The Three Rs of a Successful Sales Call

In 2016, there's an argument that the humble cold call is desperately unfashionable—if not completely obsolete. Inc.com's Geoffrey James describes it as "a waste of time"; Emma Brudner from HubSpot claims the practice is in its "death throes"; and anecdotally speaking, I've suffered through more than a few that had absolutely no relevance or appeal to me at all (as, I suspect, have we all).

And indeed, with changing tastes and changing technology, it's worth questioning whether old tactics are still relevant. In the case of sales calls, however, the fact that they often don't work is due to a flaw in execution rather than the specific practice. Your team shouldn't waste time chasing down futile leads in the vain hope that somebody, somewhere will be interested—this isn't the only way to call.

In fact, 86 percent of consumers say that personalization plays a part in their decision-making, so there's clearly appetite for a more tailored, thoughtful methodology. If your team keeps these three "Rs" in mind before picking up the phone, they'll have a better chance of making the sale.

Relevancy. Having a huge number of prospects in your database can be a mixed blessing: If they're all good leads, your team will still spend a lot of time talking to people who ultimately don't buy. If they're all people who will plainly have no interest in your product or service, then it's a different matter entirely.

Yet many organizations ignore this, operating on the principle that if enough strangers are spoken to on a given workday, one of them will place an order (if only to get off the phone). It's like digging up a random baseball field and calling it archaeology; sure, you might find an artifact, but it's statistically improbable—and in any case, you won't be able to repeat your success.   

So what can you do instead? It's a simple process of elimination—and one that's often aided by an advanced CRM system. Identify your most essential and desirable criteria (turnover, location, company size, etc.) and filter people out accordingly. There will invariably be fewer leads than there were before, but those who remain will generally be much happier to take your call.

When you can guarantee relevancy, you'll simultaneously empower and embolden your salespeople.

Research. Of course, personalization isn't just about separating the wheat from the chaff. If there's a way for your team to get to know its customers before talking to them—in a non-intrusive, respectful sort of way—then they'll have a clear advantage over the competition.

Once you've assessed the customer's relevance, it's worth spending time researching them. This doesn't mean stalking their Facebook or Twitter pages—again, the term "non-intrusive" is key here. It's often a simple matter of using what you already have. If you've spoken to them once before, you'll probably have some data about them on file; if you haven't, you'll have the chance to gather some in your very first conversation.

Either way, the customer information your team has on hand should inform every one of its calls. This can be fundamental information such as the customer's job title, or more minute detail such as his preferred means of communication (email, smartphone, instant message, etc.) and times to get in touch.

Remember: A well-informed salesperson is one that doesn't waste your customers’ time.

Relationships. A good sales call can be the beginning of a beautiful, long-term, mutually beneficial relationship—so don't treat it like a one-night stand. While it's always good to secure an individual order, you'll make far more money from the customers you retain.

If a specific account reorders a certain item on a regular basis, pre-empt it with follow-up calls detailing irresistible offers. If a customer purchases one item in bulk, then think about complementary items you can bundle with it: for an automotive aftermarket salesperson, this might be tires and hubcaps. If a certain product has high seasonal popularity—for example, if you're a beverage wholesaler, you might notice an uptick in smoothie sales around summertime—you can pre-empt your customers (and the competition) by providing tailor-made bulk discounts.

Whether these customers buy or not, you’re building a history with them—one you can use to glean vital insights into their preferences, which your sales team can then use to inform future actions.   

Warming Up Cold Calls

In some respects, the problem with cold calls is a problem of nomenclature. Essentially, customers don't want to deal with salespeople who've gone in "cold." They want to hear about products and services that relate to their lives and interests, and they want to buy from companies that make an effort to address their specific needs.

This means doing the right research, building strong relationships, and making sure each communication is targeted at someone who might want to receive it. When customers are treated like random names plucked carelessly from a phone book, they tend to respond in kind. They’re individuals, and deserve to be treated as such.

When you can do that, you'll prove that rumors of cold calling's death have been greatly exaggerated—and boost your own profits in the process. 


Kevin McGirl is the cofounder and president of sales-i. McGirl has been at the forefront of major trends in the software industry for more than 20 years and is an early pioneer of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model. A business strategist and market development specialist, McGirl is the driving force behind sales-i's go-to-market and business development strategy.

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