23 Sales Call Tips: How to Start Conversations so Prospects Don't Hang Up On You

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Sean McPheat
Sean McPheat


If the very idea of making a sales call, especially if it’s cold, immediately sets your teeth on edge, you’re not alone.

person gets on a sales call on their phone

According to a recent study, 48% of all sales professionals have a fear of cold sales calls, and 53% give up too easily. However, sales calls, whether cold or warm, are vital for business growth. What’s more, prospective buyers want to hear from you. 71% of buyers want to hear from you with new ideas to drive growth.

So, how do you kickstart a productive, professional conversation? Sure, you need a strong opening that warms people up and builds trust from the get-go. But to ensure you don’t come across as a “pesky sales rep,” your job should actually begin before you pick up the phone. Let’s dive in.

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Table of Contents

What is a sales call?

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re on the same page when we talk about sales calls.

In their simplest form, sales calls are conversations between a seller and a buyer — often called a lead or prospect. Sales conversations can take place in a number of settings like social media, email, live chat, phone calls, and video calls.

Phone and video follow similar structures and remain highly popular and effective. According to a recent HubSpot survey, 75% of sales professionals say they use phone calls for remote selling, with 40% saying they use video.

Understanding warm vs. cold leads

Warm leads have already indicated an interest in the product or service. Sometimes, the lead themselves takes the initiative and reaches out. Sometimes, the seller has contacted them first and “warmed them up.” Because they’re already receptive, these conversations can take place over phone or video and often require less persuasion.

On the other hand, cold leads or prospects are people who have not (yet) indicated an interest in the product or service. Sales professionals find them through a variety of methods, including but not limited to phone listings, social media, and other online resources.

Cold conversations often take place over the phone, email, or social media. Because these leads haven’t yet expressed interest, they’re often more resistant, which means using an effective cold call script can improve your chances of success.

10 Free Sales Call Templates

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  • Standard outreach template
  • And more!
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    How to Prepare for a Sales Call

    We touched on this above. However, the most successful sales professionals know that their job starts well before they start dialing their prospect’s phone number.

    Whether you’re cold calling or working with a warm lead, the key to success lies in adequate preparation. What that looks like varies based on your business model, your clients, and their awareness of your product or service. However, even though Benjamin Franklin predated the telephone by decades, his adage “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” rings true when it comes to sales calls.

    With that in mind, here are 7 tips for preparing for your next sales call.

    1. Research your prospect and their company.

    Research. Research. Research. Make sure you have at least a high-level understanding of your prospect and their company.

    Why is this important? Put yourself in their shoes. Would you rather talk to someone who asks you to do the work for them and has no idea who you are or what you do? Or would you rather talk to someone who has done their homework and won’t waste your time?

    You don’t need to know the name of their childhood pet, but you should have a sense of the company, the problems their current solution may be presenting, and how your product or service can help.

    2. Identify key decision-makers.

    Ideally, your prospect is the key decision maker, but there are many times when they’re the first call or your foot in the door. If they’re not a key decision-makers, you can still show them how you can help them and make them look good to leadership. In doing so, you may be able to gain a powerful ally.

    Regardless of if they’re a key decision maker or not, you’ll want to find out early in the sales process who else — if anyone — needs to be involved in the decision-making process.

    3. Prepare a competitive analysis.

    A recent HubSpot study showed that standing out from the competition is the biggest challenge sales professionals face. (Meeting quotas and lack of high-quality leads are the second and third, respectively.) In order to stay competitive, it’s important to know what your competitors are doing and how your product or service stacks up.

    Consider preparing case studies, testimonials from clients who have switched, or even direct comparisons.

    4. Outline the most likely pain points.

    By taking the time to outline their likely pain points, you’ll be better able to speak to their needs during the call. While surprises do happen, by preparing up front, you’ll minimize the likelihood of having to change gears or think on your feet during the conversation.

    5. Outline the benefits of your product or service.

    If you’ve been through any sales training in the past, you’ve likely heard people talking about features versus benefits. While it sounds impressive to say that your product or service has a specific feature, make sure you have a list of why each feature is important. You can probably come up with a list of at least two to three benefits for each feature, which allows you to speak to your prospects’ concerns both quickly and effectively.

    6. Identify their likely objections.

    Overcoming objections is one of the most important skills of any salesperson. Most objections fall into one of four categories: budget, trust, need, and urgency. However, the specifics depend entirely on your product or service and their business.

    By creating a list of your prospect’s most likely objections specific to their company and your product, you can help them understand why buying from you is a good decision.

    7. Build custom presentations for each prospect.

    80% of U.S. consumers are more likely to purchase if you personalize your efforts. Even if your pitch is almost identical from client to client, build a presentation that uses their name and company logo where applicable so it feels personalized.

    Whether you’re sharing on a video call or simply speaking to their needs over the phone, demonstrating that you care about their needs and have put thought into the sales process builds trust.

