Cold Calling: Definition, Effectiveness & How to Do It

Learn about cold calling as a sales prospecting strategy, including how it works, whether it's useful, and the information needed to do it well.

Cold calling is the process of contacting a lead over the phone who has not been successfully contacted before. This can mean they haven’t been called at all, or that they’ve never responded. In this article, we’ll go over the major details of cold calling — how it works, whether it’s effective, and how to make cold calls that result in meetings — so you can decide whether cold calling is right for your business.

How Does Cold Calling Work?

Cold calling is a sales prospecting activity that involves calling new leads you’ve found or received from an employer or marketing team (such as marketing qualified leads [MQLs]). On the call, you try to generate interest in your product or service and qualify them as a prospect worthy of further lead nurturing. The ultimate goal of a cold call is to book a more in-depth meeting where you’ll further discuss the lead’s needs and how your solution can help them.

The process of making a cold call is similar to other types of outbound lead generation: compile a list of relevant leads and their contact information, research those leads, conduct your outreach (cold call), qualify the leads, and track your success to continue iterating on your strategy. Learning some key cold calling tips can help you improve your strategy and overcome call reluctance, or the resistance to make cold calls.

Cold calling process
Cold Calling Process

On the call itself, most sellers rely on a pre-prepared cold calling script that outlines the flow of the call but leaves room for variability. Typically, a cold call starts with a brief introduction before the salesperson delivers a short elevator pitch, overcomes any objections, and ends with a strong call-to-action regarding next steps.

Although the advancement of technology has made some sellers question whether cold calling is still effective, many businesses continue to find it to be a useful method to generate outbound leads. Most cold callers are B2B, but certain B2C sellers cold call individual consumers, as well. Before we dive into the specifics of who should make these calls and how, let’s discuss the method’s effectiveness so you can judge whether it can boost your lead generation efforts.

Is Cold Calling Effective?

Cold calling is one of the most effective lead conversion tools available to B2B (and some B2C) sales professionals. While there are many ways to contact a cold lead, there’s nothing like speaking over the phone. In fact, 82% of buyers say they’ve accepted meetings with salespeople after exchanges that started with a cold call. Our article on cold calling statistics lists additional trustworthy data regarding cold calling and whether it’s a good use of salespeople’s time.

Unlike emails, once you’ve made your pitch, the response is immediate. Not only that, but you’re able to make rebuttals in real-time. These benefits make cold calling a vital aspect of lead generation and nurturing, especially for certain types of businesses. 

However, keep in mind that cold calling is an involved process and can be time-consuming. On average, sellers must make 18 calls to connect with a lead, and many answered calls end with the lead declining their offer for a follow-up call or meeting. A positive mindset and ample preparation are key, as is ensuring you’re the right business or professional for cold calling.

Who Should Use Cold Calling?

Cold calling can be a useful tool for many types of businesses, but there are certain types of sellers that tend to get the best use out of this type of direct outreach. Below are some prime candidates for cold calling:

  • Sales Development Reps (SDRs) Tasked With Prospecting: Cold calling can help SDRs get in touch with new leads, and they can often qualify them more quickly than with back-and-forth written communication.
  • Businesses Running Other Campaigns: Cold calling tends to work well in tandem with a larger campaign, such as an email or ad campaign. This increases the chances that your leads will already be familiar with your brand when you call them.
  • Companies That Build Relationships With Leads: While other prospecting practices, such as cold emailing and social selling, can be an effective way to engage leads, speaking with leads directly can help you connect with them on a more personal level and cultivate trust.
  • Salespeople Who Want to Book Meetings Quickly: It can be tough to reach a lead through cold calling, but once the lead answers your call or returns your voicemail, they often accept a meeting to learn more about your company and your product or service.

In general, companies looking for a personal way to qualify leads will find merit in cold calling. Since the process can take time, some businesses focus instead on other prospecting methods (e.g., cold emailing, cold canvassing, social selling, networking, referrals) or on online lead generation methods that attract leads to the company. Those that do cold call need to learn how to find leads, prepare for and make calls, and track their results in an effort to do it successfully.

Cold calling is a useful lead generation strategy, but it isn’t the only one available. For a complete list of the best outbound prospecting strategies, check out our ultimate guide on sales prospecting.

How to Find Lead Phone Numbers

A significant part of cold calling involves finding appropriate leads to call and their phone numbers. To do so, build an ideal customer profile (ICP), or a description of the person or company that needs your product or service and can afford it. Then, search online for leads that fit your ICP, or use an existing list if your employer provides you with one.

When it’s time to gather your leads’ phone numbers, you can do so in one of two ways:

  • Search for Phone Numbers: You can find numbers in places like leads’ email signature, their social media profile, or a Google search, or you can pay for a product or service to find the numbers for you. For more details, read this article on finding leads’ phone numbers.
  • Use a Provided List: Oftentimes, salespeople’s companies provide them with lists of leads and their numbers to call. Typically, these are purchased leads or MQLs from the company’s marketing team; a sales rep calls the leads to further qualify them.

Once you’ve put together or received your list of leads and their phone numbers (and searched the numbers to ensure they’re not on the National Do Not Call Registry, if you’re a B2C seller), you can research and begin calling the leads.

How to Make a Successful Cold Call

To be a successful cold caller, there are several concrete steps you can take to improve your call preparation and execution. When a sales professional is underprepared to be on the phone, it’s obvious to the customer. If you don’t know where you’re going with the call, you’ll come off as nervous, underinformed, and inconsiderate of the lead’s time.

