For the past couple of weeks, I worked on a strategy and marketing plan for a product we use internally. Part of this assignment included determining the product’s target customers and their needs. But sometimes, only so much research can be done online. I thought the best way to get some answers to my questions would be to talk to potential target customers directly, without bias from connections we already have. I set a goal to interview 10 companies across a diverse range of industries. In total, I talked to about 20 contacts, 10 of whom gave me usable information -- a 50% success rate!
Surprisingly, cold calls have never really frightened me. Maybe my outgoing alter ego comes out over the phone, as I actually enjoyed spending my Friday afternoon conducting these calls.
I find the best way to approach cold calls is to be systematic, without following a script. Be natural, or the call starts to sound like an automated recording. Here is the process I tend to follow, as well as the parts I enjoy about cold calling:
1. I first make a spreadsheet of contacts containing the name of the contact, their company, industry, phone number, and email address. For this project, I found most of my contacts from Hoover’s, a business research database. This way, I could easily verify if the contacts fit my target market. The spreadsheet helps to expedite the process and gives a clear list to refer to later (and I like to write little comments about the contact, which provide for great entertainment when reading back through the notes).
2. I then compile a list of questions and highlight the most important ones. If the person on the other end is willing to answer questions but seems a little rushed for time, I just focus on the most important ones. Understanding the tone of the other person helps me figure out how to best approach him/her with questions. This is the fun part - it involves gauging vocal emotion and being a little spontaneous.
3. I prepare myself to talk to a wide variety of personalities. Some of my contacts were more than willing to talk, even answering questions I never asked. Others, however, took some prodding. Again, this is all a part of being adaptable.
4. I try to be flexible about my point of contact. There may be multiple people who are knowledgeable about the topic, so it helps to be willing to talk to anyone who has the information and time. Sometimes the receptionist holds all the answers.
5. Personally, I like to call on Fridays. People are ready to get the weekend started and look for any excuse to get out of work. Everyone also sounds happier, which makes calls much easier.
I find that as long as I sound friendly (or what sounds that way in my head) and make the call seem relatively painless to the person on the other end, I’m far less likely to receive any unhelpful comments. Sure, I still get the occasional hang ups or the redirects to a voicemail, but that’s part of all the fun and surprise.
I’d love to hear about your experience with cold calling and what you think of them!