Management Perspectives: Cold Calls

In this age of computers and other electronic communication marvels, there are still thousands of salespeople who make a profitable living with face-to-face
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In this age of computers and other electronic communication marvels, there are still thousands of salespeople who make a profitable living with face-to-face

Management Perspectives: Cold Calls

May 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Ted Tate

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In this age of computers and other electronic communication marvels, there are still thousands of salespeople who make a profitable living with face-to-face and telephone cold calls. They have found that those are often the best prospects and that qualifying needs is much easier.

Unfortunately, many salespeople shy away from cold calls, trying to replace them with other prospecting strategies. If there is one common fear that links sales trainees together, it's the dreaded subject of cold calls. When you mention cold calls, their eyes go blank. You can actually see the discomfort. Why do so many otherwise good salespeople reject cold calls?

Perhaps it stems from what people are taught as children. Parents tell their children that they shouldn't talk to strangers, which is great advice. The problem is, that advice doesn't work for adults.


Many salespeople are trained to apologize for interrupting a potential client when approaching in person or by calling on the phone. Anyone who has been the target of a cold call has heard, “Excuse me — is this a good time for you, or should I call back later?” or “I hope I'm not bothering you.”

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My favorite is people who ask for permission to call back later. Now that you've warned them that a salesperson is calling back, how many people will be looking forward to taking your call? Not many, that's for sure.

Of course everyone is busy doing something — no one sits in his or her office waiting for a sales call. Of course it will be an interruption, but it's a minor one. Only shy salespeople ask such silly questions.

Opening a conversation with a stranger with such groveling — weasel selling — puts them on alert. On a subconscious level, you're sending a message that you are doing something wrong by speaking to them and need to apologize. It invites a hard response, often from people who would not normally be harsh.

If you sell something you honestly believe helps people, why do you need to apologize for offering to do so? Do you have less rights as a human being because you are a salesperson? Frankly, most of these people should thank you for the opportunity you're presenting. If you follow my suggestions, many will.


A good salesperson is assertive — not aggressive but assertive. That means having healthy self-esteem. Those who have low self-esteem will exhibit all kinds of avoidance behaviors, finding numerous valid and not so valid reasons not to cold-call. It's amazing how creative some salespeople get in order to avoid making cold calls.

It is beyond the scope of this article to deal with the more difficult cases of cold-call reluctance, but libraries and bookstores have many excellent books and audio tapes about self-esteem and assertiveness.

However, try these suggestions first. You'll be amazed at how well they work.


My first sales job was during summer vacation at age 16: door-to-door sales and straight commission. In that company, training consisted of watching my field manager for a dozen calls, and then I was told to work one side of the street and he the other. I hated the first few days. People slammed doors in my face, many were incredibly rude, and nobody was buying.

Over coffee I told him I was ready to quit. “Be fair to both of us. At least stay the week,” he said. “I've watched you make calls; you look like a guy going to an execution. People pick up on that real quick. The trick is to be friendly, look them in the eye, act assertive but never pushy, and above all, smile. Act like you're having a good time, and people will respond differently.”

He and I went door-to-door together, taking turns. He quietly corrected me when I made an error, and within a few hours, I had made my first sale.


It's okay to be nervous — that's natural. Just keep in mind the absolute worst thing that can happen on a cold call. They'll say, “No,” and maybe act a little annoyed. But what if they don't? What if they have been in the market for what you sell and are really happy to meet you? Take the risk. You'll survive no matter what.

Selling is and always has been a numbers game. The most successful salespeople in the world receive many more turndowns than orders. But they know that if they keep going, they will find interested people and be well rewarded for their efforts.

The only people who act a little short will be those who don't need what you sell anyway, so why let that bother you? When you find people who may need what you sell, you'll see positive attitudes and interested responses.

Think of the positive reasons why you sell your product or service and why you think it benefits people. Be sure that's what you communicate in your first words: the benefits. If you don't know any, find out what they are.

Look people in the eye. If that's uncomfortable, look at the spot on their forehead between their eyebrows. They'll think you're looking into their eyes. If you fail to do that, you will look shifty or like you have something to hide. That can make people uncomfortable, because they don't really know you or what your intentions may be.

Always remember to smile; practice in a mirror at home or on people walking down the street. Watch how many frowns of strangers become genuine smiles. The more you smile, you'll be amazed at how strangers will reflect and respond to your demeanor. If you are friendly, smile, and speak sincerely, they will reciprocate. Nine out of ten times, when salespeople have complained to me about harsh treatment when making cold calls, investigation has shown it was because of the image they were projecting. How's yours?

Also, never go out without checking your supply of business cards and business forms. Have at least five and promise yourself you'll use all five by the end of the day. One of the worst feelings in the world is when someone wants to place an order and you are unprepared.


Think of the worst thing that could happen when making a cold call. That potential client could say, “I already have someone, and I'm happy with them,” “I do it myself,” or “Not interested.” That's pretty much it!

Take the risk and start to increase your earnings by making some cold calls. You'll smile all the way to the bank.

Ted Tatewrites about sales training. He offers additional free sales, negotiation, and time-management tips

Breaking the Ice

It's important to start conversation on a cold call on a promising note. Try some of these tips on your next cold call. And always remember to accept rejection with grace.


“I just thought you'd like to know about our special this month.” Use an icebreaker as an excuse for the call. That can be anything special, such as a free estimate, discounts, or coupons.

We are here every week

When you make calls on established customers, contact other businesses in the neighborhood. If you already have an established relationship in the community, these potential clients might be willing to give you a second look.

How about some business?

Everyone you do business with may be a prospect and if he or she is not, that person might know someone who would be.

Who do you know?

If the answer is no to any of these approaches, never forget to ask, “Tell me, who do you know whom I should be talking with?”



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