Cold calling, the ability to call people you have not met before, is a key skill for startup entrepreneurs. Luckily you can get better at it and enjoy it more through training. We interviewed Jochum Jarigsma, sales trainer at Accuraad, in order to learn more about cold calling and how you can improve this important skill.
Jochum Jarigsma has been a sales trainer for 13 years and is also a startup enthusiast. He gives sales trainings at the Utrecht Inc and Yes!Delft incubators, including a separate cold calling training.
What is cold calling exactly?
Cold calling means that you call someone you have not met before. Typically, the goal of a cold call is to get an appointment with the person. You start with a company and ask to speak to a specific person in a relevant role for your company.
Why a separate cold calling training?
Cold calling itself is not really sales. It is creating opportunities to present yourself or your company. It is a separate skill that is less content driven then a typical sales conversation. Many people in general, both in startups and in large companies, do not like to do cold calling. With this training we make it less scary and make people more enthusiast about it.
Is it possible to sell directly through a call?
Sometimes it is possible to sell something directly in a call. It works best for simple products that people already know, for instance banners on websites. Startups typically have new and more complex products that you want to explain in a meeting. Secondly you may need to build trust first and it also something you can do in a meeting.
Why is cold calling important for startups?
Many startups from a technical background focus too much on the technology side, and not enough on the market side. Cold calling is a way to connect to customers and get in discussion with them on their needs.
Some companies do not cold call because they have enough potential clients through the publicity they generate. However if you use cold calling for lead generation, you are more in control of your target group: you can choose which companies to contact.
Is cold calling useful if you do not have a product yet?
The startups I train use cold calling from day 1, in order to get in touch with potential customers. In the early phase it is used to schedule interviews to find out customer needs.
So what do you do in the training?
In the training people practice cold calling and as a result get better at it and start enjoying it more. For startups I do a one day training. We start with some theory and practicing on each other. In the afternoon we start calling real potential customers. If participants come prepared with a list of companies they would like to get in touch with, they can have 15 calls during the training that result in 3 or 4 meetings to present their company.
Do you also give cold calling training for corporates? And what do you do differently?
I give the same training for companies, either as a one day training or as a two day training. For companies I typically give the training multiple times to the same team: people who do the training for the second or third time learn new things and get even better.
Should the entire team do the training and start cold calling? Or is it ok if one person, say the sales person, focuses on it?
For me it is not a problem if only one person from a startup attends the training. It is good in general if the whole team in involved in the sales process. Cold calling however is only the first step in the sales process, and in this step you usually do not have deep discussions about the technology.
You have been giving this training for a few years to startups. What has changed in those years in your training programme?
Every training is different because the group is different. I try to bring people to a higher level, but the level we can reach in a day depends on the level where they start. One thing that is different is that we move sooner from practicing on each other to live calling. A few years ago we only started calling at 3 pm, and in the last trainings we started calling for real at 1 pm.
Some people prefer mailing, tweeting, or linked-in messaging over calling. What is your view on this?
I understand why mailing is popular. It seems a lower effort and the risk of not being able to reach a person is lower. The response rate of mailing is however much lower, and cold calling is therefore a better use of your time. During the training, people who prepare a call list in advance can make 50 call attempts, speak to 15 people, and get 3-4 meetings.
What is the first step you take in the training to get better at cold calling?
It is important to have a pitch: you need a short introduction to you and your company that makes people interested. So we first let people practice their pitch that they are going to use on the phone. Pitching in one of the most important startup skills because you need it often, also on the phone.
One situation that occurs often when calling is that people ask you to send a mail instead. Is there a standard way to handle this?
There are different ways to handle this. Just sending a mail is often not the best way, since people might ignore the mail and forget about you. I have a standard reply that I use and that works well when I do it. In the training the participants make up a list with their preferred responses to typical situations. This way people practice a response that is not standard but something that works for them.
Finally, do you have an advice for startups based on your sales experience?
Yes. I advice startup entrepreneurs to practice cold calling every day for one hour, between 8.30 and 9.30 in the morning. This is the best time to catch decisions makers. Making cold calls every day makes you humble: no matter how good your product is, it takes effort to get people’s attention and to get them interested in your product.