Cold Calling: A Four-Step Process

By | April 17, 2013

Cold calling is not for the faint of heart.

There was an excellent movie called The Pursuit of Happyness (starring Will Smith) released a few years ago, and it showed the art of cold calling in its full glory. The hero, Smith, was given a telephone book with instructions to start dialing. During this process, he learned that he didn’t have to put the phone down every time he got a “no;” it was more efficient to use his other hand to click the phone off. In that manner he was able to make more calls than his competitors.

Typically, cold calling is an assignment that no one wants. It’s frustrating, and for much of the day you expend a great deal of energy trying to have a conversation and make a presentation. There are many different directions cold calling can take, but for the purpose of this writing, we’ll assume you are looking to set an appointment with a business owner so that a meeting can take place.

While no one today wants to dial from the telephone book, huge gains are possible if cold calling is done correctly. Everyone wants access to prospects, and cold calling, while difficult and frustrating, can lead to success. There are many thoughts about cold calling, as this article shows.

My age has taught me that there is a process for everything you do, so let’s look at how to start a cold-calling campaign from scratch and see if we can make some sense of it. As is the case with most successful business ventures, the extra work required up front can yield significant return on investment.

1. Identify Potential Targets

First you have to look at your targets and identify who you need to talk to in order to get the appointment you want. A little research is needed here to determine which companies fit the profile that you would like to meet with. Resources like D&B and Hoovers will help you to narrow your criteria and determine which companies to contact. Common variables are geographic area, revenue size, number of employees, and length of time in business. Many times, this information includes the C-level executives that you are looking for. The real question at this point is whether or not the information is current.

2. Verify Your Intelligence

Once you have your list of potential targets, which we’ll call your sales funnel, you can begin step two of the process: verifying your newly gathered intelligence. Names of companies on a list are useless until you glean some understanding of who those companies are. Once you take the time to understand if those companies are part of your target market, you will save time later during the appointment-setting process.

Step two, a key component of developing a plan, validates whether or not this company should be on your pipeline list and will allow you to focus and to be more efficient with your time. This is a time-intensive task. You’ll need to start calling the company to verify as much information as possible. At this point, you are not calling the executive on your hit list, but you will probably be able to weed out many of the names on your list once you verify the data’s accuracy. You can confirm much of the data by calling the main number and simply speaking to the person who answers the phone.

3. Examine Social Media

The third step involves an understanding of the remaining names on the list. These companies represent your sales pipeline; this is where the real cold calling will start. But before cold calling, there is one more step: looking at social media to get a good understanding of the company and its culture. Check Facebook and see if the company has a page. Typically, it will be a culture page, and you may get a sense of what the company is about with regard to its employees. LinkedIn may give you an overview of their leadership team and their backgrounds. It’s possible that one of their leadership team members is connected to you to some degree.

4. Make the Call

Up to this point, you haven’t needed to use sophisticated cold-calling techniques, but you have built a valuable pipeline which you can now focus on to generate revenues. The last step is the actual cold call to set the appointment. This is the toughest part of this process.

Best practices have shown that, while bonding and rapport are most important, brevity and control are the two best tools for navigating beyond the gatekeeper.  Even the best gatekeepers typically aren’t going to ask more than four questions and often will relinquish their control when confronted with having to answer questions repeatedly.  You can maintain control by immediately engaging the gatekeeper after answering his or her questions. Maintain brevity by giving only one piece of information in answering each of the gatekeeper’s questions.

Once past the gatekeeper, the best first impression one can make with the prospect is crafted through confidence and forthrightness. Again, as with the gatekeeper, rapport is a given.  You must confidently use the same identifying information with the prospect that was used with the gatekeeper and close the introduction by attempting to engage them by asking if they recognize your firm name. You do this for several reasons: first, to imply that the prospect should have heard of you and to elicit some level of involvement in the conversation from the prospect, and secondly, you engage to openly communicate what the gatekeeper most likely told the prospect. As a result, you maintain a level of consistency and flow prior to getting into your presentation.


These four steps will help you to make the most of your cold calling efforts. Remember, cold calling is both a skill and a process. It takes practice, and it can take time. The rewards, however, can be quite significant.

About the Author/Host

Harvey Pollack

Harvey Pollack - Co-Founder, President and CEO

Previously, Harvey was a partner for 24 years at Alpern, Rosenthal & Company, a large Pittsburgh-based CPA and consulting firm, and he was the founder and CEO of RedSiren, Inc, an early stage MSP provider of IT security management solutions. Harvey was awarded the Small Company Top Executive of the Year Award in 2012.

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