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Top 10 cold-calling mistakes

Sam Dobbins //April 11, 2014//

Top 10 cold-calling mistakes

Sam Dobbins //April 11, 2014//

Cold calling should be simple, right? Pick up your suit of armor to face all the rejections you’ll hear in a day, keep your eye on the prize of new sales, and lift that telephone receiver. Success and money will roll in.

Or will it?

If cold calling were as simple as the thoughts above, everyone would do it, like it and succeed at it. But cold calling is not for the faint of heart. Picking up the telephone and reaching out into your community takes courage, talent and pre-sales smarts.

If you’re challenged with your cold call efforts and ROI, you may be making some mistakes in your calling routine. The following are 10 of the most common errors people make on the phone and how to correct them:


  1. Lack of Preparation – Let’s say you have a list of 300 names to call down. Most new cold-callers will start from A and work down to Z without doing any preliminary research. After all, the boss bought a clean list, right? If this is your situation, try pre-weeding with a quick trip on the Internet. Look up the companies you see on your list and confirm contact names, phone numbers, hours of operation and even mission statements. It’s better to call 20 good prospects than dial down a list that leaves you disheartened with your data.
  2. Attitude! Attitude! – We’ve all experienced those calls from people who should not be in sales or marketing at all. They make us feel badly for picking up the phone, with attitude that comes across clearer than any words spoken—attitudes that say “I hate calling strangers like you” or sound like a drill sergeant reprimanding his latest recruit. Remember, you’re engaging someone with the opportunity to work together to solve a problem. Don’t you owe it to them to be upbeat and professional? Try a deep breathing exercise before picking up the phone. Envision the person you’ll talk to and be sure to want the conversation you’ll have. You may even want to recite a positive mantra, or give yourself a fun pep talk before your calls begin.
  3. Setting the Wrong Goal – When people are new to cold calling, they often think of making a lot of sales right off the bat. After all, they’re friendly, positive, and go getting. Nothing wrong with that. But a better goal is to discover new leads, surface new opportunities, or add valuable market information to your database. With this goal, every call becomes prize-winning, whether or not you surface someone in the sales process. Think of yourself not as a sales person, but as a hunter of information. You will be more motivated to keep dialing, even in a long day of “no thanks” dials.


  1. Gobbling the Whole Elephant – We’ve all heard that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Yet many cold callers still try to close a sale on the first call. Wrong! Set smaller, specific goals for each call you make and soon the process will have your team closing much more business. Call number one may simply be to get as much information as you can from a gatekeeper, the person whose job it is to filter out “those damn sales people.” Win the gatekeeper’s trust and you’re on your way to a solid relationship with the company at large and the decision maker you’re trying to reach.
  2. Offending the Gatekeeper – Really? You want to brush past the person who can connect you to both the decision maker you know you want and guide you to the decision maker you’re not yet aware of? Stop. Take a deep breath. Now try again. When you treat the gatekeeper as the valuable corporate asset they are for their company, you’re much more likely to get the “soft” information that helps build relationships faster. You can work with the gatekeeper to find out decision maker schedules, difficult name pronunciations, email addresses, and more. Their companies value the gatekeeper–you should too.
  3. Messing up the Basics – A lot of cold callers set themselves apart with this one, and for all the wrong reasons. Your basics consist of being polite, engage in active listening to whomever you talk, pronouncing names correctly, and dealing fairly with each person you communicate with. Avoid manipulating your prospect and you’ll find more and more of these new acquaintances willing and even happy to receive your follow up calls.
  4. Branding & Selling – Have you ever been to a gathering where one person monopolizes the conversation with “all about me” talk? They get started on their personal achievements and adventures, and any chance for a true conversation flies out the window. When you use the telephone for your business, be sure to make conversation instead of talking points. Ask open-ended questions that will draw your listener out, give you valuable market information, and present ways for you to help your connection solve his or her problem. Branding and sales belong in advertisements and follow up situations, not on the phone.
  5. Fail to Identify the Decision Maker – Even the best-cultivated lists will often have incorrect or missing information when it comes to reaching decision makers. By asking open-ended questions of everyone you speak to you’re much more likely to find yourself talking to the “right” person instead of the “person you asked for.” Be open to this and your cold calling will reward you with much more success.


  1. Neglecting the Follow-Up Note – Whether you’re an emailing whiz or a snail mail advocate, failing to follow up a good call with a note will send you back to square one in the sales process. These notes are a vital reminder of a relationship that can otherwise fade with the very next call or emergency. A simple “thanks for talking with me today” memo will reinforce the visit, and when you summarize what you heard on the call, you’ll increase your chances of impressing your contact and building better results for every call going forward.
  2. Not Updating Your Database – Why make great calls if the next time you reach out to someone you can’t remember what you last talked about? It is simple to take good notes while on the phone, but be sure to update your database with the valuable information you garnered on your call. This will make your dials more successful and your boss happier with his or her market information.

At the end of the day, you’re the cold call professional. When you avoid these basic mistakes, you’ll find a richly rewarding career on the phone. Good luck and keep dialing.