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5 great things about cold calling and why your startup should do it more

sales-callIt might sound stupid, but in my previous startups, I used to think that cold calling was not for us. Why cold call when you can create adwords or emailing campaigns, find prospects on Twitter, leverage our network of friends, friends of friends, forums, etc.

For me, cold calling was just a waste of time for a startup. Lately I just realized I was completely wrong and so amateurish.

Four months ago, I came across this article: “Why Your Cold Calls Aren’t Working” that convinced me that my beliefs about cold calling were plain wrong. I set myself the goal to cold call 30 new prospects everyday. I worked on my sales call pitch very hard to make it straight to the point with a great value proposition. You can find some great advice here to improve your sales call technique.

Here is what cold calling taught me during these past 4 months :


1/ A goldmine of feedbacks, you just need to ask

At first, I would try to make it seem as if we were a big company. It was a huge mistake. I changed my sales pitch to start with something like “Hi, we just started a company who provides XYZ, I know your are busy but we would love to have your feedback, it will take a minute. What service do you use currently for doing XYZ ? What do you like/dislike about it ? Would you consider using a different service/product? If yes, what would be the conditions ?”

Even if I got turned down in 90% of my calls, many of them brought me invaluable intelligence. I discovered competitors I didn’t know about, what customers thought about their service and what would be their reason to switch to our service. It is easy to discard an email but harder to hang up on someone with just a “no”. Even if only 10% of your prospect will take the time, that means 3 real world feedbacks a day, not bad !

Conclusion: Be honest and never underestimate people will to help you *if you ask*. A customer who says “no” (with a reason) also gives you with a great opportunity to suck less. It is OK to hear “No”. The most competitive companies close about 15% of deals that come their way and 70% of all prospects will NEVER buy from ANYONE.


2/ Most of the web businesses don’t know their customers enough.

In web startups more than in any other type of company, more than other industries, it is easier to do business without ever talking or facing a single customer: You can simply create ad campaigns to reach them, connect with them on social networks, mail them, check their feedback forms, A/B test everything, etc.

In many web startups I visit, I am often surprised that the sales people aren’t on the phone, they’re typing on their laptop. During a recent meeting with a web startup, I asked the founders if they already talked to prospects/customers on the phone or even visited them. Believe it or not, no one did. These guys were building a product for people they never talked to… It may sound unrealistic, but this syndrome affects many startups.

The web provides us with comfort, we can do almost everything with a screen and a keyboard but I believe it will never replace the power of human interaction.

Conclusion: Even *before* building an MVP, ideally try to talk to at least 10 potential customers, call them or invite them for coffee and ask for feedback. You will save a lot of time and money.


3/ Be concise

A sales call is a great reality check. A phone call forces you to be concise, if you’re a bit too long or too boring, your sales call will just fail. Everything has to be said in a minute, so be brief to show your prospect that you value his time. Failing to respect that will not get you anywhere. My technique is that the 10 first seconds are the most important, then the following 20 seconds are the next most important and so on.

Harvard Business School has made available a great tool to help you to create an efficient elevator pitch: Check the elevator pitch builder here.

Conclusion: Avoid long and complicated sentences or vocabulary that sounds  too formal / corporate, remember the goal is not to impress but to create interest. Think in your prospect interest only, empathy and consistency are key.


4/ The more you do it, the better you get

There’s no secret here, just like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. If you think cold calling sucks, it WILL suck. If you enjoy it, you will get better at it and will enjoy it even more. As Henry Ford famously said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

Also, I believe a smile can be *heard* on the phone, make sure you smile, a good mood is contagious. Would you buy from someone who would call you and who sounds depressed ? Unlikely. If you can’t call in a positive mood & think, don’t call, you will just waste your time.

Conclusion: There is no secret, you have to do it over and over, you will get better at it and will enjoy it more and more.


5/ As a founder, you must be able to do it

I truly believe that a startup shouldn’t hire sales people before founders can close sales on their own. If you are not able sell your product, don’t expect people to do it for you. I believe that the sales pitch is as important as your idea. An idea that can’t be explained simply is will not sell.

Conclusion: Just do it :)

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