The Art of Cold Calling for Startups

Of all the sales techniques available cold calling is probably viewed as being the least popular by the general populous. Cold calls are often seen as a nuisance — an invasion of privacy and a waste of precious time.

Why then, in an age of digital technology, automated email, social media marketing, and internet advertising would anyone in their right mind advocate startups engage in cold calling?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Cold calling has an immediate impact on your bottom line.

For startups, getting things moving is the difference between success and failure. A startup has to be ahead of the game as far as competition is concerned and cold calling can give a new company an edge.
Possibly the most cited example of a successful startup that used cold calling to drive its success is the global taxi alternative Uber Technologies Inc.

‘Uber’ started in 2009, and by December 2014 the company had received investment that gave it a total value of around $41 billion.

Uber is a superlative-laden company. It’s disruptive, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art and offers a mobile app that is regarded by many as best in class. But despite all its digital prowess, it was plain old cold calling that got Uber through the early days:

“I went to Google, typed in San Francisco chauffeur or San Francisco limousine, I just filled out an excel sheet and I just started dialing for dollars, right?” states Travis Kalanick, the co-founder and current CEO of Uber.

“First ten guys I called, three of them hung up before I got a few words out, a few of them would listen for like 45 seconds and then hung up, and three of them said ‘I’m interested, let’s meet. And if you’re cold calling and three out of ten say ‘let’s meet’, you’ve got something.”

2. Cold calling doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience.

In the old days cold calling was simply a numbers game where teams of people called anyone they could contact to produce a “leads list” that would eventually be passed to a sales team. This was a genuinely bleak experience for everyone involved, but these days that process can be fine-tuned and things are very different.

First of all, you have more tools at your disposal.

Initiatives like the UK’s Telephone Preference Service are found in many countries and are primarily a means of BLOCKING unwanted cold calls. They allow people to register to opt out of receiving “unsolicited sales or marketing calls”.

Despite being an effective tool AGAINST unwanted calls, these initiatives offer companies an invaluable tool — by subscribing to such services companies know exactly who NOT to call. Sticking to the list means you are much less likely to reach a company or an individual that will react negatively to a cold call.

Alongside such initiatives there are also a number of tools on the market that produce lists of prospects who are likely to want to use a particular product or service. These tools are also invaluable, giving cold callers confidence that the people they are contacting will at least have an interest in what they are offering.

3. Cold calling gives you the opportunity to network and gather intelligence.

Even if you use the available tools and successfully target groups of people to call, chances are that “three out of ten” responses Travis Kalanick was talking about will be the very most you can achieve.

But does that mean that the seven who aren’t interested represent a failure?

You aren’t always going to be a startup. A cold call gives you the opportunity to develop a rapport with a potential customer and find out what the market needs.

Further down the line, when your product or service matures and meets a particular company’s needs more precisely, you can call them again and resume your conversation. Likewise when a new range or option is brought in.

This is salesmanship — well beyond the industrial process that some define cold calling as being.

So much for the “whys” of cold calling — what about “how”? What about the art of cold calling?

Here are a few tips those involved in startups might consider:

1. Check your gut

Remember this — cold calling is not telemarketing. Many consider telemarketing living junk mail but cold calling can address the genuine needs and aspirations of the person/company you are calling. Done properly, cold calls should be an honest experience and feel right for both parties.

If you are fearful of the response you are going to receive, perhaps you shouldn’t be calling. If you feel making a call might be irrelevant, chances are that’s how it’s going to be perceived by the person you call. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

2. Know what you want

Cold calling should not be a fishing expedition to see what you can catch. Be clear in your objectives.
Are you introducing someone to your company and aiming to get a follow up meeting, or is your objective to sell over the phone? If it is the latter, what do you aim to achieve if you can’t get a sale?
Prepare a script if it will help you get to where you want to be, but be prepared to…

3. Listen

“Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking’. But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job,” suggests Roy Bartell in “Sales Secrets You Can Use”.
Have a conversation with the person you are speaking to, don’t make a presentation.
By all means map which way a conversation might go and plan for each direction as part of your preparation. But leave enough room to be spontaneous. It’s surprising where a conversation can go if you just listen to a potential customer.

4. Do your homework

As mentioned earlier, some people perceive cold calling as an industrial process. It shouldn’t be, particularly for B2B activity. Go beyond the tools that you are using to determine who your business prospects might be.

Look at the local newspaper.

Search for information about a company on the Internet.

Get to know a company’s history.

Find out who a company is doing business with and what problems they are experiencing. Join all the dots for your prospective customer and make sure your product or service is the only dot that remains.

With the right research a cold call could be an answer to a company’s prayers. And at that point, it becomes so much more than just selling over the phone.

5. Overcome objections?

Being able to overcome objections is a key part of sales training and there are thousands of hours of tutorial material available for your to look at.

But the question comes to mind, should overcoming objections really be a part of a cold call?
Let’s look at Travis Kalanick’s experience again.

The targets of his cold calls were found through Google searches for “San Francisco chauffeur” or “San Francisco limousine” — we all know his service, and we know that this was VERY precise targeting.

What were the results?

Three knew they didn’t want the service and hung up immediately. Some listened for 45 seconds before hanging up, and three said “let’s meet”.


You should only be cold calling people you strongly believe might need or want to use what your are offering, and again, that’s where tools such as Pipetop become absolutely key to your process.
If you have to send information and ward off a series of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, then your lead wasn’t properly qualified.

6. Be patient

“Don’t try to close me on the first move … In fact don’t try to close anyone on the first move … providing value to the customers actually matters,” suggests serial entrepreneur and CEO of VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk.

Your cold call is very likely to be the start of a process rather than its culmination.

If you can add value to a potential customer, a sale will almost certainly follow.

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This post was originally published on the GrowthList blog.