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Does Cold Calling Still Work?

Yes, provided you do your homework and understand that it’s a communications skill.

By Preeti Vasishtha

Is cold calling dead or has it become ineffective? If some pundits are to be believed, then it may just well be, thanks to technology and the internet. But that’s not true, says Wendy Weiss, the self-proclaimed “queen of cold calling,” and author, speaker and sales coach.

Even if you are using a website to generate leads, you still have to talk to the person on the phone.

Twenty years ago, it was easy to get prospects on the phone. Today, they’re more difficult to get hold off even though they are more connected (through Blackberries, etc.) than they used to be, Weiss says. “Another thing that’s different today is that lots of calls go to voice mail and then there’s the internet. Internet marketing is a very viable way to reach your market, depending on what you sell. But I don’t believe someone will simply go online and buy a policy without having any kind of conversation. So even if you are using a website to generate leads, you still have to talk to the person on the phone.”

What goes wrong?
The bottom line is that cold calling is a communications skill. “No matter where you find the lead, at some point you will have to talk to prospects on the phone,” Weiss says. “If you don’t handle that conversation well, nothing is going to happen.”

The problem lies in the way cold calling is practiced. People sometimes think that cold calling is about picking up the phone book and calling just about anyone. That’s not what it’s about and it simply won’t work. Cold calling needs to be targeted and you have to know your market very well, Weiss says. “You have to know what is it that makes a prospect qualified for you and what is the value that you bring to that market. When they get a prospect on the phone, the mistake people make is that they start talking about what they do. Your prospect doesn’t care about that. He cares about himself and what you can do for him.”

To make sure that you practice cold calling the right way, Weiss offers these tips:

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Target your market to know who you are calling and the problems you can solve for the market. How do you help your clients? Follow a script. “People are resistant to scripting because some of the old scripts are lame and sound very canned,” Weiss says. “You need the script to sound like you and it needs to be conversational. But you have to plan out what you are going to say to get your prospect’s attention and willingness to have a conversation with you.”
  • Know your goal.  A common misconception is that when you’re cold calling, you get on the phone and just pressure the person into buying there and then, Weiss says. But advisors want to sit down face to face with their prospect and understand his life, his needs and plans for the future. “So the goal of their conversation is not to close on the phone,” Weiss says. “It’s to set up a conversation. That’s very important.”
  • Access the decision-maker.  There are three ways you can get through to the decision- maker: through the gatekeeper, via voicemail or via email.

Understand the size of the company you are calling.  You will have a different conversation with the gatekeeper, depending on whether you are calling a small or a big company. In a large company, it is easy to get information because you have receptionists who don’t really screen calls. Instead there are secretaries who screen calls, Weiss says. In a small company, you have receptionists who screen calls. Instead of engaging in a long conversation, just ask if the prospect is available. If he isn’t, ask when he will be and call back. Ask if the prospect has a cell phone. “Today people give out cell phone numbers and email addresses,” Weiss says. “Ask how they prefer to be communicated with.”

Gear up for a voice-mail campaign.  You need to create something in your voice message that will catch the prospect’s attention. The first thing is to greet the prospect and say your name and number slowly so that he can write it down, Weiss says. You then want to leave a very brief message about why you are calling and focus on the value of whatever it is that you’re selling. If you help families financially plan how they can send their children to college, leave a message saying that your expertise is working with clients to help them send their children to a good college and that you would love to talk to the prospect for a few minutes. Ask him to give you a call and again, leave your name and number.

The chances of someone returning your phone call if they do not know you are minimal, Weiss says. Think of doing a voice-mail campaign—up to eight messages over a period of time—during which you call the prospect and leave different messages about the value you offer. However, you can’t follow this approach with all prospects. You have to select the prospects you are really interested in reaching.

Follow the same rules with email.  If you want to get someone’s attention, you have to talk about whatever interests that person, whether it’s email or voice mail. Your email has to focus on value. Keep in mind that you can’t send lots of email messages because of anti-spam laws, but it’s OK to send two or three messages. Keep your email short, but not so short that it doesn’t give enough information. At the same time, make the message friendly and conversational. Don’t send any attachments. Come up with a compelling subject line. If you need ideas for framing your subject lines, read magazines and notice their headlines.


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