Cold Calling 101

Last Updated Feb 1, 2008 11:47 AM EST

Let's start with the basics.

The absolute suckiest task that sales folk must do is cold calling â€" trying to get a telephone meeting with somebody who doesn't know you from Adam. There are a lot of "tricks of the trade" when it comes to cold calling, but the best comes from Andrea Sittig-Rolf, who conducts seminars on the subject.

The big challenge, of course, is avoiding voice mail. You want to talk to the actual person â€" not leave some message that's a button-tap from oblivion.

If you prospect works for any firm larger than a mom-and-pop, they'll probably have an automated company directory. But â€" guess what? â€" if you "enter the first three letters of the name," yeah, your prospect's phone will ring, but the system is going to warn the prospect that this is an outside call, from somebody unfamiliar. Unless your prospect is very bored that day, the phone will remain unanswered, and you'll be back in the voice mail system, toot sweet.

Here's a better way. Hit "O" and get the receptionist. Don't say you're in sales. That's a one-way ticket to the "general message" voice mailbox, which nobody in the company has examined since before Y2K. Instead, ask for "accounts receivable." You'll always get put through -- no questions asked -- and (because every company wants to get paid) you will almost always get to a live human.

Of course, that human will be an accounting creature, but that's OK. Apologize nicely and ask for the direct dial extension for the executive you want to reach. The accounting person, unlike the receptionist, hasn't been trained to screen out callers and will likely give you the number. Write it down (it may come in useful later) and then ask: "Could you transfer me?" Chances they'll comply, in which case your prospect's phone will ring, displaying the drone's internal extension. Your prospect is going to wonder: "Why is somebody in 'accounts receivable' calling me?" and pick up the phone. Voila!

When I've shared this technique in the past, the question inevitably comes up: "what if the admin is screening the calls?" There a basic technique for dealing with that, too, so stay tuned.