Do sneaky cold-calling attempts pay off?

By Shannon F.

The easy answer is: sometimes, but not usually. When sales reps find that being straightforward isn’t working for them, they may resort to other tactics with varying degrees of success. Most gatekeepers are pretty good at making sure salespeople never get through to key decision-makers, so we’ve heard cold-callers try everything under the sun to keep from being brushed off. Some sneaky cold-calling practices that we dislike include:

Mumbling the name of your company. If you’re not proud to say who you work for, you probably shouldn’t be selling your product. Plus, you’re crazy if you think a gatekeeper is just going to pass you off to the boss without asking you to repeat yourself. Some sales reps refuse to say the name of the company even when pressed, which brings us to the next cold-calling don’t:

“It’s just a business call.” This often-used line is intended to brush off gatekeepers, but be warned: you’ll definitely ruffle their feathers. They know it’s a sales call, and because you weren’t transparent from the beginning, there’s no way they’ll put you through to the decision-maker.

Pretending to be the boss’s best friend. “Oh hey, it’s Greg. Is Sarah around?” is not going to fool anyone, since you would have called Sarah’s cell or direct line if the two of you were actually close. And if you do reach a decision-maker, don’t cross the line between friendly and manic. Gushing “How are you!” is pretty off-putting if you have no relationship with the prospect.

And by far, the sneakiest one we’ve gotten: “Hi, I’m new to the neighborhood and I was just calling to see if you could give me the phone number for the pizza place across the street from your location.” In case you didn’t guess, the caller wasn’t just hungry for a calzone. Unless you’re a lot smoother than this salesperson was, don’t try to disguise your sales call as something else. Your prospect will just be annoyed when you get around to your real reason for calling.

These weak attempts at subterfuge reflect a lack of conviction about your product and the value you can bring to your prospects. Sales reps who resort to these tactics have probably been hung up on so many times that their confidence has been shattered.

So what should you say instead? If everyone’s hanging up on you, it’s for one reason: you failed to interest them. If you aren’t a standout in the day’s line-up of cold calls, you’re not getting any more of your prospect’s time than a brusque “I’m not interested.” We suggest trying one of three slightly less sneaky techniques:

1. Call to engage, and leave your sales pitch at home. Invite your prospect to your webinar or event, or offer to send them some free information. Remember that people don’t like to be sold to—it puts them on the spot and forces them to say they aren’t interested before they’ve actually thought about it. An engaging, low-pressure call is both refreshing and memorable. And if you reach a gatekeeper, he or she is more likely to pass along an invitation or a freebie than a sales call.

2. Call to consult. When we were trying out different email marketing software recently, a sales rep from one of the companies called persistently, week after week. Instead of asking us to commit to the software, he offered his services as a consultant—a refreshing change of pace. This guy didn’t put pressure on us—instead, he asked us if we had any questions about optimizing our email marketing program. He even offered helpful tips for getting started.

3. Have an “in.” This is where LinkedIn comes in handy. If you and your prospect have a mutual connection, bring that up. Or, if one of your satisfied clients happens to be a friend or an acquaintance of a current prospect, get permission to say that “so-and-so referred me to you.” When prospects hear the name of people they know, they are naturally more interested in what you have to say.

There’s no need to be sneaky. To learn more tips for engaging clients instead of selling to them, check out our whitepaper on Best Practices for Cold-Calling.

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