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Cold calling vs warm calling – ringing in 2024 with the facts

Cold calling vs warm calling – ringing in 2024 with the facts

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Unlike contacting qualified leads, cold calling is often the last thing the average sales agent wants to do. But does it still have a place in 2024? We’re taking an unbiased deep-dive into both cold and warm sales approaches to find out.  

‘Cold calling’ can have a nasty ring to it.

Especially when even the most well-crafted script gets a frosty reception. 🥶

But does this sales process deserve such a bad rap? 

Well, perhaps all it needs is a second chance; research suggests that while 79% of unidentified calls go unanswered, over 30% of leads never receive a follow-up call – even if the sales rep did get through the first time around.

Unsurprising when today’s time-pressed sales pros have lofty targets to reach each week; not to mention the fact they’re working in a tough financial climate. 

But how does this cold approach stack up against its more qualified contemporary, warm calling? We’ve got an unbiased ringside commentary on B2B’s sales fight of the century: cold calling vs warm calling. Ring the bell.

First things first, though: the tale of the tape…

What is cold calling?

Cold calling is a sales technique where salespeople initiate contact with potential customers who have not expressed prior interest in their products or services. Typically, it involves contacting unqualified leads via the phone to introduce the offering and gauge interest.

In a nutshell, cold calling is:

  • Making unsolicited outreach to potential customers using the phone.
  • Doing so to introduce a product or service. 
  • Initiating this contact without prior expression of interest, whilst relying on effective communication skills, persuasion, adaptability and an ability to generate interest to potentially make the sale.

Today, it’s hard to remember a time when salespeople weren’t making cold calls. But how did it all start?

A short history of cold calling 

Rooted in early sales practices undertaken by door-to-door salespeople and telegraph operators, the technique gained prominence in the mid-20th century. And with the widespread adoption of household telephones, businesses suddenly found themselves with a gateway into a wider audience than ever before. 

But that was only the beginning.

Fast forward to more recent years and the advent of digital communication and inbound marketing strategies has transformed the landscape completely. It’s this shift that has challenged the traditional effectiveness of cold calling and prompted a move towards more targeted and personalised approaches.

One of which is warm calling. 

What is warm calling?

Warm calling is where salespeople contact prospects who’ve shown interest or engagement with your products or services. Unlike cold calling, this sales approach involves reaching out to leads who have demonstrated some level of receptivity. And this makes the interaction targeted and, arguably, more successful. But we’ll get into that later.

To summarise, warm calling is:

  • Phoning leads who have previously expressed interest or engagement with products or services.
  • Leveraging pre-existing connections or interactions with prospects. 
  • A type of sales outreach which is more targeted, personalised and successful than cold calling.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway.

So how did it start and where is it now?

A short history of warm calling 

Personal relationships and connections have always played a crucial role in sales.

And before the widespread use of telephones, salespeople would simply build relationships with potential customers through face-to-face interactions – that was the only way. But fast forward to the modern era and warm calling has continued to quickly evolve alongside technological advancements. 

Beyond simply picking up the phone, this tactic now leverages the power of sophisticated data analytics, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and other digital communication channels. Together these tools are helping salespeople identify and engage with leads who have already shown buying intent. Arguably, it’s this insight that creates a more tailored and effective sales approach. 

But you know what? This is just one of the upsides of warm calling. 

Like a savvy salesperson searching for clues, let’s dig a little deeper 🔍

Cold calling vs warm calling – weighing up the pros and cons

OK, we’re calling it like it is: there are pluses and minus for both types of sales approaches Let’s get into it:

Cold calling pros 

The advantages of going in cold include:

  • Much broader outreach – you can reach a much larger audience to generate leads. Research suggests the average cold caller can make 35 to 45 phone calls a day. 
  • Potential for unexpected opportunities – by initiating contact and starting the conversation, you can unlock opportunities with potential customers who might not have been aware of your products or services. And there’s evidence to suggest it works too; research from RAIN Group revealed that up to 82% of buyers accept meetings with sellers who cold call. 

But as any sales professional knows, it isn’t all plain sailing. 

