As the Fall season begins, we’ll soon be feeling a chill in the air and warming up by a fireplace with cups of hot chocolate or coffee (possibly pumpkin-spiced). However, warming up your cold calls should be a year-round practice! Most new commercial sales consultants struggle to get started with cold calls, and it is by far the most frequent and recurring topic I receive questions about. I am a big proponent of network- and referral-based selling, but I am not against cold calling. In fact, cold calls very often make perfect sense, if you do them right.
A true cold cold is a “drop-in” call during your canvassing of an industrial park, or when you happen to see a business while you are driving. No research, no planned word-track, no referral, and no goal beyond getting past the gatekeeper. In most cases, you don’t even have the name of the person you want to meet so you have to blindly ask for the “owner” or “purchasing manager.” Now consider that the typical small-business front desk gatekeeper sees multiple salespeople drop-in every week, and their job is to protect the boss from time-wasting meetings. The gatekeeper will be friendly, but once they know you are a salesperson, they’ll likely go into autopilot and deliver a standard statement they’ve given hundreds of times before:
- “Our owner is not available right now; would you like to leave a card so they can get back to you?” (as if that will really happen!).
- “The boss only sees salespeople by appointment; you’ll have to call.”
- “We’re very happen with the vendor we are currently using.”
- “If you have a brochure, I will make sure Mr. Big gets it” (it’s probably going in the trash).
Those conversations are very unlikely to get you anywhere. In fact, studies by major sales research firms suggest that this type of blind cold call will fail to connect you with a decision maker over 85% of the time! However, there are steps we can take to strategically warm up cold calls and improve our chances!
Warming up cold calls starts with doing your homework and being prepared with a solid word-track. I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, warming up cold calls with Tyler Young, a new commercial sales consultant with McGrath Auto. Before we met, Tyler prepared a list of prospects with whom he would like to do business. We then began our strategy:
- We researched each company on the Internet and gained a lot of valuable information, including the names of the owners, pictures of the vehicles they drove, details about their products and services, and if they had a social media presence through sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
- We practiced how to approach each call and how we could build a relationship with the gatekeeper early in the process by asking for their name, putting that person at ease, and asking for help.
- In each call, we avoided asking to meet a decision-maker and instead made it clear we were not selling anything, knowing how valuable their time was, but we did have a few quick questions. This put the gatekeeper at ease and allowed us to gather simple information like:
- What would be the best way to get a future appointment?
- Who were they currently using to provide and maintain their vehicles?
- Basic information about their products and services.
- Details about the gatekeeper (how long they had worked there, family info, if they were from the area, etc.) that help to build rapport. Remembering the gatekeeper’s name and information is very important as it allows you to speak with them personally on any follow-up calls.
- We sent each gatekeeper a “thank you” card, expressing our appreciation for their time and help. No one does this, so we know it will make us stand out and be remembered. Never forget how powerful those gatekeepers can be!
Our warmed up cold calls were a success! Here’s an example from that day: We stopped at a construction company and, because we had done our research, immediately recognized an employee from his picture on their website. He was reaching into the candy dish on the receptionist’s desk, so I said, “Save some candy for us, Kevin!” He laughed, and I reached out to shake his hand, introducing myself and mentioning that I recognized him from the website. He looked surprised and we ended up having a 20-minute conversation based on information we’d already learned from our research and personal and professional questions we had prepared ahead of time. By the end of our talk, we had learned the owner was an Iowa Hawkeye football fan who enjoyed fishing, and that most of the company’s team was born and raised in the area. Oh, and he gave us the name of the person in his company who handles vehicle acquisition decisions, agreeing we could use his name when we contacted them!
The employee was glad to have met us, but had to hurry to an appointment. The cold call was already a success, having been warmed up by our preparation and resulting in an internal referral, but if we’d had more time I also would have asked him what nearby businesses their company was familiar with, and if I could mention our conversation if we ever stopped by. Especially if a meeting involves a manager or other higher-up in the company, this is an easy way to warm up future cold calls and the request is almost always met with approval. Now, you can walk into those new businesses with a legitimate external referral already warming them up!
The best cold caller I know is Tyler’s boss, Andy Burns, the Commercial Manager at McGrath Auto. Why is Andy so good? Here are a few things that set him apart:
- He is confident! He walks into a business believing he will get results.
- He knows how to disarm a gatekeeper! He is friendly and shows interest in the gatekeeper.
- He knows how to ask the right questions to build relationships and get to the decision-maker.
- He follows up!
- He asks for contact lists and referrals!
- He knows how to connect a previous call to the current call with statements like, “We were just meeting with ABC Plumbing down the street and saw your sign!” To many prospects, just knowing you’re working in the local area provides solid credibility, even if it’s not an exact referral.
Networking- and referral-based selling will always lead to the best results, but cold calls can still be effective if you strategically plan how to warm them up! With research, planned question-focused word-tracks, referrals or connections to previous calls, and specific goals of connecting with the gatekeeper and building authentic relationships, those cold calls will become hot leads sooner than an Autumn leaf can fall to the ground!
About the Author
As the Founder and President of Commercial Truck Training, Ken has consulted, coached, and trained commercial dealers on individual, regional, and national business levels. Known as an industry leader, Ken has worked with companies like General Electric, General Motors, FCA, Ford, Commercial Truck Trader, and Equipment Trader.