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Cold Calling Tips for Selling in Tough Times

Cold Calling Tips for Selling in Tough Times

Shruti Kapoor
Shruti Kapoor
April 22, 2020
5 min read


The landscape of sales and business has changed more in the past month than it has in the last several years. Unemployment has hit the global market heavily and businesses are on the verge of shutting down. 

Sales teams are affected the most with record levels of layoffs. While job cuts are expected to continue, hiring has been frozen by a lot of companies. Another battle that salespeople are facing on a daily basis is cold calling. 

With COVID-19 the standard cold calling scripts have become ineffective and salespeople are facing even more rejections. Your old sales strategy as a salesperson in the front line might not work anymore. Since this is a scenario that has never happened before, salespeople are now forced to experiment on cold calling and selling. 

This blog addresses several aspects of cold calling. From the basics of cold calling to cold calling pitches and best practices, we aim at providing enough resources and tested methods for salespeople to battle through this.

What will you learn in this:

-   Should you be cold calling today?
-   Some great openers that work
-   How to play ping pong on a cold call
-   How to make gatekeepers allies not enemies
-   How to overcome the most common & dreaded objection “not interested”
-   Tips for cold calling
-   Inspirational examples from pop culture

Should sales teams be cold calling today? 

Bob Perkins, the founder of AA-ISP rightly says, 

“Sales has to go on.”

Sales is an essential function of any organization. At a time when most businesses are clamping down and bracing for the tough times ahead, cold calling often seems like a tiresome task. 

Here are some of the challenges that sales teams are reporting

  1. Fewer net new demos are happening 
  2. Cancellation/postponement of demos booked
  3. Cold-calling hit rates are lower than ever as desk phones aren't manned and most people haven't forwarded the lines to their cells

However, there is evidence that people are still having conversations, so it is valuable to continue to have your team reach out to prospects and even make cold calls, as long as the tone and content fits the times. 

What is a Cold Call?

I would define it as “when you call someone without an appointment and they don’t already know you”. There are 3 types of cold calls according to me:

      Cold-cold: Never interacted with the person before and the phone call is literally your first touch point with them

      Warm-cold: Reached out to them through other channels and you aren’t sure whether or not they know you

      Hot-cold: Have exchanged messages or interacted before over email/social media etc.

How do you begin a cold call?

The one thing common across the different types of cold calls is that the person picking up the phone isn’t expecting to speak with you. The only objective of your opening line should be to get to your second line. Though the first line can vary, honestly the only purpose of that line should be to – make the person not slam the phone on you.

Now, this might vary depending on the type of person you sell to. While there is a lot of generic advice, the underlying principle is “pattern interrupt”- say the unexpected so that they don’t have a chance to slam the phone till they have also said something and now feel more obliged to be polite.

Here are some opening scripts that have been successful.

‘Hey Alex, how have you been?’

 – it works because it takes a friendly and familiar tone. That’s not the usual tone of sales calls and that’s a pattern interrupt.

‘Thank you for taking my call’ 

‘Hey Alex, I know I called you in the middle of something. And thank you for taking my call’ 

‘Hey Alex, I know I called you in the middle of something but do you have 27 seconds to hear why I am calling?’ 

If someone knows that it will be over quickly you are more open to entertaining it. Think about how a doctor prepped you ahead of a difficult and painful exam.


‘Hey Alex, it is Becky here from ABC. Maybe you can help me out for a moment.’ 

It works because our most primal instinct is to be able to help.


‘Hey Alex, Becky here. Can you help me out for a moment?

Alex: It depends

Becky: Absolutely, you got a quick sec… is now a good time to talk? 

I saw this recently on LinkedIn and it captures all of the above principles – pattern interrupt, make them say yes, get commitment.


"I know we haven't spoken before. Can I tell you really quickly why I'm calling and then you let me know if we should keep on that cool?"

In their head, they are saying, "oh, this is going to be quick and after it, I can tell them to kick rocks." So they say, Yeah sure. 

