In today’s crowded B2B ecosystem, where personalization and relevance are seen as crucial competitive differentiators, the idea of cold calling might seem archaic. Pop into any social media feed or read industry publications, and you’ll invariably hear about unsolicited phone outreach as a spray-and-pray tactic from yesteryear.
But as it turns out, that might not be entirely true. As daunting as cold calling may be, it still has a place in today’s sales pipelines. In the age of COVID and increased remote work, sales development representatives (SDRs) and account executives (AEs) are finding that cold calling can be an effective means of reaching prospects — when handled correctly.
What is B2B Cold Calling?
B2B cold calling is simply calling a prospective customer before they’ve expressed interest in a product or service.
A close relative of cold calling is warm calling, when sales reps contact a potential customer based on previously expressed interest.
Benefits of B2B Cold Calling
Cold calling has endured the test of time largely by necessity, as sales professionals need to build pipeline. Every deal starts with a conversation. Think of B2B cold calling as simply jumpstarting the sales journey. And consider these facts about how effective it can be:
- 27% of sellers report that cold calls are very to extremely effective.
- Nearly 70% of buyers still accept cold calls.
Other benefits of cold calling (that you wouldn’t necessarily achieve through, say, cold emailing) include:
- Reaching net-new customers
- Perfecting your sales pitch
- Making a personal connection with a potential customer
Cold Calling vs. Warm Calling
Warm calling, by contrast, is calling a prospect who has previously shown interest or been in touch with your business. There are two types of warm prospects: direct and non-direct.
Non-direct prospects have:
- visited your website
- consumed some form of content (such as a case study, ebook, or webinar)
Direct prospects have previously expressed interest in your solution, including:
- submitted a request to talk with a sales representative and receive more information through demo, free trial, or pricing request
- had a meeting with a sales rep
- were a lost opportunity
The bottom line? Not all calls are created equal. By establishing contact with a prospect before you call, you’re creating an opportunity to establish trust with them. Because of this, potential customers may be more likely to listen to your pitch and consider whether your products can fix their current problems. But with cold calling, that value has to be communicated nearly instantly in order to keep their interest.
Is B2B Cold Calling Dead?
Sales professionals love to debate whether cold calling is worthwhile.
Our answer? B2B cold calling still has value and remains one of the most cost-effective methods for B2B businesses to reach new customers. While it may not lead to an actual sale on the first call, cold calling serves as an opportunity to familiarize a potential prospect with your brand and product, as well as with yourself as a salesperson.
The pain of cold calling
If cold calling still has a place in sales, and can be a highly cost-effective means of reaching prospects, why are so many sales professionals skeptical of cold outreach?
Data from Gartner suggests that it takes an average of 22.5 dials to a cold prospect to achieve a meaningful conversion. In highly specialized industries, such as IT, or when prospecting senior executives, that figure is closer to 30 dials. To complicate matters even more, it also takes an average of three conversations to secure just one sales appointment or product demo.
Is B2B cold calling legal?
Many people mistakenly confuse B2B cold calling with spam or “robocalls” from automated dialers. Cold calling is a legal business development practice and is not considered spam. But that doesn’t mean there are no rules.
According to the telemarketing experts at Contact Center Compliance, most B2B cold calls are exempt from federal “Do Not Call” regulations, which are typically meant to protect consumers from unwelcome phone solicitations.
But state laws may be more restrictive depending on where your company operates, and other federal regulations may apply. The Federal Trade Commission also notes that soliciting individual consumers for personal sales or charitable contributions at their work phone does not qualify as a B2B call.
Can you cold-call cell phones?
Today, it is legal to cold-call cell phones, but regulations do apply. Cold calling, whether to a landline or cell phone, is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. Federal law prohibits any calls to cellphones using automatic dialers or prerecorded messages. However, businesses are permitted to call cell phone numbers if the recipient has given written consent.
In the face of such hurdles and unfavorable odds, it’s little wonder why so many sales professionals have a dim view of cold-calling. However while the likelihood of securing a conversion in a cold-call scenario is comparatively low, there are ways to tip the odds in your favor.
Best Practices For B2B Cold Calling
When it comes to the art of cold calling, there are some hard do’s and don’ts.
