The Anatomy of Successful Cold Calling
Cold calling is not dead yet, and while some are still debating whether it is or not, successful salespeople are finding new clients and adding new business by simply applying some art and science to their cold calls. This year I spoke at XANT’s AI Growth Summit and took apart the cold call, trying to identify the best strategies for contacting leads cold by phone.
At Gong.io, we analyzed over 90,000 cold call recordings with Artificial Intelligence. Using this data, we have uncovered the science of what makes a great cold call, and how salespeople can increase their chances of success.
Some of the research is also taken from companies with a long tradition in sales like XANT or Xerox.
You can watch the video session below, or read our data points to see what good cold call is all about.
Why Salespeople Need to Navigate Calm Waters
I like to use an analogy to describe the sales process— it’s like taking an ocean liner across the ocean to the promised land. Cold calls are like the ocean storms that happen on your journey to the promised land. They can be very unpredictable and in some sense, unforgiving, and they can go down multiple paths.
The truth is, the median success rate of cold calling is as little as 1.5%. However, it’s easy to misinterpret this data point to conclude that cold calling is dead. What people don’t realize is this number is highly skewed, because cold calling is a game of inequality.
Most people making cold calls are not doing a good job of it, and therefore, they fail. They have a dismal success rate.
There’s a select few people, that have a 10% success rates, or in some cases, even a 15% or 20% success rates. You want to be that person with the high success rate– the person who thrives under stormy conditions, well-trained to navigate unpredictable waters.
The Art and Science of Cold Calling
While there’s always going to be a very strong element of art to the profession and practice of selling, we are going to bring a little bit of data and science behind it.
So here’s some of the most compelling things science tells us about the anatomy of successful cold calling.
Successful Cold Calls Are Twice as Long as Unsuccessful Ones
The first thing we found is a stark difference between a successful cold call and an unsuccessful cold call is simply that they’re almost twice as long. It makes sense that when a prospect hangs up on you or tells you that they are not interested, the call will be cut short. The most successful cold calls happen when you can keep the prospect on the phone for a long time.
There are a few things you can do to make sure this happens, like:
- Know what paths the cold call can take and map out your responses to those paths: This means knowing talking points, which message resonate and which do not, what potential objections might come up and how to overcome those objections;
- Be very intentional with the words we say, rather than being frivolous: If a certain sentence does not add value to your conversation, then just don’t include it.
Note: I don’t necessarily recommend memorizing a script. The goal of a salesperson or a BDR is to be a professional communicator, not just somebody who just rehashes a bunch of words.
Best Opening Lines for Cold Calling
The opening line is the first sentence you’re going to utter on a cold call, and it’s going to dictate the trajectory of the rest of the call. A good opening line is going to compel the prospect to continue listening. An ineffective opening line means the prospect will hang up immediately, or, best-case scenario, they’re going to politely say they’re not interested.
Looking at opening lines in the cold calls we analyzed at Gong.io, we saw a few patterns. For example, there’s this idea that an opening line like “Did I catch you at a bad time?” is going to be successful.
Our analysis showed that if you start your cold call with, “Did I catch you at a bad time?” You’re actually 40% less likely to have a successful cold call, compared to the baseline.
So, what IS a good opening line for cold calls, anyway?
The Five Elements of a Good Opening Line
Here’s the five cold calling tips for a good opening line, according to data conducted in old and new psychology studies:
Say the prospect’s name: “Hi, John”
Saying their name is not going to make you successful, and it’s not going to ensure that you book the meeting. However, failing to say the prospect’s name is going to ensure that you’re unsuccessful, because you come across as very robotic, and unfriendly, and kind of cold.
State your full name: “I’m Chris Orlob”
Some are firmly against stating your name in a cold call, because at the end of the day a prospect doesn’t care about you. However, what that does psychologically, is it commands respect. The listener subconsciously thinks that whoever is calling them is an important person.
State the name of your company: “I work for Gong.io”
This is simply a way to make sure you maintain control of the cold call. It is true that they don’t necessarily care what company you’re coming from and they don’t care about your company at all. However, if you fail to state the name of your company, they are going to ask you within seconds, “What company are you calling with?”
If you’ve spent some time in sales, you should know by now: the person who asks the questions in a conversation is in control of the conversation. And by avoiding the situation where they ask the questions, you keep control of the conversation.
Pattern interrupt: “How have you been?”
Now, this seems like a weird line coming from a cold call, because it implies that you’ve known the person before. We’ve found that this is the most successful cold call opening line that people can use. In our analysis, it has had a 6.6X higher success rate compared to baseline. Keep in mind, we filtered out all cold calls that had previous contacts, so the success rate was not skewed because we already had a pre-established relationship.