Cold calling cons

There certainly are some drawbacks to cold calling. When dialling out of the blue, sales reps can face any number of hurdles:

  • Hesitation and resistance – the unsolicited nature of these types of calls can leave many prospects feeling wary; Hiya’s research revealed up to 92% of recipients believe unidentified calls might be fraud. This makes sense when estimates show there were 4.5 million fraud offences in the Telephone-operated Crime Survey for England and Wales (TCSEW) in the year ending March 2022 (Office for National Statistics).
  • Low response and conversion rates – there’s no getting around it, cold calling can be a grind. Service Bell’s research suggests it takes an average 8 cold call attempts just to reach a prospect, with 80% of cold calls going to voicemail. But how about when you do get through? As little as 1% of cold calls lead to appointments. 

OK, so what about taking a warmer approach then? 

Warm calling pros

It’s hard to argue that warm calling can give you a headstart when prospecting. Here’s how:

  • Targeted and personalised approach – warm calling enables salespeople to have more relevant and natural conversations. And this has historically allowed 31% of B2B salespeople to build deeper connections and relationships with their customers.
  • Higher success rates – there’s also research to suggest that you’re 4.2 times more likely to schedule a meeting when you’ve got an existing personal connection with prospects. Not only that, warm calls have a 20-30% conversion rate.

Looks like warm calling’s just a no-brainer then, right?

If only it were that simple. 

Warm calling cons

The biggest drawback of warm calling is that it takes some legwork beforehand to give you a chance of succeeding. Here’s why:

  • Data accuracy – success with warm calling is often down to the quality of your intent data. And according to John Steinert, CMO at TechTarget, this can’t always be guaranteed:

“The reality is that much of the so-called intent data from B2B publishers is actually an amalgam of very weak signals, leaving it up to you as B2B marketers to try and figure out the difference between a truly valuable offering and one that sounds good but can’t deliver.”

The good news: accuracy is the cornerstone of our data at Sopro. For example, our mobile phone data is triple-verified and boasts an impressive 99% accuracy rate.

But data is not the only drawback when it comes to cold calling. Not when you’re also working with:

  • Limited pools of prospects – salespeople may have built some rapport with potential customers, but they’re swimming in a much smaller pool of prospects. And while these leads are almost guaranteed to be far more qualified, it’s also likely your reps have put the hours in; educating, building trust and warming them up for that potential sale.

But regardless of whether your reps are starting the qualification process from scratch or they’re knee-deep into building relationships with prospects, this is one job that’s rarely ever easy.

With that in mind, here are some top tips to help your newbies strike the right tone.

10 practical tips for calling prospects 

We know making sales calls is rarely ever the highlight of the day – especially when they’re ice cold. But there are some tried-and-tested ways to make the process a little less painful for sales reps and also boost their chances of success as well.

When reps are cold calling prospects they should always remember to:

1. Take time to research and target appropriately

With a cold approach, the work starts before the call. So prioritise plenty of time for research beforehand. That way you can get a deep understanding of the current market conditions, whilst painting the most accurate picture of your prospect. Crucially, you’ll start to understand their pains and how your product can make their day-to-day a little easier. 

2. Engage them early

With cold calls, you don’t have a lot of time to make the right impression. And that’s why it’s so important to start on the right foot with an engaging opener; something that’s not only compelling but trustworthy too. So craft an attention-grabbing opening statement to capture the prospect’s interest early and, more importantly, let them know you’re legit. 

3. Set clear objectives

when you don’t have long, there’s no point beating around the bush. It’ll just waste their time and yours when you could be on another call with a more interested prospect. So clearly define the purpose of the call, whether it’s to schedule a meeting, provide information or simply to sell. If it’s the latter, clearly communicate the value of your product or service – and do it quickly before they decide to run for the hills. 

4. Listen

If your reps have done their research, they should be able to anticipate objections and will have some well-thought-out responses at the ready. However, it’s still important to listen to the prospect’s needs and concerns and adapt pitches accordingly. Sure, you need a script to start with. But it’s important to read the room and rip it up if necessary. 

