When Donna Chaiet looks for new students to enroll in self-defense classes at Prepare Inc., her New York City-based business, she does something many start-up entrepreneurs consider totally outside their comfort zone: She makes cold calls. Her goal: to encourage the person to request information about Prepare Inc., drop by the school for a tour or sign up for a 20-hour Impact Personal Safety training seminar.

"I make 20 to 50 calls a day, depending on my schedule," says Chaiet. "I found it intimidating [at first]. But I took a deep breath and told myself to believe the person wouldn't be turned off by my call but would want to hear about my seminar. This shift in my attitude, plus being passionate about my services, makes cold calling more palatable and a successful marketing tool."

Calling strangers to get their business can sound daunting. The process becomes easier once you practice what you plan to say, map out your prospects and learn how to handle their objections or rejection. Here are six proven techniques you can use to turn your cold calls into hot sales:

1. Analyze your fear. Fear is simply an anticipation of negative results. Once you understand this, you can turn the adrenaline fear produces into a positive motivator. Rather than thinking about the rejection you might experience calling a stranger, think about the potential business you could gain by making the call.

2. Develop a target market. The key to effective cold calling is identifying the right prospects before you call. Rather than randomly selecting names from the phone book, target individuals who have an interest in your product or service and the money to buy it. Chaiet finds her ideal cold-call prospects by inviting the public to attend open-house graduations after the completion of each series of classes taught at her school.

"We invite the general public to watch what the students have learned. They sign a guest book when they come in the door. I follow up the next day or two with phone calls to these people to see if they're interested in enrolling in a training seminar," she says.

Other ways to find prospects include asking existing clients for referrals; calling people you meet at civic, business or service organization meetings; or taking the names of people attending a trade show or conference and calling them afterward.

3. Know what the prospect wants. Prospects aren't interested in what your product or service is (its features); they're interested in what it will do for them (its benefits). That's why it's critical you talk in terms of benefits. Will your product or service help the prospect make a profit, reduce costs, save time, improve productivity or attract more customers?

4. Use a script. Once you have your prospect's attention, ask specific questions to learn more about what your prospect wants and how you can fulfill his or her expectations. Chaiet asks prospects if they're concerned about personal safety, want to increase their self-confidence in threatening situations and would like to learn techniques to protect themselves. "I speak from a list of prepared questions," she says. "It gives me confidence, lets me concentrate on what the person is saying [instead of what I'm going to say next], and helps me direct the conversation in a fairly organized manner."

5. Be a good listener. "Listen more than you talk," advises Chaiet. "This way, you find out what the person's needs are rather than simply telling him [or her] all about your product and how wonderful it is." You'll also score big points with prospects by not interrupting and by asking relevant follow-up questions to clarify or acknowledge what they're saying.

6. Accept "no" and go on. Not everyone wants or needs what your company offers. Don't take rejection personally; just proceed to the next call. Says Chaiet, "Your success rate definitely increases as you make more and more cold calls."

For more information on heating up your cold calls, check out these resources:

  • Successful Cold Call Sellingby Lee Boyan. Develop a great cold-calling script and get advice from the nation's top sales trainers on increasing your cold-calling effectiveness.

Carla Goodman is a freelance writer in Sacramento, California. This article originally appeared in Business Start-Ups magazine in April 1998 as "You Make the Calls."