Cold Calling – Last Question First

When you get a call from someone you don’t know, how long before you know they want to sell you something?

Probably within the first five to ten seconds.

And that’s a lot sooner than the caller is willing to believe. They’ll run through a series of benefits, wants and needs thinking they’re going to sell you – before you even become aware they’re selling. That’s what they tell themselves.

And you, you’re waiting for them to stop and take a breath. You know you’ll tell them “No, thank you” yet there’s a tension building in the call. Even though you’re in control and can hang up we rarely do. It’s part of our social manners, our courtesy to strangers.

So we suffer that tension and stop listening after we’ve figured out we’re not interested in what the stranger is selling. Yet that tension remains right up until we tell them “No, thank you” and do hang up.

If we know that about ourselves receiving cold calls, why doesn’t it shape “how” we make cold calls when selling?

Cold Calling Business to Business

There are more efficient ways of reaching customers than cold calling (see Inbound Marketing). And, as a salesperson, if all you’re doing is cold calling it can be soul destroying.

In the contract service world, customers don’t buy contract services over the phone anyway. While the sales process can be initiated by cold calling, it still takes a proposal and signed contract to finish the deal.

With that said, there are times and situations when cold calling can find that “right-place, right-time” customer. They’re the very few customers who are ready to buy from you now. They just don’t know you exist, until you called.

The Initial 5 – 10 Seconds

You know cold calling is a numbers game. As such, you want to get through as many of the “No, thank you” to reach the “right-place, right-time Yes”. Those first few seconds on the phone tells all.

But first, look at it from the customer’s perspective.

  • They’re busy in their work day
  • They’re not expecting your call
  • They may be in a work crisis, or dealing with an enraged boss
  • And now, someone they don’t know is calling

 A Respectful & Courteous Approach

There are thousands of ways to start a cold call. Here’s one that defuses tension and quickly filters you to your “right-place, right-time” customers. This starts at the point you get your customer on the phone.

1) Identify yourself and your company

Clear and concise is the only way to go. Respect the fact you’re the interruption. Get to the point. But don’t rush your words, just don’t use lots of them.

Also, if your company name doesn’t clearly describe what your company does you’ll need to add 10 words or less. For example,

“Hi, I’m Chris Arlen with XYZ Janitorial Services” – no need to explain what your company does

“Hi, I’m Chris Arlen with Excalibur Services. We clean high-rise office windows safely.” – now the customer knows what Excalibur does

2) Ask if you can give them a proposal – THEN STOP TALKING

 Think about it. This is the tension on everyone’s mind when getting a call from a stranger “Are they going to ask me to buy something – then I’ll have to say No”.

So remove that tension immediately. Get the unspoken up front and center.

The key here is to stop talking after you ask the question. If you talk first, you lose. There’s a natural leverage to silence, use it to guide your customer to speak.

3) 99.8% will say “No, thank you”

You respond with:

“No problem, just thought I’d ask”

You’ll notice the tension ease. The customer has faced their greatest fear – you asked them to buy and they said “No” – and you were OK with it.

So now you know this is not one of your “right-place, right-time” customers.

But wait – don’t hang up.

4) Now ask other questions

There’s lot’s you’d like to know about this customer. Now’s your chance to ask. Questions such as:

“Is there a better time to talk to you about your service needs?”

“When do you put your service contract out to bid?”

“How do I get on your bid list?

You should have a list of prepared questions. Ask as many of them as the customer feels willing to answer. And it is a “feeling” judgment on your part. You’ll know when the customer is ready to the end the call, or they’ll do it for you.


If you’re going to cold call, do it respectfully. Work through the numbers game to reach your “right-place, right-time” customers. Take away the call tension by immediately asking the question customers fear and then show you’re OK with their likely answer of “No”.

IMAGE: by Chris Pirillo

Questions or Ideas?

Send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt