Cold Call Dos and Don'ts

Phone in a FrogDog conference room. September 2012.

Phone in a FrogDog conference room. September 2012.

As a CEO, I've been on the receiving end of many cold calls. As an entrepreneur, I've made many cold calls. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're a fact of life in either role.

There are plenty of articles about how to do cold calls and few articles about the perspective of the person who receives them. So let me tell you what works for me when I'm getting a cold call—and what definitely does not.

Think Again

  • The gatekeeper hoodwink. Don't lie to the receptionist or the assistant about who you are or why you're calling. When I ask why he let you through, he'll tell me how you tricked him. This makes you seem slimy and it makes him look bad. I don't want to work with someone who makes my team look bad, and I certainly don't want to work with someone who tricks people.

  • The voice mail hoodwink. Many sales programs suggest you call and leave your name and number and no reason for the call—or pretend we're friends and leave your first name and number and a vague comment. Some suggest you pretend the line disconnected in the middle of your message, so all I get is your name, number, and a few words. These ploys don't work. I give the information to my assistant and ask him to find out what up.

  • May I speak to Leslie Farnsworth? I answer my phone, "Leslie Farnsworth." If my assistant put you through, you know you’re not talking to another assistant. If you call my direct line, even if you don’t know it's a direct line, and someone answers the phone "Leslie Farnsworth," it's probably Leslie Farnsworth. Would my assistant answer the phone with just my name? No. So don't ask me to speak to me after I've announced myself.

  • "How are you today?" When I answer a cold call, the person on the other end often asks this question. Huh? You're a disembodied, unknown voice. I don't have any interest in telling strangers how I'm doing. And no one I know starts a conversation this way. I figure the question is a choke—you got me on the phone, you didn’t expect to, you're panicked, and you’re buying time to get your bearings.

  • Ramble. Don't launch into a breathless sales pitch the moment you get me on the phone for fear that if I'm able to say anything, I'll shut you down. Typically you're speaking so quickly and in such a panicked tone that I can't even focus on what you’re saying. And so I do shut you down. Your anxiety gives me anxiety.

Try This

  • Introduce yourself. If you get someone on the phone, introduce yourself and give the name of your company. Nicely tell the person that you have a couple questions. They'll likely ask what the questions are, and you're in.

  • Be honest. It's relaxing and refreshing for someone to confess that they're making a cold call. I've said, "I'll be honest: This is a cold call. I'm sure you hate getting them as much as I hate making them. Could I tell you why I'm calling in just thirty seconds?" A friend of mine says, "You just made my day by answering your phone. Could I take thirty seconds of your time?" Rarely have people hung up. Nine out of ten people listen to my spiel. They know I'm doing an honest day's work and that I'm not trying to take advantage.

  • Ask questions. Ask about areas of your prospect's business that will help you know whether she's a good candidate for your company's products or services. This will give you more information to make your pitch, and it also makes the call about her—not about you. Sales should be about the prospect—not about your product or your company.

  • Make it brief. If it seems like there's a possible fit between what you offer and what the person might need, suggest a time for a meeting or a longer phone call. Do not assume the person has an hour to talk to you. And talking further later will give you time to better prepare your pitch using the information you gathered on the initial call.

What are your cold call dos and don'ts?