From the February 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

What can make an otherwise winning sales pro go wobbly in the knees, croaky in the throat and flustered all over? Cold-calling, a sales strategy wherein said salesperson calls another human who may be cranky. So why cold-call at all? Why not stick to folks who've at least expressed a scintilla of interest in your product?

Bill Stinnett, a sales trainer and consultant in Wakefield, Massachusetts, says cold-calling makes sense when salespeople are responsible for uncovering their own leads. Stinnett, president of Sales Excellence Inc., a business solutions provider, adds that instead of selling in a reactive mode, cold-calling allows reps to unearth sales gems. "It's not easy," he says, "but the value is shorter sales cycles, larger deal sizes and a lot less competition."

Lack of competition is one reason Rose Mauriello is a big proponent of the tactic. "If your competition isn't cold-calling," the president of RRM Staffing Solutions, a Lexington, Massachusetts, sales consulting and staffing firm says, "you'll get to uncover a sales opportunity first and limit the potential impact of competitors."

So how to beat back the fear that accompanies picking up the phone? According to Mauriello, it's time for a game of "what's the worst that could happen?" This exercise helps reps sort out the kinds of responses they can expect, from getting hung up on to becoming tongue-tied. Role-playing with reps will aid them in sorting through every type of circumstance and will remove cold-call clamminess. Stinnett encourages sales managers to equip reps with a top 10 list of common questions or objections, plus responses. "With practice, fear can be reduced," he says.

Research and preparation can repel dialing-for-dollars demons. Stinnett trains reps to research a company or contact person before the call so they can have an informed conversation. That way, the rep will be familiar with the business problems the contact faces and can explain how the product has helped other clients in similar situations.

Another way to allay fear is to make the call just one of the many elements used to reach a contact. Try sending an e-mail, fax or letter before or after a call. Stinnett says such an approach can improve success rates. "This process produces confidence that empowers sales pros to be more effective," he says. And if a rep knows where prospects congregate, nothing beats a face-to-face introduction, followed by a call.

Even with lots of upfront legwork, cold-calling is sure to be demoralizing now and again. Mauriello suggests sales managers encourage reps not to take rejection personally, and to take breaks after tough calls. "Talk with a colleague or go for a short walk," she suggests, "and then get back on the phone again."

Stinnett agrees it's important for reps to emotionally detach themselves from the call. The job of calling, he says, "should be perceived as a series of actions-dialing the phone, posing questions and proposing a prospect take action." To assuage anxiety, reps must keep in mind that they can't control a prospect's reaction, only how well and thoughtfully the call is executed.


Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. (www.marketingangel.com), a business communications company in Durham, Maine.