    Sales Call Tips

    Once you’ve prepared adequately and it’s time to pick up the phone or log into Zoom, it’s your opportunity to shine. Here are 8 tips to make the most of every sales call.

    1. Start things on the right note.

    Kick things off with a warm and friendly tone and show how you’re a true professional. A few ways to do this include:

    • Start off warm, friendly, and professional.
    • Hook them with an intriguing idea or question.
    • Get the prospect into a receptive frame of mind.
    • Encourage engagement with the call (because engagement reduces the likelihood of them stopping the conversation).
    • Make it easy for them to make a positive decision.

    Keep reading for eight tips for opening your next sales call below.

    10 Free Sales Call Templates

    Have better conversations with your sales prospects using these free templates.

    • Discovery call template
    • Follow-up call template
    • Standard outreach template
    • And more!
    Learn more

      Download Free

      All fields are required.

      You're all set!

      Click this link to access this resource at any time.

      2. Understand the anatomy of good sales calls.

      While the structure of the conversation varies based on industry and whether the lead is cold or warm, most sales calls—especially the most effective ones—follow a similar pattern:

      • Introduction. Often casual, this usually serves as an icebreaker where you can build a connection.
      • Goal setting. After the initial few minutes, it’s time to transition to the business side of the call. By setting the context, agenda, or goals for the conversation, you.
      • Problem discussion. The salesperson might share research about the company and then ask the prospect for more details about their challenge.
      • Solution/pitch. In this phase, the salesperson shares how their product or service can solve the problem, with a high-level overview of the potential outcomes.
      • Q&A. The focus here is on clarifying and handling objections.
      • Next steps. Think of this as the call wrap-up, where the buyer and seller agree to next steps, which might include sending over a formal agreement, scheduling the next conversation, or moving on to the next phase of the sales process.

      When you understand this structure, you can more effectively navigate your sales presentations and transition from section to section.

      3. Use an effective hook to get an easy “yes” early on.

      After your opening, one way to get people in the right frame of mind is to ask a yes/no question related to what your product or service can help them do.

      Wouldn’t it be great if your CRM updated itself and you could ditch the busywork?”

      When you can get an easy yes upfront, it puts them into a more positive frame of mind where they are more receptive to you and your pitch. One yes might just lead to another.

      4. Encourage them to engage with you.

      Keep in mind that while you’re shooting for a sale, your goal on the call should be to keep your buyer engaged — successful calls have “77% more speaker switches per minute.”

      “I’ve done some digging ahead of time, but I don’t want to tell you what I think your problem is. I want to listen to you to learn more about what’s going on with your business. I may stop you and ask some questions to get more information.”

      Or something like this:

      Based on what you shared, I think I can help. Before I go into more detail though, feel free to ask questions as I go.”

      Giving them explicit permission to talk early on helps them.

      5. Drop the pitch early on.

      Sometimes, the best thing you can do is abandon the playbook (because people get used to those) and catch the prospect off guard.

      This is becoming more common in webinars, especially because there’s almost always a pitch. When the salesperson tells the audience early in the training or sales call what’s coming, it removes early resistance while also planting the seed about what’s coming.

      If a cold call, you could use language like:

      “Hi [Prospect]. Yes, this is a sales call! [Wait for a response, laughter] Can you spare me just three minutes so I can tell you about [product] that will help you with [benefit]?”

      Saying this is a sales call will stump your prospect. Typically, they’ll make a joke because they are used to tactics and sneaky tricks. The rapport you build will earn you a few minutes.

      6. Focus on serving over selling.

      The best salespeople know that true sales is really about listening to people’s problems and showing them how you can help. By prioritizing building rapport with your prospect and demonstrating that you’re listening to their concerns, they are more likely to trust you and your company with their investment.

      So, how do you do this on a sales call? By practicing active listening.

      “What I’m hearing you say is _____, is that right?”

      Sure, your goal right now is to get the first sale. But it’s also the first step in building a relationship that lasts. It’s easier to sell to existing customers than to new customers. 60-70% of customers will buy from known vendors again. Plus, if you provide exceptional service and a positive experience, they’re likely to spend 140% more with you.

      7. Show your expertise.

      Speaking of your prospect's competitors, they likely experience some of the same issues that your prospect does. Your prospect is likely aware, and solving these problems can give them a competitive edge, especially if you can show them some proof.

      “We’ve been working with a couple of similarly sized companies within your industry, and they are experiencing two major problems. I wondered whether they were causing you concern as well…”

      This shows that you understand their industry and company, and if they didn’t have these concerns before, it also demonstrates that you’re looking out for their needs.

      Want to level up your sales game with interactive playbooks that provide the best practices for sales plays, scripts, guides, and more? Get a demo of HubSpot’s Sales Playbook Software to see how it can help you close more deals.

      10 Free Sales Call Templates

      Have better conversations with your sales prospects using these free templates.

      • Discovery call template
      • Follow-up call template
      • Standard outreach template
      • And more!
      Learn more

        Download Free

        All fields are required.

        You're all set!

