Cold Calling Tips - The Anatomy of Successful Cold Calls
Chris Orlob: Hopefully everybody's doing okay. I would ask how everybody's doing, but I don't think I'll get much of a response back so we'll just get right into it here. The idea behind what we're going to talk about is what we learned from analyzing a little over 90, 000 cold call recordings with artificial intelligence so we can decipher what actually works on a cold call and what does not work based on data. So by the end of this presentation, my goal is to give everybody listening specific tips, tactics, strategies, and insights that you can start using today or tomorrow, or whenever it is that you get back on the phones to start booking more meetings, booking more qualification calls, and really just progressing your BDR career further however you define that. So I want to set the tone for this presentation by introducing an analogy, because I think it'll help everybody draw some of the connections a little bit easier if we do draw an analogy. And the way I like to think of the sales cycle, not just cold calls, but the sales cycle is it's like taking an ocean liner across the ocean to the promised land. And within that, cold calls are like the ocean storms that happen on your journey to the promised land, the little paradise or whatever the case is. They can be very unpredictable. They can be in some sense unforgiving and they can go down multiple paths. So your goal is to navigate to calmer waters. The goal of a cold call is to get to calmer waters, which if we're drawing upon the analogy we had set, that represents a booked meeting and hopefully a successful booked meeting that actually shows up and the qualification call goes well. There is a common data point that I want to discuss, which is the median success. There's actually a typo here. It's not the average success. It's the median success rate of cold calling is as little as 1. 5%. And a lot of people misinterpret that. It's easy to misinterpret this data point to conclude that cold calling is dead or some other unproductive conclusion like that, but what they don't realize is this number is highly skewed because cold calling is a game of inequality, meaning most people making cold calls are not doing a good job of it and therefore they fail at it. They have a very low dismal success rate, but there's a select few people, maybe they're the top 10% of cold callers, or even 20% of cold callers, that are having phenomenal success rates. They have 10% success rates or in some cases, 15 or 20% success rates. So the reason this success rate, and if we draw upon the analogy that we've been talking about, the reason this success rate is as low as it is, is because the vast majority of cold callers who are trying to navigate an ocean storm look like this guy, they're untrained. They're trying to just get their ship off the ground and they don't even get that far. And that's why we have this median success rate as low as it is. The person that you should aspire to emulate, maybe you don't want to look like this person, but you want to be this guy. You want to be the person who thrives under stormy conditions. You want to be the person who is well- trained to navigate unpredictable waters, who knows what paths a cold call can go down and how to navigate those paths successfully to the point where it's fun. And if you emulate this guy, you'll experience the 10 or 20% success rates. Every time you get somebody on the phone, you'll book a meeting. Whereas if you emulate this guy, you're going to be beating your head against the wall, you're going to be going through very dangerous waters untrained, and you're eventually just going to give up and conclude cold calling is dead. So again, drawing upon the analogy, the insights, the tactics, the tips and strategies I'm going to share with you in this presentation, use them as your compass, use them as your navigation to get through these stormy waters and get to calm waters and book that qualification call more successfully. So quick background on the methodology for how we came up with these insights and then we'll get into it. We have a database of, at this point, close to two million sales call recordings, not quite two million, but we're getting there. And within that database, almost 100, 000 of these are cold calls. These are initial calls made by BDRs in an attempt to book an initial meeting, whether it's a qualification call, discovery call, whatever the case is. These cold calls were captured from technologies like InsideSales. com and many of the alternatives to InsideSales. com. They were transcribed from speech to text, and then they were analyzed with what we call deep learning algorithms to identify the behaviors that successful salespeople represent and exhibit. They were tied to their CRM outcomes so we could assess the results of certain behaviors and questions and topics that were discussed on winning cold calls versus losing cold calls. So while there is always going to be a very strong element of art to the profession and practice of selling, we're going to bring a little bit of data and science behind it and you guys can use that as a barometer that points your behaviors in the right direction. So here's the first thing that we discovered. The most shocking, not most shocking, but the most stark difference between a successful cold call and an unsuccessful cold call is simply that they're almost twice as the long. Now I want to be very careful about something. You should be thinking about this in terms of correlation versus causation, meaning just because you keep somebody on the phone for a long period of time, doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have a successful cold call. But there is a strong correlation to keeping somebody on the phone for a longer period of time and you should do causal things that will help you keep that person on the phone because frankly, a cold call coming out of nowhere is in constant threat of ending prematurely. The person could hang up on you. You