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Cold Calling Best Practices
Cold Calling 101: Advantages and Disadvantages
Old habits die hard; that’s as true for business as it is for any other aspect of life. And one of the oldest habits in the sales-and-marketing game is the cold call. Indeed, plenty of companies still utilize this technique that was developed decades ago, and while it continues to divide opinion within certain industries, it remains a big part of many business sales strategies. So to better understand cold calling, it’s time for an examination.
Beginners and veterans alike should consider this article to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of cold calling.
Why Do Businesses Still Cold Call?
The simple answer is that it works for them. (Or at least, they think it works for them. More on that in a moment.) There are certain advantages to the cold-call system, if you know how to implement it properly. Many times, companies don’t make an individual cold call with the express intent of landing a sale. Strange as that may sound, cold calls these days can be more accurately considered “probing calls” to gain pertinent information. Some businesses merely use cold calls to determine who the manager is at a potential client’s operation. Other times, businesses cold call to ask leads survey questions as a form of market research. And lastly, businesses will cold call simply to establish a person-to-person connection with a potential lead.
Cold Calling Drawbacks
What’s not to like? Lots, unfortunately. Not only do consumers hate receiving cold calls, most sales professionals don’t like making them either. They’re difficult, largely ineffective in terms of sales conversion, and take up an inordinate amount of a company’s time and resources. Plus, it’s not going to get any easier for cold callers. More and more businesses are abandoning landlines altogether, and fewer young professionals are willing to pick up the phone to have a conversation with a sales person––even if they could actually benefit from a given product or service.
Future Prospects and Alternatives
It’s likely that some sales professionals will want to go down with the cold-calling ship when the time comes to completely shelve this way of doing business. However, for the moment, some companies will still continue with a cold-calling strategy in some regard, even if it’s not the most efficient way to create leads and make sales. For those who insist in following this ideal, you can take steps to“warm up” your cold calls by utilizing marketing data, sales analytics tools, and by taking more time to study leads beforehand. Alternatively, companies looking to ditch cold calling completely have these methods at their disposal––along with a whole bevy of alternative lead-generation strategies.
You can also download the guide, “4 Steps to Finding Qualified Leads” below.
Is Cold Calling Dead?
Cold calling has long been a contentious topic among business owners, marketers, and sales professionals. While this popular technique has historically been a mainstay for outbound marketing, more recently marketers are wondering….is cold calling dead?
While some marketers insist that cold calling is an outdated practice, we believe that it still has a place in your outbound efforts. In this blog post, we’re going to look at some compelling reasons why cold calling is still effective along with strategies on how you can make the most of it.
The History of Cold Calling
Cold calling simply refers to a call made to an unknown contact in order to present an offer. This technique is also commonly known as telemarketing. In one form or another, people have been selling over the phone since the late 1800s, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the device. However, when we talk about cold calling, we usually mean a systematic practice where sales agents make calls from an office, known as a call center.
The first call center, Life Circulation Company, began in 1957. This company is still operating, now under the name DialAmerica. This was a prosperous time in America as the post-war economy was growing in many sectors. Of course, in these early years, telemarketing was a novel practice and didn’t have the kind of competition it does today.
In the 1970s, advances in technology made telemarketing more efficient. Switchboards and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) eliminated the need for operators to transfer calls manually. The ability to make calls directly allowed for greater volumes of calls. Like all types of selling, cold calling is largely a numbers game. Thus, automating the calling process means reaching more prospects and making more sales.
The Peak of Cold Calling
The 1980s was, in many ways, the decade when cold calling reached its peak. Several factors contributed to this, such as further advances in automation technology and the widespread use of 800 numbers made it efficient for both B2C and B2B companies to use telemarketing to reach more customers. However, as the practice proliferated, there was also a certain backlash.
In 1987, caller ID was introduced, making it possible for people to identify callers before answering the phone. This technology made cold calling more difficult, as it meant fewer calls were answered. Answering machines and then voicemail, meanwhile, made it easy for people to screen calls by letting the caller leave a message.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, passed in 1991, created restrictions on telemarketing and eventually gave consumers the ability to be removed from caller lists. Companies that violate this act are subject to penalties.
