When Cold Calling, Don't Try to "Win"

Last Updated Sep 1, 2010 8:09 AM EDT

Most sales reps think about cold calling as a way to win business. The goal is to fill the pipeline with a certain number of prospects, in the hopes of creating as many customers as possible. As a result, each conversion of lead to prospect is a "win" and each call that ends otherwise as a "loss."

That's completely wrong headed.

Defining cold calling in terms of winning and losing is a classic case of setting yourself up for failure. The nature of cold calling is that only a small percentage of the people you contact will be potential customers. The majority will be people who simply aren't interested for a variety of reasons.

However, the "win/loss" way of thinking treats that lack of interest as if it were a lack of skill on your part. Unless you're very self-aware, you're likely to feel as if you've "lost" even if that lead had absolutely no use whatsoever for whatever you're selling.

As a consequence, cold-calling becomes an onerous task where you are almost always "losing." No wonder so many people hate cold calling! Most reps that I know dread it, avoid it, and become increasingly less effective when they actually get around to doing it.

The root cause of this deeply flawed "win/loss" thinking is focusing on the goal of converting a lead into a prospect.

If you're focused on winning or losing, you can't possibly listen -- not really listen -- to the potential prospect. Because your attention is on an event that may or may not happen in a future-yet-to-be, you can't react (at least very well or quickly) to what the potential prospect actually says.

Because of this, you need to shift away from that win/loss thinking. Rather than focusing on the result of the cold call, focus on the potential prospect and on the process of communicating with that prospect.

This shift in thinking immediately makes you more effective because it removes the "sting" of contacting a lead that turns out, for whatever reason, not to be a real prospect. Rather than being a "loss," such call simply becomes something that you discover during the process of cold-calling.

More importantly, treating cold-calling as a process keeps you focused on finding ways to help potential prospects and customers - and on not wasting the time of those who don't need the help.

An analogy can thus be drawn between cold-calling and athletic events. Top athletes visualize "winning" (the goal) before competing, but when they're actually performing they focus on what's happening right then and there.

The above is based on a conversation with Keith Rosen, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cold Calling.