could say something that does not resonate and they could tell you they're not interested. So we're going to talk about a few specific ways that you can prolong your cold calls so that you can then get yourself in a position to sell the qualification call and book the meeting. So here's the first thing you need to know. Like we talked about at the beginning, drawing upon the analogy, there are many paths that a cold call could go down. And the best thing you can do to increase your effectiveness of making cold calls is know what all of those paths are and map out your responses to those paths. You are at an alarming advantage over your prospect. And I hate to use that combative analogy as if you're like a seller versus a prospect, but just bear with me for a second and we'll move on from that. You're at an advantage because you have had this call or you will have this conversation hundreds or maybe even thousands of times, and your prospect, this is the first time they've ever had this conversation. Yes, they get cold called a lot, but they haven't had this specific cold call a lot. So if you know the various ways they can respond to your opening line and the various ways they're going to respond to your opening pitch and the various ways that are going to respond throughout the cold call as it unfolds, you can start to chart those directions and then map your own strategies for responding to those responses so you can navigate the cold call more successfully. So the takeaway here is to first start out with mapping the first three to five ways your cold calls unfold and intentionally figure out how you're going to respond to those situations ahead of time. I don't necessarily recommend memorizing a script because the goal of a salesperson or a BDR is to be a professional communicator and not somebody who just rehashes a bunch of words, but you should know talking points. You should know the messaging that's going to resonate in certain situations and the messaging that is not going to resonate in other situations. So there's our first tip, map out your cold calls in advance and know which paths they can go down. The second thing we can do to delay the amount of time or prolong the amount of time we can keep the buyer on the phone is be very intentional with the words we say rather than being frivolous with them. So this is one of my favorite quotes. It's actually about writing. It's not about cold calling, but it applies very closely to cold calling. And the quote is, you can read it, every sentence has one purpose and that is to make the reader listen or in this case, make the reader read the next sentence. You should treat the sentences that make up your cold call in the exact same way. If a sentence that you utter does not serve the purpose of keeping the buyer on the phone by piquing their interest or getting them to respond, you shouldn't say it at all because it's frivolous and it's going to be diluting the success of your cold call. So the next tip you can take advantage of is think about your cold call pitch, for lack of a better term, in terms of the purpose of every sentence. Does every sentence compel your prospect to listen to your next sentence or respond to the sentence that you just uttered? Okay, so now let's get into opening lines and this is really the first sentence that you're going to utter on a cold call and it's really going to dictate the trajectory of the rest of the call. A good opening line is going to accomplish what we just talked about and compel the listener to continue listening. And an ineffective cold call is going to get you hung up on almost immediately or best case scenario, they're going to politely say they're not interested or to send some Infor product collateral. So we tested not every cold call line under the sun, but we did test a collection of them, a collection of common opening lines that are used on cold calls. And there's an opening line that's very commonly used in cold calling, which is," Did I catch you at a bad time?"" Hi Kelly. This is Chris calling with Gong, did I catch you at a bad time?" And this was written about in numerous sales books, probably about five to seven years ago, and the idea behind it is that people like to disagree, they like to say no because it makes them feel like they're in control of the conversation. And while that principle is sound psychologically, it doesn't fare well in cold calls because this line has been so overused, the shelf life has expired. So we found 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. And by the way, not included in this presentation is" Did I catch you at a good time?" That had similarly dismal results. Funny enough, it was not as dismal as" Did I catch you at a bad time?" But it still scored lower than the baseline. So I recommend avoiding both those lines," Did I catch you at a good time?" And" Did I catch you at a bad time?" So before we get into the specific cold call opening lines, we're going to take a look at the transcript of what a good opening looks like, and we're going to unpack this, and then we're going to talk about the data behind this kind of stuff. So the first part that we're going to talk about is the yellow highlighted portion of this opening to a cold call. So it says," Hi, John. This is Chris Orlov calling from Gong. io." Seems very simple, but there is a lot of psychology behind that very simple sentence. The first part of that is saying 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 booked a meeting, but failing to say the prospect's name is going to almost ensure that you're unsuccessful because if you start your cold call without addressing their name, you come across as very robotic and unfriendly and kind of cold. So the goal here is not necessarily to win with this technique, it's to prevent yourself from losing by making sure you use it. Now, let's go to the second part, which is I state my full name. A lot of people are violently against saying your full name at the outset of a cold call because they think your buyer really doesn't care. And that's true, but it's kind of missing the point. And the point of this is, important people proactively give their first name upfront. They're proactive about it, and they give their full first and last name. And what that does psychologically is it commands respect. The listener to your cold call immediately or subconsciously thinks that whoever's calling them is an important person. They wouldn't say their first and last name upfront if they were unimportant. It's a good way to immediately command attention and respect. And finally, let's unpack the last part, which is I state the name of my company. 