Now that you have their attention and they have agreed to listen, how do you let it not go to waste? Ike Krieger has some straight advice on this

Let the prospect know the problem you solve before you tell them what you do. They don't care what you do, or how you do it. All they care about is what you can do for them.

Best practices for Cold Calling

#1: Experience for empathy

A lot has been said and spoken about empathy in sales for the longest time, but Bob Perkins specifies that empathy needs to be more genuine and caring. He also goes on to instruct salespeople to lead by saying

“ ...what new challenges are you facing? I'm here to help and give you something that can help you if I can.”

So it might be as simple as “Hey, I'm going to give you this guide on expected trends in XYZ in the next 3 months ”

The easiest way to get sales reps to develop empathy is to make them experience things as a buyer. If possible, get them to man the office phone and screen all incoming cold-calls. This will do 2 things:

a.   They will know how it feels to get interrupted.

b.   What message worked even as they were getting interrupted.

At least they will avoid this experience from my favorite TV show Seinfeld

Clip from Seinfeld

#2: Mix n Match

Use multiple channels in parallel – Social, Email, and Phone. People have different levels of clutter, channel preference, and communication styles. By mixing and matching you can ‘meet’ them where they are most available.

#3: Get a rhythm

Allocate an hour to cold call so you are in the groove for it. Spend the first 10-15 mins preparing your mindset for it, grab your bottle of water, pep yourself up, and do a few practice pitches e.g. gatekeeper, voicemail, and ACTUAL conversation.

#4: Who do you call

John Barrows mentioned the problem with lists in his recent Webinar- they have many very different people on it. Make a list of people for that cold calling hour, who are similar. So you don’t have to redo your cold calling script each time you pick up the phone. You will sound more confident and relaxed if you know exactly what it is that you want to say to that very person. If you are selling an expense management solution, aim to call CFOs of<50 person companies in the education space in one day. Guess what, it will be much easier to have your talking points, case studies, openers on your fingertips.

#5: Reverse the goal

A no <> failure. A lot of young reps go into a cold calling with that mindset. The best cold-callers I know go in with the mindset that it is a game of numbers and every no gets me one call closer to a ‘Yes’.

#6: Ask for feedback

This can come from peers, managers, family members, or even the prospect! After a failed cold call, an SDR on my team reached out to the prospect to ask for feedback. The prospect was very helpful and mentioned what he would have liked to hear instead. It is always easier if you can get that kind of a valuable gem from your target audience. Perhaps when you are killing time at the next conference, walk up to a possible prospect and ask them about the last cold call they received and how and why they responded to it like that.

#7: Learn the vernacular

People in different industries and roles use different languages (I don’t mean English, Spanish, etc.). What you want to do is match their language in complexity, formalness, pace, and structure. This helps them feel you understand them, you do business with others like them and has a big impact in helping them open up. One of our customers discovered through Wingman that the words they choose to set up a demo impacted the no-show rates for demos by as much as 50%! This is perhaps the strongest reason to have a cold calling script and follow it.

#8: Turn Blockers into Stepping Stones

Based on analysis of 1000s of calls across Wingman’s customers we know that in 1 out of every 6 calls you will encounter the dreaded “not interested” objection. Most sales reps give up and end the conversation with a polite thank you at this stage. This is your opportunity to shine and distinguish yourself from the pack. You can read more about the exact script to handle this here.

#9: What’s your downside?

It took me a long time to learn that being polite and business-like is the norm. But that doesn’t get me any farther in helping close deals or move things to the next step. It is good to challenge, dig, and push-back a little.

If someone says “We don’t need this right now, but I will reach back out when we do” what is your best response?

You could politely say “That’ll be great, here is my number” or you could push back and call a spade a spade. “Thanks, Amy. Typically, when someone says they will get back to me on a cold call it really means they aren’t interested.”
You can then follow it up with how you would address the ‘not interested’ objection.

