Nobody loves getting cold calls. (Well, almost nobody. If you’re the exception, drop your number in the comments below).
Few salespeople love making cold calls. But every team has to do it.
So how do you make it a better experience for everyone?
First, you acknowledge that cold calling is great (and necessary), but you can’t rely on it by itself.
Second, you bring in other channels–like email and social media–to add more context and options for your prospects to respond through their preferred channel.
Third, you learn what works for your team and your prospects. This is a process, and the end product looks slightly different for each team.
Despite that variation, your goal is to create a multi-channel outreach strategy that warms up cold calls and increases the likelihood of meeting your prospects with the right message at the right time. If you’re not sure how to do that, then read on and reach out with any questions.
How cold are your calls?
Yes, we’re fans of cold calling. No, we typically don’t start out sequences or cadences by picking up the phone. LeadiQ and Sopro agree, recommending social interactions and an email before the first cold call to establish awareness and familiarity.
But, according to RAIN Group, 27% of reps still think a call is an effective first step in a sales sequence. Salesloft agrees: 80% of their top 100 cadences start with a call, followed by an email, on day one.
Why the difference? It all comes down to your industry, product, and the preferences of buyer personas. But, regardless of how cold the first call is, if your reps are using more than three channels to contact prospects, they are 169% more likely to have a conversation, according to Xant.
But even if your team is reaching out to prospects on three or more channels, that doesn’t mean they’re using them to their fullest potential. These ideas will get them started with a multi-channel strategy informed by the latest research. From there, your team should test and adjust until you find what works best for your team and audiences.
Here are some preliminary recommendations:
- We recommend starting sequences or cadences with interactions that warm up that first call.
- Don’t wait too long before placing that first call.
- Vary contact methods throughout the sales play.
- When in doubt, A/B test.
It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it
If you’ve got a multi-channel strategy, but reps’ calls and emails are going unanswered, then the solution may be found in analyzing how they’re using each channel and who they’re talking to.
According to RAIN Group, 80% of prospects prefer talking to reps through email, but more than half of higher-ups (that’s your CEO, VP and Director) prefer a cold call. Wouldn’t you rather be talking to leadership anyway?
After a cold call that offers solutions to their pain points, 66% of buyers will schedule a follow-up. And yet, cold calling has a 2.5% success rate. And cold emails? According to Clearbit, the average response rate is a whopping 1%.
If you’re seeing low response rates to reps emails, and cold calls are falling on deaf ears, then you need to sit down with your existing salesplays. Are you properly contextualizing, ordering, and communicating each engagement? If not, then your messaging is an interruption instead of an invitation to begin a conversation.
How to warm up your cold calling strategy
Engage with social media [but please don’t be cringy]
What not to do
If you want to get salespeople “fussed,” which is our CEO’s catch-all for intense emotion of any sort, then bring up social selling.
We’ll bring it up anyway: what is social media doing for you? Sales for Life reports that 78% of salespeople who utilize social media perform better than their peers. On the buyer side, 84% of senior B2B buyers use social media to influence purchasing decisions, 82% trust companies that are active on social media, and 77% are swayed by a CEO who is active on social media.
The numbers are there: your reps should be using social media. Here’s what they shouldn’t be doing: extracting personal facts about contacts (their universities, hobbies, etc.) and awkwardly citing them to create a false sense of familiarity. We know it’s meant to sound sincere but, in reality, it just makes people feel uncomfortable.
Making a hard ask over social media, particularly as a LinkedIn message sent immediately after a connection request, is sort of like bringing up politics at a holiday dinner. Maybe a rare bird will want to jump in, but most people are turned off.
In fact, LinkedIn inboxes should always be handled with care. LinkedIn InMail, which is a paid service allowing users to communicate directly with second and third degree connections, is a very targeted tactic, which demands individualized messaging.
We agree with Saleshacker and only suggest incorporating InMail into a sequence or cadence in instances of significant personalization for a small number of high-value accounts.
But, when done right, InMail has high response rates: three times more than emails. However, InMail is very costly, which conflicts with the core purpose of sales execution, which is to reach personalization at scale.
Pro Tip: If your team relies on extremely targeted account-based sales, then your overall strategy will be very different from a high-volume outbound process. If you want more customized advice for a smaller portfolio, we can help you leverage a sales execution platform to keep your strategic funnel running smoothly.
Do this instead
Greaser Consulting’s primary recommendation lines up with Salesloft’s perspective: reps should use social media to raise awareness for your brand and engage, as the name would imply, socially with your prospects.
Here are three social tactics to warm up your team’s cold calls:
Note: Our tips on social media will focus on LinkedIn because it’s the most active platform for B2B sales. 92% of B2B marketing and sales professionals use LinkedIn, and 80% of all social-generated B2B leads come from LinkedIn.