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, but if you fail to state the name of your company, they are going to ask you within seconds," What company are you calling with?" And we all know if you've spent time in sales, at least for the most part, the person who asks the questions in a conversation is in control of the conversation. And so if you give them this opportunity to interrupt you and ask you what company you're calling with, now you're on the defensive. And we have to remember that cold calling is an act of offense not defense, and likely the cold call is just going to spiral out of control from there. So just make sure before they get the opportunity to interrogate who you are and what company you're from, state all of that stuff up front so that you maintain control of the cold call here. Okay. So now let's get into the second part of this transcript, which is how have you been? So that seems like a weird line coming from a cold call because it kind of implies that you've known the person before. But we found that this is actually the most successful cold call opening line that people can use, at least in the data set of cold call opening lines that we tested. It has a 6. 6X higher success rate than the baseline, than those cold calls that did not use it. And 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. And 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 scrambled their brain and they're wondering if they know you or whatever the case is and when you start," Hey, Kelly. This is Chris calling from Gong. How have you been?" They're kind of scrambling a little bit. Now I will say this, this line is likely to have a shelf life just like," Did I catch you at a bad time?" It's likely going to work for the next couple of years, but the nature of many cold call opening lines, especially the ones that are not based in timeless psychology is that they have a shelf life. So your takeaway here is I would experiment with using this on your cold calls. I can already hear the fears going through your mind, which is," Well, what if we don't know the person before?" And like," How do we respond to that situation?" It almost never comes up. I listen to these calls all the time. I would urge you to give it a test. And if it does come up, then we should go back to the first step that we covered, which is, map out your response, know the path that a cold call can go down. In this case, they might ask," Do we know each other?" Know how you're going to respond to that situation in the rare event that it does occur. And finally, let's unpack the final part of the opener of this cold call, which is," John, the reason I'm calling is..." So we tested this cold call opening line in this dataset and found that cold callers that state the reason for the call or why they're calling upfront experience more than a double success rate than cold callers who do not do that. And that's because humans crave reasons. We'll get into a study in just a second here to explain some of the psychology behind this, but it's interesting to see the data actually backs this up. So there's a company called Xerox that we're probably all familiar with, and they actually tested the psychology behind this. I think it was back in the'70s or'80s, but they wanted to see if just giving a reason to somebody for you asking them a favor would increase the compliance of them granting that favor. And the study that they did is they would go find a line of people waiting to make a copy at a Xerox copier, and they would have the person conducting the experiment go up and ask if they could cut the person in the line. And the first, I don't even know the numbers behind it, but 10 or 20 people would go ask if they could cut in line without giving a reason why they need to cut in line. And they had a very low success rate. They had a 60, I guess that's not super low, it's actually kind of surprising, but they had a 60% success rate of the person saying," Yes, you can cut in line." Whereas if the person gave a reason for wanting to cut in line, whether the reason was real or fake or just irrelevant, they had a 93 to 94% success rate of getting the favor. So the takeaway behind this is always state the reason of your call because the person, if you do not state the reason of your call, is going to be wondering why you're calling and that gives them an opportunity to interrupt you and ask why you're calling and again put you on the defensive. But if you immediately put their mind at ease, you state why you're calling and the reason for it, they are much more receptive to entertaining a two- or three- or five- minute conversation with you. By the way, one interesting note, which is not as well documented as this study is they did the same study in a loud club where they found people sitting down at seats and there was nowhere else to sit and they would have the experimenter go up to these people and say," Hey, can I take your seat because I have a nose." And there's a really loud club so they couldn't really hear the reason. I have a nose. That doesn't make sense. It's not even relevant. But because they heard the person giving a reason for asking for the favor, they had similar success rates for this study. They had a very high compliance rate of people saying," Sure, take my seat." Even though the reason they gave didn't make sense, they just wanted to know that there was a reason upfront. And