Sales, Marketing and Communication

How to make a cold call

What is cold canvassing?

Cold canvassing is a sales technique where the sales person calls (or shows up at) a potential customer to sell or book a meeting without prior agreement.

The discipline is feared for several reasons, among other things because it is one of the most inefficient sales methods and because you have to be prepared for a lots of rejections. As a seller, be prepared to work hard. However, cold canvassing is also a discipline that is essential to a lot of companies when finding new customers.

To get an introduction and find out how to get started with phone sales through cold canvassing, keep reading. Learn the three types of customers, how to structure of the conversation and get some general tips on a good cold sale.

Know your customers

A successful business deal depends on two things: Type of customer and choice of sales method. You should know what type of customer you're facing and design the conversation to fit.

When you contact potential customers, there are basically three types of needs you are trying to fulfill. This means that there are three different types of customers who must be handled differently.

Even though potential customers can have many needs, there are three questions that every seller should take into consideration:

  • Does the customer know that he/she has a problem, a challenge or a need?
  • Is he/she motivated to get that problem solved?
  • Does he/she know what is needed to solve the problem?

This creates three types of customers:

The aware customer

Your customer is aware that he has a problem, he wishes to solve it and knows what he needs in order to do so. This kind of customer approaches the seller with the question: “I need an X, do you have one?”

If you have what he needs, the sale is easy and quick. The situation can however prove difficult if you don't have exactly what the customer needs. Then, you have to ask questions to help you understand the problem and identify an alternative solution. However, this requires that you are able to convince the customer that what you are selling is, in fact, better than what he wants.

The solution-oriented customer

Your customer knows that he has a problem and is motivated to solve it, but he does not know the solution. That is why this type of customer often asks the seller for help.

This is in some ways the ideal customer, because you (the seller) is viewed as a savior that helps the customer fix the problem while selling. The trick is to find out if the products you are selling are actually solving your customer’s problem.

The unaware customer

Finally, there's the unaware customer, whom many sales people try to avoid, because usually it takes a lot of work to sell to an unaware customer. This group of customers doesn't know that they have a problem or aren't motivated to solve it. That's why they initially reject the seller’s first attempt to make contact.

The dilemma for the seller is that many of your potential customers belong in this group. Which is a good thing. But the sales work is huge. Which is a bad thing.

In order to sell to the unaware customer, use the following two techniques: The problem-solving and the problem-creating.

  • Problem-solving. This technique attempts to identify the easy sale. Several preliminary studies are made to sieve out the group of unaware customers. This is done by asking a few questions early in the sales process.

The focus in this type of sale is to solve the customer’s problem with the products that the seller has at hand.

  • Problem-creating. This sales technique sieves out far less potential customers and is often used when it's hard to locate the customers or when a relatively small part of your customers realize that they have a problem.

Here, you expect the need to convince the customers that they have a problem, which is why it's called problem-creating. The biggest breakthrough in this type of sales is in fact when you succeed persuading the customer that he has a problem.

How to structure the conversation

The first time you call a potential customer, structure your conversation like this:

  1. Catch their attention
    Say something that catches their attention, such as

    - Hello, John Smith

    Don't use fancy trick-openings. We all know them and it's very likely that you'd insult your customers.

    - If I told you that there is a way of doubling your income while only paying half amount of taxes, would you be interested?

  2. Identify yourself
    Your potential customers would like to know who you are, so introduce yourself and your company quickly and simply.

    - My name is Robert Johnson from X, the biggest recruitment company in Y.

    Don't attempt to be more trustworthy by telling them how amazing you are. Then you'll lose their respect.

    - My name is Robert Johnson, employee of the month at X.

  3. Let them know why you called
    Give you customer a reason to continue the conversation by clearly explaining why you're calling.

    - The demand for the best employees have increased by 100 % over the last year and I am calling to find out if you are also effected.

    Again, be careful about advertising your product, because it will make them lose interest.

    - We can solve all of your hiring problems with our fantastic services.

  4. Assess the potential
    Before continuing the conversation you need to know if this customers is worth any more of your time. So make an initial assessment of the potential. While you are conducting a more thorough assessment of the customer potential later on in the conversation, a quick assessment early in the process will weed out the people you can't expect to sell to.

    - Can I ask, if you have any plans of hiring during next year?

  5. The next step
    If the answers shows that there is no potential of a sale, thank them for their time and hang up. If the person is however still a potential customer, continue to the next step.

    - Is it possible to continue this conversation face to face?

Cold canvassing is perhaps one of the most frustrating and ungrateful jobs around, because you risk having to handle hundreds of rejections every day. And some can be rather unpleasant.

Therefor the characteristics of successful phone sellers are that they possess a strong optimism and a strong belief in themselves.


7 tips for a better phone sale

  1. Be personal (but not too personal)
    Acknowledge that the customer is a person and that you are too. Use the customer’s name but keep a good balance. A too frequent use of the name can seem artificial. Also share your own name. Reveal something about yourself, but once again; not too much.

  2. Show respect
    Always show the person that you respect him/her. You haven't been invited to make the phone call and you have to demonstrate that you're worth their time.

  3. Ask for their time
    If you ask for a couple of minutes of their time, and they say yes, they will feel obligated to also give you this time. Make sure you stay within this agreed amount of time.

  4. Talk about the advantages
    Talk about the advantages your product provides for the customer early in the conversation. This helps you maintain the customer’s interest.

  5. Try to wonder
    It may be a helpful little detail; try to wonder out loud whether or not the customer might be interested in doing what you would like them to do. When wondering like this you suggest that they do the same without asking them directly.

  6. Move on to the next step
    The parameter of success in cold canvassing sales is often to arrange an appointment at another time. You may for instance be permitted to send them some materials or agree upon calling them back later. The best thing is to make an appointment for a meeting at a specific time.

  7. Make them feel good
    Whether or not you manage to arrange a meeting, it's always important that your potential customer is comfortable. Give compliments and remember to say thank you. Even if they turn you down, it's important that you close the conversation in a positive way.