Cold Calling in the Cell Phone Era
By the early 2000s, the mobile phone and smartphone revolution completely transformed communications. These changes had an impact on the telemarketing industry as well. The Do Not Call registry has accepted cell phone numbers since its beginning in 2003. Perhaps more significantly, cell phones provide call recipients with more freedom. Many users, for example, don’t answer calls from unknown recipients (though this was also true for landlines since the invention of caller ID).
Smartphone users also communicate largely via text message. Regulations on unsolicited texts are even stricter than those regulating phone calls, making “cold texting” a non-starter.
Today, the SEC places a variety of restrictions on cold calling. In addition to not calling people on the Do Not Call registry, companies are only permitted to make cold calls between 8 AM and 9 PM. They must clearly identify themselves and their company. Additionally, they must get written approval from customers before accepting payments from bank accounts.
Why People Think Cold Calling is Dead
Let’s look at some key reasons that could lead someone to believe cold calling is dead.
The Best Arguments of Why Cold Calling is Dead
- More and more people communicate with email, text messaging, and via social media.
- It’s easy to block and ignore calls from a smartphone.
- People are too busy and distracted to accept cold calls.
These are all valid arguments. However, they don’t actually prove that cold calling is no longer effective, much less dead. Now let’s look at some reasons cold calling is very much alive and well.
Understanding the Psychology and Practice of Cold Calling
People who say cold calling is dead don’t really understand the nature of the practice and why it works.
Cold Calling has Always Been Controversial
The idea that telemarketing is annoying and intrusive is hardly new. As we’ve seen, restrictions have been imposed on telemarketers since the early 90s. The fact is, there have always been substantial objections to all types of advertising and marketing. This is why restrictions on email spam came into being. It’s also why people use ad blockers online. This brings us to the next point: cold callers don’t expect fantastic close rates.
Reaching the Minority
A cold call, almost by definition, has a lower chance of success than a warm call (i.e. where the recipient knows the caller and/or has already expressed interest in the offer). Even during the peak of telemarketing, the best cold callers could only hope to close a small fraction of prospects.
While closing rates vary by industry, sales professionals often expect a success rate of 1% or a little higher. This sounds very low compared to success rates using other methods. However, this is simply the nature of cold calling, where the idea is to reach out to large numbers of prospects as quickly as possible and to focus as much time as possible talking to interested parties.
According to the Rain Group, 69% of buyers have accepted at least one cold call over the last 12 months. A good telemarketer may only close one out of 100 prospects. However, he or she only spends seconds on unsuccessful calls. Automation technology can dial numbers, meaning sales reps only spend time on people who actually answer the phone.
Cold Calling Has Multiple Uses
Not all cold calls are for selling a product or service. There are other purposes as well, some of which can produce a higher response rate.
- Prospecting. A cold call can be used to qualify leads and gauge interest on products or services. This call isn’t to make a sale, but to schedule more time to discuss the prospect’s needs and address pain points.
- Market research. Many people who might not buy something over the phone might be willing to answer a survey.
- Pre-selling. Cold calling can be used to offer prospects free trials, product samples, white papers, or other gifts. This is similar to the email marketing strategy of getting signups with opt-in offers.
- Warming up leads. If a prospect isn’t ready to buy but doesn’t reject the offer outright, he or she can become a warmer lead who can be contacted later.
Who Can Benefit From Cold Calling?
You may be wondering if cold calling is a viable strategy for your business. There are a few points to help you answer this question.
Do Customers in Your Industry Appreciate Calls?
Everyone is different, of course. However, people in certain industries more warmly welcome calls that offer valuable information. This is especially true for B2B sales. For example, a Discoverorg survey found that 60% of buyers in IT wanted cold calls to help them learn about new vendors.
Do Your Competitors Use Cold Calling?
If other businesses in your industry often make cold calls, this is a good indication that they are getting results. Some industries where the practice is common include:
- Home Improvement and Repairs
- IT and Technology
These are only a few examples, of course, as businesses in many sectors use cold calling. If you’re offering a product or service that’s not often marketed by phone, there’s no reason you can’t test it for yourself.
Do You Have a Nurture Campaign In Place?
