How to Cold Call for Sales in 12 Steps (+ Free Script)

Read our guide on how to cold call to learn the step-by-step process for calling sales leads and sparking their curiosity in your product or service.

A cold call is a sales prospecting call to a lead who has never directly communicated with anyone from your company. The goal of the call is to make the lead curious enough about your product or service to accept another call or meeting during which you’ll qualify them further. To cold call effectively, it’s best to create a list of leads who fit your target audience, research each lead, and place personalized cold calls.

Free Cold Call Script Template

A cold call script outlines the words you’ll say on each cold call while leaving some space to allow for personalization for each lead. It helps you create a repeatable cold call process that you can test, tweak, and optimize. We created a free cold call script template for you, which we broke down in our article on how to write a cold call script.

The full step-by-step process for cold calling, from drafting your script to tracking your results, is shown below:

How to cold call steps

Now, let's go through each step of the process in more detail.

1. Create Your Cold Call Script

A cold call script will streamline the cold call process and allow you to to call more leads in less time and have more productive calls. Typically, the script will have an opener, your reason for calling, your unique selling proposition, rebuttals to common objections, needs assessment questions, and a call-to-action. Of course, you’ll adapt your script to fit each lead, but if you can’t find much info on a certain lead, this will still work well. 

Create your own cold call script by following these steps: 

  1. Learn About Your Target Audience: Figure out your leads' needs and pain points so you use language that relates to and interests them.
  2. Pick Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP): Explain how your product or service satisfies the lead’s needs. 
  3. Write Out the Components of the Script: Write out your opener, reason for calling, USP, objection rebuttals, needs-related questions, and call-to-action (CTA).
  4. Practice: Get comfortable with your script. Repeat it to yourself and rehearse it with colleagues, having them act as a cold lead.

In our article on how to write a cold call script, we go over each of these steps more in depth while also providing some examples of effective scripts for various cold calling scenarios.

2. Find Leads & Their Phone Numbers

Create a list of leads that fit your ideal customer profile, have decision-making power, and likely have the pain point you solve. Include their name, phone number, company name, title, and any other details you feel are important to know for the call. While researching the leads in the following step, you can add newfound information to it. 

Assembling this list is also an act of qualification. Only let leads onto your list who fit certain criteria so you can spend your time calling people that are likely to buy your solution. 

To acquire these high-potential leads, there are several methods you can use: 

  • Lead Database: Databases like ZoomInfo sell you access to their databases of leads, and they give you filtering options to narrow down their available leads to ones that fit your ideal customer profile. 
  • CRM Reports: Your CRM software likely has reporting features that allow you to use filters to generate lists of leads your company has already generated or purchased. Or, your manager may give you this list.
  • Manual Research: Take the old-fashioned route and use Google, LinkedIn, and other platforms to manually source find leads. For example, google “largest office developers in NYC,” search their websites for decision makers, find their numbers, and add them to the list.

A list of leads should last you at least a week. So if you make 40 cold calls a day, form a list of 240. The extra 40 leads will serve as a buffer — sometimes phone numbers are inaccurate, and sometimes during the research step, you’ll disqualify leads because they don’t fit the above criteria. If you’re assembling lists manually and having trouble finding phone numbers, read this article by Clodura on 10 techniques for finding phone numbers.

Pro Tip:

If you’re reaching out to different types of companies or people, consider creating separate lists. I used to cold call VPs of property management and property managers. I therefore created two lists and wrote a script for each list, since the two roles had different pain points. One day I’d call the property manager list. The next day I’d tackle the VP list.

3. Research Your Leads

A personalized cold call is more effective because it makes the lead feel like your call is meant specifically for them. So, research your leads and look for information about the lead to use in your opener to build rapport (e.g., a shared hobby) and any hints about the pain points they might be having — you’ll mention these pain points after the opener of your call. Lastly, you want context, like their job title, responsibilities, or company description.

To research a lead, check the following sources: 

  • Lead’s LinkedIn Profile: Find their title, job responsibilities, interests, and even hobbies and groups they belong to. This is a good place to find material for your opener. 
  • Lead’s Company’s Website: Search for clues about their pain points. Check the team page to learn about their job responsibilities. 
  • Lead’s Recent Web Activity: Your marketing software might tell you what content the lead has been consuming, revealing what they’re interested in and perhaps their pain points.
  • Reverse Phone Lookup: If you have leads’ phone numbers but no other information, use a free reverse phone lookup tool to type in their number and see details about them.

Research the leads on your list in bulk to avoid losing momentum by stopping after every call to research the next person on the list. Add your findings next to the lead’s name for easy reference so you can personalize each call. Along the way, discard the leads that just aren’t a good enough fit for you to call. Disqualifying during the research phase is especially useful when you have access to 10,000 leads, but only enough time, and sanity, in each day to call about 50.