5. Keep your questions open-ended

It’s the best way to encourage dialogue and have a more natural conversation. This is a completely cold call and the only way to warm it up is by getting under the bonnet and seeing what makes your prospect tick. They’ll tell you exactly what they need if you ask the right questions. Research by Klenty shows that the longer you keep prospects on the call, the better chance you have of closing a deal; calls that last more than 10 minutes are 75% more likely to have a good outcome. So ask open-ended ones, then give them the stage. 

Of course, when leads are more qualified, warm calls need a different approach. So in these scenarios, sales representatives should always:

6. Utilise data effectively

Although around 40% of businesses are using over half their marketing budgets on intent data, only 39% are using this data effectively (Forrester). To succeed in this sales approach, teams must use buyer signals and data from previous interactions to personalise each conversation. 

7. Build on previous interactions

Refer to previous engagements or interactions, creating a natural continuity to your conversations. Grow that pre-existing relationship with every call; this type of call is about building meaningful rapport and valuable human connections with warm prospects. So take an interest in what’s going on in their lives, empathise with their struggles – in and outside of the office -and then demonstrate your knowledge. That’s how you’ll get a positive response

8. Strike at the right time

Whilst research suggests the best time to make a cold call is in the morning or straight after lunch, warm leads don’t require such a cookie-cutter approach. Instead, the timing of your call should be based on each potential client’s previous responses and preferences. So take note, fit around their schedule and show them you care. 

Want to drop them a message instead? We’ve got you covered. There’s plenty of research into optimum times to send emails in our new report: The State of Prospecting 2024. Download it for free now.

9. Nurture relationships

Reps should focus on building deep relationships rather than simply making a sale. Get that right and they’ll foster positive, ongoing connections based on trust. Valuable relationships that won’t just end up in a one-time purchase; they’ll unlock repeat business opportunities for many interactions to come.

10. Provide value

Speaking of value, the last one speaks for itself. Sales teams should always share evidence of how their solution solves real-world challenges. When budgets are tighter than ever, products and services can’t just pique the interest of stakeholders and decision-makers; they must be able to demonstrate measurable ROI as well. So try and read their mind, arming yourself with results for their relevant sector. Don’t wait to be asked.

But how can you get into the head of your prospects when you only spend a finite amount of time on the phone with them? That’s where some good old-fashioned psychology comes in. 

The psychology of sales calls 🧠

According to research by Harvard Business Review, 48% of business-to-business salespeople are afraid of making cold calls. Unfortunately, salespeople who fear making these types of calls end up having trouble hitting their quotas, feel more stressed and are likely to make less money in the long run. 

But you know what? 

It’s just mind over matter when it comes to calling prospects – and we’ve got it covered. Here are some research-based pointers for picking up the phone:

Make the most of the “yes” momentum

Start your call with questions that are most likely to get a “yes” response from the prospect, making sure that you’re drawing on relevant, real-world context to do so.  For example:

“Is saving more and streamlining processes also a priority for you during the current cost-of-living crisis?”

Build positive momentum with questions that you know are likely to result in positive affirmations and then gradually transition to more commitment-oriented questions.

Try ‘Feel-Felt-Found’

A classic objection-handling technique, get your reps to acknowledge any concerns the prospect may have by:

  • First, saying they understand how the prospect “feels”.
  • Sharing a story about someone who “felt” the same way but found value in your product or service. 
  • Finally, share what this customer “found” after using your solution.

And this isn’t just finger-in-the-air stuff either; LinkedIn has shared some useful advice for actually measuring this approach using tools like CRM too.

Bring in the benefits (not features)

An oldie but a goodie, emphasise how your product or service can solve the prospect’s problems or improve their day-to-day. Once you’ve taken the time to establish the pains, you’ll be able to get to the product benefits more naturally. Be sure to lean on client testimonials and social proof to back you up. When 84% of customers trust reviews as much as their family and friends, nothing’s more powerful than positive quotes from peers. 

Summon your inner storyteller

As much as we’d like to think differently, humans rarely make purchase decisions based solely on rational grounds. Instead, buying is an emotional, personal and even illogical process. 

