Sales Effectiveness Series: Why Cold Call?

There are few things as intimidating, and seemingly unproductive, as making a cold call. Or at least those were two of the mental hurdles I had to jump through when I was first in sales. But the fact is that many organizations are dependent on cold calls. They hire and train entire teams to do nothing but cold call. In fact, when working at a successful B2B software company I observed that the sole job of ~150/1400 employees was to make 75 cold calls per day (i.e. business or opportunity development).

It’s 2017. Why do organizations invest so heavily in cold calling, when there are arguably such better (and easier) methods for prospecting?

The fact is, cold calling works.

At that same company, Account Executives were expected to make 40-50 of their own cold calls every day. But many of them wouldn’t. They expected the marketing and business development teams to fill their calendars with meetings. It was a constant struggle. As an Account Executive myself, there were plenty of days when I justified making 20 cold calls or fewer.

One time, when January rolled around - the first month of a new quarter - my calendar was full of meetings for progressing opportunities. I kept telling myself that I was too busy with actual meetings to make the expected number of cold calls. Pretty soon, two surefire opportunities that could make or break my quota fell unexpectedly from my pipeline. It was February and I was nowhere near my expected meeting goal, opportunity creation goal, or pipeline amount.

In March, I realized my quota was out of reach (I finished the quarter at 25% quota attainment). So, I made a resolution to hit the phones again and make cold calling a priority. I was going to make the 40 calls per day no matter what. I wasn’t convinced that a disciplined approach to cold calling could make all the difference for hitting quota, but I was ready to try.

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That was the turning point.

In Q2 I hit quota by the middle of May and finished the quarter at 160%. It was simple. When I made more calls I really did set more meetings. Subsequently, I held more meetings and created more opportunities than anyone on my team. In this age of instant messaging and emails, I proved to myself that it really was more efficient to set demos over the phone. The more calls I made, the more meetings I set, the more opportunities I created, and the more deals I closed. All it took was dialing discipline and consistency.

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Getting over my reluctance to cold call was vital to my success as an account executive. At first, I just had to make the calls. Then, over time, I focused on honing my skills and making each call more effective.

Looking back, here are 5 important lessons I learned about cold calling:

Shift Your Mindset

I have had a few different jobs that have required cold calls - going door-to-door as a missionary, selling pest control, and selling software. Early on, I had a mindset that if I didn’t make the sell each time a door opened or set a meeting each time a contact answered then I must be doing something wrong. Something about me or my messaging was failing.

But as an account executive I shifted my mindset. I stopped pressuring myself to set a meeting with every single person that answered the phone and focused instead on setting meetings with contacts for whom it was the right fit and timing. I was way more successful when I changed my mindset from selling to finding. It became a true numbers game. If I contacted enough people, I would eventually find those who appreciated the call and were genuinely interested in what I was offering.

The same mindset could have helped me as a missionary or a pest control salesman. I would have stayed motivated longer, knocked more doors, been more genuine in my approach, and found more interested buyers.

Catch Them Live

So why make an actual call? A lot of people say that you should cold call so you can leave a voicemail prior to sending an email. It can help the contact realize you’re a real person, not just an automated email campaign. But, I’ve found that the true value in cold calling is that you’re much more likely to set a meeting with someone if you catch them live over the phone. Leave a voicemail, don’t leave a voicemail, whatever. Your real goal is to get them on the phone. As an extra benefit, talking to live prospects over the phone will help you figure out what message truly resonates and works for setting meetings. You’ll learn and improve faster in addition to setting more meetings.

Call at the Right Times

As an account executive, my employer often cited research that found the best times for cold calls were early in the morning and late in the afternoon. My own experience seemed to validate that research, as I found that the best times for reaching people in my area (New York City) were between 8:00-9:30 AM and 4:00-6:00 PM ET. I felt a bit hesitant at first to call prospects after 5:00 PM, but quickly found that many were still working and open to taking a call. I often got a positive reaction when acknowledging the time of day with a phrase like, “I know I’m catching you after hours . . . .” Prospects were typically receptive and open to these later calls.

I suggest taking a similar approach. Research your prospects and determine what time of day they’re likely to be at their desks. A wealth of research is available, and the ideal time may vary by industry, job title, role, etc. Log when you’re making the calls and look for trends over time. Once you have a large enough sample, you’ll start to see clear trends for when it’s most effective to call your prospects.

Vary the Days & Times

Keep your prospects on their toes. If you call the same contact once a week on the exact same day of the week and at relatively the same time, you’re not going to have much success catching them. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” -Jessie Potter

I believe in the six-day rule. If you start calling a contact on a Wednesday, don’t call that contact every Wednesday. Adjust the day by calling that contact every six days instead of every seven days. Using the example above, if I start calling a contact on Wednesday, the next week I’m going to call that contact on Tuesday, and then on Monday, etc.

Know What to Say

Do a little due diligence before each call. Be ready to adjust your message based on their title, industry, organization size, etc. Taking a moment to prepare and tailor your message will give you confidence, make your approach sound more genuine, and increase the likelihood that you’ll set a meeting.

Ironically, the best way I’ve found to refine your message is to practice. Just start calling. As you make more calls and hold more conversations with prospects, you’ll begin to sense what works and what doesn’t. You’ll build on your successes and increase your success rate. So, if you’re stuck and unsure of what to say, pick up the phone and start making calls. Learn as you go.

Another great way to quickly improve your messaging is to get feedback from the prospects who went on to purchase your product or service. Find out what piqued their interest and what it is about your offering that is most important to them. The best way to harvest these insights is through formal win-loss interviews. For more information on win-loss interviews and analysis, visit