July 3, 2023

Breaking down the inner gatekeeper with unconventional cold call openings

20 min read
In the fast-paced world of outbound sales, where prospects are inundated with countless cold calls every day, standing out from the crowd is crucial. Traditional cold call openings often follow a predictable script, lacking the spark needed to capture the prospect's attention and ignite genuine interest. However, by embracing unconventional approaches, sales professionals can break free from the monotony and significantly improve their success rates.

In a recent episode of The Sales Syndicate Podcast, we delved into the realm of unconventional cold call openings and explore how they can revolutionise your outbound sales strategy. Featuring Jamie Pagan, Marketing Director at Selligence, along with Jack Frimston and Zac Thompson, Co-Founders at We Have a Meeting, we shared creative techniques that defy the norms, challenge assumptions, and capture the curiosity of potential customers in those critical first few seconds. By stepping outside the traditional box, you'll discover how to build rapport, engage prospects, and pave the way for meaningful conversations that lead to conversions.

In this article:
  1. No, cold calling isn’t dead!
  2. Why the younger generation doesn’t like cold calling
  3. Disarming the ‘inner gatekeeper’
  4. The power of pattern interrupts when cold calling
  5. How to use pattern interrupts in cold calls
  6. Alternative ways to approach account-based calling
  7. The benefits of mirroring your prospects
  8. The psychology behind the 'Hi, how are you?' cold call opener

No, cold calling isn’t dead!

In the realm of sales, the idea that cold calling is dead has been debated for decades. But the notion of cold calling's demise is far from accurate. Jack recalls a quote from a sales enthusiast he spoke with recently, suggesting that the first proclamation of cold calling's demise dates back to the 1920s or thereabouts. Yet, here we are, a hundred years later, and people continue to proclaim its death.

The underlying problem lies in the misconception that cold calling is an inherently ineffective strategy. Without the right guidance, evidence of its efficacy, or the confidence to undertake it, salespeople are unlikely to embrace cold calling as a valuable tool in their arsenal. However, Jack points out that just like any skill, cold calling requires practice and a willingness to endure initial failures. Drawing a parallel to learning how to ride a bike, they emphasise that one must first be prepared to be "rubbish" before improving and achieving success.

While alternative methods such as email and LinkedIn may be popular choices in today's technology-driven world, Jack believes that they have become weapons of choice due to a lack of proper training and confidence in cold calling. However, this doesn't negate the fact that cold calling can still yield impressive results when executed with the right approach and mindset.The conversation sheds light on the importance of reviving and revitalising the art of cold calling in sales. It’s not a matter of cold calling versus other communication methods but rather understanding the value that cold calling brings to the table.

When done correctly, cold calling allows for direct, personalised conversations that can establish rapport, uncover needs, and build meaningful connections with decision-makers. In an era where people are bombarded with emails and messages, a well-executed cold call stands out as a unique opportunity to capture the attention and interest of potential clients. By adopting a structured approach, investing in proper training, and developing the necessary confidence, sales professionals can tap into the untapped potential of cold calling and unlock new opportunities for success.

Why the younger generation doesn’t like cold calling

In today's digital age, the landscape of communication has drastically evolved. The traditional landline phones that were once a staple in every household and business have become a relic of the past. The rise of mobile devices and the plethora of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram, have fundamentally changed the way people connect and communicate. This shift has had an unintended consequence: the decline of phone etiquette and the loss of the innate ability to answer a phone call.

As Jamie, Jack, and Zac highlighted, they grew up in a time when landline phones were still prevalent. They reminisce about knowing their friends' phone numbers by heart and recall the reluctance they felt as teenagers when answering the phone, fearing their parents might be on the other end of the line. However, with the decline of landline phones and the rise of mobile technology, the speaker notes a significant change in how people, especially the younger generation, perceive and engage with phone calls.

The proliferation of messaging apps and social media platforms has given individuals alternative means of communication that are more convenient, less intrusive, and offer a greater sense of control over their interactions. This shift has resulted in a diminished exposure to the traditional phone call and the skills and confidence that come with it.

The impact of this change is particularly evident in the realm of sales. Sales professionals, especially those starting out as SDRs (Sales Development Representatives), are facing a new landscape where cold calling and engaging with potential clients over the phone may seem unfamiliar and even daunting. The lack of experience in answering and making phone calls, combined with a perception that calling someone out of the blue is considered rude, can hinder their confidence in reaching out to prospects.

