How to Warm Up Cold Calls

Miriam Salpeter

Does the thought of making a cold call make your palms sweat? You’re not alone! Many people dread contacting strangers. Luckily, there are many things you can do to help “warm up” your cold calls. Take the following suggestions into account when you need to reach someone, and you may find your cold calls warming up.

Timing and Research—Keys to Successful Cold Calls

If people aren’t expecting to hear from you, it’s best to try to reach them at a time when they aren’t overwhelmed with other priorities. Don’t you hate when someone calls just when you’re about to leave work for the day? Do you have a friend who always phones at the dinner hour? While you can’t always know the other person’s schedule, you can assume certain times are not the best to reach a new contact. Avoid the end of the day or afternoons before holiday weekends. When you contact someone in professions with busy seasons, don’t expect to hear back if it’s high season. Is your contact active with a group or association? Anticipate your message may not be returned if you reach out immediately before or after the group’s big conference.

Ideally, you’ll conduct a bit of research to help determine best times to connect. If you’re ahead of the game, you asked about good times to call when you met, but if you never met, you can still use common sense and a little sleuthing to reach your target contacts. For example, if you’re savvy, you’ll find and follow anyone you want to reach via social media. If the people are active online, you may be able to identify meetings they plan to attend, or they may post updates that make it clear they’re on vacation or unavailable. People sometimes jokingly say they “stalk” contacts online. In this case, a little information you may find during your research can go a long way.

Never Cold Call Without a Name

Never try to reach a company to speak to the "hiring manager.” Similarly, asking to speak to "the person in charge of sales" won't inspire anyone to put you directly through to a decision maker. Be smart about your cold calls. There's no excuse for calling a company and expecting the receptionist to help you figure out the best person to meet your needs. Use LinkedIn's "Advanced Search," other social networking search tools, and in-person research to access the contact's name and title before you make your call.

Become Allies with the Phone Gatekeepers

Sometimes, people you want to reach have gatekeepers trained to protect their bosses from people like you. Some will go to great lengths to screen calls. How can you overcome this obstacle? Think of ways to convince the person who answers the call to help you. Asking something authentically, such as, "I wonder if you would be willing to help me?" could be just the thing to disarm an otherwise militant gatekeeper. Be respectful and never indicate you’re annoyed with someone doing his or her job.

Know What You Offer

Why should this person want to talk to you? Never make a cold call until you can articulate exactly what you have to offer the person you want to reach. Can you help him solve a problem? Uncover company pain points in advance and make a list of things you know might be useful to your contact. Remember, optimal networking focuses on how you can help, not on what you want from someone else. Identify your value proposition—what you can do for the new contact—and you’re much more likely to succeed in your connection.

Skip the Pleasantries

Do you really care about the weather? Neither does your cold call target. Be pleasant, but get to the point and make sure you don't lose your contact's attention before you have a chance to get started.

Prepare a Toolkit

When you’re making calls, you can use a cheat sheet! Write some notes—even a script—of what you want to say if you reach your contact. Make sure you have your calendar on hand, and something to write down what you discuss.

Follow Up

Don’t be surprised if you can’t reach your contact on the first or second try. If you want to connect, it’s up to you to be persistent. However, if you never hear back, even after following the advice listed here, it’s probably time to move on to another target.

Tap Into Social Media

Wouldn’t it be great if you could gently connect with someone you are hoping to hear from without calling or e-mailing him or her directly? When your targets use social media, you have an opportunity to “ping” them without worrying about bothering them. This technique works well if the people you want to reach actively engage in any of the online social networks. Look for their profiles in these networks and try these social media tricks to gently touch base make yourself top-of-mind for potential contacts.

LinkedIn

You have several options to touch base via LinkedIn. The first is to identify if your contact posts blogs on the network. It’s easy to find these posts, as most people feature them at the top of their LinkedIn profiles. If you can find blog posts, comment on them and be sure to tag the person in your comment. For example, you might say, “@PERSONNAME, I agree with your points, especially #5….” By typing the @ symbol right before the person’s name, LinkedIn will allow you to hyperlink (tag) to the contact, which helps notify him or her of the mention. Another suggestion is to simply “like” or “share” updates your target contacts post. Keep an eye on your stream of updates when you sign into LinkedIn and click through to the “flag” notification icon at the top right toolbar of your LinkedIn profile to be alerted when your contacts post information.

If your targets actively participate in any LinkedIn groups, join them. Comment and engage, and people you want to reach are much more likely to notice you and recognize your name if you call or email them. You can always reference your shared groups or connections via LinkedIn when you reach them.

Alternatively, use LinkedIn’s search tools to identify people you may know in common with anyone you’d like to reach. You can request an introduction. Simply visit the person’s profile, look to the right side of the screen to see if anyone can connect you to him or her under “How You’re Connected.” Click on “Get Introduced.” Select the shared connection from the drop-down menu. (It’s best to choose someone who knows you well and who likely also knows the target contact well.) Include a brief, targeted note regarding why you’d like to be connected and how you can help the other person. For example, “I hope you’ll be able to introduce me to John Smith. I see he’s active in XYZ organization, and I’d love to volunteer my time there, too.”

Twitter

You’re in luck if the people you want to reach actively use Twitter. The best way to get their attention is to retweet (RT) updates they share and use their @Name to be sure they can easily notice your mentions. In other words, you might post: “Don’t miss this article listing top marketing strategies, via @ContractName: [Link].” Or, you could post, “RT @ContactName: Top marketing strategies for your business: [Link]. Either one of these structures makes it easy for the people you want to reach to notice you mentioned them.

Other Social Networks

Don’t underestimate how useful it can be to connect with your target audience via other networks too. Do they use Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, or Periscope? If you’re familiar with the networks, be sure to promote, like, share, and mention their content, and they may be more likely to respond to your calls or e-mails.

When you follow these tips, you’ll “warm up” your cold calls and be more likely to reach and receive responses from your targeted contacts.

Miriam Salpeter is owner and founder of Keppie Careers (http://www.keppiecareers.com/), a coaching and consulting firm helping job seekers and entrepreneurs leverage social media and other tools to achieve their goals. She has appeared on CNN, and  major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes and others have quoted her advice. In addition to her own blog, Miriam writes for U.S. News & World Report and for AolJobs.com. She is the author of the books, Social Networking for Career SuccessSocial Networking for Business Success: How to Turn Your Interests into Income, and  100 Conversations for Career Success. Named to CNN’s list of “top 10 job tweeters you should be following” and a “top 5” influencer on Twitter for job seekers by Mashable.com. Miriam also had her blog selected as a top career resource by Forbes. A vice president for a Wall Street firm prior to earning a master’s degree from Columbia University, Miriam ran the Career Action Center at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University before launching her own business.