Sales lead generation: 10 best practices for cold calling

Posted by Vicky Limerick on 02-Feb-2017 09:59:37

As we allow technology to take over our lives, many are asking when it's going to take over the world of sales. With social selling on the rise and tech savvy buyers purchasing online, I can literally hear the panic of headsets and and empty targets from my fellow salespeople.

The salesperson is far from becoming a extinct species, but we need to up our games if we're going to survive. Here, I've collected 10 of the best practices for cold-calling in sales lead generation.

blog header image for article on sales cold calling best practicesHaving spent some considerable time in sales, given the shelf-life is pretty short, I'm basically a veteran; outbound cold-calling and adviser through to the management of the team I was once a part of, I have come across some fantastic sales methods but also so cringe-worthy ones too! 

Although our ultimate aim is to be more inbound, there is a certain amount of active prospecting that is sometimes necessary to kick start things. It can be a tough and unforgiving landscape, but let's take a look at my top 10 tips for sales lead generation and cold calling prospects.

1. Don't spit your dummy out

There is nothing worse than a stroppy salesperson. Seriously, nothing! We all know what it's like to have everything hanging on that deal that has been bubbling away in your pipeline for a while and you've reached D-Day and bang, they don't buy. It's right up there amongst the worst feelings for someone in sales but it's kind of part of the deal.

This is a tough skill to master though and takes some dedication and exceptional customer service skills to execute.

However, cutting them off or trying too hard to gain information on the salesperson currently cashing his commission check is not the right way to act.

What to do?

Use this as an opportunity to find out where it went wrong. Be forward in your questioning but position it carefully. Perhaps "I'm pleased you've found the right solution for you, can I ask what made you chose the supplier you have?" OK, it's cheesy, but you probably delivered a full round of it when they were on your side.

This is vital information, so listen to it. Maybe their budget didn't suit, they may not have fully understood your product or perhaps a structural change could have altered their needs.

Whatever it is, take it on board and if you can, learn from it.

2. Make it personal

This is a rule that has been around for as long as we have but it's often the first one to be ignored and our buyers hate it.

This is a basic skill to deliver and should be the first thing a new salesperson learns. It's simple: use their name, know what their business is and at least, have an idea of what their business does.

Not only will your buyer appreciate it but you'll prevent yourself from sounding silly. Many a time have I witnessed out of date call records being used, resulting in an adviser calling what they think is a nursery but is now, in fact, a fish and chip shop!

Building your Buyer Personas is one of the crucial elements of a good sales and inbound marketing strategy.

3. Keep it fresh

My rule has always been:

It is not your customers job to remember who you are.
It is your job to make sure they don't forget!

The first way to forget who you are is by delivering the same old sales pitch that they've already heard three times today from your competitors.

So try something new, little by little of course. This follows from my last point about making it personal. If you're dedicating each call to the single business you are hoping to engage with, each one should be easy to adapt if you use my favourite free resource: effort!

4. Build rapport but drop the small talk

Ok, another tricky one. There is an enormous difference between asking someone how they are and rambling on for five minutes about how cold it is outside.

Whilst you think you're being friendly, getting the balance off is grinding your prospect down before you've started.

I know the difficulties of sourcing sales, so I try wherever possible to really give something back when a salesperson calls me but during the small talk my head is shouting, "come on, get to the bit I want to hear!"

Again, I'm going to suggest effort. Find something valuable to discuss after the usual "how d'ya do". Learn about relevant industry specifics such as funding news, business awards or even better, their recent achievements.

5. Stalk them out

Ok, don't actually follow them round jumping between bushes or anything. This is simply learning about them, utilising social media platforms such as LinkedIn.

You don't need to know their dog's birthday or the make of their car, knowing their name is a good place to start. If it's social media you use, mention it to them. If you're brave enough, talk about their latest post. They'll appreciate the effort and immediately start engaging with you.

I now receive a number of sales calls myself as I am very active across social media and I actually enjoy speaking to fellow salespeople who want to have a genuine conversation.

I know the sales pitch is coming and if it's done right, I find myself wanting to hear what they have to offer because I have made a connection with the person making the call.

6. Be polite - we all come with manners

This is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do and I have no idea why! Why do we find it difficult to be polite? We've all heard the phrase 'manners cost nothing' but I disagree: a lack of manners will cost you sales and targets.

Overall, as salespeople, we need to slow down a little and this is part of the reason manners are left at the side of your desk beside the cold coffee you're too busy to drink. One thing to remember is that if they don't buy now, it doesn't mean they never will, unless of course you deposited your manners with last month's commission cheque.

7. Befriend the gatekeeper

Typically, gatekeepers and salespeople are enemies. You want to get past the gatekeeper, they want to stop you and most of the time the ball is in their court, so how do sales people react? We try to barge past.

What you need to consider is the role of the gatekeeper: their position is to screen calls, ensuring only the best get through. If you're not getting through, change your approach.

I find the most discreet tactics work best, so try these subtle changes:

Instead of: "Hi, it's Vicky from CreatedRed Media, can I speak to George?"

Try: "Hi Barbara, it's Vicky calling from CreatedRed Media, how are you?.... (rapport build)... I just wondered if George was free for a quick chat?"

One huge thing to remember here though is never pitch to the gatekeeper, save this only for those who can action your sale.

8. Keep up to date

All businesses work in particular sectors. Maybe it's in education, retail or finance. You need to ensure that you are as up to date as you can be in your given sector. This will fuel your rapport building conversation mentioned earlier.

It's easy to keep up to date by exploring blogs you can subscribe to, following them on social media and doing your research.

There are reams of sales blogs out there offering great advice by real sales-people, so these golden nuggets of advice have been tried and tested. One of my favourites is from our partners at HubSpot.

Get to know the blogs and their authors and subscribe to them to ensure that you're being kept up to date with new practices and techniques.

9. Arrange your call backs and stick to them

Not only does this help to organise your pipeline and to prioritise your calls but it's also a good service to the customer. If you're going to call when it suits you and expect full attention from your customer, you're going to fail quickly.

When this is added to your prospect's calendar, you and your business remain firm in their minds, allowing you to maximise your call potential as you don't have to continually remind them of which previous sales call belonged to you.

In sales, you will find yourself chasing round leads that are perhaps interested in your service or product but are not yet interested enough to commit. By firmly agreeing to your call back, you will help establish some level of commitment in progressing the sale without you having to press them or ask directly.

10. Listen

Perry Marshall from brilliantly displays the 80/20 rule in his book '80/20 Sales & Marketing' he goes as far as to explain how the 80/20 rule can be applied to almost any area of your business. This works especially true in sales.

When I have been training my teams in the past I have always encouraged the practice of during a sales call, 80% of it should be your customer talking, you listening and this should then return with you talking for the remaining 20%.

Although this takes away from the legend of the hustle and bustle of a noisy sales floor, it is the only way that you will really learn about your customers' needs.

If they're talking to you, they're engaged in your conversation. If you're rambling through your script and name dropping every worthy customer you have worked with, what you don't realise is that your prospect has already left their desk, made a cup of tea, signed off 10 other deals and returned periodically to answer yes and no.

If you find that trying this approach isn't helping your prospects engage with you on worthy calls and people are still shutting you off, the simple answer would be, these leads aren't qualified so you need to go back to the drawing board.

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Topics: B2B Sales

Written by Vicky Limerick

I have spent the last four years in a sales environment working my way from advisor through to management. My experience within the education sector is allowing me to support employers and organisations in this sector within my current in marketing. I am passionate about client relations and going the extra mile is second nature.
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