The speaker expressed their astonishment at witnessing this phenomenon in freshly graduated SDRs. These individuals, born into a digital era dominated by messaging apps, may struggle to embrace the art of phone communication and the value it brings to the sales process. While they are adept at utilising social media platforms and messaging apps to connect with others, they may lack the skills and confidence required to have meaningful conversations over the phone.

It’s crucial for sales organszations to recognise this shift in communication preferences and adapt their strategies accordingly. Providing comprehensive training and guidance on effective phone communication techniques becomes essential in empowering sales professionals to navigate this changing landscape. By instilling the necessary skills, fostering confidence, and emphasising the importance of personalised human connection, sales teams can overcome the challenges posed by the decline of phone communication.

Ultimately, while the decline of phone communication may reflect societal and technological changes, it’s imperative for sales professionals to adapt and find a balance between leveraging new communication channels and preserving the art of effective phone conversations. By doing so, they can unlock new opportunities, build stronger connections, and ultimately drive success in the ever-evolving world of sales.

Disarming the ‘inner gatekeeper’

You might be thinking, ‘What on earth is the inner gatekeeper?’. Well, the inner gatekeeper is the voice inside our heads that decides whether you will give someone a moment of your time, whether that’s on the phone or in person.

The inner gatekeeper is rooted in the prospect's mindset, beliefs, and emotions. It serves as a defence mechanism that filters and evaluates incoming sales messages, determining which ones are allowed through to reach decision-makers or key influencers. This gatekeeper can manifest in various forms, such as scepticism, doubt, fear, or resistance to change.

The first step in disarming the inner gatekeeper is injecting humour into the conversation. By employing a light-hearted and witty approach, sales professionals can create an instant connection and break down barriers. Humour serves as a powerful tool to disarm defences and foster a more relaxed and receptive atmosphere. A well-timed joke or a clever quip can help to establish rapport and initiate a genuine conversation that goes beyond the initial sales pitch.

Honesty plays a vital role in building trust and credibility during a cold call. By conveying sincerity and authenticity, sales professionals can establish a foundation of trust that paves the way for more meaningful interactions. Honest communication creates an environment where the person on the other end feels valued and respected, increasing the likelihood of a productive conversation.

By giving the person answering the call the freedom to decline, sales professionals demonstrate respect for their time and decision-making autonomy. This approach puts the listener at ease, as they feel empowered and less pressured. Surprisingly, offering the option to say no can paradoxically increase the likelihood of a positive outcome, as it removes the perception of being "sold to" and opens the door for a genuine exchange of ideas and solutions.

Establishing rapport is another key element in disarming the inner gatekeeper. It’s important to try and mirror the tone and energy of the person on the other end of the line. Finding common ground or shared interests can help build a connection and create a positive bias known as the halo effect. By discovering similarities and resonating with the person answering the call, sales professionals can break down barriers and foster a sense of familiarity and trust.

The power of pattern interrupts when cold calling

Sales professionals have long recognised the need to stand out and capture the customer's attention amidst a sea of sales calls. The pattern interrupt technique builds upon this principle, leveraging unexpected moments to create memorable interactions and increase the likelihood of generating interest and engagement.

The idea behind a pattern interrupt is to challenge the customer's "inner chimp," referring to their primal and defensive instincts when encountering sales calls. By employing permission-based openers, sales professionals can deviate from the expected script and introduce a surprising element that breaks the customer's pattern of thinking. This disruption serves as a catalyst for capturing their attention and making them more receptive to the subsequent sales pitch.

When it comes to cold call openers, Jack and Zac aren't afraid to think outside the box. They believe that the most effective opener is a bold statement that catches the prospect off guard. Specifically, the phrase "Do you want to hang up or let me have 30 seconds?" has proven to be a powerful attention-grabber. However, they also advocate for injecting a touch of outlandishness to further captivate the prospect.

One approach they suggest is to use an exaggerated and unexpected alternative to the standard opener. For instance, Jack might ask, "Do you want to slam your phone against your forehead and jump up and down on it? Or let me have 30 seconds?" This offbeat question disrupts the prospect's expectations and creates a moment of curiosity, prompting them to pause and listen.

