Firstly, how does business to business cold calling measure up as a strategy?
Cold calling is alive and well. Today cold calling is often used as step two in the sales process, rather than traditionally the first step. For example, a cold call can be placed after the prospect has received an email from you, attended an event or connected on LinkedIn. In a way, this serves to warm up cold calls a little.
The smart players don’t argue “online vs offline”, rather they combine the two. You can read more about this in Two-step Cold Calling.
Either way, many corporations across the globe still use cold calling as the primary strategy for filling salespeople’s diaries. If you are a small business, cold calling may be the cheapest and quickest way for you to start meetings prospective clients and vying for business.
This article examines ten key aspects to success in business to business cold calling.
1. The right mindset for cold calling
Mindset is everything when you are cold calling. Your mindset determines the energy, intellect and effectiveness of your calling. You don’t have to like cold calling to be good at it. You just have to like the result. If after a couple of sessions of cold calling you can have a diary full of quality appointments for the following week, that is a very good thing. That is an outcome that you can be very fond of.
What you say to yourself about the task at hand is extremely important. If you say, “I hate cold calling and I can’t wait until it is over!”, then you are likely to have a terrible time and produce a poor result. If, on the other hand, you say “I usually set two appointments from every twenty calls. Today I’ll set four appointments and generate a bunch of follow-ups”, then you’ll achieve a much better result.
To do this you call on the uniquely human ability of will power. You have the ability to ‘point’ your thinking in a certain direction. You can determine that you aren’t going to think “I hate cold calling”, instead you will think “I set two appointments from every twenty calls, let’s get on with this!” The go-getter identifies when their thinking (revealed by self-talk) is working against them and changes their thinking to support their goals. You can do this too.
2. Your Goal for cold calling
Your goal for cold calling business to business is very straight forward. It is to open the door and set the stage for building relationships. Some prospects will move faster than others, while some will not move forward at all. It’s a numbers game. The most important number being the number of relationships you start. Sales will result as you develop and nurture these relationships.
On your very first cold call to a prospect, you should aim to open a relationship with the prospect. It will become clear during the call what you should suggest as the next step. Sometimes this next step will be to meet up. On other occasions, the next step will be to call back at an agreed time. Don’t be worried about calling a prospect up to 6+ time over the ensuing months in order to secure an appointment.
If you can make 10 calls and start 5 relationships (1 appointment and 4 follow-up calls), that is a fair and repeatable result that will yield sales.
3. Your cold calling list
You’ll need a good-sized list. Out of any list of people you call you’ll find that some numbers are dead, some people are unavailable, some people don’t want to talk, some people ask you to call back later and some will talk with you. In addition, there will always be inaccuracies in your call list, whether purchased or created by you. For all of these reasons, you’ll need a lot more numbers on your list than the number of people you want to talk to. This could be up to three times. However, once you have a good sized list you can keep going until you speak to the required number of people.
You can buy prospect lists, or you can create your own. When it comes to business to business cold call lists, you can create an up to date and accurate list form Google Search, Google Maps and LinkedIn. It is useful to use multiple sources to complete accurate contact records for each prospect. One source may yield name and phone number, while another source may yield the email address. Gathering data from such online sources can be outsourced to cheaper virtual labour.
4. Your strategy for the Gatekeeper
The Receptionist of PA (aka the Gatekeeper) can and often do bring cold calls to an abrupt end. The Gatekeeper doesn’t have the power to say “Yes”. They only have the power to say “No”. Therefore, don’t do too much explaining to them.
Your aim is the get to the Decision Maker and explain your offer to them.If you have the decision makers name, you can always ask directly for them by name. This reduces the cross-examination you’ll receive from the Gatekeeper. If you have the name you can also respond to the Gatekeepers screening questions with “thanks for asking Sonja, I really do need to talk with Bruce about that though …is he in?”
5. Your b2b cold calling script
A script is a must. However, sounding like you are reading something is cold calling suicide. I prefer to use a flow chart so I can ‘flex’ with the call. When it comes to influencing others, there is often one best way to say something. This is the case for how you transition from one stage of the call to the next; the way you ask certain questions; and how you ask for commitment and/or next steps.Once you have determined the one best way to say certain things, you need to practice it. It is much better if you practice saying that out loud. The reason is that your tone and cadence of voice have a major impact on how influential your message is when it is received by the prospect.
6. Dealing with objections when cold calling business to business
There are a number of objections that are just a fob off. These include the old favourites “we are under contract”, “we are happy with who we are using”, and “please send me something in writing”. If you keep receiving the same objection, think closely about what you are saying immediately before the objection arises and try something different.
While it is better to avoid objections, rather than overcome them, it is useful to prepare a response to the objections that you are unable to avoid. For example, a response to the “we’re happy with who we are using” objections could be “that’s OK, we’re not interested in displacing your incumbent supplier, we only want to bring you new solutions that you may be missing out on such as x, y and z.”
The key to handling objections is subtlety. It’s about being assertive enough to gain a hearing while not being too pushy that the prospect wants to avoid you. Gaining agreement for a follow-up call is still a good result, even if you don’t set an appointment on the call.
