COVID
  • 5 million C-level Contacts

For Someone In Marketing:

We’ve got….. 

  • helps with email deliverability
  • 150 million contacts worldwide
  • 80 million direct emails
    • 90% of emails are verified, so you’ll get less than 10% bounceback on campaign emails
  • 5 million C-level Contacts

Nuanced And Tactical Cold Calling To Drive Sales In 2021 And Beyond

On the surface, cold calling can feel outdated and intrusive. However, in the modern B2B sales world, the strategy has evolved. Reps with a sound process put themselves in position to be helpful by understanding how present value to a prospect. This isn’t by accident. They have the tools and strategies in place to do due diligence. 

In other words, if you do your homework a cold call shouldn’t’ feel like a pop quiz, but rather a thesis that you know like the back of your hand. 

Navigating the art of cold calling can be tricky, but business is ever-changing — and the primary function of sales is business development. And done correctly cold calling remains truly proven to be an adaptable technique that ultimately works.

Case study: Hotel Engine increased sales productivity 5x with ZoomInfo, and 3x demos scheduled.

Frequently Asked Questions

A roundup of common question about cold calling.


Is B2B cold calling legal?

Cold calling is absolutely legal business development practice, but that doesn’t mean it’s not regulated. Per the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission, the law protects you by requiring cold callers to follow several rules such as: 

  • Cold callers can only call you at home between the hours of 8 a.m and 9 p.m, but can call you at work at any time. 
  • Cold callers must say who is calling and what the purpose of the call is. 
  • Cold callers must put you on a “do not call list” if requested. 
  • Cold callers must get written approval before taking funds directly from your bank account. 

Can you cold call cell phones?

Today, it is legal to cold call cell phones, but similar rules and regulations apply to cold callers when it comes to dialing mobile numbers. Cold calling, whether it be to a landline or cell phone, is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. Under these organizations, federal law does prohibit any calls to cellphones using automatic dialers or prerecorded messages. However, businesses are permitted to call cell phone numbers if the recipient has given written consent.

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About the author

ZoomInfo

ZoomInfo combines the leading business contact database with best-in-class technology to pinpoint, process, and deliver the marketing and sales intelligence you need— exactly when and how you need it, to always hit your number.

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B2B marketing, growth, sales and more.


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