The Comprehensive Cold Calling Guide | The Sales Developers

The Comprehensive Cold Calling Guide

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What is cold calling?

Cold calling is the act of using the phone to engage a prospective customer and earn the next conversation or disqualify them out of your funnel.

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but isn’t it a “warm call” if I’m trying to reach an inbound lead? Or an old customer?”

No. Any call that the prospect wasn’t expecting is a cold call. Don’t fool yourself. No matter how they came to be on your list, or how personalized your offer is, this is a cold call.

The (Secret) Formula

As a modern sales professional, you want to leverage any edge you can get to capture your prospect’s attention and stand out from the noise.

Here’s an easy formula to remember:

Targeted audience + Relevant message + Communication in the correct channel + Right timing

The “channel” component of this formula has been vexing sales leaders for the last several years.

It’s useless to try and make an argument against cold calling or any other communication channel because there are companies all over the world using each of these channels to make money every single day.

People who claim one of these channels is dead are usually trying to sell you something (like sales training). The rest of these haters just aren’t good at whatever technique they’re railing against. If we sucked at cold calling, we’d be a lot less likely to make cold calls, too!

Why should I cold call?

It’s one channel that some people use, some of the time to buy. Be there.

Cold calling, while unattractive to many, will yield the greatest number of opportunities to learn which offers and messaging resonate with our prospects. The skill of adapting to prospects in live conversation is invaluable throughout the sales process. In fact, it’s one of the most important skills to master in order to advance your sales career.

Where should I start?

Use a script.

“But don’t scripts make me sound like a robot?”

No, scripts provide two things:

  1. Your way to measure the effectiveness of your introduction.

    People who pick up the phone are giving you ~2 seconds of permission to talk. After that you have to earn the rest. If you’re trying random intros, you’ll never know which one is going to work consistently, and that’s critical for cold calling effectiveness. Scripting your introduction and improving it over time based on real feedback (not guesswork or “your gut”) will make you the best cold caller on your team.

  2. A backup plan in case you lose your place or don’t have an answer ready.

    Every prospect is different, so scripting can get you into a sales conversation and save you when you’re lost during the same. Susan wants to know what your company does to handle a certain legal regulation? You don’t remember? Look at your script. This is your go-to for situations like this, and everybody has these situations.

Sample script

There are a dozen books that could be written (and have been) on each channel, but this should serve as a sufficient springboard for any ambitious sales professional.

What should a cold call sound like?*

Reach prospect:
Hi, is [First Name] in?
Hi [First Name], this is [Name] at [Company], how are you doing?
I called to see if what we do for [Problem] can benefit your team. Did I catch you with two minutes?
Value proposition:
We help [Buyer persona] who [Problem] by [Solution]. In fact, [Customer success story].
Question + leading statement:
I’ve seen a lot of [Buyer persona] who are dealing with [specific facet of problem]. How are you addressing that today?
Qualify for interest + fit:
[This is the part you cannot script – you have to know what makes a qualified buyer and really listen to their answers.]
Ask for the appointment:
Well, you’ve been kind to give me a few minutes today and it sounds like there’s reason to continue the conversation. Do you have time this coming [Day] or [Day] that we can get into more detail and determine if there’s a mutual fit?

*This structure demonstrates how a call can go if the prospect has no objections. It’s best to also script effective responses to common objections.

**There is an entire school of thought around using uncommon conversation starters to take the prospect out of his or her standard reaction to cold calls. This strategy is smart and merits testing once you’re ready to focus on improving your call effectiveness.

Why is cold calling so hard?

1. Rejection is common.

Below is the buyer’s pyramid from the late great Chet Holmes. This is backed by a lot of data from major research firms. You may think you don’t need it, because it’s not calling specific. But it’s important because it relates to all sales efforts, especially outbound prospecting.

Chet Holmes Buyers-Pyramid
Here is the buyer’s pyramid from the late great Chet Holmes.

Look at all the people who are unlikely to say yes on a cold call! In fact, it’s worse than that; your cold call is likely the first time they’ve ever heard of you, so you’re going to need to follow up. That’s how you go from just skimming the cream at the top of the pyramid to breaking into accounts in the bottom 90%. Be the name they think of when they are ready to buy or open to it.

2. Interruption

People aren’t waiting for your call. Don’t expect them to get all excited when they hear your name, even if you work for a known brand. People are going about their lives without you now, so they won’t jump for joy when you come into their lives. Be a solution provider and they’ll come to rely on you and be grateful for your call.

3. Hard to find a good #

Only 59% of the phone numbers the average rep has access to will ever reach the prospect, let alone get them to pick up. That number drops to around 25% of a total list. The math doesn’t look good, but it does if you can prioritize calling the people who have already picked up first, then the people whose numbers are validated.

What should I know that will put me ahead of the pack?

