Taking the Chill Out of Cold Calling

According to Webster, meanings of cold include ‘unresponsive, indifferent, and lacking in enthusiasm.’ Cold shoulder is defined as ‘a rebuff’ and ‘deliberate disregard.’ And as anyone who has tried knows, making cold calls might well be defined as thrusting oneself naked into an arctic frost.

Making cold calls sets off all kinds of immobilizing defense mechanisms. It is much easier to delay such calls by doing ‘busy work,’ because if you feel like you’re accomplishing something, however minor, it justifies your procrastination. What you’re really doing, of course, is protecting your fragile ego from that shattering word No! But according to Chicago advertising sales rep Jeff Stein, ‘no’ usually means a hundred things other than no.

“It’s a smokescreen for ‘I don’t have time, I don’t have a budget, my kid’s sick and I don’t want to deal with you today’,” says Stein. “Saying yes usually means more work for people, so it’s too easy to say no. But if you diplomatically say to them, can I ask why you’re not interested, then chances are they’ll give you the real reason and you can deal with that.”

The first thing we need to do, according to the experts, is acknowledge the fact that cold calling is scary business. And by realizing and admitting that, you can begin to identify the causes of fear and address them.

Fear of cold calling is generally brought on by a number of factors, including insecurity about your skills, the need for approval, and a poor self-image. If you analyzed those things individually, maybe you would find that you don’t have that much to be afraid of after all.

Although you might feel insecure about your job skills, chances are you know what you’re doing. You may just be intimidated by the competition. There’s a term in sales called ‘positioning’. If you try to position yourself as number one in the industry, then that perception might become a reality. But to position yourself as number one, you do need to be able to offer your clients the kind of valuable services that they need by staying abreast of the trends and technology and sharpening your skills on an on-going basis. You need to ask them questions to find out what problems they’re facing and how you can help them overcome them. And as the business world continues to evolve from an industry to service-oriented economy, offering fresh and innovative solutions to old problems is key.

After many years of client contact, technical writer Angela Fox has learned that understanding the marketplace and making your name known are important factors for success.

“I read trade publications, the magazines that my clients are reading. Knowing what’s happening as far as the kinds of needs that my individual clients have is done through telephone contact.”

Fox likens cold-calling prospective clients to a workout session.

“What a person needs to do is like an exercise program. Work up to it. Set realistic goals, maybe one or two phone calls a day. Establish goals, meet them, and progress beyond them. The initial apprehension of rejection is what scares people. But the internet or library is a good place to search for telemarketing tips. If there’s one caveat that’s helped me in meeting my goals of making phone calls, it’s to keep in mind that there’s not a person out there who can hire me if they don’t know I exist.”

From childhood, to dating, to the workplace, the need for approval is tantamount. It is part of being human and something that is taught and reinforced throughout our lives by methods of punishment versus reward.

When faced with a cold call, the chance of getting approval from a total stranger whose busy day you are interrupting is pretty slim. Most unpracticed cold callers expect hostile rejection. But rather than try to change the behavior of the people you call (I’ll call so-and-so because I gave her boss a referral so I know she’ll be nice to me), you probably need to change your expectations.

Rarely will you run into a fire-breathing dragon on the other end of the line. And if you do, it won’t ruin your career. You should instead expect a neutral response, which is the most likely situation you’ll encounter. Indifference is not rejection. It’s a normal reaction from a preoccupied stranger and not a personal affront against you.

A technique psychologists use to help patients deal with their phobias is paradoxical intention. This might be the method for you if you are scared to death of making cold calls. Paradoxical intention means conjuring up extreme images of what you fear. Imagine the worst possible thing that could happen when you make a call. For example, you might imagine that the person at the other end of the line screams at you for ruining his day. He tells you that you are a worthless maggot and should never hope to get business from him or anyone else. He adds that if he ever sets eyes on you, he will personally rip your head off for being so impudent as to call while he’s working at a real job. Ridiculous, huh? The absurdity of such an image helps to deflate fear by exposing it for what it really is, not what your imagination can frighten you into believing it is. It is hard for the human mind to accept both the fear and the absurd image you have put in your consciousness. And if you can face the possibility of being screamed at and threatened, then anything a potential client might say on the phone surely won’t be as bad.

It’s also important to remember that you can’t change someone else’s behavior. If someone doesn’t buy into what you’re offering, you shouldn’t feel inadequate. False expectations like that will slowly erode your self-image. Remember, your business is as legitimate as theirs. You are a professional too, and you have something valuable to offer. If circumstances prevent them from taking advantage of it, opportunities may still exist down the road. Donna Flint, a motivational speaker, sees such challenges as opportunities.

“For each potential sale in the marketplace,” advises Flint, “you have to ask yourself why is this person not buying it from me? It takes brainstorming to think of every possible objection someone may have, and then think of answers. We’re selling a service, not a product. You have to make a client think your services are better than the competition’s. Since it’s rather intangible, it may take some soul searching and changes on your part. If the competition is good, how are you going to make clients think you’re great? Even if someone else has the job you want now, remember no one’s got the corner on the market for creativity and that might get you in the door. What it boils down to is standing out from the crowd.”

Cold calling is a gamble, a Russian roulette of sorts, but a key to success is in the understanding that security comes from within. It comes from the knowledge that you’re good at what you do, and from the belief that you can hurdle obstacles that block your path. You are a competent expert and you have products, information, or skills that can benefit prospective clients. Perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone.

Cold Calling Tips

1) Practice cold calling by role-playing to uncover and manage any objections you may hear

2) Plan what you’re going to say.

3) Arrange for privacy so you won’t be interrupted.

4) Put everything else aside to focus on making the calls.

5) Use a tracking system to keep a record of the person’s name, number, and date you talked, so when you call them again, you have essential data from previous conversations.

6) Smile when you speak – your voice will reflect a positive attitude.

7) If there are objections or concerns, you need to refocus your client.

8) End with a firm next step, such as “May I send you a product sample?” or “I’ll be in touch next month to see if any new projects have come up.”