3 Smart Cold Calling Strategies to Reach Prospects

A reader recently asked me about the value of cold calling. It was phrased this way:

“I’ve read a lot of articles that say cold calling is dead. I believe it’s still a valuable prospecting tool to find new opportunities in addition to other approaches.  What are your thoughts on this?”

I get asked this question frequently, especially since the subtitle of my book The Sales Magnet is “How to Get More Customers Without Cold Calling.” Does this mean you should stop cold calling? Is cold calling an ancient sales technique to be left behind with the 20th century like the door-to-door encyclopedia salespeople?

Is cold calling dead? My answer is a resounding NO. Cold calling isn’t dead.

The Art and Science of Cold Calling

Salespeople still have to pick up the phone, we just want to do it in a smart way. It’s an art that can be mastered with some science behind it. Here’s the science:

1. Find your focus: Figure out what niche you are targeting and the contact within that niche. Really make it a niche. A niche allows you to have a similar prospecting conversation with every person you speak to. You’ll know the issues they’re having in their business, what ideas prospects respond to, and the objections they’ll bring up when you ask for a meeting.

Your niche isn’t every medical practice in your state. It isn’t even every company with 20-100 employees within a 75-mile radius of your office. Your niche is a subset of your target market where you can talk with people who have similar titles about similar business issues.

2. Get your grabber: Once you’ve identified your niche, have a message that focuses on something of importance to your prospect. I recommend focusing on the top priorities for the key contact in your niche. If you attended the recent Coffee with Kendra about how to improve your prospecting emails, I talked about how to use the Value Curve to choose a topic based on executives’ priorities. The more your message is about your prospect, the more likely they are to read it.

Unfortunately, too often salespeople resort to talking about their products. When they do, their voice mails and emails are quickly deleted. That’s why the average connection rate for cold calling is only 12%.

3. Connect your efforts: While I believe strongly in cold calling, if you only use one approach to a prospecting, you’re easily ignored. Mix cold calling with email prospecting and social media in case your prospect isn’t paying attention.

It takes 9 or more attempts to gain access to a new prospect. If they don’t know your company, or you personally, you’ll need all nine attempts. Mix up how you contact prospects so they hear from you in different ways. Maybe they get too many emails, which one prospect lamented to me today. In that case, maybe a call will get their attention. Or, maybe they peruse LinkedIn in the evening and your InMail will grab them. Connect your prospecting efforts and don’t give up.

Cold Calling & Key Performance Indicators

Finally, as you use smarter ways to cold call, keep in mind these cold calling metrics. Based on research with our own clients, the average connection rate when you are cold calling is 12%. Of those 12%, roughly 25% will convert to qualified opportunities when you are calling within a niche with a grabber message.

I’ll take those cold calling odds.

If you know that you’ll set an appointment with one out of every four people you speak with, make the calls! Perfect your strategy to reach a person. Perfect your message. As you perfect both, you’ll increase your appointment-setting rate.

So, is cold calling dead? It is not. Keep prospecting, but do it in a smart way. You’ll break through. I promise.

kendra-leeKendra Lee is president of KLA Group, which works with companies to break in and exceed revenue objectives in the Small and Midmarket Business (SMB) segment. Read more blogs from Kendra here.


Return Home



    Jim Barnet:

    I think this is a great article Kendra, especially the feedback about focusing on a “niche”. At Promys PSA we refer to our niche as our “ideal prospective customers”. Not every target customer is an ideal customer, but the ones that are, have similar problems or objectives they’re trying to address. This assumes a differentiated value prop, where they’re your ideal customer (vs. your competitors) because your product addresses those particular problems or objectives better than your competition. This makes identifying the “grabber” content easier and ties naturally into conversations about what makes you different from your competitors (not “better” just built for a different ideal customer/niche). I find this approach naturally leads to conversations about helping customers determine if they are, or aren’t, your ideal customer vs. talking about the vendors product. The other part of the “niche” approach I really like, is that it helps sales people focus on who “not” to target, or to qualify out. Sometimes figuring out who not to sell to, has the biggest impact on improving sales.

    Jim Barnet
    Promys PSA
    Director Sales & Marketing
    Tel: 905-847-6539, ext. 2972
    Cell: 647-239-2942
    [email protected]
    t: @PROMYS_PSA

    Kendra Lee:

    So true that not every target customer in your niche is the ideal customer. The conversations your team is creating with prospects, focused on grabbers about their needs rather than your products, are spot on. They not only create a valuable (and probably surprisingly so) conversation with prospects, but also helping to qualify if indeed a rep should schedule an appointment. If a prospect isn’t qualified now, perhaps they will be in the future. Your reps are leaving lasting impressions that will call your company to mind the next time there is a need. Maybe the company isn’t a prospect today, but in the future – who knows?