So, let’s outline the steps to a good cold call so you aren’t caught off guard:

  1. Prepare Your Cold Call Script: Create your own script, or closely follow an employer-provided script, to be ready for various cold calling conversations.
  2. Find Leads and Their Phone Numbers: Identify your ideal customer, search online for those leads or use a provided list, and get their phone numbers.
  3. Research Your Leads: Check LinkedIn pages, company sites, and web activity, and use reverse phone lookup to enter their number and receive additional information about them.
  4. Identify the Best Time to Call: Try calling your leads during two appropriate time blocks, and learn the best time to call from this test.
  5. Get in the Right Mindset: Overcome any reluctance you're feeling and ensure you're ready to give your all to the calls you make.
  6. Start With Your Opener: Briefly introduce yourself and your company, and ask for a couple minutes of the lead's time.
  7. Explain Why You're Calling: State the reason for your call, indicate to the lead that you're calling for them specifically, and confidently present yourself as a helpful problem solver.
  8. Deliver Your USP and Pitch: Quickly tell the lead about your product or service and why you believe they would benefit from working with your business.
  9. Overcome Any Objections: If the lead objects, ask questions to fully understand their concern, then offer a rebuttal and explain why meeting with you would still be a good use of their time.
  10. Begin a Needs Assessment: Ask a few questions to ensure they're a good fit to continue nurturing on a follow-up call.
  11. End With a Clear Call-to-Action: Give the lead next steps by setting up a follow-up call, meeting, or demo to learn more about them and further explain your product or service.
  12. Track and Improve Your Calling Results: In your CRM, track the outcomes of your calls, then use that information to continue to adjust your strategy.

As you follow these steps and gain experience as a cold caller, you’ll see your success start to improve over time.

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Additional Reading:

To learn more about preparing and executing a successful cold call, check out our article on how to make a cold call for sales, where we discuss the steps above in greater detail.

How to Track Your Cold Calling Results

At the end of each cold call, salespeople can track their results in their CRM software by entering the outcome of the call and calculating their conversion rate. By keeping track of specific metrics and displaying them via reports and dashboards, they can better understand how successful they are in their efforts and experiment with new ideas to increase that success. 

Measure your results through the steps below:

  1. Track Your Cold Calling Metrics: Choose the data you’d like to track in your CRM; using these metrics, you can even A/B test various cold calling techniques and note the ones that work best so you can continue to improve your strategy.
  2. Create a Cold Calling Report: Once you’ve started tracking your metrics, put together a report, or a visual representation of the chosen metrics that shows data trends; this will help you evaluate and compare your calling success over a specific period of time.
  3. Consider Building a Dashboard: As your data grows, consider using a dashboard (a centralized hub that presents a real-time snapshot of key metrics) to see your metrics and reports at a glance.

The first step in putting this tracking together is to choose the data that will most accurately measure your cold calling results. To determine the appropriate metrics to track in your CRM, read our article on CRM metrics. If you don’t already have a CRM, learn more about them and choose the one that’s right for you with the help of our articles on CRM software. As you track and improve your results, you’ll become more confident and more willing to cold call.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is Cold Calling Illegal?

Though not illegal, the FTC manages a National Do Not Call Registry for consumers. Those who register cannot be solicited over the phone and can seek recourse if they are. However, this is specific to consumers and does not cover other businesses for B2B sellers. If you’re a B2C seller, make sure you consult the Do Not Call Registry prior to cold calling to ensure you’re not calling someone on the list. Check the FTC for more info.

Further, there may be additional restrictions for some industries selling to consumers. If you’re selling financial products, for example, the SEC sets hours in which you can and can’t call consumers, in addition to whether they’re on the registry or not. Make sure you understand any industry-specific rules and regulations before cold calling.

What Is Call Reluctance & Why Does It Occur?

Call reluctance is the resistance, disinterest, or fear cold callers feel when they have to pick up the phone and contact a lead. This resistance can cause even an experienced salesperson to make fewer calls or have unproductive conversations. Sales reps often feel reluctant to cold call not just because it can be tedious, but because of a few underlying reasons. 

Specifically, these are the main factors that can cause call reluctance:

  • Nerves: Salespeople who feel pressured to perform well can often experience debilitating nervousness, especially since they can’t know the outcome of the call in advance.
  • Rejection: Most cold calls end with rejection; this low success rate combined with irritated leads can make salespeople anticipate a “no” before they pick up the phone and, as a result, struggle to find the motivation to call.
  • Fatigue: Cold callers are expected to be on their game with every lead, and they’re often making hundreds of calls per day or week; this can deplete their energy.

Luckily, there are solutions to each of these causes. As salespeople practice their scripts, they’ll be more prepared and will calm their nerves. By separating themselves from the product, rejection will feel less personal. Reps that use a mind-over-matter approach and an energetic voice on calls will build energy and even inspire leads to be enthusiastic, as well. Ultimately, the best way to overcome call reluctance is to gain experience and build a record of success.

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Additional Reading:

To learn more, read our article on call reluctance, where we further explain the causes of the resistance salespeople often feel when making cold calls, as well as some tips to overcome it.

Bottom Line

Cold calling is an outbound lead generation strategy that, with preparation, proper execution, and patience, can be effective for many businesses. As a salesperson, while your performance on a call matters, you’ll need to put in the work on the backend to be successful. Consider the resources we’ve given you, and decide whether cold calling is right for you. If it is, check out our guide to making a successful cold call, where we give you a step-by-step process to follow.

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