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Sales

Top 5 Counterproductive Questions to Never Ask on a Cold Call

Don't make personal small talk with strangers who know you are selling something.
Top 5 Counterproductive Questions to Never Ask on a Cold Call
Image credit: Halfpoint Images | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Director of Sales and Marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the biggest challenges for most entrepreneurs and small business owners is making cold calls to new sales prospects. These calls are the first step in your sales process, and it’s important to make a good first impression on your potential customers. But unfortunately, lots of small business owners and entrepreneurs unwittingly sabotage their sales relationship before it starts. Without meaning to, even if you’re just trying to be friendly to customers and sound natural on the phone, you might be asking questions that are derailing your sales process.

Related: How to Qualify the Right Leads for Phone Calls

After helping hundreds of entrepreneurs develop lead generation programs, and hearing their own call scripts, here are some of the most counterproductive questions I’ve ever heard being asked on a sales call:

1. “How are you doing?” 

You might think it’s a good idea to open your sales call with a simple conversational greeting like “how are you doing” -- it sounds warm and fuzzy, right? Unfortunately, this simple question often confuses your prospects because it suddenly puts a burden back on them. They might think they should already know you. Or they might get defensive -- maybe they’re having a bad day and you caught them at a terrible time. Or they might pause and search their memory for whether or not they actually DO know you. Either way, this is a bad way to start your sales conversation.

What to say instead: "Hi, this is Bob Smith calling from ABC Digital. We work with local retailers to improve their online presence.” You are very quickly letting the prospect know who you are and why you are calling. No need to act like acquaintances at this point, as you have not yet established a relationship, and it comes off as a little too aggressive and insincere.

2. “Have you heard of us?” 

Unless you work for the most-recognized company in your industry, or work for Amazon or Facebook or one of the other biggest companies on the planet, most people on your prospecting list might not have heard of your company before. But that’s OK! Especially if you’re a solopreneur or a new startup, don’t remind them of the fact that they might not have heard of you. After all, if they haven’t heard of you, they might not trust you. If you are asking this question, they probably haven't heard of you, and you never want to have "easy no" questions early in the call. An easy no gives the prospect an out of the call.

What to say instead: “Would you be willing to hear more about a new solution or service that could help your business save money/boost productivity?” Instead of asking if they’ve heard of you, give them a value proposition so they want to hear more about how you can help their business.

Related: Phone Call or Email? How to Choose the Right Sales Outreach Approach.

3. “Are you the decision maker?”

One of the hardest aspects of B2B sales is that sometimes you have to spend time and resources upfront just identifying the right decision makers and influential leaders within the prospect’s organization. So it might sound like a great idea to just come right out and ask if the person on the phone is the right person for you to be speaking with. However, this is often a turnoff for your prospect. Asking this type of question is like asking someone if their friend will go on a date with you; like “if you don’t like me, could you introduce me to your friend?” Typically, if someone is not the decision maker, they will let you know. And if you’ve done a good job of building credibility with them and they like what they’ve heard so far, they will often help point you in the right direction or give you a name and number of the correct contact person.

What to say instead: Once you already have built some rapport with the prospect, and identified that this is in fact a viable sales opportunity, you can ask “Are there other people or departments who we might want to include in next conversations?” This is a softer way of asking the question, and it shows respect for the expertise and connections of the person on the phone with you. It’s also a good way to open up the conversation a bit more and see how the solution or service that you’re selling might affect other areas of the prospect’s organization.

4. “Do you have budget for this?” 

Ah yes, the dreaded budget question. It’s a really bad move to ask about budget too early in the process, and you definitely shouldn’t do it on the very first call. It’s all too easy for the prospect to say “no” to the budget question if you’re selling a solution that is truly new and innovative. Most companies probably don’t have a recurring annual allocation for whatever it is that you sell. Prospects also might get defensive if you start prying into their financials during the first few minutes of knowing you. They’ll think, “whoa, we barely know each other. Why is this person reaching into my wallet?”

What to say instead: “Would you be open to seeing some estimated ROI calculations for this solution/service?” Don’t talk to your prospects about how much it costs, talk to them about how much they will earn and save -- the positive ROI that your solution can deliver.

Related: This CEO Went From Working as an Engineer to Making Cold Calls

5. “What are some of your biggest challenges related to your business operations in XYZ areas?” 

This a great question once you already have a sales relationship underway with the prospect and can start to ask more detailed and confidential questions, but it’s too big picture for a cold call. This is like taking someone on a first date and, within 10 minutes, asking them about their biggest life goals.

What to say instead: “Would you be willing to set up another call where we can go over a product demo and further discussion?” Every prospecting call is intended to introduce yourself, build credibility, generate interest, and finally, to ask for the prospect to commit to a next step. A good next step, depending on what type of solution or service you sell, is to ask the client to agree to set up an appointment for an online product demo or other presentation. This gets the client to commit to a specific action, and helps you know which clients are really interested. Then you can set the appointment, thank the client for their time, and end the call.

Prospecting is a unique skill that requires lots of practice. Some people are really talented at it and can pick it up quickly, but it’s often best to learn from experience. The same instincts that make for valuable personal conversations in a real-life setting -- “How are you doing?” -- don’t work on a cold call. Instead, if you can adjust your approach to talking with people, avoid these well-meaning but counter-productive questions, and re-direct your energies in a few key ways, you can get better results out of your sales prospecting calls.   

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