    Niches are core to successful prospecting. Thank you for sharing how you use them and how they are helping your team sell successfully.

    Jeb Blount:

    Kendra – We are finding – at least in B2B business services sales – contact rates approaching 30%. That’s up from 25% just a few years ago. People are answering the phone. When salespeople apply your principles and develop targeted lists of prospects, the returns on a short 30 min call block ate phenomenal. Most reps can easily set two good appointments. When phone Prospecting is balanced with social, email, text, and netorking, the pipeline becomes robust. Awesome article! As always, you rock!!

    Jeb Blount

    Kendra Lee:

    Thank you for the high praise and for sharing the stats you’re seeing on contract rates and short call blocks. I agree that people are answering the phone. We definitely don’t want to stop calling!

    Matt Wanty:

    Hi, new guy here. We certainly agree that cold calling isn’t dead, but at the same time I think I both agreed and disagreed with every point in this article. As sales people we certainly need to be going after the right prospects, but I would warn not to niche yourself too much. Niche can also mean narrow and it’s important not to pass up anybody who could potentially be a client. I also completely agree that it’s beneficial to understand what is most important to your prospect. To think we’re going to pull this out of them during the heavy artillery fire of a cold call is rose colored at best. We need this intelligence before we even pick up the phone, TG4LinkedIn.

    The overall tone here seems to have cold calling a bit like a sit down for tea, when in reality is it’s more like a 1 min parachute jump. Again we agree, emails can be really effective at aligning on timing but please stay off social media. These decision makers already hate our emails and phone calls, let them have social media to themselves. As you said, there is some science to being a great cold caller but it takes a lot more then just perfecting a few things. It all starts with understanding the total picture of what your company does and who you’re calling on, and it ends with practice and confidence.

    Matt Wanty

    Kendra Lee:

    Thank you for your great response and the fun analogies! Niches are delicate choices in selling. My recommendation is to create niches where you can have similar conversations and build momentum through repetition and knowledge as you have similar conversations. At the same time, you may need several niches, or not too narrow a niche as you mentioned or you’ll run out of contacts to approach.

    I love your analogy of the 1 minute parachute jump. Yes, it is. But you have to approach it as if it’s a sit down for tea so that you present yourself engagingly. You aren’t planning to have the full conversation right then and there – but you do have to be prepared for some conversation in case the prospect is ready. The goal: a meeting where you can talk longer.

    To prepare for the parachute jump, you need to know in advance what’s important to that niche. That’s why niches are important. If you have a niche, you can do some research on that niche to begin to uncover what the trigger events might be. Can you research each individual before calling? Sure. But if you do that, every call has the potential to take a lot of time. You won’t get through the number of calls that you or your manager expect. If you start with triggers you suspect are happening in the niche, now you have a business reason for calling.

    Remember, you just want to start the conversation. If they don’t have that issue and tell you, then you can respond with a question about how they’ve addressed it because others in their industry do have that issue. From there you can parley into the real issues they do have. That’s not rose colored glasses. It’s genuine conversation about how they’re doing business and sharing what you know about how their competitors do business. And yes, they will talk to you about it – if you understand their niche and you’re confident in yourself.

    This same approach works in social media. If you’re focused on real issues, understand their niche, and are genuine, they’ll converse with you there.

    It’s enjoyable sharing thoughts with you, Matt. Thank you!

    Jeff Saxton:

    I think Matt is right on with the great analogy of the “1 minute parachute jump” I can see that as a hilarious SNL Sketch! It truly feels that way. And it truly is that way.

    Personally, I like to take the pressure way, way down. That happens by good old fashioned fun, reciprocity when possible (I have several examples that work for me) and the ultimate understanding that if I sell XYZ and I am talking to a gatekeeper that deeply desires XYZ in their company, then we are a few dates away from HAPPILY EVER AFTER! But that is the key – to not push things beyond what is natural and positive, while still drawing them in through possibly some free value or gift right up front (reciprocity like I said, is an incredible sales trigger and often totally ignored in b2b sales). We do need to push a bit in a Cold Call of course. Much more than any other kind of sales call. But because it is not a fun process for anyone involved, make sure you are talking to the right company and that if you need to deal with gatekeepers, good old fashioned charm and laughter does the trick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.