#10: Handling Gate-keepers

A majority of phone lists are board line numbers. So, whether or not you like it, the person picking the phone is more likely to be a gatekeeper than your prospect. What’s the best way to deal with gate-keepers? I think this deserves a post of its own but here is a quick tip: “they are humans too”. Below is a post from Amy Quickfrom the perspective of a gate-keeper that sums it well.

Dealing with Gatekeepers
Overcoming gate-keeping

Gate-keeping might not be an immediate obstacle for cold calling since most workspaces are shut off due to COVD-19. You now have direct access to decision-makers who are working from home and if you play it right there are better chances of winning a deal.

Cold Calling not to do
What not to do while cold calling

The COVID script

Meg Kopka shares how a sales call won her over.

While there is a lot that’s negative today from a prospecting and sales perspective, there are 2 definite positives of cold-calling prospects today:

#1: Building rapport:

There has been no better time to build rapport than right now. Irrespective of who or where, everyone has the shared context of COVID, working from home, and the associated challenges. Here are stats from sales calls on how some themes have become much more common in a matter of a couple of weeks:

Commonly used words on sales calls from Wingman analytics

You don’t have to open the conversation with talking about Corona - maybe you can choose an allied theme that isn’t as unpleasant.

#2: Not selling:

For a lot of reasons that have been talked about elsewhere (check our B2B selling during COVD eBook), the goal for a lot of teams today isn’t to ‘sell’. The primary objective is to build relationships and add value so that when the time is right you are well placed to make the sale. It is time to realign your metrics, CTAs, and communication to reflect this. 

Here is an example of how you could adapt your standard cold calling script to today’s situation

Line 1: Pattern interrupt “Hi John, you are probably spending more time with your headphones on than you’d like. Thank you so much for taking my call.

Line 2: Pre-emptive strike (read more about it here) “I am not looking to sell you something, I was hoping to [insert value offer statement]

How to pitch in voicemails?

Here is what a typical Voicemail message looks like and let's identify the wrongs in this?

Voicemail Pitch
A typical voicemail pitch and its shortcomings

So here is what you can do instead:

For context, imagine I sell a sales-tech tool that can make sales coaching and sales training 100X more effective. (it’s actually true ;))

I help sales trainers make their trainings stick.More sticky trainings means their customers see RoI and want to invest
more in training and also refer them to others in their network.

More effective trainings = more sales.

Alex, caught you on the B2B Sales Podcast recently.  The ABC analogy?  Nailed it.  Have 2 new ideas that might not be on your radar related to standing out among coaches through guaranteed RoI for the VPs of Sales without a Sales Enablement function. No need to call me back.  Check your email with the subject line Madagascar: I like to move it! Oh, this is Becky.

Source: I adapted this from @Josh Braun

Here is why this works 

Relevance: start with their favorite topic and make it sound like this isn’t 1 out of 500 calls you are making that day. Make them feel special.

New idea: I offered them value – 2 new ideas that might help in something very meaningful to them. I might not have credibility with them yet, but this is a step in that direction of being consultative rather than sales-y. 

Pattern interrupt: I left it hanging. No phone number.  No company name. 

The voicemail’s job is to promote the email. I mentioned the
subject line and made it different so they will remember it and open it.

Some interesting stats:
statistics on conversation rates

However, there is evidence that people are still having conversations, may it be customer service or actual sales calls and setting up meetings. So it is valuable to continue to have your team reach out to prospects and even make cold calls, as long as the tone and content that fits the times. Below are some March data from Connect & Sell.

Usage Summary from connect and sell
Daily Usage Summary from Connect and Sell

These stats can vary dramatically by segment. E.g. when selling to real estate agents, educational institutes, or local businesses you would expect a much higher number. When selling to tech companies these numbers can be even lower. It is possible that cold-calling isn’t ideal for your segment, but don’t make that decision till you have made at least a 1,000 dials!

Go get jazzed up about cold calling, watch some game-tape of the best cold calls in your team. If you need some help on that and learning best practices from sales reps in your team, check out

And here is my favorite cold-call from the movies: 

Pursuit of Happiness
Will Smith in Pursuit of Happiness

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