4. Determine the Best Time to Call

Now that you have a list of leads and information about them, pick the best days and times for your cold calling block(s). Typically, the times you're most likely to connect with the lead are Wednesday and Thursday at 9am local time. But your optimal time depends on your target audience’s preferences and schedule. A good way to find that is through testing. 

Run a simple test to figure out the best cold calling time by following this process: 

  1. Step Into Your Lead’s Shoes: Think about their schedule. For example, building managers might spend their afternoons checking properties. So you’d be best calling in the morning while they’re at their desk. Pick a time that makes sense for your leads. 
  2. Pick Your First Time Block: For a week, try calling every day from your chosen timeframe, perhaps 9–11 am. Track your results. What percentage of leads answered?
  3. Pick a Second Time Block: The next week, call daily during another timeframe, maybe 1–3 pm. What percentage of leads answered?
  4. Compare the Results: The time block with the higher answer rate is ideal. From here, you can continue testing other time blocks or stick with this one.

This test is an effective way to choose your benchmark cold calling time. But, a true optimal time will only become evident after you’ve collected a lot of data about connection rates with leads at certain times over the long term. In a future step, we’ll talk about tracking your cold calling success.

Pro Tip:

Call before or after common work hours (before 9am and after 5pm) if you’re trying to contact an executive. This works because they’ll likely be in the office, but their gatekeeper, typically an assistant or secretary, will not be, so the executive might answer directly. Plus, it’s unlikely other salespeople are using this strategy, so the competition is low.

5. Get in the Right Mindset

Cold calling can be scary. Reps often worry about interrupting people and coming across as a nuisance. We have an article on dealing with call reluctance that will help you handle this, but one of the best things you can do to prevent it is to form the right mindset before a call block. 

To do so, think of yourself as a problem solver, and therefore a value-add to any lead on your list. Remember, you’re providing them with important intel, opening their eyes to a problem that they’re likely unaware of that’s hurting their business and life. Plus, you have the solution to it. Your leads are lucky to be receiving a call from you, and if they blow you off, that’s okay — you were simply trying to help them. 

Here are some other ways to form the right mindset before a cold call block: 

  • Practice the Superman Pose: Stand tall with your chest out, legs wide, chin up, fists on your hips, and smile on your face for 3-5 minutes. This will boost your confidence. 
  • Watch Something Funny: Watch your favorite comedian or YouTuber. Laughter can loosen you up and release endorphins that relieve stress.
  • Listen to Pump-up Music: Jam out to your favorite music to get into the zone.

Taking proactive measures to get in the right mindset will lead to a more enjoyable and productive cold call block. And viewing yourself as a valuable problem solver keeps you motivated throughout the rejection that comes with cold calling.

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Additional Reading:

For more information on supercharging your mindset so you're in the right frame for making cold calls, check out our guide on overcoming call reluctance. There, you'll find the reasons for call reluctance and a repeatable strategy for getting over it.

6. Begin the Cold Call With an Opener

Now it’s time to actually make a cold call, which you’ll begin with an opening line. Typically, your opener will answer the first of the two main questions on every lead’s mind: who is calling me, and why are they calling me? To do this, immediately state “Hi {lead’s name}, this is {your name} from {company name}.” Then, say something that’ll get them talking and kick off the conversation or get their permission to talk with them.  

Here are some effective openers to choose from: 

  • “I’ve seen your work on {website} and I liked {something you found interesting}.” 
  • “I was hoping to speak with you briefly. Do you have 1–2 minutes?”
  • “I spoke with {their peer}, and they mentioned you’d be the right person to talk with about {problem you solve}. Were they correct?”

From there, you might experience some small talk or an exchange of niceties, but the lead is still going to be hesitant to talk with you. They’re still likely skeptical of your intentions. They’re wondering “Why is this person calling me specifically?” So, in the next step, you’ll tell them.

7. State Your Reason for Calling

While stating why you’re calling, you want to do three things: give the reason for your call, show the lead that your call is meant for them specifically, and come across as a knowledgeable and confident problem solver. To do all of this in one phrase, mention pain points someone in their role or industry likely suffers, including a specific pain point pertinent to this person or their company that you found during your research. 

Use this framework to state your reason for calling: 

{Lead’s name}, the reason for my call today is that a lot of {their title and/or company type — e.g., VPs at financial services startups} come to us, {your company name}, saying that they’re suffering from {pain point A — one that likely affects the lead}. They’re also fed up with {pain point B — one common to your customers} because it’s causing them to {pain point C}.”