        Click this link to access this resource at any time.

        8. Stay positive.

        When you believe you can or will succeed, you’re more likely to take the steps that will help you do so. With that in mind, mindset is one of the most important factors in your success.

        Our recent data supports this as well, with sales professionals ranking willingness, empathy, and adaptability as the most important traits for effective sales leaders.

        While you certainly want to go into each call with an optimistic mindset, it’s also important to prioritize maintaining that sense of positivity throughout your day — and career.

        How to Open a Sales Call

        With the above tips in mind, know that a good opening is critical for successful sales calls. Here's how to start the sales call with openers that engage the prospect so they don’t immediately hang up.

        1. Greet them warmly.

        Many prospects regard sales calls as just noise, tuning out any call they don‘t expect. However, if your greeting is warm enough (like an old friend), you may get them to pause long enough to consider what you’re saying. You might open with:

        “Hello [Name], how have you been?”

        Opening with their name acknowledges the prospect. We're hard-wired to respond to the sound of our name, and this greeting creates a sense of familiarity and respect.

        “How have you been?” is superior to “How are you?” because it acts as a pattern-interrupt. The prospect often finds themselves considering if they've met you before, and this may give you an opening to continue the conversation. What’s more, salespeople who ask this question have a 660% higher success rate.

        But don’t focus on the small talk for too long. Some prospects view such a warm greeting as misdirection, so do your best to get to the point after the greeting.

        2. Mention the research you've done about their company.

        Prospects on the other end of your call are less likely to stop you in your tracks when there's some kind of personalization. Try opening up the conversation with something like this:

        “My research shows that your company is in the process of...”

        This shows you are interested in them and you’ve spent some time finding a reason for calling. It also shows you aren’t trying to sell them something right away.

        3. Drop the name of a mutual connection.

        Talking about a mutual connection gives you instant credibility. If you've spoken to someone you have in common with the prospect, consider something along the lines of:

        “One of my clients, [Name] at [Company], mentioned to me you are [looking for, might be a good fit for]...”

        Your prospect will be curious to know why her contact thought she might need your product or service.

        4. Reference a company contact.

        Even better than a mutual connection would be a coworker of theirs who you've had contact with.

        “[Prospect], I was speaking to one of your business managers yesterday, and he said that a growing part of your business is through [product, niche, market]. As that’s the case, I can…”

        Bringing up your prospect’s coworker tells them to take you seriously, while focusing the discussion on an emerging revenue source ensures you’re talking about a company priority.

        5. Use information from their LinkedIn profile.

        Speaking of research, you can find valuable things to bring up from a prospect's LinkedIn:

        “I was looking at your LinkedIn company profile and saw that one of your major projects this year is...”

        Referencing their LinkedIn page and company goals proves you’re interested in discussing something of value to them rather than just pushing your products and services. Keep in mind that it's important to have a plan for how to lead into the sales conversation from there.

        6. Reference a competitor.

        Name-dropping a competitor will make them curious about the partnership and results. Try this on for size:

        “Hi [Prospect]. It’s [name] from [company]? We’ve just worked with [competitor] and have achieved [results] with them. Have you got five minutes now or in the future for us to explore how [company] can achieve the same?”

        It’s important to pose your introduction as a question; your tone of voice should imply they’ve heard of you and your company before.

        7. Don't be afraid to engage in small talk.

        Small talk is one way to humanize yourself and build rapport, but it only comes across as authentic if you've done your research. Casually mention something in common, such as:

        “I noticed you're from Tucson. I actually met my wife at the University of Arizona.”

        If they are familiar with the university — or, even better, if they also attended the university — you can continue the conversation from there.

        Remember to respect your prospect's time as much as possible, though. Too much meandering will leave them wondering the purpose of the call.

        8. Reference topics brought up in their marketing materials.

        Reading their marketing materials reveals genuine interest in their company. It also implies your recommendations will be pertinent and helpful. You might open with one of these:

        “I read your [Twitter, Facebook] post the other day about...”

        This opening tells the buyer you’ve done your homework and are calling about a relevant and timely topic.

        “[Name], in reading your company blog, I noticed that you’ve had some good reviews from customers on your new [product], and I was wondering...”

        Your interest in their blog can open new doors to discuss results that your products have achieved for other clients.

        “I see your [annual report, newsletter] was released on your website last week, and it’s looking like you’re expanding your operations in...”

        The company likely puts a lot of effort into the annual report, so discussing the topic can create opportunities as you listen for pain points and triggering events.

        Make Your Next Sales Call a Success

        Armed with this comprehensive overview of sales calls, you now have a powerful playbook. These openings highlight the prospect’s business before even mentioning what product or service you represent. Simply calling and listing what your company sells is a surefire way to get the phone slammed down.

        The purpose of a connect call should always be to demonstrate your professionalism, credibility, and expertise. When you do that, you give the prospect a reason to, at the very least, discuss options with you, making it likely the call will end the way you’d like — with a second call scheduled.

        Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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