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Generating sales opportunities over the telephone is far from easy. There are so many obstacles in your way. With over 20 years experience in the business of telephone lead generation, we’ve run a lot of campaigns. We’ve also seen a fair few campaigns that did not work as well as we’d like. Therefore, to help you get the maximum from your campaigns, we’ve come up with our list of 12 cold calling mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Target anyone

“We can work with anyone” is a bad approach to any new business strategy. Define your audience. Which sectors or industries? Identify the decision-maker. Who purchases your products or services? Who signs the cheque? Who could be a champion in the organisation to promote you to those people? Get these things right and you are on the right road.

2. Portfolio selling

It is difficult to sell anything to anyone. If you’re an accountant, most prospects know you do management accounts, VAT, Tax, Payroll, Audit and so on. But what is the purpose for the call today? They don’t want to listen to the same old tosh about all the services you offer. They want to hear something of interest. So consider the sector and their primary needs and what headline service(s) you want to promote to that sector.

3. Bland proposition

Everyone has competition. So differentiating your business isn’t easy. The fact that you’re a great PR agency that gets great coverage has great relations with journalists and you’re great to deal with is well er great. But, in bigger organisations, it’s likely that your prospect already has an agency that ticks the same boxes and they are contracted. So, think about it from their point of view. Why should they see you? Why should they see you now? What issues do they have that you can resolve? Do you have the specialist knowledge that they need? Give them a compelling reason to see you.

4. Poor briefing

If someone else is making the calls, don’t give them the mushroom treatment by keeping them in the dark and feeding them sh*t. Work with them. Brief them thoroughly and regularly and make them part of your team. Give them snippets, case studies, reference points, changes in regulations, client testimonials and so on that support their calls. Also, don’t ask them to do 100 other things and still make calls. Focus them on the calls and you will see the results.

5. Make too few calls

Whatever your business, lead generation momentum is a fundamental success factor. You need to make enough calls and have enough ‘No’s’ to get your ‘Yeses’. So, pick up the phone and commit to making some calls. Set aside quiet time and make sure you do this consistently.

6. Scripted calls

A lot of argument rages about scripted calls. Every call needs some degree of consistency. It’s important that the intro is consistent so the telemarketer gets into a rhythm. Also, so that the message is consistent. But how many calls have you received with ‘How are you Today?’ followed by a totally scripted approach. If the value of sale and caller skill is low then maybe that works but in high-value sales, you need to engage with your decision-makers. So build a call structure. Compile some key open questions to get the dialogue flowing. And make sure the caller is confident and knows their stuff so they can properly engage with the people they are talking to.

7. Failure to track and measure

Whether you use Outlook, Excel, a diary, a Blackberry or a shiny CRM system, you need to be able to track and measure. Systems support cold calling success as they enable you to record information and set reminders as well as to track key performance indicators. How many calls per hour? How many sales per day? How many call-backs scheduled for next week? How many calls needed per sale? And so on. Without a method for recording information, you can’t manage and measure and improve. So think about how you track and measure the success of your calls.

8. No notes

How will you remember a conversation that you had with a prospect 6 months ago? It’s unlikely you will keep a notepad that long and be able to find the relevant notes. Notes help you build rapport. They help you to use the language of the prospectuses next time you speak to them. It triggers positive feelings and points of reference especially if the last time you spoke to the person they were going on holiday or just got married or had just implemented a new system. Avoid taking notes at your peril. It is a fundamental part of good technique. But don’t type while listening! They can hear you.

9. Uninterested caller

There isn’t much more irritating than speaking to someone whether face to face or on the phone and you can hear that their heart isn’t in it. Passion is crucial and it’s more important in many ways than the proposition and the words you say. If the caller is enthusiastic, engaging and has conviction, the chances of achieving a result are magnified.

10. Lack of follow up

Nothing hurts new business lead generation more than lack of momentum and follow-up. You need to make enough calls to speak to enough people to get enough No’s to achieve your success. However, many prospects genuinely aren’t in the market now. They may ask for more info (accepting that this is often a way of getting you off the phone) or a call back next week, month, year. Too many salespeople fail to send info out when requested and, more importantly, fail to call back when they say. Lead generation is a process and you need to call back when requested especially if you have developed a rapport. Voicemail, gatekeepers, poor data, holidays, meetings and so on all stand in your way. So the only way to achieve success in calling is to keep calling at the time you say you will. And send information out. A contact told me recently that they had a prospect call him following a mailer he sent in 2006 that she had kept on file!

11. Expect the earth without a foundation

If you’re not where you want to be in terms of new business, there is probably a reason for that. So set your expectations accordingly. That doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity or poor performance. However, think about the factors above and what success should look like. If you already have blue-chip clients and a unique service that saves tons of money for clients you are likely to get more opportunities than a start-up with no credentials in a crowded market. So utilize the factors above to turn things in your favour but set realistic expectations and be patient.

12. Giving up too soon

You have to measure the success of all of your marketing activities. If you are doing the outbound calling and you can see that a pipeline is building with warm contacts that have expressed an interest, don’t stop. That doesn’t mean continue ad infinitum but, based on evidence (see points 7 and 8 above) to support continuation, make sure you work through the cycle. If it isn’t working, by all means, make some changes. However, it may be that budgets are planned for September so a call in April may be too soon. On the other hand, a call in April may sow the seeds and enable the calls in September to be targeted and more productive. So, make sure you use the tools at your disposal, measure and track success and don’t give up too soon.


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