The reason for mentioning three pain points is because if you have a good understanding of the pains of your target market from your pre-call research, at least one of the pain points you mentioned will have a good chance of striking a nerve with the lead. Sometimes the lead will speak up and validate that they do in fact suffer one of these pain points, saying something like: “Yep, {pain point A} kills me.”  

Other times, the lead will stay silent. In those cases, simply ask: Do any of those issues ring a bell?” Now, the sad truth is that most of your leads will just say no in an effort to end the call. That’s okay, though; if you can book a meeting with even just 1/50 of the people you call, you’re doing solid work. If your lead says yes and names a specific pain point, ask whether they want to hear how to fix it, then pitch your solution.

8. Give Your USP & Pitch

Next, communicate your unique selling proposition (USP) in the form of a quick elevator pitch. It should be short and succinct and clearly articulate what your product or service is and how it eliminates the specific pain point your lead is feeling. It should also name 2–3 key benefits that the lead will receive if they buy your solution. This all serves to paint your offer as valuable. The pitch should be under 30 seconds long and focus on the benefits.

Here are some example cold call pitches: 

  • “Our document automation software, {product name}, cuts in half the time our clients spend drafting legal documents by providing them with templates that auto-populate information during intake. This way, lawyers can spend more time helping their clients or spending time with their families and friends.”
  • “We provide full-service social media ad management so you don’t have to worry about it. We do this by building an ad campaign targeted to your customer, creating the ads, and managing and optimizing the campaign over time. That way, you can generate more leads and spend more time on your core business function.”

From here, your lead might ask questions that you’ll answer. Or they might just say that sounds interesting. Whatever happens, now that you’ve made your pitch, you need to overcome any objections and ask some questions to verify the lead’s fit.

Pro Tip:

If the call has gone over five minutes, plan to ask for the meeting. If they’ve dedicated that much time to hearing you out, they’re likely to accept a longer call.

9. Overcome Any Objections

You’re likely to receive objections throughout the entire cold call. However, they most commonly occur either after your pitch (refutations of your claims) or after you ask for a follow-up meeting or call. To handle objections, ask questions about their objection to gain a full understanding of why the lead isn’t interested. Once you comprehend their reasoning, show them that you hear what they’re saying, and make a rebuttal to address their concern. 

Here’s how to respond to a lead objecting to a meeting: 

“I understand {objection}. Meet with us anyway. Regardless of whether or not we’re a good fit to help you {pain point}, I’m positive you’ll come away with value in the form of ideas about how to improve your business and insights into what your peers are using.” 

The above response shows the lead you listened to their objection and still gives them a reason to attend the meeting. It also shows that in the next meeting you’re going to see if it’s a good fit, not force the product on them. This lowers the stakes. It’s vital that you ask three times for the meeting before calling it quits. Any more and it might be overkill. Any less and you’re hurting your chances, because people tend to object two times on impulse.

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Additional Reading:

If you’d like to learn more to prepare for objections, check out our article on objection handling. There, you’ll find a script for responding to leads’ common concerns, plus additional strategies and tips to help you rebut them.

10. Perform an Initial Needs Assessment

By now, it should be somewhat evident whether or not the lead wants to learn more. If they engaged in a conversation about your product after you gave your pitch, they’re likely curious. Now, before you ask for the meeting, conduct a short live needs assessment to ensure they’re qualified enough for a call. Simply ask 2–3 questions to see if they actually need your solution. 

Specifically, ask about the following:

  • Customer Needs: Find out what the lead’s goals and challenges are and any roadblocks they’re experiencing.
  • Other Decision Factors: Learn how they make their buying decisions when considering a product or service like yours. 
  • Competitors: Ask whether they’re currently using a product or service like yours, and why or why not. If they do use it, find out what they like and don’t like about it.
  • Decision Timeline: Get a sense of how much time they’ll need to consider your offering before buying, and ask what materials they’d like to see and by when.
  • Communicating in the Future: Figure out their communication preferences, whether they’ll be your primary contact, and whether they’d like to bring in another decision maker, as well.

Having this information on hand will enable you to initially qualify the lead and plan a better second call with them, assuming they accept your CTA.

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Additional Reading:

For more information on how to execute a live needs assessment on your cold call, check out our article on how to conduct a needs assessment. There, you'll find three strategies with steps on doing it correctly.

11. End With a Strong Call-to-Action

Your CTA refers to what you want your lead to do next. You’re making a request for them to move forward in the sales process. Typically, this will be to have a meeting with you or a higher-level rep for an in-depth discovery call where you'll qualify them as a good fit. As a rule of thumb, state this CTA when you sense the lead could be interested. Perhaps they’re asking questions, engaging in conversation about the product, or just not objecting. 

One of the best ways to ask for this meeting is with the following phrase:

“From our conversation, it sounds like {product/service name} would be a good fit to help your business {pain point solution}. That said, are you open to setting up a 20- to 30-minute meeting with us to learn a bit more about our product? We’ll also ask you some questions about you and your business to see if we're a good fit to help you.”