While customers may buy a product from a single phone call, this isn’t common. Most effective marketing strategies today, whether they use ads, email, or phone calls, implement a series of touchpoints in their sales funnel. For example:
- Email prospect and offer them a trial offer, sample, or white paper.
- Call prospect once they’ve had time to go over your material or information.
- Follow up, either by phone or using another method preferred by the prospect.
You’ll have to tailor the process to your needs, of course. In all cases, you need to identify key stages in the customer journey and not try to rush things.
What Results Should You Expect?
It’s important to have realistic expectations from cold calling. It helps if you have a well-planned strategy in place.
Closing Takes Many Touchpoints
It usually takes multiple contacts to close a sale. The exact number depends on many factors, such as the skill of sales reps, the receptivity of the prospect, and the particulars of your industry and product/service. HubSpot shares a calendar with 8 touchpoints. The goal of a cold call will usually be to warm up the prospect and open them up for further communication. If sales reps try too hard to close a sale right away, they’re more likely to push away the prospect.
Cold vs Warm Leads
Even the most successful cold callers understand that warm leads are more valuable than cold ones. A hot lead, a prospect who has been nurtured and has a demonstrated interest in a product or service, is more valuable still. The goal of cold calling is to warm up leads, which can be a daunting process. While the average success rate of cold calls is usually estimated at around 2%, this number shoots to over 25% for warm calls.
We’ll look at some strategies to maximize cold calling results. Even a slight increase in your success rate translates to more leads and sales. However, you do need to understand that cold prospects, on average, are less responsive than warm ones.
Should You Outsource Cold Calling?
When you plan a calling campaign, you need to decide whether to handle the process in-house or to outsource. Should you have your own sales reps or SDRs make the calls or find an agency that specializes in cold calling? There are pros and cons to each.
Pros of Outsourcing
- Efficiency. Cold calling, perhaps more than any other sales tactic, is about numbers. A professional call center or agency has the experience and technology to reach many prospects quickly.
- Saves time for your sales team. Your reps can focus on talking to leads that have already been warmed up rather than spending countless hours hoping for a bite.
- Flexible hours. Depending on your business model, you may need to reach out to prospects in different time zones. When you outsource calling, you can arrange to have calls made at the ideal times. On the other hand, it can be difficult for your own local team to make calls at all hours.
Cons of Outsourcing
- Less control. While you can provide scripts and guidelines to your partners, you’re still giving up a certain degree of control. When you handle calls in-house, you can more closely supervise the process and ensure your message and branding are on track.
- Lack of expertise. While call center agents may be skilled at sales, they usually lack specific knowledge about products and industries. If they need to go off-script, they may not be able to answer every question.
- Cost. There are costs associated with handling calls yourself and outsourcing. However, hiring a quality agency can be a substantial expense. At the same time, you have to weigh this against the leads and sales that they generate.
If you decide to outsource, do your research and make sure you choose a quality company. Here are some tips to consider:
- Check reviews and references. Use a company or individuals with a proven track record.
- Choose a local company. If the call center is located in another country, make sure the callers can speak fluent English.
- Make sure you’re clear about the terms, such as how many hours/calls will be made for the price.
- Communicate your needs clearly and monitor performance at every stage. You may need to try several companies before you find the right match.
Why Cold Calling Works
So – does cold calling work anymore?
Despite what you may have heard, cold calling is still an effective way to connect with your B2B audience. To make it work for you, it’s important to map out a clear strategy, test your results, and make changes as needed. For example, you may be able to improve your results by making changes in the script, calling at different hours, or tweaking your initial offer.
Even if they have a certain resistance to cold calling (and all types of marketing, really), both consumers and B2B buyers are always seeking new products and services that can solve their problems and improve their lives. Of course, to find success you need a solid offer and a skilled sales rep, ready to engage with prospects.
Cold calling is not dead and will continue to be a viable selling strategy as long as people have phones. If you’re interested in adding cold calling into your marketing strategy, contact us to learn more about Sapper’s Bionic SDR, your outsourced, full-stack, multichannel sales development representative.
Hate Cold Calling? Try These 5 Tactics Instead.
Make no mistake: in B2B environments, cold calling is undeniably effective. One recent survey found that in 2019, 69% of business buyers accepted phone calls from new salespeople to learn about new partnership and vendor opportunities.
