How To Navigate A Cold Call: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Every cold call you make is an adventure waiting to happen.

Now, let's be honest, unless you are using a power dialer or pre-vetted contact data, your connect rate is going to float around the 3% range, meaning every 100 calls you make, you will connect with 3 people.

So, most calls don't turn into an adventure at all, just another voicemail machine. Not very fun.

But, what do you do when you DO get into a conversation? How do you navigate it? What can you do to prepare?

The great thing about cold calls is that they are relatively predictable, primarily because we are humans calling other humans - therefore, reactions and behaviors remain generally the same, the only difference being how interested (or bothered) somebody is.

But because there is predictability, we can lay out a roadmap of common scenarios SDRs will run into while ripping dials.


Cold calling is 100% a mental game.

If you can control your nerves, focus in, and master your mindset, you will succeed.

To prepare, do these three things:

1. Relax - having fun with your cold calls is key!

  • Reframe cold calling as "calm calling" to cut the anxiety and chill
  • Play your favorite pump-up music and vibe out
  • Stand up while dialing, instant confidence booster
  • Use an alter-persona and put on a funny hat or special attire to get into character
  • Don't dial alone! Make calls with your teammates using a virtual salesfloor

2. Detach - it's not you, it's them.

Let go of assumptions. Detach from the outcome. You only control who you call, how many people you call, what you say, how you say it, and how you respond to objections. - Josh Braun

Take a step back and realize that all you are doing is talking to people who may have a problem that your solution may help with.

Keyword: may.

Your solution won't be a fit for everyone, some people will be busy, some might be upset you called, some will be grateful you did - and that's okay.

You're a human talking to other humans about business, if you take a step back, it's really not that big of a deal.

Reframe your mindset to focus more on learning, and less on outcomes.

“I’m going to reach out to people that might have a problem I can help with. Some will be open to sharing about how they’re currently getting the job done and continuing the conversation. Some won’t. It’s okay either way. I’m not for everyone.” - Josh Braun

3. Smile

The power of a smile can't be emphasized enough.

In fact, smiles are so powerful, you can feel them through a phone.

We've all had that customer service rep who genuinely made our day better simply because of their tone and energy.

Those people stand out so much because the typical customer service rep is unhelpful, impatient, and generally sour.

When most prospects pick up a cold call, they immediately go into defense mode and shut down immediately,  preparing for an aggressive, annoying sales rep to rant about why they are the best.

This isn't their fault, it's just what the sales world has conditioned its prospects to do.

Something as simple as smiling while you are talking to a prospect can make all the difference.

Smile, it's going to be okay :-)

The Gatekeeper

Depending on your industry, you'll likely hit a gatekeeper who has been trained to keep thirsty SDRs like yourself away from their decision-makers.

But, don't fret, gatekeepers are humans just like you!

The key to sliding by gatekeepers is to introduce yourself casually and confidently as if you already know the prospect and they are familiar with you.

Gatekeeper: "Hello, you've reached Kate's office, this is Pam."

You: "Hey Pam, Kate around?"

GK: "Who's calling?"

You: "Jack, was just looking for her response to an email I sent over."

Keep your tone calm, cool, and collected throughout.

Now, 1 of 3 things will happen, here's how you deal with each scenario:

1. The GK tells you the prospect is "busy" or "unavailable"

This response is expected. Maybe it's true, more likely, the gatekeeper knows you're a sales rep and is stiff-arming you.

Don't sweat. They're just doing their job.

If you question the gatekeeper's honesty, "are they really not there?," that will come off rude and hostile. Not worth it.

Instead, you use the opportunity to confirm you've got the right information.

GK: "Kim's busy, won't be able to talk right now."

You: "No problem, maybe you can help me. Is Kim responsible for [area related to your solution]?"

Now, gatekeepers know a lot about the business, mostly because they are fielding calls, monitoring emails, and facilitating communications for their office all day long.

So, they might respond indicating they can help you out, a perfect opportunity to learn more about their current initiatives and efforts, and gather intel for your eventual interaction with the prospect.

Worst case, the gatekeeper isn't willing to help out, but at least you'll get confirmation that you are reaching out to the right person who would be involved with your solution and that you have the right contact info for future attempts.

Remember, gatekeepers are human, so don't use them as a means to an end, but come in confident and seek to learn from them, you'll set yourself up for future success!

2. The GK says you can leave a voicemail

Scroll through your voicemail box, do any stand out to you?

No, they don't, because they are all the same - all random strangers asking you to call them back for some service you don't need.

In 3 years of leading SDRs, I've only ever seen a prospect call back twice (sample size = thousands of VMs).

Why do we do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result?

Let's be different.

Voicemails are a great touchpoint and way to familiarize your prospect with your name and voice.

GK: "Kate's not around, I can send you to her voicemail box though!"

You: "Sounds great, thanks so much Pam."

VM: "Please leave your message!"

You: "Hey Kim, was curious how you are solving for [pain]. I sent a [message/video] over to you via [email/LinkedIn] with some ideas on how we might be able to help with [pain], should be in your inbox right now from [SDR name], yours truly, talk soon!"."

Voicemails should not be where you are trying to get prospect engagement - rather, just a touch point to encourage them to look at your primary outreach.

By using your voicemail to point them to the channel they should be paying attention to, your primary message is much more likely to be seen.

3. The GK lets you through

Hallelujah! You successfully navigated the gatekeeper and got through to your prospect!

Remember, breathe and detach. You got this.

The Opener

Having a consistent talk track is a must. Using the same talk track will make it easy to track success and experiment with new lines, and the repetition will help your tone come across more naturally over time.