From here, two things could happen: 

  • The Lead Accepts a Meeting: If they agree to the next steps, arrange a time that works for both of you during the call. Best practice is to give them a few days and time ranges that work for you: “I have any time after 2pm on Monday and Tuesday open.”
  • The Lead Declines a Meeting: Sometimes this initial no is a reaction programmed into them. It might take the form of “now’s a bad time” or “we don’t have the budget.” In this case, you’re going to have to overcome these objections.

If your lead said yes and you found a time that works, consider using the end of the call to build some more rapport. Drop something you learned about them in research: “Before you go, I’ve got to mention that I saw you were in the marines. I myself served in the air force for four years. What inspired you to join?” Forming a connection will increase the odds they show up at your meeting.

12. Track & Improve Your Cold Calling Results

Be sure to plug the outcome and each cold call into your CRM so that you can track certain metrics to see if you’re improving over time. It’ll also give you the data necessary to determine if new approaches you try are actually making a positive difference.

Specific cold calling metrics you can track include:

  • Calls Made: How many numbers you dialed, whether or not the lead answered.
  • Calls Answered: How many leads actually answered your call.
  • Converted Calls: How many leads you spoke with agreed to a follow-up call.
  • Conversion Rate: The number of conversions divided by the calls answered.
  • Average Call Time: How long you spoke with leads before hanging up, regardless of who initiated the end of the call.

Tracking cold call results also forces you to confront your shortcomings and think of ways to grow. After each call, jot down notes about each call. Write any critical turning points, such as an objection you failed to overcome or a pain point you mentioned that inspired interest. After your calling block, reflect on each call by reviewing the notes. Think about those turning points, why they happened, and how you can change or replicate your actions next time.

Pro Tip:

If you don't already use CRM software, choose one to track your cold calling efforts before you start calling. While you can note your results in a spreadsheet or another method, doing so in a CRM will help you best keep track of certain cold calling metrics. As you make more calls, you'll be able to pull reports to get a full picture of how you're performing so you can figure out how to improve your results.

3 Best Practices for Cold Calling

Regardless of whom you’re cold calling, there are some best practices you can follow to optimize the limited amount of time you have to impress your lead. Some of the most effective habits to implement are below:

  • Set a Daily Call Goal: Set a goal of making around 40 calls a day. This enables you to practice and get better while also increasing the chances you have to find prospects. 
  • Be Flexible With Your Script: Let the conversation flow organically in order to build rapport. 
  • Be Aware of Your Tone: Use your tone of voice to speak like a peer and project confidence and enthusiasm. This can get your lead excited to talk to you, as well.

For more of these tips and tactics, check out our article on the top cold calling tips, each of which is backed by professional salespeople and business experts.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What’s the Best Time to Cold Call?

Generally, the best days to cold call are Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the best time to call is 9am. However, everyone’s leads are different. Your ideal day and time to place a cold call depends on their preferences and habits. So think about when they’re likely at their desks with free time on their hands. Though estimating can work, the best way to figure out when to cold call is by tracking your connection rates at different times and days over the long haul.

How Do You Close a Cold Call?

You close a cold call by asking the lead to take certain next steps with you. Typically, that means asking them if they’re open to a discovery meeting. Here’s a phrase you can use to close any cold call: “From what I’ve heard, it seems like {your product/service name} could really help you {pain point they want to solve}. So I’d love to learn a bit more about your situation to further assess if we’d be a good fit. Are you open to scheduling a 20- to 30-minute meeting with me?”

How Do You Overcome Call Reluctance?

Call reluctance is the resistance or fear cold callers feel when they have to call a lead. This often occurs to newer cold callers who feel burnt out from being rejected so often by leads. If you experience call reluctance, try creating and practicing a cold call script. This script will help you feel more prepared before the call. Plus, if you practice it often, you’ll feel confident and the lines will be automatic. When you're confident in your abilities, your nerves will fade away.

Another solution is to pump yourself up before a cold call block, either with your favorite music or endorphin-inducing body language, like we discussed above in step 5. Ultimately, the best way to destroy cold call reluctance long term is to gain confidence through experience.

For more solutions, we recommended reading our article on overcoming cold call reluctance, where we give you several practices that can help build calling momentum.

Bottom Line: How to Cold Call for Sales

Cold calling is an effective lead generation strategy to find new business. It’s the fastest way to make a personal connection with a decision maker. If you follow the above steps, you’ll turn one of the most difficult elements of sales into one of your most valuable skills. Not only will this bring you success in sales, but it will also afford you success in life, where getting something you want often boils down to getting someone’s attention and making the ask.

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