by the way, one of the things I glossed over is the most common reason they gave in this copy machine study was," Can I cut in line because I have copies to make?" And people would say," Yeah, of course." Of course you have copies to make, that's such an obvious reason, but simply because you're stating the reason, makes people more likely to agree to comply with you. Okay. Let's get back to the analogy, there is an iceberg ahead and it is the discovery trap. So if you've spent any time in selling, if you've spent a year or two at least, you probably know what discovery is. And it's simply the process of asking questions and collecting information from your customer in attempt to qualify them or persuade them and build pain through the use of questions and information gathering. And almost everybody in the sales world unanimously agrees that discovery is a very important part of the sales process. But what we found is that discovery when it is done on a cold call specifically, is actually counterproductive to your likelihood of getting the meeting. And we're going to cover some of that data here. And if you remember nothing else from this presentation, remember that cold calling is about selling the meeting. That does not mean you should not ever ask discovery questions. What that means is that if you're going to ask a discovery question, you should be using it intentionally and with the purpose of selling the meeting not the purpose of gathering information for your future qual call or for the account executive or anything like that, your goal is to sell the meeting. And if you look at this conversation flow, you'll notice that it is very top heavy on the salesperson side. And this is typically what a successful cold call looks like minus the interruptions here. We needed to edit that part out. I would not recommend interrupting your prospect in the middle of a cold call, but know that they involve a lot more talking on your part and selling the meeting than they do getting your customer to talk for prolonged periods of time. So true to that conclusion, we measured the length of pitches on a cold call, the length of monologues, and that's exactly what it sounds like. It's the number of seconds a sales rep or even a customer or prospect speaks uninterrupted before the next person responds. And we found that in average cold call, it was 25 seconds. That was like the average monologue length. But in a successful cold call, it was much longer, which is a little bit counterintuitive because in sales work taught so often to listen more than you talk. But what this 37- second pitch, for lack of a better word, represents is the nexus of the cold call. It is the moment of truth when usually about two or three minutes into the call, you deliver your pitch on selling the meeting. It is your value prop. It is your argument for why they should just attend a meeting with you, not necessarily the whole sales cycle. It is your one chance to get up on the soap box for a short period of time or relatively short period of time, and really make your case. Now the whole cold call is not made up of long pitches like this. This is just one pitch that happens in the middle of the cold call somewhere. And the rest of the cold call or everything that leads up to that point is simply a maze for you to navigate to secure that platform to make your pitch for selling the meeting or the qual call. Again, true to the conclusion, we found that the average talk to listen ratios in successful cold calls was higher than unsuccessful cold calls. In other words, the salesperson is speaking more than the prospect. And again, be careful with the conclusion you draw here. 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 turning your cold calls into a discovery call. Because if you've ever opened a cold call with saying," Hey, Kelly. Help me understand your biggest strategic priorities for 2018," you're probably going to get laughed at at best and hung up on worse or at worst. It's a not a great forum for you to be asking in- depth discovery questions, you should be using lighter questions that have one purpose, which is to get the listener to stay on the phone and then secure your platform to sell the meeting. I think the final data point that supports what we're talking about here is the monologue length from customers or prospects on a successful cold call. So in successful cold calls, prospects talk for very short periods of time. It's only three and a half seconds at a time and unsuccessful ones talk as long as eight seconds at a time. And again, if your prospect is talking for a long period of time, that is not your red flag or warning signal to get them to shut up. That's not what I'm saying. What I am saying is a cold call is a platform for you to sell the meeting and if they are not talking for long periods of time, that's really okay because you're trying to convince them. So what do we do with this information? A lot of times I get asked," Well, Chris, you talked about giving a 37- second monologue and the customer doesn't talk for very long, how am I supposed to know what to say during that 37- second pitch to sell the meeting? How do I know what to say if I can't do all this discovery upfront and understand their pain points and what's going to resonate with them in that 37- second pitch?" And the takeaway is, and you're going to have to probably recruit some help from your product marketing team or whoever owns buyer personas in your organization, the takeaway is to know your buyer upfront. Let your marketing team do the customer research to help you understand what pain points each of your buyer personas has, what kind of language resonates with them, what objections you can expect early on in the sales cycle or on cold calls. So that's your first takeaway is to get marketing to build these buyer personas for you based on real research and interviewing customers. And then the second takeaway, which you have more control over is doing a bit of pre- call research. Look the person up on LinkedIn