The reason this is so successful is it jolts the listener’s brain a little bit. They call this a pattern interrupt. It kind of scrambles their brain and they’re wondering if they know you or whatever the case is.
Note: Like all good sales lines, it is likely to have a shelf life, so don’t be surprised if two years from now it doesn’t work anymore. Always keep experimenting with our opening lines.
State the reason you are calling: “John, the reason I am calling is…”
When you are in a cold call, you must always state the reason you are calling. Cold callers that state the reason for the call have more than a double success rate than cold callers who do not. And that’s because humans crave reasons.
We can find the explanation in an old study that Xerox did, testing the psychology of asking for favors. They tested using long lines of people waiting to do a copy with a copier machine, by sending someone asking to cut in the line. When they did not state a reason for cutting in, the success rate was around 60%– meanwhile, stating a reason for their request increased chances of success up to 94%.
And that held true even if the reason was real, fake or just plain irrelevant.
Keep Discovery Questions to a Minimum
Cold calling is all about selling the meeting or appointment. This is why, in a cold call, you must keep discovery questions down to a minimum, even though it may sound counterintuitive to a point.
Discovery is the process of asking questions and collecting information from your customer in an attempt to qualify them or persuade them discovery. When it is done on a cold call specifically, is actually counterproductive to your likelihood of getting the meeting.
Our research shows that when the sales professional talks more than the prospect, there is a higher chance of setting an appointment.
I would not recommend interrupting your prospect in the middle of a cold call, but know that a successful cold call involves a lot more talking on your part, rather than getting your customer to talk about themselves, their company or their budget or systems.
How Long to Spend on Your Sales Pitch
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is how long sales professionals spend on their sales pitch during a cold call. We measured the length of pitches on a cold call, the length of monologues. This is the number of seconds a sales rep or even a customer or prospect speaks uninterrupted before the next person responds.
We found that in an average cold call, the average length of a monologue was 25 seconds, and in a successful cold call, it was much longer at 37 seconds. For prospects, the average monologue length was 3.5 seconds, while in unsuccessful calls it was longer at 8 seconds.
This is basically the nexus of the cold call and your time to shine– so make sure it counts.
Note: I’m not telling you to just go talk, and talk, and talk people’s ears off. What I’m saying is you’re going to have limited success if you turn your cold calls into a discovery call.
How Do I Know What to Talk About?
While 37 seconds doesn’t sound like a lot of time, filling up that talk time with ‘something’ is a scary task for some sales reps. This is where it’s a good idea to come prepared, and you can do this in two ways:
Get help from your marketing team
Your marketing team, or whoever owns buyer personas in your organization, can help you get to know the buyer upfront. Learn what their pain points are, what kind of language resonates with them, and what objections you can expect early on in the sales cycle or on cold calls.
Do the pre-call research
Look the person up on LinkedIn before you make the call, read their profile, see what would resonate with them based on how they want to be perceived, you know, based on the description in their profile. Oftentimes, they’re going to list their priorities and responsibilities in their role, and if you can tailor your cold call to what they have in the public forum on their LinkedIn profile.
How to Make Sure Appointments Hold
Once you have made an appointment after a cold call, you need to make sure that it holds– meaning, that your prospect will show up. There’s a few tricks you can use to do this, and they are all a result of our research.
Set appointments in the afternoon
Prospects were most likely to show up for a meeting in the afternoon, showed our data. Setting the meeting between 8:00 AM and 10:00AM had lower success rate (appointment hold rate). The sad part is– most business development representatives actually set their meetings in the morning, ignoring the more lucrative afternoon hours.
Note: If you are struggling to find the time on your prospect’s calendar in the afternoon, and you need to push out the meeting a week or two out, then you should just schedule it for the next day in the morning. You’re better off in the morning, to make sure you keep top of mind.
Keep your meetings under an hour
Prospects don’t really like it when they take a lot of time in their day to speak with sales reps, so keep your meetings short. Our analysis of cold calls shows that when sales reps sent a 30-minute meeting invite compared to a 60-minute meeting invite, prospects were more likely to show up.
Plan your qualification calls in advance
The best salespeople and BDRs in the world are like chess grandmasters, not improv comedians. They are very intentional, whether it’s conscious or subconscious, about every move they make and why they make those moves.
So plan all your calls in advance, and make sure they follow a specific structure and sequence. If you make sure that your calls are sequential, and don’t bounce randomly from one topic to the next, the prospect has an easier time following the conversation.