- Establish credibility through thought leadership
You get an intriguing email, message, or voicemail from someone you don’t know. What do you do? If you’re like the rest of us, you probably look them up on LinkedIn.
When you land on their LinkedIn profile, you see posts about a sports team (Or worse: no posts at all!). Now what do you do? You probably move on and find someone who appears a bit more credible.
Keep this in mind when you look at your LinkedIn page and coach your team: We know you love your sports team, but don’t be that guy; be a thought leader. Coach your reps to be thought leaders. Lemlist recommends these three habits to build a reputation as a thought leader:
- Share or post valuable content, created by others, on your page.
- Create original content on the subject matter for which you want to be recognized.
- Participate in events and contribute to things like webinars, podcasts, speaking engagements, etc.
You and your sales reps should mold your LinkedIn pages into personal portfolios. Team members should share what your company is up to and also showcase their individual knowledge and contributions. Prospects landing on your teams’ profiles should feel at ease, trusting that the person contacting them is an expert.
- Show some LUV
No, we don’t mean going back to AOL Instant Messenger, when you put up an away message to your friends, saying “Luv you, BRB.”
What we do mean is Leaving Unsolicited Validation, a term coined by Xant, which means commenting thoughtfully on posts a prospect shares. Coach your reps to spend a few minutes looking at the latest posts on the prospect’s page, carefully consider one that resonates, and post an engaging comment.
To show some LUV, Xant suggests:
- Posing a question.
- Asking for some feedback.
- Giving a strong opinion.
- Leaving a comment, asking others to engage in a conversation.
The purpose: reps will build a relationship, gain visibility, and, if they’re really a master, show some level of understanding for a pain point the prospect is likely facing.
Pro Tip: Do NOT make asks in these comments. Are you seeing a pattern yet?
- Connect [Sometimes]
Keep in mind that LinkedIn allows each user to send 100 invitations to connect each week. That doesn’t mean reps need to use them all. In fact, reps will be penalized if people deny their requests because they don’t know who they are, so direct them to connect only after they’ve had an interaction.
Tactically, we don’t recommend sending connection requests as part of high-volume outbound sequences or cadences. Instead, save connection requests for sales plays that have been created with time for a lot of personalization and manual steps.
When your reps do send connection requests, they should include a personal message that references their other engagements. For instance, they might point to an email or voicemail they’ve recently sent.
Pro Tip: Connection request messages should be 1) brief and 2) custom for that channel. Reps should avoid copying and pasting a message they’ve already sent.
Your complete social media strategy
When thinking about how to utilize social media in your team’s outbound sales strategy, keep two things in mind: 1) authenticity and 2) scale.
Before putting a social media engagement into a cadence or sequence, ask:
- Is this tactic a good fit for the persona?
- Will it move your rep closer to a genuine relationship with a prospect?
- Will it meet the prospect where they are, fitting organically into their social media use?
- Is it going to be possible for reps to complete this task for every prospect in this sequence or cadence?
If you can confidently answer “yes” to all four questions, then it’s time to test the tactic. Use your sales execution platform to track performance metrics and adjust as needed.
Inform through email
Email is one of the most important tools in your outbound sales strategy, especially when warming up cold calls, because of its easy scale, robust potential tracking and measurement, and perceived non-threatening nature.
Salesloft calls email the “foundation” for your campaign; it’s a source of information to learn about your company, product, and industry. Before reps pick up the phone to call, your prospect should have an opportunity to become familiar with the basics of what you offer. This helps because, when reps place a call, they may have enough understanding to engage in a more thoughtful conversation.
Writing intentional emails
Sales emails that contribute to warmer cold calls are intentional. We use the word “intentional,” rather than personal, because true personalization is not always beneficial. For a low-tier account or persona, which reps know little about and are consequently contacting with a lower-touch sequence, individualization would not be worth the time and effort.
For these prospects, it’s better to create cold outbound sequences or cadences that are intended for a specific persona, offering a sequence that will resonate without spending time individualizing the emails. Outreach.io calls this “personalizing to the persona.” In these cases, if there is time for a personal, manual engagement, then this can be a great spot for a well-placed (not-so-cold) call.
However, for a higher-tier prospect or account, taking the time for true personalization, even if it’s a small part of the email template, can have a big payoff. Salesloft studied over 200,000 sales interactions and found that personalizing around 20% of an email template is optimal.
Some teams break this down and individualize the first and last 10%, leaving the core the same for every email. Many sales leaders prefer this approach, as it preserves a consistent message, while tailoring it in a way that makes a connection.