But is cold calling the best way to generate leads for your business?
Depending on your industry and target market, cold calling might limit your lead generation; it doesn’t work for all audiences. Your sales team will call hundreds of leads for one decent conversation, while your ideal buyers prioritize their time on LinkedIn or email. Even if cold calling is a good fit for your offering, exclusively focusing on one channel will limit the potential of your reach.
Diversifying your outreach approach can help you to yield optimal results in your lead generation strategy. There are dozens of lead generation strategies that require less manpower while yielding the same (if not better) results as cold calling.
Below are five successful lead generation strategies in a B2B marketing environment.
1. Cold Emailing
While the basic concept is similar to cold calling, email brings a few hard-to-ignore advantages over phone calls:
- You don’t interrupt your prospect. They’ll read your message in their own time when they have the bandwidth to take in the message.
- You can pack more value into your message, focusing directly on what matters most instead of managing small talk.
- You can create more comprehensive communication plans, with follow-up emails that include value-driven content to address common pain points, questions, and interests of your target audience in short, snackable snippets.
Perhaps because of those reasons, 80% of business buyers prefer to be contacted via email instead of a phone call when it comes to sales pitches. If your messages can provide them with true value related to their business needs, cold emailing can be a powerful lead generation tool.
2. Social Selling
Don’t think of social media as a sales tool reserved for consumer-facing promotions. Social selling, defined as “the art of using social media to find, connect with, understand, and nurture sales prospects,” has become a core tool in business environments as well.
A few of the most common social selling channels include:
- LinkedIn, the most successful marketing solution for 82% of B2B marketers. Post about your company, connect with target buyers, interact with their posts, and join relevant industry groups.
- Niche Facebook Groups, which allow you to network and make connections with people across the globe in the same industry as your business.
- Slack communities, especially invite-only groups within specific industry niches such as Enterprise Sellers, SalesStack, SDReady, and more.
- Twitter and Instagram, the latter being especially relevant in more visual industries. A social media presence across traditionally consumer-facing channels is becoming increasingly important.
Done right, engaging business buyers on social media helps you engage in real, thoughtful conversations. Instead of simply pitching your product, you can build genuine connections with your prospects that establish you as a thought leader and position you as the go-to solution once a business need arises.
3. Referral Marketing
Your current customers are, in many ways, your best sales opportunities. According to one survey, word of mouth is the driving factor behind up to 50% of all purchasing decisions. That’s also and especially true in business environments, where recommendations from trusted connections can be driving factors behind landing a big account or making a more convincing sales pitch.
Word of mouth is, by definition, organic. At the same time, you can encourage referrals through a few targeted strategies:
- Actively encourage happy customers to spread the word to their friends, co-workers, and anyone else in their network by utilizing a referral program.
- Gather testimonials and case studies for your website from customers you know to be happy with your solution.
- Engage in reputation management to encourage positive reviews and respond to negative reviews in ways that actually lead to problem solutions.
Done right, your current customers become core drivers in your sales pipeline, making more authentic, unbiased, and credible sales pitches on your behalf.
4. Website Optimization
Modern B2B marketing begins and ends with your website. In addition to listing core features of your solution and the background of your business, it should have active sales conversion opportunities that all prospects can leverage to move through the pipeline.
That starts with making your contact forms simple and easy to find. Any prospect with a question or just wanting to learn more should be able to get there within seconds of landing on your homepage.
Beyond that, gated content can help you capture prospect emails to engage in more targeted lead nurturing. Gated content here refers to in-depth content such as eBooks and whitepapers, which are free but gated behind a sign-up form. Offer enough value, and your prospects have no problem giving up their email address and contact info to get to the content. Now, you can engage them through a drip campaign to sell your solution and expertise until they’re ready to buy.
Generally speaking, your website’s design and user experience can go a long way towards engaging your website visitors and converting them into leads. It also pays to optimize your website for SEO, focusing on industry-relevant keywords to attract organic traffic from prospects through Google and other search engines.
