Life as a salesperson would be great if all our prospects came from warm referrals. However, most of us don’t have large enough networks to rely entirely on referrals. That leaves us, at one point or another, with a list of names and a phone. So if we have to make a cold call, what can we do to make it better?

Before a cold call

First things first: know your prospects. A sale doesn’t start with a conversation; it starts with what happens before the first conversation takes place. You can improve your chances of success with proper pre-call preparation.

Know the company.
Find out all you can about the company you will call. Knowledge about a prospect’s company demonstrates professionalism and enthusiasm. It’s simply bad practice to pick up the phone without knowing what a company does – especially with all the customer intelligence available online today. Find out what the company does, how big they are, where the headquarters and branches are located, and check for any recent news releases about them. You should also know where your product might fit with the company’s needs. Never forget to tell them WIIFM—what’s in it for me (in this case, what’s in it for them). That being said, you won’t know what’s in it for your prospect if you haven’t done your research first.

Know your contact.
Though not always possible, it is great if you can find out a little about the person in charge of purchasing for the company. Some initial research can help you find out enough about them to find some common ground on which to build rapport, break the ice, and move forward to your objectives. Networking with other sales professionals in your industry – and in your prospect’s industry – can also help, as other reps can share their wisdom about the purchasing managers they know. How helpful is it to know that someone is an advocate for stray animals if you are as well? If the person has a Facebook or Twitter account, you may be able to find out a thing or two before making that call.

Know what to say.
Practice what you will say before making the call. What is the most important thing you need to tell them? State it early or you may not get the chance to do so. Perhaps open with a targeted question: If I could provide you with good quality widgets on demand at an exceptional cost, what would that be worth to you? Listen, listen, listen. Many sales people fail not because they do not sell well, but because they do not listen to their prospects. Sometimes, they are too busy planning what to say next, and they pay no attention to the customer’s answers to their questions.

Know your objective.
In most cases, the objective is to set up the next meeting. When you make phone calls and emails, you should open with your objective. What’s the point of wasting a prospect’s time with a purposeless phone call or email? A call should never end with a prospect asking, “So what do you want from me?” Your objective isn’t always as clear as you may think, so never hesitate to restate it. Think back on a time when your University or a political party calls you to tell you all the great campaigns and efforts they’re running, and ends the call with a request for money. Wouldn’t you prefer them to start the call with, “We’re looking for donations, but even if you’re not in a position to donate, we’d like to tell you about some of our new initiatives.” In the latter scenario, you control the call. You tell the representative what you do and don’t want to hear, and you save everyone the time and hassle that beating around the bush wastes. Give your prospect an opportunity to lead the communication.

You may not hit it off with every prospect from the beginning of the call, but stay upbeat and positive throughout your communications, always ask if a follow up call is okay, and get an email address and permission to send out some information. Your emails to them should be personalized and targeted towards any specific needs or pain they mentioned that your product or service might be able to solve. Always follow up your emails with another call. And, most importantly, do your research so that you can keep a prospect on the phone long enough to request a follow up call.