1. Solve a problem or go away

Consider this: if a million-dollar watch doesn’t tell time any better than a ten-dollar watch, why is there a luxury watch market at all? A ten-dollar watch solves the problem of needing to know what time it is. A hundred-dollar watch solves the problem of needing to look stylish at the club. A million-dollar watch solves the problem of needing to establish dominance in a business meeting.

Each watch solves a different problem, even though they all tell time. In the end, our only job is to identify, engage, and close sales with buyers who are experiencing a problem our product will solve.

Key takeaway: Nobody cares about your product, they only care about their problems.

2. Bucketing process

We use a technique called “bucketing leads” to ensure that we’re always maximizing our prospecting time.

bucketing process to organize leads
We use a technique called “bucketing leads” to ensure that we’re always maximizing our prospecting time.









Here’s how each bucket works:

Bucket 1 – Uncontacted

These are people you’ve never spoken with, including both cold outbound leads and new inbound leads who have yet to be researched.

Primary Bucket 1 activities:

        • Removing any accounts outside your swimlane
        • Attempting to contact leads via phone, email, and social media
        • Performing additional research or preparation
Bucket 2 – Working

These leads were researched in Bucket 1 and already have at least one outbound call attempt with a verified dial. A verified dial is when you can confirm that the number associated with that person actually reaches them.

For full-time appointment setters, this bucket should consistently hold at least 100 leads so you have enough people to contact regularly. For full-cycle sales reps or closers trying to supplement their pipeline, this bucket shouldn’t drop below 50 leads.

Primary Bucket 2 activities:

      • Calling regularly (as often as multiple times daily) to make contact
      • Documenting phone tree path on first attempt (e.g. “Dial 1, then 314, then 1”)
      • Continuing with other outreach (email, social, etc.)
Bucket 3 – Priority

These are the prospects who meet any of the following criteria:

      • You spoke with them but couldn’t schedule a meeting.
      • They engaged heavily with your email outreach in Bucket 2, but never replied.
      • They’re an inbound lead and are in your swim lane.
      • They were once in your deal pipeline but failed to close over the last 6-9 months.

The only activity in this bucket is continuing with outreach via phone, email, and social to schedule an appointment.

Bucket 4 – Scheduled

This bucket consists of all upcoming appointments you have scheduled. These prospects are where the money comes from, so you have to monitor this bucket like a hawk to ensure that they show up for the meeting.

Primary Bucket 4 activities:

      • Confirming any appointments scheduled 1 or more weeks out, during the week the appointment is due
      • Confirming all appointments within 12-24 hours via email
      • Calling to confirm 2-3 hours before the scheduled time if the prospect doesn’t respond to final email confirmation

If your prospect misses the appointment, they go back to Bucket 3 until their appointment is rescheduled.

In order to optimize your effectiveness, you work the bucket system in reverse.

Key takeaway: Bucketing leads prioritize your day, so you can focus on revenue-generating activities first.

3. Research once, never again

There is a great deal of value in researching your prospects in order to have the most qualified conversation possible (over any channel). But the value only exists in the conversation. There is no inherent value to researching a prospect without the chance of speaking to them.

So if you’re going to do some extra research in order to enable a better conversation, do it once and never do it again. Keep that information in your CRM where it’s accessible, pull it up when you’re making the call, and make sure it stays there. Why? The average dial to connect rate is just 3-5% so you won’t be reaching most of the people you call at first.

Terry Husayn from Orum HQ wrote a great piece on LinkedIn about this challenge of the pre-call research bogging down your sales efficiency. Here’s what he said:

“Even if you take 1 minute to prep, at 60 calls/day that’s an hour/day.
If we assume 8 hours in a working day, that’s 32 working days lost per each rep!
If you have 8 SDRs on your team with this habit, you’ve lost a full working year’s worth of productivity!
For larger teams, this is hundreds of thousands of dollars lost over the course of the year.”

Imagine how much you can do with that extra month for yourself or year for your team!

4. Volume is your friend, not your enemy

Ignore everything you’ve ever heard about high volume cold calling yielding poor results. The formula we mentioned earlier holds true at 10 calls a day or 1,000 calls a day. If you target the right people, offer a compelling message, in a channel they use, at the right time, you’ll win.

How do you win more often? Do more work. Have more conversations. It’s that simple!

Our friends at ConnectAndSell ran a webinar with us on high volume prospecting that dispels a ton of the myths. We even break down the four-part process for successful high volume prospecting in greater detail (here’s a sneak peek):

      • Batch your work
      • Open with your follow up list
      • Eliminate excuses
      • Leverage technology to streamline your workflow

So go earn some conversations with your next best customers – then earn some more!


If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of sales development, check out our best-selling book, Outbound Sales, No Fluff

We don’t get ahead by leaving others behind – we believe in sharing what we know. If you or your team could use help building or maintaining a scalable system for outbound sales, or simply need some advice, we’d love to see how we can help! Drop us a line here.

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