7. Your Offer – why are you calling anyway?
While rapport building is important, you can only chit chat for so long on a cold call (if at all). After all, you are a stranger to the prospect. It’s essential that you get to the point quickly.
If you sound like you are pitching when suggesting why the prospect should see you, then you will most likely encounter resistance. Try this instead…
Offer valuable information. This could be a briefing on some research you have done or some ‘findings’ you have compiled. Instead of saying “I’d like to show you how we achieve cost reductions of up to x% for companies in your industry”, you could say this…
“I’d like to give you a quick 30-minute briefing on the 5 biggest issues facing companies in [your] industry as rated by CEOs and Business Owners”.
Doesn’t that sound better than the usual cheesy offer of “I’d like to show you how we achieve efficiency increases in order processing of up to 49% in companies just like yours”. It is also better than a scarcity approach such as “we work with 3 of your 4 main competitors, I’d like to share the same cost-saving benefits with your company”.
Rather than trying to sell your services (or an appointment to present your services), sell the opportunity for your prospect to gain meaningful information from you. This not only takes the pressure off you, but it takes the pressure off the prospect also. They can feel more comfortable that they are going to get real information without receiving a sales pitch.
Think about what information your prospects find most beneficial and how you can package that into a research briefing/lessons from the field/industry insights/etc.
8. Asking for the appointment.
If you’ve opened the call effectively and if the prospect is qualified, asking for the appointment should be easy. There is no point asking for an appointment with a prospect who doesn’t qualify. It is better for you to have 4 appointments per week with qualified prospects than 10 with non-qualified prospects.
Let the opportunity to ask for the appointment to arise in the conversation. When it does, lead the prospect towards an appointment time by saying something like; “there’s a lot that we can help you with Michael, I’m over your way on Thursday morning, I could come by at 11.30am, would that work for you?”
The key takeaway here is that you have to ask for the appointment. Don’t expect the prospect to ask you (although a small percentage will). Think of asking for the appointment to be like inviting yourself over to a friend’s place – though a little less familiar. The more confident and expectant (not brash) you are in the way you ask for the appointment, the more success you will have.When you set the appointment, make sure that it will stick by saying something like “Mary, I’ll see you at 10.30am next Thursday. I’ve found that its best to allocate 45 minutes for this type of initial discussion. Does that suit your schedule?” If Mary is just saying yes to get you off the phone, you’ll be able to tell in her response to the qualifying question above. Remember, it’s only worth going on appointments with people who want to see you. It’s far better to make another ten calls and set a new qualified appointment, then it is to go on an appointment with an unqualified (uninterested) prospect.
9. Following up on businesses to business cold calling
It has often been said that “the fortune is in the follow-up”. Very few people in sales follow-up. Whether it is prospecting calls, prospect enquiries or quotes and proposals, follow-up is often poor.
When it comes to business to business cold calling, you must be prepared to follow-up. Many of your appointments will actually come from prospecting calls #2, 3, 4 or later. If you consider the lifetime value of your overage client, then making 4 calls to secure an appointment and advance towards a sale is a small price to pay.
If you can’t set an appointment on the first call, then ‘live to fight another day’. This means that you simply end the call politely with the agreement to talk again. Pretty soon your call sessions will be a combination of brand-new cold calls as well as warm calls to people you have spoken to previously.
Utilise some type of follow-up system or CRM, so that call backs don’t fall through the net.
10. What can you expect?
Firstly, don’t expect to make a sale over the phone. This is definitely a bridge too far. Your expectation should be to open a relationship with the prospect.
When you engage in business to business cold calling, you can also expect to work hard. Depending on the quality of your list, you should aim to speak to three to four decision makers out of every ten calls and set up one meeting. However, don’t just do ten calls. You are more likely to set two meetings from twenty calls than you are to set one meeting from ten calls. When people talk about a one in ten strike-rate for appointment setting, they are talking an average over many calls. Hence why you can expect to work hard.
B2b cold calling allows you to understand your target audience much better. Let’s face it, there is no better way to understand someone, then to actually talk to them. You will get into enough quality conversations during your cold calling sessions to deepen your understanding of your target audience. Use the insight you gain from your cold calls to continually refine your script and call approach.
You can also expect that some things will move fast. If you make enough calls, you will come across more people who are in decision-making mode for your product or service. These prospects will turn into appointments, proposals, and sales for you in quick time.
Cold calling business to business is alive and well. It is a fast way to open a relationship with a prospective client. Each call is different, and you’ll be able to progress some prospects to the appointment faster than others. As you continue with cold calling for a few weeks you’ll actually have a combination of cold calls and warm calls to do each call session.
While there seems to be a lot to master – mindset, scripts, offer, objections, asking for the appointment, follow-up, etc. – your brain is a powerful tool. With practice and repetition, you will remember your lines, you’ll become more comfortable and natural sounding on the phone and your success will increase.
If I could leave you with one final thought – give yourself the opportunity to succeed with this strategy. Set your mind to it and make 100 calls in a week (close together) without looking back or evaluating. Once you have those 100 calls under your belt, you’ll be well on the way to mastering business to business cold calling.