5. Leverage Speaking Engagements
From virtual events to webinars and podcasts, speaking engagements provide a great opportunity to get in front of your audience. Once there, you can use your platform to establish your credibility and thought leadership, while also telling them directly about your product or service and how it could solve their pain points.
Some of these engagements can be owned. Any company can create a Zoom event or host their own webinar and podcast series. A more comprehensive version of the same strategy includes actively seeking out the events, webinars, and podcasts of personalities that your target audience considers experts in your industry. A guest appearance on these media can go a long way towards getting your audience’s attention, and turning that attention into new leads.
Beyond Cold Calls: How to Create a More Comprehensive Lead Generation Strategy
Each of these tactics can be as, and in many cases more effective than simply cold calling. But they’re at their best when wrapped into a comprehensive, multi-channel lead generation strategy that meets your audience where they are, and sells your solution in a variety of ways.
With that strategy in place, you can leverage the attention traditionally spent cold-calling your prospects towards lead nurturing. Calling leads who have already expressed an interest in your product or service has a much higher chance of success, building on existing attention to make a more specific, focused pitch.
Are you looking to build your sales pipeline? We can help. Download the Ultimate Guide to Tripling Your Sales Meetings Using Cold Emails today.
“Cold Outreach” Doesn’t Require Cold Calling Anymore
At one point in time, the cold call was exactly that: cold.
When you made the cold call, you knew nothing about the person on the other end of the line. If you’ve never had to do this before, I can’t begin to explain how difficult it could be to close a sale.
But everything’s changed.
With all of the information that’s available online, you never have to go into a truly “cold” pitch again.
This article reviews how cold outreach and cold calling has changed over the years, what you can do to increase your odds of closing a lead, and where the space is headed in the not-so-distant future.
Resources Available to You
We live in a time where you have more access to information than you ever had before.
It’s a marketer’s dream.
In the past, you had to flip through your index of phone numbers and sell to people that you had never met and knew nothing about.
Needless to say, conversion rates on straight cold calls were not great.
But now, you have several weapons on hand.
While it can still be a bit uncomfortable to call someone you don’t know, before cold pitching to leads, you can learn a lot more about them you than ever could before.
Whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Google analytics, or any other type of social media / analytics, you can find out where your leads have lived, who they have worked for, their type of employment/income, what they like to do in their free time, and many other things that might help you generate conversation.
How to Use These Tools
The most important thing to understand about researching people and companies via social media is that these accounts are all about building relationships first.
If you focus too much on sales in your cold outreach, people see right through you.
That’s why I recommend that, no matter what information that you find, it’s important to not come across as intrusive or creepy. By this, I mean that you shouldn’t get on the phone with someone and make specific comments about what they post on social media.
With that said, you can still come up with a ton of useful information without scaring off your cold outreach prospects.
Businesses and organizations are using social media at every single level, and here are a few ways that you can leverage these accounts to your advantage:
-By reading a company’s blog, you can learn a lot about their culture and perspective on their niche.
-When you visit a company’s Facebook page, there are a lot of telling signs about their personality and brand voice.
-Checking out their Twitter, you can find out what kind of charities and organizations they are working with.
-If your lead has a video channel, you can even gain insight into what the company’s physical environment is like.
-Depending on what the company or lead is tweeting about, you may even be able to gain insight into their preferred brands and buying signals.
The Future of Cold Outreach
The future of cold prospecting is that it will essentially cease to be cold in the traditional sense.
Customers will be looking for more personalization than ever before, and marketers will be targeting leads with much more precision.
In 2016 alone, 79% of marketers polled said that they are currently using sales analytics technology or are planning to use it in the near future.
Sales software helps marketers and sales reps recognize patterns that ultimately improve their performance.
Between sales analytics software, more targeted outreach, and more personalized call/emails, businesses can increase their conversion rates significantly.
There is a seemingly endless amount of lead prospecting tools available to marketers right now, and traditional cold outreach just doesn’t have the conversion rate that more informed outreach has today.
If you liked this article, learn how one Sapper client gave up cold calling altogether and managed to generate $1 million+ in pipeline.
To help set your sales team up for success, implement some of these sales techniques and test them against your current methods. If you need help with lead generation so your team can focus on selling, Sapper Consulting can help you create a steady flow of new leads to turn into new clients.