However, even that 20% has to be sincere. If it seems forced, it can backfire. For example, our CEO recently received a cold email which began this way:
“I hope you are having a great start of your week! It seems you are around the Hollidaysburg area, it must be mostly cloudy today in the daytime (40 F). We’re inviting people like you to an exclusive session below.”
As Outreach.io has noted, many forms of “personalization” that may have worked before are not landing today; pulling basic facts from social media, or referencing a local weather forecast, is no longer an appealing way to make a connection. Instead, today, teams have to be a lot more subtle and natural.
A good rule of thumb for your reps is to think about whether, if they were meeting the prospect in person at a networking event, they would say whatever they’ve typed out. There are times when a comment about sports or a shared almamater makes sense, but references to common interests should be socially natural.
Calendly’s recommendation is to focus personalization on a business need, rather than something more superficial, as this contributes to the reason for your engagement. This is why some of the best personalization is based on what you’ve learned about their company, industry, or role type.
Choosing your calls to action
Sales leaders don’t always agree on calls to action. Some strongly advocate for aggression early on, while others don’t make hard asks until the third or fourth engagement. Our advice is to build sales plays that use calls to action in early prospecting emails to build a foundation or invite discussion.
Making early calls to action too demanding can turn off a prospect who might be interested but not yet ready to take a meeting. There’s a time and place for an ask, but reps haven’t earned the right with their first email.
Every sales team will have a different approach, but here are a few high-level principles to keep in mind:
- Ask for interest.
According to Gong’s research, asking for interest performs 2X better than asks for time. Effective prospecting sells an ongoing conversation, not a meeting. (Note: This changes once someone responds and enters the sales cycle. Then, it’s time for more direct calls to action).
Here are some examples:
- Would you like to hear more?
- Does this interest you?
- Would you be interested in learning more about this?
- Focus on what’s in it for them.
Sales emails should not be about your company or your reps. A good email briefly and clearly explains how you can solve a problem for your prospect. Then, when your CTA gauges interest or asks for an opinion, it gives them an idea of what you would be discussing in a call.
Hint: When you reveal your value proposition, don’t mention ROI. Gong found that mentioning ROI decreases success rates by 15%.
- Ask a thoughtful question.
Because cold emails are intended to start a discussion, your team can conclude with questions that invite conversational responses. This is often a high-impact spot for personalization in more manual sequences or cadences.
In more automated sequences, your reps can ask more open-ended questions which will appeal to a persona. Possible examples might ask about how what you’ve shared relates to their priorities for the next quarter, what solution they’re using today to address the pain points you mentioned, or if they know how similar companies are solving that problem.
Using email to connect the dots
Sopro recommends using email to add support for other touchpoints in your salesplays. For instance, it’s great to leave a voicemail and immediately send a note, letting them know why you called. This makes it feel like your engagements are cohesive and part of a conversation, even if it’s still one-sided.
Lastly, a high-value spot for an email, which falls outside of your reps’ scheduled sequences or cadences, is to use analytics within your sales execution platform to identify highly-engaged prospects. If someone is reading their emails without replying, it’s time for your reps to pick up the phone and call. These prospects are warm and ready to hear from them.
Pick up the phone
Once you’ve created a foundation, offering your prospect opportunities to become familiar with you and your brand, it’s time to pick up the phone and bring the connection into real-time.
It might still feel uncomfortable at first, especially for your more introverted reps, but the best way to overcome that hesitation is to dive in, make the calls, and persist until they’ve completed the entire sequence or cadence.
One of the reasons cold calling has such a bad reputation is that most sales reps don’t give it a chance. They don’t like cold calling, so they stop too soon.
For a cold outbound sequence, we recommend trying to build in a full set of six calls, like in Outreach.io’s famous Agoge sequence. There’s a reason for this number of calls; it takes an average of six to eight calls to connect with a prospect. In fact, Xant has found that making six calls boosts reps’ chances of connection to 90%.
What’s interesting is that even one more call would make a huge difference. Three calls makes it 80% likely that reps will make a connection. This proves out what we see with clients across industries and company sizes; the best reps are those who are willing to make one more call.
Your next steps
Your team’s next step is to take these big-picture recommendations, which are from various industries and contexts, and test them to find the best ways to warm up your cold calls.
And if you’re not seeing the reply rates and connected calls you need to hit your goals, then reach out to our team. We help teams like Bluejeans by Verizon, SAP, Workday, Skillsoft, and Google Cloud to adapt the latest best practices to their contexts for maximum results.
We can start with a quick audit, looking at your existing salesplays and helping you adjust your emails, calls, and social touches for the warmest–and highest converting–engagements possible.