And that’s why storytelling is so important. 

There’s plenty of research to suggest that after prospects hear short pitches, 63% recall the stories but only 5% remember the stats. Further research revealed that 95% of purchase decision-making occurs in the subconscious mind. So by telling your prospect a story, you’re creating an emotional connection that can help move them towards purchasing. And in a way no rigid script could.

The truth is, though, psychology can only get your reps so far. And as we all know, it takes a lot of patience and perseverance to persuade colder prospects. In fact, research suggests that 60% of customers say “no” four times before purchasing. In other words, you have to persevere through a lot of rejection before you can land a sale. 

Thankfully, there are now plenty of tools that can help the process feel a little less painful – whether you’re calling out of the blue, or following up on something 🔥🔥🔥

What technology can I use for sales calling strategies?

We’ve gone into lots of detail before about the rise of remote selling in today’s hybrid-working world and technology has raced forward to support this model. Here are just some of the tools that can help for both cold and warm sales calls:

Mobile technology

Mobile apps and solutions are now helping sales professionals make and receive calls from just about anywhere, increasing flexibility and responsiveness at the same time. What’s more, mobile access to CRM systems provides real-time updates on customer information; invaluable in allowing sales reps to stay informed on the go.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems

OK, they’re not new but CRMs are still helping sales teams organise and manage customer data much more effectively. This includes contact information, purchase history, preferences, and interactions. Perhaps more importantly, though, this massive wealth of data is empowering sales representatives to personalise their approach based on a prospect’s history and preferences.

Predictive dialers and auto-dialling software

These systems save time by dialling numbers automatically, so sales reps can spend their time preparing and talking to leads instead. Another plus is that these tools often come equipped with analytics features, providing valuable insights into call performance. This helps sales teams learn and refine their strategies on the fly. Thankfully, some tools ensure they have everything they need at their fingertips as soon as the system starts dialling.

Sales enablement tools

Content management tools make organising and sharing sales collateral quick and easy, ensuring all representatives have access to the most up-to-date and relevant materials when they call. There are also virtual training platforms where sales teams can stay informed about product updates, industry trends and effective sales techniques.

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)

Especially valuable for smaller businesses, VoIP technology enables cost-effective voice communication over the Internet. This reduces traditional phone system costs and allows for flexibility in making calls from various devices. Importantly, VoIP systems can be integrated with CRM systems, providing a seamless flow of information between communication and customer data.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning

Today, human-sounding chatbots are helping to qualify leads in real-time. These AI-driven chatbots will engage with potential leads online – either via your website or messaging platforms – before passing them on to a sales representative to call. 

Similarly, predictive analytics is streamlining both warm and cold approaches by analysing reams of historical data in seconds. By predicting which leads are more likely to convert, this tool can save sales teams prioritise their efforts and save valuable time and resources for other tasks. 

So whether you’re cold calling or following up with warm leads, technology can make things much easier than ever before.

So where does all of this leave us in the great debate over which one’s best?

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Wrapping up the call

We believe a blend of cold and warm calling strategies is the secret to success. 

How, exactly? 🤷

As parts of a solid multi-channel sales approach, of course.

Combining comprehensive phone number data with quality intent triggers allows your reps to strike at the right time, with the right message. 

But don’t take our word for it. There’s some science behind our thinking. 🧑‍🔬

To sense check our approach, we examined all client campaigns with more than 100 calls logged.

And you know what we found? 8% of intent-based warm calls resulted in a booked sales meeting. That makes this approach four times more effective than simply cold calling.

But that doesn’t make cold calling obsolete. 

At Sopro, we also arm you with phone numbers for every prospect in your campaign. So if you’ve got additional time and resources, you can call people who haven’t yet engaged with you; a good idea when some prospects respond better to calls than email and LinkedIn outreach. 

So what’s the moral of the story? Just listen to the data or work with someone who can read the signals for you. That way, your reps can focus on what they do best: selling.

Ready to harness the power of a multichannel approach? Book a free demo now. 

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