There are too many potential talk tracks and ways to approach a cold call to dive into, but every talk track should contain 3 elements:

1. Who
Anytime you get a call from a number you don't recognize, the first thought you have is "who is calling me"

2. Why
The next thought you have is "why are they calling me"

3. What's in it for me?
At this point, you know it's a random sales rep calling you about some product they are selling, the only thing you care about after that is what benefit a conversation with them will give you

The quicker your talk track can answer those three questions, the better it will perform.

With your opener out of the way, your prospect's next line will probably be an objection.

It's not their fault. You called them out of the blue and they didn't ask you to call them.

Don't take it personally, just seek to listen and understand.

Like talk tracks, there are too many possible ways to handle objections to cover here.

However, there are generally two types of objections:

False objections
These are objections that aren't actually true and are used by prospects to get you off the phone ASAP.

An example is when people say they are "in a meeting." Who the heck answers a random phone call in the middle of a meeting? Yea, nobody. What they mean to say is "I don't like sales calls, leave me alone."

Other false objections include "wrong person," "not interested," and "no budget."

True objections
These are objections that are genuine and specific.

An example of this might be "we looked at a few different providers and went with [competitor] because of their integration suite" or "we are currently focused on a few other priorities, timing doesn't seem right at the moment to explore a platform like this."

To be clear, a false objection can sound like a true objection and vice versa. You'll need to use your sales-spidey senses and pick up on things like tone and delivery to help you determine the difference.

Knowing whether or not a prospect's objection is true or false will help you craft a response to keep the conversation moving forward.

As you navigate the initial objection and the conversation progresses, your prospect will likely try to lead you into rabbit holes about feature comparison, platform details, and licensing costs.

Be helpful and don't ignore them, but do NOT fall into rabbit holes.

Ask for the Meeting

The goal of a cold call is not to sell prospects on how cool your tech is and have all of the answers, it's to get them interested enough to book a meeting with your AE.

If you've ever been fishing, you know that when a fish hits your bait, you have to set the hook right away. If you let a fish hit your bait and you don't set your hook, they will take your bait and swim away.

Don't let the prospect sit on your bait, if there's interest, set the hook and ask for the meeting.

Typically, the earlier you ask for the meeting in the call, the more likely it is the prospect will take it. This is because early in the call you've piqued enough interest in your solution to get the prospect curious.

If you wait too long and spill too many details, your prospect may lose their curiosity and talk themselves out of their interest.

An easy way to ask for the meeting early on is to open with your pitch, see if you get an objection, and if it sounds like a true objection, suggest a meeting with your AE to do a more comprehensive dive, under the framing of "you weren't expecting my call, so let's set up a dedicated time to explore this together."

This may sound something like:

“Well [prospect] I know you only had a few minutes and I caught you out of the blue, sounds like there are some questions around [conversation], I'm not the expert here but my partner [AE] is, let's get a quick 15-20 minute meeting on the books so we can talk it over live, what do you have before end of week?"

By you being bold, assertive, and taking the lead, your prospect will be more open to following along and setting up a time.

If they say yes, jump to the next section, if they say no, you could respond with something like this (remember, your solution isn't right for everyone, and that's okay!):

“Hey [NAME], no problem, I understand we’re not always the right fit for everyone, before you drop, do you mind letting me know what about that meeting might be a waste of time for you?"..."Got it, well I appreciate that feedback, does it make any sense for me to reach back out at some point? Or better if I leave you alone?"..."No worries, thanks for your time today!"

Make a Clean Exit

Well, you did it! You got them to take a meeting!

Before you celebrate, make sure your land the plane smoothly.

There are 3 quick things you want to confirm that will serve as a warranty on the prospect actually showing up for the meeting - as we all know, getting ghosted sucks.

1. Send the meeting invite
Don't wait until after the call to send an invite, you don't want to have to contend with your prospect's flooded inbox.

While you've got the prospect on the phone, just tell them you're going to send an invite over real quick to make sure you've got the right email, and ask them to hit 'accept' on the invite.

This might sound something like:
"Great, I'm sending you a meeting invite for Tuesday 12 Eastern right now, can you hit 'accept' on it when you see it so I can make sure I've got the right email for you? It just sent."

2. Ask if you should loop in anyone else
Multi-threaded deals are proven to close at a higher rate. Why not try to get more stakeholders involved earlier in the process?

Once the prospect confirms they got the invite, ask them if you should add anyone else to the conversation.

Even better (because you are such an elite SDR) you already know who might be involved in evaluating your solution, and you can drop their name and ask if it would be helpful to add that specific person to the meeting.

3. Don't overstay your welcome
Okay! You did it! You booked the meeting and they accepted the invite.

Now, leave them the heck alone.

Again, they didn't ask you to call them today and you likely caught them in the middle of something.

Be socially aware, don't overstay your welcome, and beat them to the hang-up.

Before you end the call, make sure to give a quick 2-3 bullet point recap on what you are going to cover. They will likely only remember a few things from your conversation, so a quick recap will keep things simple and easy for them to remember when they leave your conversation.

Once recapped, thank them for their time, hang up, and celebrate!

Rinse & Repeat

Congratulations, you have successfully navigated a cold call!

As you can see, every cold call is an adventure in itself with its unique twists and turns.

You never know who you are going to connect with and you can't control how they are going to respond to your pitch.

All you can control is:

  • Who you call
  • How many people you call
  • What you say
  • How you say it
  • How you respond to objections

The guide above outlines the general flow of a cold call and will help you prepare for future conversations and situations.

But, the best way to get better at cold calling is through repetition, coaching, and getting live feedback from your team with real-time call coaching software.

It takes 10,000 hours to master something, cold calling is no different.

Now, go rip another dial!

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