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Hot Tips for Cold Calling

Before you pick up the phone to make your introductory call, ask yourself these four questions.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many readers have been asking about how to make a "cold call." Don't refer to this type of prospecting as a cold call. Think of it simply as an "introductory call." Here are four key questions you should know the answers to before you pick up the phone:

1. What's the best time to make introductory calls? Research your industry. If your prospects don't get into their offices until after 1 p.m., don't waste time calling before 1 p.m. With some clients, you need to know the times of the year when they're ripe to buy. Financial planners may need to time their calls around their client's fiscal year closeout because that's the only time of the year they have extra cash to make investments. Be sensitive to your prospects' moods and schedule, too. Making calls during dinner or too early or late in the day kills any chance of building a relationship. People seem to be happy on Friday and stressed out on Monday.

2. Should I bother leaving a message on voice mail? Personally, I like voice mail because it gives you the opportunity to convey your message without a third party coming between you and the prospect. Even if a secretary listens first, if your message is both personable and dynamic, the secretary will likely pass it on to your prospect.

3. How do I handle the "guard at the gate"? Never underestimate the power of your prospect's assistant. The assistant determines who gets to talk and who doesn't. Be sure you know the assistant's name before you make the call. Then say, "Hi Molly. I'm Joe from XYZ Company. I realize you and Mr. Powers are busy people, but I believe I have some valuable information to pass on regarding (product or service). When is a good time to speak to Mr. Powers regarding this?" The assistant may say: "He's free now. I'll connect you." or "Try calling back about 4:30 when things wind down a bit." Sometimes it may take several weeks of follow-up calls with the assistant before you get the appointment. Don't forget to send a handwritten thank-you note or leave an appreciative message on his or her voice mail.

4. What's the difference between being pushy and assertive? Pushy means you only care about closing a sale. Assertive means you believe in what you have to offer and you want to find the right people to buy it. Your goal is to talk to those prospects who have a need for your service. Ask a few cut-to-the-chase questions. No one will fault you for wanting to discover a prospect. Try this opening script: "I'm Christina with XYZ Company, and I need to identify who has a need for my (product or service). Are you currently in the market for (product or service)? If they say "no": Perhaps in the future? If they say "possibly": Then may I have your permission to check back with you on (make a specific date)." If they don't have a need, don't forget to ask, "Do you know of anyone who may be in the market for one at this time?"

Danielle Kennedy is an authority on selling, developing a peak performance attitude and winning customers for life. Call her at (800) 848-8070 or visit www.daniellekennedy.comfor information on consulting for your business.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.