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Sales Prospecting in 2017: 12 Tips for Effective Warm Calling

In 2017, salespeople need to change the way they approach prospecting.

First, work your inbound leads. Let your marketing team work the top of the funnel. You don’t have to call all the leads who are just looking for information or education -- those leads need to be nurtured, and Marketing is the right team to do it.

But what if you don’t have enough inbound leads? You still have to keep your pipeline full, so how do you create net new opportunities if your inbound leads are running dry?

You warm call.

What Is Warm Calling?

I consider warm calling to be connecting with a company that you’ve proactively identified as a good fit although they haven't demonstrated an interest in your product or service yet. Based on your knowledge and experience, they fit the profile of your successful customers.

It’s okay to reach out to good fit prospects who haven’t converted on your website yet. You just have to do it correctly. The key to warm calling is to be efficient, effective, and add value in the first 15 seconds. That’s right -- only 15 seconds.

12 Tips for Effective Warm Calling

1) Identify good fit companies.

The best prospects are the ones that look like your best customers. They’ll have similar pain, which means they’ll be easier to sell to and have higher retention rates. Study your buyer personas and learn to recognize your ideal buyer quickly. Review your customer base and identify key similarities between your most successful clients so you have a finely honed sense of what to look for.

One caveat: Don’t just focus on the whales. While it’s important to identify your largest target accounts as early in the year as possible, whales don’t come around often. Concentrate on understanding your business’ bread and butter -- the type of customer that buys again and again.

2) Research the company.

Preparation is essential in warm calling -- after all, you can’t deliver value if you don’t know what your prospect cares about. I use LinkedIn to read a bit about the company and collect specific information.

At a minimum, you should know how many years the company’s been in business, the number of employees, their location, and their value proposition. This may sound obvious, but knowing these basics is important. It helps you determine the type of problems this business is likely to face and tailor your introduction. A 10-person company’s business pain is very different from a 500-person company’s pain.

3) Research the company’s executives.

I always do research to find out if I know any of my prospective companies’ senior executives or am connected to people who do. I want to find any information I can that’ll make it easier to connect -- for example, whether he’s a Midwestern football fanatic or she’s a San Diegan surfer.

I dig for educational background, I examine their LinkedIn photos for clues to their personality and try to determine the most critical problems an executive in this role would have.

4) Perfect your opening.

Calling an executive is theater. You have 15 seconds to capture their attention and demonstrate value.

My call opening is: “Hi Chuck, this is Dan from HubSpot.” Then I’ll pause and wait for them to respond.

It’s important to sound powerful and in control. The prospect may not have any idea who you are or what your company provides. It’s crucial to sound assertive -- prospects are more likely to respond to someone who’s confident and authoritative than a rep who’s clearly nervous.

5) Be human.

A sales rep’s secret weapons are voice tone and a sense of humor. Your voice tone can put people at ease or on edge, and an ability to make people laugh will go farther in making them trust you than any sales pitch.

Prospects are extremely busy, so be as pleasant as possible and show that you understand the demands of their positions. Smile when you’re warm calling (they’ll be able to hear it!), especially if it’s early in the morning.

6) Prepare your talking points ahead of time.

Referencing a piece of specific, non-generic information and asking a great question establishes a level of trust and opens the door for a professional conversation.

The key is to get as detailed as possible on a topic with which the executive is familiar. For example, here’s a talking point I could use:

“I saw that you posted a blog article last week on cybersecurity at your company with a really intriguing title. I read it twice, and the paragraph about X strategy was really interesting. I thought I’d pick up the phone to talk with you to see if it was successful.”

Do you think she’s ever had a call like this? This hyper-tailored opening changes the game. It compliments the prospect, engages her right away, and leads to follow-up questions about why the company chose this strategy, whether it succeeded or failed, what they plan to do next, and how you can help.

7) Keep the call under five minutes.

Even though you may find that your product is a great fit, a warm call is still an interruption. Use your best judgment if the conversation is flowing well, but be respectful of your prospect’s time. After five minutes, ask, “Do you have a few more minutes, or should I email you information?”

Your first call is just an opening, so don’t worry about cramming in as much information as possible. Find out which other stakeholders should be included on the email (see #8), then let your prospect know that you’ll be their point of contact for solving their business pain.

8) Leave a voicemail.

There's a good chance your prospect won't pick up. When that happens, you might be tempted to immediately end the call and move on to the next one. Don't do that. Voicemails can be a valuable touchpoint even if they don't prompt a call-back.

Why? Because you're getting an opportunity to add value and build your credibility.

Here are a few ways to leave a voicemail that'll accomplish those goals:

  • Offer one quick tip and say you're happy to share more if your prospect is interested.
  • Foreshadow a helpful strategy, resource, or expert you're going to share with them via email (see the next tip.)

9) Follow up with an email.

Following up with an email enhances your visibility. If you actually spoke to the buyer, they're probably going to open your message now that your name is familiar to them. If they didn't answer but listened to your voicemail, they'll recognize your name as well. And if they didn't do either, at least you'll increase the odds of connecting with them by trying another channel.

In your email, thank them for their time and provide additional ideas for solving their biggest business pain. I recommend personalizing your message with a short video -- it's easy to record one on your webcam using Soapbox, a free tool from Wistia.

10) Call again.

I recommend calling four times in 12 days. This cadence doesn't cross the line into "harassment" territory, but it does give you a pretty good shot of connecting with your prospect if they have any interest in talking to you.

Don't forget to vary the times at which you call. Maybe the buyer is always slammed in the morning or goes into focus mode every day starting at 3 p.m. Trying them at different points in the day helps you catch them when they're most receptive.

Personally, I like to make calls in the morning before the craziness of a workday hits an executive’s desk -- from 7:30 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. local time. If you call earlier, you’re more likely to catch them at their desks. About 25% of the time, the executive picks up.

11) Define a tangible next step.

Every communication you have with a prospect should be designed to drive the sales process forward or determine if you should disqualify them. Include one clear ask in your follow up email so your prospect knows what’s coming next. Even if the response is negative, you’ve laid the foundation for a future relationship.

12) Have a colleague call you.

There's no better way to know what works and what falls flat than having those strategies used on you. With that in mind, ask another salesperson on your team to call you. Pretend you're a typical prospect.

Take notes on the words and questions they use, your reactions, and how effective their CTA is. Incorporate those takeaways into your own approach. And do the opposite, as well: Call them and then ask for their feedback. Practice makes perfect.

Cold calling doesn’t work in 2017, but that doesn’t mean any unsolicited phone call is ineffective. Instead, take the time to carefully research good fit prospects before offering them specific, targeted value, and reap the benefits of warm calling.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and freshness.

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