before you make the call, read their profiles, see what would resonate with them based on how they want to be perceived, based on the description and their profile. Oftentimes they're going to list their priorities and responsibilities and their role, and if you can tailor your cold call to what they have in the public forum on their LinkedIn profile, you're going to be much more successful than just going into your cold calls guessing what these buyer's pain points are and what kind of language is going to resonate with them. Okay. So we navigated a successful cold call. We navigated through the stormy waters and we finally booked the meeting and arrived in calm waters or in this case, in paradise. We're not done yet. We need to make sure we stay in paradise. In other words, how do we make sure this booked meeting we scheduled, first of all, holds and doesn't no- show us, and second of all, goes successfully? So let's talk about the final data points, the tips and tricks that will help you guys make sure your hold rates are very high and your qual call success rates are also very high. So based on all of the data that we've been analyzing, we found that booked meetings for cold calls are most likely to show up if you schedule them in the afternoon. So afternoon, where this red graph is, is when they are least likely to quote unquote, no- show your qualification call, and morning, 8: 00 AM, 9: 00 AM, 10: 00 AM their time is when they're most likely to bail out on your meeting. So that's simple enough, but what most BDRs are doing is the opposite. Most BDRs, and this graph represents when most BDRs are scheduling their qual calls, most of them are booking in the morning with very few, at least comparatively speaking, being booked in the afternoon. So it's misdirected effort. While we have this chart right here that tells us the late afternoon is the best time to book these meetings based on their likelihood to show up to the meeting, that's actually one of the least often used times to book these meetings. So be careful with the takeaway here. If you can book a meeting, shoot for the afternoon, and we're talking about their time there. But if it means delaying the meeting so far just to get them in the afternoon that it's a week out or two weeks out, then just schedule it for the next day in the morning, you're probably better off. So this is really an all things equal data point to come away with here. The next and one of the last data points we'll cover is how long should your initial call be? Is it better to have a longer meeting or is it better to have a shorter meeting? Help me understand what we should be doing here. This graph represents how long the average first meeting is, not its success rate, just how long the average first meeting is and how many meetings fall into certain timelines. And you'll see that many first sales calls fall within this 30- minute window because we're sending 30- minute calendar blocks and many of them have this peak at 60 minutes. So which one is it better to do? Is it better to have a long meeting or a short meeting or 15- minute meeting or a 90- minute meeting? And it turns out there's absolutely no correlation with how long your first meeting is with your likelihood of securing the next meeting, passing it off to the account executive, and the account executive eventually closing the deal. But there is one caveat to that. And it is that if you send a 30- minute meeting invite compared to a 60- minute meeting invite, they're more likely to show up to your qualification call. So there's the distinction. How long your qualification call actually goes, regardless of how much time the meeting invite was sent for, doesn't really matter. But how much time you send the meeting invite for, whether it's in a 30- minute block or 60- minute block, does matter. So all things equal unless you have a very front heavy process you need to do on these qualification calls, it's recommended that you send the calendar invite for 30 minutes because they're more likely to show up for the meeting and they're less likely to hit the decline button or just no- show the meeting entirely. Okay. So we come to the end here, there's one final tip or tactic that I have for you, and it's just a simple thing you can do for the qualification calls because I know, at least for the most part, what I've heard is that BDRs at Infor are responsible for qual calls. So here's one thing you can do and it is to become a strategist. Plan your qualification calls out in advance rather than just winging them and hoping it goes in some successful way. The best salespeople and BDRs in the world are like chess grandmasters not like improv comedians. They are very intentional whether it's conscious or subconscious about every move they make and why they make those moves. So let's take a look at our final data point here. These little blocks that are moving represent topics that were discussed throughout the timeline of a sales call. So you can see there's next steps, there's pricing, there's different qualification related topics, there's different features. And what we found is that the most successful sellers sequence their topics in related chunks. And the most unsuccessful sellers or just average sellers go about the topics throughout a sales call in an unstructured, unsequenced, haphazard way where they're bouncing randomly from one topic to the next. So the takeaway here is make sure your qual calls are sequential. Don't bounce from topic A to topic B to topic C, bounce from topic A to topic A1 to topic A2, and then to topic B to topic B2 to topic B3. Make them sequential, make your qual calls thematic instead of random and sporadic.
How have you been? Next up in the Gong Webinar Series, we analyzed 90,380 cold calls with AI to reveal cold calling tips that work, based on data from successful sales reps. Learn how to educate, not interrogate, your prospect and why the longer the cold call is, the closer you are to closing the deal. Hosted by Gong's Director of Sales, Chris Orlob.