Cold calling

Let's say you're at home or at work and your cellphone rings. Someone at the other end says, "Hello, my name is Sunder. I work for XYZ cellular company. We have launched a new scheme on post-paid connections. What connection are you using right now?"

What thought will cross your mind? Probably something like: "Uh-oh, another pesky salesperson. I'm about to be sold something again. How fast can I get off the phone?" In other words, it's basically over at 'Hello' and you end up rejecting the person at the other end.

Welcome to the world of cold calling. If you've ever felt a sense of awkwardness while picking up the phone and calling someone you don't know, you'll understand just how challenging making a cold call can be. Whether you are calling to confirm an appointment, asking for an interview slot or trying to sell something, mastering the art of such telephonic conversations will definitely make life easier for you.

What is a cold call?

If you are thinking 'What in the world is a cold call', calling absolute strangers to talk about your business and persuading them to act would be it. While the image of a telecaller selling credit cards, mobile plans etc is what comes to the mind, immediately, the knowledge of how to handle a cold call comes in handy in all walks of life.

Why is it challenging?

"Cold calling terrifies me -- the phone feels like a dumbbell every time I have to make one," says Binshri K, a call centre executive from Delhi [Images]. The person you are calling may react with hostility or choose to hang up. You face a firestorm of rejection for every spark of interest you ignite. It's important to remember that we live in an age of information overload. The amount of information that an average 17th century person would have accumulated in his/ her entire life is what is served to you in your daily newspaper. Time is at a premium and people are stressed out. Given all this, nobody wants to attend to that unexpected call on a busy day.

Free yourself of cold calling jitters

You can turn cold calling into a fruitful and positive experience by changing your mindset and making your calls sizzle. With a little planning and preparation you can influence the decisions of people or persuade them to buy what you are selling. Here are some tips at the heart of effective cold calling:

  • Dump the fear: Feelings of rejection and fear come when we get wrapped up in our expectations and hope for an outcome when it's too premature to even be thinking about one. Rather than obsess about the rejection you might experience calling a stranger, think about the potential business you could gain by making the call, ie the possibility of selling a product, gaining an appointment for an interview etc. Once you understand this, you can turn the adrenaline fear produces into a positive motivator.
  • Do your homework: Get your facts in place. Who are you calling? What will be the best time to call them? What's the purpose of this call? Why should they listen to you? You have exactly one opportunity to make a great first impression and you will not make it if you are not prepared. "I get at least five calls a day and sometimes it so happens that there is more than one call from the same company, with a new person at the other end each time, trying to sell the same thing. As a consumer, I think it's extremely irritating and they need to update their records when the offer is refused once," says Priyanka, a chartered accountant working with a Delhi-based bank.
  • Be enthusiastic: You need to be full of positive energy about what you are doing/ asking for or selling otherwise your voice will sound dull, with no power to persuade or move the listener into action. Remember, enthusiasm is infectious. Think of it as calling a friend. Let your voice be natural, calm, relaxed and easy-going.
  • Think it, ink it and sink it: Always call with a pen and paper handy. You may be provided with some vital clues that may be worth remembering. Writing it all down will help you frame better answer sand stay in control of the situation.
  • Be specific and focused: Give the listener information that is relevant and be as specific as possible. Tell them how your service/ offering relates to their specific situation. "I have received countless phone calls from sales people hawking their companies and trying to sell me postpaid connections and credit cards. As a house-wife, I do not need any of these," says housewife Bharti Kukreja. Don't be vague. Tell them what they want to know.
  • Have a checklist ready: Create a checklist of the key information you will require, ie pricing, testimonials, samples, and a list of questions; review this list before you make your call. "I remember calling a prospect expecting to receive his voice mail. That meant I was completely unprepared when he answered the call himself. Instead of asking him a series of qualifying questions, I simply responded to his questions, allowing him to control the sale. Unfortunately, I didn't progress any further than that initial call," says Ravi Srinivasan, sales manager with an IT company. Make sure you don't sound scripted, as that puts you into the typical 'salesperson' category that you want to avoid.
  • Focus on key areas: Here's a quick example. You could start off with, "Hi, my name is Amit...Can you help me out? I just need a minute of your time." How would you normally respond if someone said that to you?

    Probably with "Sure, what is it?" or "What do you need?" -- that's how most people would respond to a question like that. It's very natural and instinctive. When your prospect replies, you don't respond with a sales pitch about what you have to offer. Instead, you go right into talking about the key focus area.
  • Follow up: Make sure you follow up and call whenever you promised you would. If you are calling for a job and are asked to mail your resume first, make sure that you mail it and follow up with another call. "If I am genuinely interested in buying something but can't spare the time listening to someone's sales pitch, I usually ask them to call later. But so far nobody has ever called at the time I gave them," says Ravindra Prasad, a development manager with a Bangalore-based MNC.

Cold calling is not about counting the number of people you reach; rather, it's about reaching the people who count. That's the missing link in the entire process. So go out there and sizzle!

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