- Know exactly who (and why) you’re calling: While cold calling does mean contacting someone who has never expressed interest before, it doesn’t mean calling them without having researched any background information. When you’re calling with the goal of closing a sale, you should know exactly who you’re talking to, which company they work for, and the exact value your product can provide for them. Otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
- Pitch, listen, and then listen some more: Tone matching (also known as “mirroring”) is exactly what it sounds like — matching the tone of the person you’re talking to. For example, if they’re high-energy, you should be too. If they’re more skeptical, scale back your approach. When it comes to cold calling, tone matching is one of the most important tactics you can use to build better rapport.
- Clearly define the call’s purpose: Cold calling is one of those instances where you should know exactly what you’re going to say before you even pick up the phone. Quickly establish exactly why you’re calling to avoid wasting time, be sure that the prospect understands who you are, the organization you represent, and most importantly, how your solution can help solve their problems.
- Ask who you’re speaking with: Before you even pick up the phone, you should know exactly who you’re calling, what their title is, and the decision-making power they hold at their company.
- Ask if now is a good time: It’s never going to be a good time for the recipient, especially when it’s a cold call. Don’t give them an out right away. If they really need to go, they’ll tell you.
- Excuse yourself: While it can be tempting to resort to apologies to establish a favorable rapport with a prospect, remember that your solution can bring genuine value to your prospect’s organization. Rather than beginning the conversation by apologizing, consider saying “can you help me?”
- Try to sell on the first call: The first cold call to a prospect should mainly serve as a discovery call, with the goal of making sure you’re both on the same page. Rather than trying to immediately pitch your product or service, use the first call to get to know them better, and try to communicate how your product could potentially solve their pain points.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Successful Cold Calling
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, especially considering that only 3% of buyers actually trust sales reps.
Every sales team should have a process to streamline tasks and make the team more effective in how you cold call. There are two parts to a sales call: the pre-call preparation, and the actual execution.
Pre-call tasks include things such as:
1. Segmenting your prospect list
Take the time to craft a segmented list of prospects that you’ve already researched, and that you know are likely to benefit from what you’re selling.
2. Using org charts and department insights
Organizational charts and departmental information enable you to use a multi-threaded approach. Understanding department structure — reporting, budgets, head count — will improve your chances of securing a meeting with the right people.
Gartner analysts found that the typical purchasing group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers. This makes organizational charts an invaluable tool for sales reps. Understanding the relationships between key decision-makers helps you move up or down the organization with purpose and proves to be far more effective than the “smile and dial” approach.
3. Identifying accurate direct-dial phone numbers
You’re wasting your time if your contact information isn’t accurate and up to date. Cold-calling is difficult enough without making the task harder with inaccurate phone numbers or navigating corporate switchboards.
4. Use an Autodialer
Automated dialers allow users to automatically call through lists of uploaded contacts. Considering that sales reps typically make between 45 and 100 calls a day, the time-saving potential of autodialers should be obvious. Additional features, such as click-to-dial and pre-recorded voicemails, can help eliminate error-prone, repetitive tasks and improve overall efficiency.
5. Use a script (especially when just starting out)
Sales scripts are a great tool to have on hand, even for the most seasoned sales rep. They help you set up for a quality conversation without worrying about stumbling over words or unexpected objections. They also make training new SDRs easier and the task of cold calling less daunting. And you can personalize them as much as you want to fit the needs of any given prospect.
6. A cheat sheet for your product or solution
You have to be prepared to handle potential objections and unexpected questions. Knowing exactly what your product does is crucial, because you need to convey precisely the value it can add to the prospect’s organization.
For newer SDRs, having that information in front of you is very helpful when starting out.
You can’t prepare for everything, but you can orchestrate your sales outreach based on variables such as personas, verticals, and segments. For example, at ZoomInfo, our SDRs use something like these bullet lists to ensure they are hitting all the right points and saying the right things to the right person:
For someone in sales:
- 150 million contacts worldwide
- 50 million direct phone numbers
- 41 million mobile numbers — important during COVID
- 5 million C-level Contacts
For someone in marketing:
- 150 million contacts worldwide
- 129 million email addresses
- 90% of emails are verified, so you’ll get less than 10% bounceback on campaign emails
- 5 million C-level Contacts
Nuanced and Tactical Cold Calling to Drive Sales in 2022 and Beyond
On the surface, cold calling can feel outdated and intrusive. However, in the modern B2B sales world, the strategy has evolved to make it more effective. Reps with a sound process put themselves in position to be helpful by understanding how to present value to a prospect.
This isn’t by accident — they have the tools and strategies in place to perform the right research. In other words, if you do your homework, a cold call should feel less like a pop quiz, and more like a test that you can ace.