[Throwback] How to Cold Call without Cold Calling

This is a post I wrote back in September of 2010. BlackBerrys were still the best thing ever. They had copy/paste; not even the iPhone had that at the time. Keep in mind this is targeted towards market validation for a new product or service.

Without further ado…


How to Cold Call without Cold Calling

Originally published: 9/22/2010

Get it? The phone is frozen. HA HA.

I’m going to try to write a blog post on my BlackBerry in class; we’ll see how this goes. Also, I’d first like to thank Sam Richter (Take The Cold out of Cold Calling) for tips on finding information using the internet.

Cold calling: does that make you cringe? Especially for people starting out (well for males, I don’t have a comparison for females, so feel free to chime in!), cold calling can be on the level of talking to women at a bar — only I wouldn’t recommend using liquid courage for cold calling. Luckily for me, I have supreme confidence and the utmost charisma, so both cold calling and meeting girls is easy as pie. I’m basically the Don Draper of our generation.

Except not. I don’t like cold calling. So, I create my own reason for calling with pre-emptive research.

First things first, find your prospect. I’ve learned you should try to sell as high as possible. (Thanks Dan Grigsby) Don’t be afraid to contact the CEO. He or she will delegate it as he or she sees fit. And remember, if you truly believe your product or service will be beneficial, you are not wasting their time.

How do you find the name? Google. Or Reference USA, Million Dollar Directory (huge subscription fees though…unless you’re a student at a university). Try things like:

  • [title] + [company name] — CEO Target — The first link is to an article with his name, Gregg Steinhafel [Update: It’s not him anymore, but it still works]
  • Check Google Finance (also a good place to find the company’s main phone number)
  • Check LinkedIn to see if you can find a specific employee or at least a title

Now you have a name, it’s time to find their email address. Once again, Google. Try things like, “*@*acmewidgets.com” to figure out the email format. Then you can use http://www.coveryourasp.com/ValidateEmail.asp to validate the format. [Update: I guess that one doesn’t work anymore, but http://www.mailtester.com/testmail.php is pretty solid] For example, I searched “gregg *@*target.com” and instantly got his email. [Update: Searching for the new CEO’s email]

Now create your email. The three key elements are:

1. Subject — it has to be compelling enough to open. Don’t use standard, vague subjects like, “Product X”, or “Feedback on an idea”. Be specific: “Hear from your customers via text message”.

2. Keep it brief (but not too brief) — You have to get the person excited somehow. Is this a new product concept? Be up front and tell them you’re looking for their feedback as you think they could benefit from the product in X, Y, Z ways. Also, make this as personalized as possible. Don’t copy/paste and mass email — that’s treading on SPAM, and SPAM sucks. I generally keep it to about 3–4 paragraphs with a 2–3 sentences per, but experiment with this.

3. Tell them you’ll follow up with them in 2 days — 2 days means business days. I wouldn’t even bother mentioning anything about them getting back to you. If you really strike interest, they’ll do that on their own.

The nice thing about this approach is you can do this after hours, so you can focus on actual contact during normal business hours.

Make a simple spreadsheet with the ‘contact name’, ‘title’, ‘company’, ‘email address’, ‘phone number’, ‘email date’, ‘follow-up date’, ‘meeting set?’, and ‘notes’. This will be your daily “CRM” system.

In regards to the phone number, once again, Google. I’ve even used Google Finance to find the companies main number, and then sometimes you’ll get an automated company directory, which you can use to confirm whether someone still works at the company.

Now the fun part: making the call. Have a list of questions you want answered, and if you think it’ll help, jot down some notes of what you want to say. On the follow up date, re-read the introduction email as a refresher of what you said, and then make the call. What do you say? “Hi. This is Geoff from Profit Increaser, Inc. I was wondering if you had a chance to read the email I sent you a few days ago?”

Then you’ll get “Yes…blah blah blah.” Or, “No I don’t think so…”

If its the former, give them your one sentence pitch, and then immediately start asking questions, prefacing it with something like “just a few really quick questions” to assure them this won’t take long. Don’t bother asking if they have a few minutes. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have answered. (I don’t mean to be rude here, but asking the person if they have a few minutes gives them a perfect opportunity to end the conversation, which is bad.)

Now be sure to keep everything brief and high level. The goal is to get a meeting.

If you get the person’s voicemail, leave them a quick message and tell them you’ll follow-up in a few days. Also, I will generally send a follow up email referencing the original email and the voicemail you just left.

So, hopefully you’ll get a few meetings. Once you got your sales meeting, now its time to push the sale and hopefully close it. How do you do that? No idea.

But seriously, every meeting is on a case-by-case situation. Just remember to sell the benefits (Thanks Lief Larson!), and probably more importantly, have a list of question to get them talking about their business. Then offer solutions.

Have anything to add? Please comment below!


And there you have it. A few updates I would add after 6 years of experience:

The initial email: It’s very important that it’s not copy/pasted. SPAM filters are getting very intelligent. Also, your signature doesn’t need to be obnoxious that lists every social media site you’re on and 5 different phone numbers, etc. You want this to look as personable as possible. Think about how you email your friends.

The initial email subject: While starting the initial Kipsu pipeline (generally between the hours of 10pm and 2am) with Christopher Smith, we found the following subject line to work quite well: [Your Company] + [Your Prospect’s Company], so like “Kipsu + Principal Hospitality Management”

The initial email body: You need to figure out how your product or service solves at least 1 of the top 3 most pressing problems your prospect is facing. That generally means making more revenue or lowering cost for your prospect. It’s a challenging thing to thing to do, but at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. Don’t talk about your product or service, or the cool features you’ve built out. Talk about how you’re going to make your prospect’s life easier.

When you call them: I’ve been blind sided by this way too many times. I personally never answer any calls from unknown phone numbers. Maybe that’s a personality thing, maybe it’s a generational thing. However, every time you dial a phone number, assume the person is going to answer. And when they answer, you need convince them to not hang up the phone. Just be ready for it because every so often someone does actually answer.

The “CRM” system: Above I mentioned using a simple spreadsheet. Don’t even bother going down the rabbit hole of using a full fledged CRM. I’ve wasted so much time on trying to set those up. Don’t get me wrong, CRM systems are definitely valuable, but only when you have a defined sales pipeline.

The Prospect: I’ve now experienced plenty of sales pitches to me for products and services for whatever company I happen to be working on. I recognize these tactics above, and they still work if the product or service has the potential to solve a burning issue.

Persistence is not dead: The reason “drip” market campaign tools work is because persistence is not dead. There are plenty of products that just happen to find there way into my email inbox without being spammy or unexpected. I don’t always respond, but I want them to continue to email me to remind me to look into their offering. Until you get a very clear “NO” or “STOP EMAILING ME”, assume they’re engaged and just need more info.

The 2016 conclusion: Cold calling is scary, but it’s an absolute necessity if you’re trying to start a company. I think the tactics outlined above can still work reliably. You’ll need to be trying new variations, but the underlying concepts stay the same. When you’re trying to get your first customer, you essentially want to make a new friend who is excited about what you’re doing because they see how valuable it can be for them. So maybe this should be called, “Stop cold calling. Go make new friends that value your product.”

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