Another intriguing approach involves indicating that the call might not be relevant to the person receiving it. This unexpected twist often sparks curiosity and prompts the prospect to listen further. By momentarily taking something away from them and implying that the call may not serve their needs, it subverts their expectations and ignites their interest.

The underlying principle behind these unconventional openers is to break free from the traditional and mundane scripts of cold calling. Instead of following a predictable path, sales professionals are encouraged to embrace creativity and take risks. By leveraging humour, exaggeration, and unexpected twists, they can create memorable moments that set the stage for a more engaging and productive conversation.

It's important to note that not every unconventional opener will resonate with every prospect. Sales professionals must gauge the response and adjust their approach accordingly. While some individuals may appreciate the humour and curiosity sparked by these openers, others might prefer a more straightforward introduction. Flexibility and adaptability are key to finding the right balance and tailoring the approach to the specific prospect and situation.

How to use pattern interrupts in cold calls

If you haven’t tried curveballs and pattern interrupts, you’re missing out. These unconventional tactics disrupt the norm and inject an element of surprise and curiosity into the interaction. By introducing unexpected topics and asking curveball questions, they successfully grab the attention of potential clients, even in situations where the initial call may not be going smoothly.

Curveballs are those unexpected and random questions or statements that come out of left field, designed to disrupt the conversation, and instantly capture the listener's attention. It could be something as simple as asking about their opinion on Marmite or making an offbeat comment about swans or bookshelves. The goal is to create a moment of surprise, prompting the person to pause and engage with the unexpected topic. This shift in dynamic can pique their curiosity and make the conversation more memorable.

Here's a rough transcript from a genuine call Zac made recently:

Zac: Swans...🦢

Prospect: What?

Zac: They're weird, aren't they? Like, they look so majestic. But then when you get close, they start like hissing at you 🤬

Prospect: I suppose so.

Zac: Anyway, have a think about it. I'll ring you back 👋

*Hangs up the phone*

1 week later...📆

Zac: Hey, it's me again. Have you thought about them swans?

Prospect: *Laughing* What is it that you're trying to ring me for? 😂

Pattern interrupts, on the other hand, serve as a disruption to the usual flow of conversation. These can be strategically introduced at any stage of the interaction to break the pattern of normal thinking or redirect the dialogue in a new direction.

For example, a salesperson might interject with a question about the number of books someone has read or make a comment about their unique accent. This unexpected shift forces the person to momentarily step out of their routine thought process and respond to the new line of discussion. It keeps the conversation fresh, engaging, and prevents it from falling into a predictable pattern.

The purpose of curveballs and pattern interrupts is to keep the person fully engaged and interested in the conversation. By injecting moments of surprise and novelty, sales professionals can capture attention and create a memorable experience for the potential client. These tactics disrupt the monotony of traditional sales calls and open up opportunities for deeper connections and more meaningful discussions.

Alternative ways to approach account-based calling

The first step in an account-based approach is to identify those dream companies that align with your business objectives and values. Once you have identified these targets, it's time to summon the courage to pick up the phone and initiate the conversation. When reaching out, express that you're not sure if the call will be relevant for the person you're speaking with. By setting this expectation, you demonstrate respect for their time and open the door for a meaningful conversation.

To spark interest and capture attention, framing your interest in the company as a "dream prospect" situation can be effective. Let the prospect know that their organisation is on your list of companies you've always wanted to work with. This slight ego massage can pique their curiosity and make them more receptive to hearing about what you do. The goal is to obtain permission to explain your product or service in 30 seconds or less, showcasing its value and relevance to their business.

The "going for no" approach can also be very successful in account-based calling. Rather than assuming the prospect is waiting to hear about your offering, approach the conversation with the assumption that they might already be working with a company like yours, and everything is running smoothly.

This mindset empowers you to provide them with an opportunity to say no and end the conversation if it's not relevant to their current needs. By embracing this approach, you create an environment of authenticity and respect, focusing on building relationships rather than pressuring prospects into a sale.

The benefits of mirroring your prospects

Mirroring prospects on cold calls refers to the practice of matching the tone, pace, and style of communication used by the prospect during the conversation. It involves adapting one's own speech patterns, language, and even body language to create a sense of familiarity and rapport with the prospect. Mirroring is based on the idea that people tend to feel more comfortable and receptive when interacting with others who are like them.

