I think most people would describe me as relatively “fearless.” I have no problem speaking in front of a crowd. During a performance, I don’t hesitate to plop down on the lap of some unsuspecting fellow just to see him squirm and get a laugh from the crowd. Aside from heights and snakes, there is not much that sets off fear in me especially when it comes to dealing with people.

Well, there IS that one thing…

Cold calling. Oh my goodness, how I loathe the “cold call.” It literally makes me feel ill to think about picking up the phone and bugging someone in the middle of the day to tell them something they didn’t ask about. I will come up with 101 other things to do to avoid cold calling. For example, I decided to write this blog post today instead of cold calling. Don’t judge me!

In order to come to terms with why I hate cold-calling so much, I made a list and uncovered some themes:

  • I don’t like bothering people. I don’t like to be bothered so the last thing I want to do is bother someone else.
  • I don’t want to get in a confrontation with someone when they feel bothered. People get really mean, especially on the phone when they don’t have to look you in the eyes.
  • I’m afraid they are going to ask me a question that I don’t know.
  • They are probably going to let it go to voicemail anyway, so why bother.
  • I don’t want anyone to think bad thoughts about me or my business by making a bad first impression.
  • Cold-calling is a fishing game. Most of the time you don’t really know why you are calling the person other than you feel they could probably use what you’re selling. You just hope that you can quickly spew out a bunch of info and something will spur a deeper conversation. That isn’t fun. I like to be pointed with my interactions with others.
  • Is cold-calling even an effective method of sales engagement anymore?

After reviewing the list, I surmised the main issue I clearly have is the worry I’m bothering people. Most sales strategy articles around cold-calling will respond to that concern by saying, “If you are offering a service you know they need, then how can you be bothering them?” Oh, come on! Who likes to be interrupted in the middle of their work day by someone they don’t know who is clearly fishing for an opportunity? The answer is: NO ONE.

Alas, I still have to find ways to reach out and effectively get my message in front of prospects. In order to be successful, there is no way around it. For this reason, I’ve had to come up with a battle plan to conquer the cold call and, in some instances, kill it altogether:

  • Turn the cold call into a warm lead. Obviously the most ideal way to do this would be to have a colleague or current customer recommend or introduce you before you contact the lead directly. If you don’t have that luxury, Linked In is totally effective in creating your own warm lead. Simply add the person on Linked In and after they accept you, send them a message introducing yourself and mention a connection that you have in common. (This should go without saying, but please make sure your Linked In profile is up to date with relevant information and you have a nice profile photo posted.) I also like to extend an invitation for lunch for a more formal introduction. You wouldn’t believe how many folks can enticed by the offer of a free meal! Whether or not you receive a reply, you can then make your call and mention that they just recently accepted your invitation on Linked In and you wanted to follow up with a call. It makes the “cold call” just a little less painful!
  • If you don’t have the opportunity to create a warm lead, skip your scripted sales pitch and find an actual reason to call that will create value for that particular customer. Research the lead by calling your fellow colleagues and see if you can find any points of interests they might already know about your lead. For instance, if you are technology salesperson, you might contact that customer’s Microsoft account manager and find out if this customer is currently using a technology partner to perform their Microsoft related services. You may find out they recently told their account manager that they are shopping for a partner to work with and now you have a perfect immediate entry point for your cold call. Likewise, if you are selling an MLM and using social media to reach out, keep an eye on your prospect’s posts where they might be asking for assistance that is somewhat or directly related to your product. If you are a Beachbody coach and your prospect makes a post about having trouble preparing healthy meals, you have now uncovered an entry point where you can reach out and potentially provide value without directly mentioning a specific product.
  • Send an email intro first. Try hard to include some relevant tid-bit that will get their attention. (Here’s an example: “Hi! I saw your post on Linked In saying that you were concerned about Disaster Recovery for your business. I wanted you to know that we can help!”) Sometimes you might get lucky and get a response! I’m definitely a person who likes to be contacted by email first because it gives me a chance to research the sender and decide if I want to respond or answer their call when it inevitably comes. You certainly risk getting sent straight to junk mail or deleted, but it is worth a try. When you call, you can mention that they should have an email from you in their inbox. Extra points for you if you can find a mutual acquaintance to send an intro email. Then you can, in turn, respond to that email.
  • Skip the cold call altogether, leave your office, and go network in person! This is the most ideal way to get a warm lead. Go attend something where you know your potential clients will be. Introduce yourself, hand off a card, and ask if you can give them a ring. 9 times out of 10, the person will ok you to give them a call. Alright, I made that statistic up, but most of time someone will be much kinder when they are looking you square in the eyes.

These tips have helped me become more effective in reaching out to potential customers for the first time. If you are creating real value for somebody, they will be more apt to talk with you further and won’t feel bothered with your contact.

How do you feel about “cold calls?” Is it an outdated practice, or still an effective sales strategies? How do you reach out to leads for the first time? Please share your ideas in the comments and let’s learn from each other!

Written by Jaime Fox