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I’ve been tasked with building $100M in sales pipeline this year. It’s all perspective, but for me and my team, that’s a big number. And I’m not alone in this thinking. Recent research by InsideSales Labs, the research and best practice arm of InsideSales.com, showed that the biggest challenge facing sales leaders, behind people issues — was building pipeline. In fact, 62% of leaders say building pipeline is harder than closing pipeline. [1]

In 15 years being in sales, I have learned there is no secret weapon when it comes to filling the sales funnel. You can’t bet on having a million dollar deal land in your lap every month, so you must find strategies and methods to slowly chip away at your number. When deciding how to attack the pipeline goal this year, I’ll be honest in saying that cold calling was NOT a strategy that made the top of my list.

When you hear about cold calling, your first thought is probably of a telemarketer who grabs a phone book, calls you during dinner time, and hopes for a one-call close. If you’re anything like me, then that doesn’t sound like a strategy, it sounds like an annoyance.

Sales people have unfortunately been cold-calling for decades, mostly due to lack of a better method. Thankfully, in recent years the art of cold calling has evolved. Sales technology has made things a lot easier for sales reps and a lot less painful for the customer.

Cold Calling Using Artificial Intelligence

Today, companies have transitioned to digital sales and are using a concept called cold calling with artificial intelligence (AI). Cold calling with AI turns cold calling on its head, allowing sales people to target only interested targets and personalize their message accordingly. Here’s how AI makes cold calling different:

Traditional Cold Calling vs Cold Calling with AI

Now, when you explain cold calling like that, the thought of it is more interesting but does this method produce results? You can’t know until you test it out and so that’s exactly what we did.

Sales is often too much about what people think is effective versus what is actually effective and it has damaged the entire industry. Rather than believe cold calling is dead because of what others say, we thought we’d gather a small group of individuals and test it out. I’m not a scientist or a statistician but I know when something is producing pipeline and when it is not.

The Cold Call Experiment

For our experiment, I worked with seven sales development reps. They weren’t happy with the idea initially, but they agreed when I explained this wasn’t going to be the typical cold calling. We ended up doing 1,468 phone calls to contacts within our target accounts. Sales reps had 151 meaningful conversations for a conversation rate of 10.3%.

In our research we found that the average sales development rep has 74.2 accounts and does 17.2 minutes of research per account[2]. That’s 21 hours of research and a lot of time! We wanted to figure out if there was a better way to manage that process and it turned out there was. Rather than have the rep spend precious time searching for data, we found technology could bring the relevant insights to the rep so they could see important information about the company and the contact as the call was being made.

Knowing who to call, having the right phone number, and understanding who the prospect was were the first big steps. The next big step was what to say when the prospect picked up the phone.

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The 6 P’s of a Prospecting Call

I receive cold calls from sales reps and rarely do I feel the rep knows what to say. Reps shouldn’t say the same script every time and it’s often odd when reps try to bring up things too personal to their prospect. Thankfully there is a middle ground and it focuses on providing reps with permission statements and ideas they can discuss that focus on the problems of the people they are calling – a concept we call “the first call sequence”. The first call sequence has the following structure:

●     Preface – Provide an introduction

●     Personalize – Share something to build rapport

●     Position – State why the prospect should care

●     Pain/Product – Uncover the pain or explain a cool feature and key benefit

●     Proof – Reference a customer success story

●     Prescribe – Recommend next steps

Reps don’t use every one of the ‘Ps’ in every conversation. Think of the ‘Ps’ as plays in sports and depending on how the defense reacts, you run a different play at any given moment. Here is an example of the first two ‘Ps’ in a prospecting call.

Preface – “John, this is Bill, from Company XYZ. This is a sales call. I hate making these calls as much as you hate taking them, but I wanted to take 30 seconds of your time and tell you why I’m calling. If you like what you hear, we can continue, if you don’t, you can tell me so, and I’ll leave you alone. Sound fair?”

This is the permission statement. You’ll hear different versions of this on the web such as an ‘upfront contract’ from Sandler Training. The basic principle is to be honest and then let the prospect agree or not to agree to move forward in the conversation.

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Personalize – “We did a research study with hundreds of sales leaders and their top challenge was building sufficient qualified pipeline.”

Notice we did not personalize around the person but the persona (sales leaders). We used data we had from our own internal research. The personsonalization focused around the title and role of the individual rather than him or her as a person.

This is the structure the team used for our AI-enabled cold calling experiment and results turned out strong. In total, the team ended up with 42 appointments with qualified buyers. Those meetings turned into 15 strong opportunities for our sales pipeline. Overall the team produced $1,102,500 of pipeline in one business week through the exercise.

The Future of Cold Calling

If you ever hear critics say cold calling is dead, don’t believe them as you can clearly see from the example above, cold calling has evolved but it is still alive and well. Traditional cold calling is dead, but cold calling with AI is just getting started.

Sales reps need to decide for themselves whether cold calling is still worth it– and whether artificial intelligence can help them accomplish their goals faster.

I advocate that sales people get into the mindset of a scientist and test what communication methods and technologies work best for their customers.

With that said, although our experiment didn’t produce $100M in pipeline in one go, customers responded well to AI-enabled cold calling.

If you get a call from me sometime soon, know that I’m doing it because it works.

[1] https://www.insidesales.com/insider/sales-leadership/top-challenges-sales-leaders-2018/

[2] https://www.insidesales.com/insider/state-of-sales-report/