There are several reasons why mirroring prospects on cold calls can be effective:
  1. Establishing rapport: mirroring helps to establish a sense of rapport and connection with the prospect. When the salesperson mirrors the prospect's communication style, it creates a subconscious bond and a feeling of being understood. This can enhance trust and receptivity to the sales message.
  2. Building trust and likability: people tend to like and trust those who are similar to them. Mirroring the prospect's speech patterns, gestures, and mannerisms can make the salesperson appear more relatable and trustworthy. This can contribute to a more positive perception of the salesperson and increase the likelihood of a productive conversation.
  3. Enhancing understanding: mirroring allows the salesperson to better understand the prospect's needs, preferences, and communication style. By adapting their approach to match the prospect, the salesperson can gain deeper insights into the prospect's motivations and tailor their pitch accordingly. This increases the chances of delivering a message that resonates with the prospect's specific interests and concerns.
  4. Overcoming resistance: mirroring can help to reduce resistance or defensiveness in the prospect. When the salesperson adopts a similar style of communication, it can create a sense of familiarity and reduce the perception of the salesperson as an outsider or someone to be guarded against. This can make the prospect more open to hearing the sales message and engaging in a meaningful conversation.
  5. Improving communication effectiveness: mirroring can enhance the overall effectiveness of communication during the cold call. By matching the prospect's pace, tone, and language, the salesperson can ensure better comprehension and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings. This leads to smoother, more natural conversations that flow in a way that the prospect finds comfortable and engaging.

It's important to note that mirroring should be used judiciously and authentically. It should not be perceived as mimicry or manipulation. Sales professionals should aim to mirror subtly and naturally, focusing on building rapport and understanding rather than simply imitating the prospect. The goal is to create a genuine connection and improve the overall effectiveness of the cold call by aligning with the prospect's communication style.

The psychology behind the 'Hi, how are you?' cold call opener

When making cold calls, introducing oneself and mentioning the company may be relevant in specific situations where the brand carries significant recognition and credibility. However, for most cold calls, this information holds little value to the recipient, as they are often unfamiliar with or uninterested in the caller's company. Therefore, investing time in such introductions may not yield substantial results.

The phrase 'Hi, how are you?' commonly used as an opener in sales calls, can be perceived as insincere. Most individuals understand that this question serves as a conversational formality rather than a genuine inquiry about their well-being. As a result, the default response tends to be a generic "I'm good, thanks." Furthermore, delving into personal matters with a stranger can be awkward, especially if the person is experiencing a difficult or challenging time. In the context of a cold call, it’s more beneficial to focus on the purpose of the conversation and offer tangible value rather than engaging in superficial pleasantries.

To enhance the effectiveness of sales calls, it’s crucial to bypass small talk and swiftly move towards addressing the prospect's needs and providing valuable solutions. By focusing on the core purpose of the call and demonstrating how the product or service can benefit the prospect, sales professionals can establish a foundation of relevance and engage the potential customer in a meaningful dialogue.

Building genuine relationships with clients takes time and effort. While introductions and inquiries about well-being have their place in established relationships, they may not hold much weight in initial cold calls. By acknowledging this reality and embracing a purpose-driven approach, sales professionals can optimise their conversations, cultivate trust, and ultimately foster long-lasting customer relationships based on value and relevance.

Key takeaways

  1. Cold calling is not dead: despite debates about its effectiveness, cold calling remains a valuable sales strategy when executed properly.
  2. Younger generations tend to have an aversion to cold calling: the rise of digital communication methods has led to a decline in phone etiquette and reduced exposure to phone calls, making cold calling unfamiliar and daunting for younger sales professionals.
  3. Disarming the inner gatekeeper: injecting humour, honesty, and allowing the prospect to decline can build trust and establish rapport, overcoming the prospect's defence mechanisms.
  4. The power of pattern interrupts: using unconventional openers and unexpected questions or statements can capture the prospect's attention and make the conversation more memorable.
  5. Mirroring prospects: matching the tone, pace, and style of the prospect's communication can establish rapport, build trust, enhance understanding, overcome resistance, and improve overall communication effectiveness.

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