In sales, it’s nearly always best to have an existing relationship with a potential customer. And if you can get a personal referral, that’s gold.

But there are circumstances and companies where the business model requires cold-calling to drum up new business. Industry data shows that, after referrals, direct telephone marketing is the second-best method for generating new business.

So – to cold-call or not?

Sales pros will tell you that sometimes you have to do a bit of both. Here are some tips for those times when you have to dial for dollars, as well as some ways to avoid doing it whenever possible.

Sweet-Talking Can’t Hurt

Usually, cold-calls start with a receptionist or administrative assistant – that’s if you can get past voicemail. Since every human being you reach can help you make a sale, be exceptionally nice. Build relationship: Ask for their name, how long they’ve been with the company, how they got the job, what they do there.

People are often bored at work and happy to talk to someone who shows some interest in them. Once you have some back-and-forth banter going, explain what you do. Talk a little about the products or services you’re selling and ask how you can reach the right person at the company with your sales information.

Referrals Are Everywhere

If you can drop a name during a cold-call, your chances of getting through and being effective increase exponentially. Keep your sales antenna a little tuned up even in your off-hours. You never know where you’ll meet someone who knows someone who has a contact in a company that buys your products or services.

Social events like weddings, charity fundraisers and dinner parties can be terrific sources of referrals. One of the first questions you ask when meeting someone new is, “So, what do you do for a living?” When someone describes their work, let them know if it might be related to what you do. When you talk about your job, don’t be afraid to tell people looking to increase your business and would be very grateful if they could refer you to someone who could help. Get a business card or email address and reconnect when you’re back at work. Keep interactions on a low-key, friendly level and you won’t risk seeming obnoxious.

Relationship Selling

If you can get around cold-calling, it’s much easier to get a hearing – and close a deal – when you have an existing relationship with a potential client.

Ask loyal customers to talk you up with their friends, colleagues and neighbors. Give them some incentives to make referrals and some rewards – say a 20% off coupon – if they help you make a new sale or land a new client.

Look for opportunities to publicize your company. What publications – online and in print – circulate in your industry or community? See if you can get coverage or write an article for one. Are there sales clubs, chamber meeting or executive roundtables looking for speakers? If you can distill your expertise into a punchy, practical presentation that adds value to the event, you’ll be asked to keynote.

Brand You

Studies show that companies and individuals with strong brands have more success generating new leads. If you’ve got a good reputation and a strong value proposition, half of your sales work is done for you.

Set the agenda in your industry by networking, speaking and sharing research. Not only will your name get around, even if you’re a small firm, but you’ll find yourself well-respected and your sales efforts well-received.

If you’re a player in your industry—writing, speaking at conferences, networking—you’re going to be setting trends, you’re going to be well respected, and your marketing efforts will be well received.