The Key to Transforming Cold Calls into Hot Sales

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“Very few people don’t become more interesting
when they stop talking.”   
                         —   Anonymous


To translate this quote to sales-speak: “Very few salespeople don’t become more interesting when they stop feature-dumping.” When you make cold calls, a challenging endeavor for even the most seasoned salespeople, 85% of the prospects or decision makers you encounter are emotionally closed off or unreceptive. And why are they so emotionally closed?


  • When you call a decision maker out of the blue, they are in the middle of running their business and focusing on tasks that are either helping them to achieve their goals or addressing a business issue.
  • They don’t know you, they don’t have a relationship with you, and therefore, would rather not talk to you.
  • Above all, they are exhausted by thousands — yes, thousands — of cold calls they’ve received over their years in business, in which salespeople practically bludgeon them with the latest and greatest product features while failing to take an “other-centered” approach — an approach wherein the salesperson communicates how they can help the decision maker achieve their personal goals (i.e., make their lives easier) or professional goals (i.e., grow their business, become more productive or increase customer retention).

So, how do you differentiate yourself from the mass of other salespeople that bludgeon prospects with the “feature club” in order to create more — and larger — sales opportunities for yourself?

Two key things:

  1. Engage prospects during the call by focusing on “what’s on the decision maker’s whiteboard” and utilizing an other-centered approach rather than a self-centered approach.
  2. Use a discovery process that focuses on truly understanding the prospect’s world.

Engaging with an
Other-Centered Approach

How do you engage prospects with an other-centered approach? To do this, let’s first take a look at an example of what I hear many salespeople say (bludgeoning with the feature club) when they engage a prospect.

“Hi, my name is John Doe, and I am with ABC Company. I am calling because we have a new annuity product that is the most competitive in the marketplace, has the best rates and is with an A-rated carrier.” (The underlined portion of this sentence is the bludgeoning part.)

Most of us have been on the receiving end of this kind of approach from other salespeople. Even when you can’t pinpoint it, you know that something just doesn’t feel right.

Ben Feldman, a man who sold $1.8 billion of life insurance over the course of his career once said: “Don’t sell life insurance. Sell what life insurance does.” This means that you shouldn’t talk about your products and features, but rather, talk about how you and your products or services help your prospects. So how do you do this? You create an other-centered positioning strategy.

First, utilize your industry experience and think about what the typical decision maker cares about, and that’s their whiteboard. Why? Because the typical decision maker cares about their initiatives and issues — not yours. In other words, people buy for their reasons — not yours. Second, determine what you have to offer that will help the typical decision maker achieve their goals or solve their issues. The intersection of the two is your positioning strategy.

For example:

“Hi, my name is John Doe, and I am with ABC Company. I am calling because I focus on working with individuals who are looking to preserve their hard-earned assets while ensuring they do not outlive their income.” (The underlined portion of this statement is the positioning strategy.)

The key is that your other-centered positioning strategy should clearly articulate either how you will help the decision maker or the positive outcome the decision maker will experience by working with you.

Utilizing an Other-Centered Discovery Process

Now, let’s talk about utilizing an other-centered discovery process that focuses on asking well thought-out questions designed to gain a full understanding of the decision maker’s world. Many of the sales reps we encounter do one of two things if they actually get a chance to speak with a decision maker.

What’s the first thing they do? The decision makers say something like, “Tell me more” or “Tell me about it.” Then, the salesperson continues to feature-dump. Only this time, they pull out the marketing one-pager and ensure the decision maker hears it all. This is known as the good-old “show up and throw up.”

Try this exercise with a friend. Ask a friend to give you suggestions about where to go on your next vacation. Chances are they will tell you the places they think are great, rather than ask you what you’re interested in doing or seeing.

The second thing that happens is the salesperson pitches too early because after asking only a few questions, they think they understand the decision maker’s point of view, initiatives and issues. It’s like a shark that senses a hint of blood in the water and then goes into immediate attack mode. As prospects ourselves, this has happened to most of us.

Both approaches put the decision maker on the defensive and makes them even more emotionally closed and unreceptive (remember that 85% of those you cold-call are already emotionally closed). It’s like telling a six-year-old to stop sucking his thumb. The more you tell him not to, the harder it is to pull the thumb out.

The key is what we call “Taking the Trip.®” Imagine that you’re on one side of the world and your decision maker is on the other. You want to influence them to buy a solution from you that will potentially solve one of their issues. So how do you influence them?

The answer lies in what Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says:

“Seek first to understand before being understood.” In other words, you must take the trip to the side of the world where your decision maker lives and fully understand their perspective, initiatives and issues. From here, it’s a pretty simple process:

  1. Truly seeking to understand the decision maker helps establish a stronger relationship.
  2. A stronger relationship makes the other party more receptive.
  3. The more receptive someone is, the more they will share about who they are, what they want and what their issues and challenges are. In short, you’ll understand more about them.
  4. When you truly understand who your decision makers are, what they want and what their issues and challenges are, the more likely you are to be able to achieve what you want — to sell a solution that suits the customer and makes you more successful.

If you can effectively implement an other-centered positioning strategy and approach your decision makers with an other-centered discovery process that focuses on truly understanding the decision maker’s personal and professional goals, you will undoubtedly be more successful.

JD Clockadale, works with national and international sales teams to help sales representatives more effectively engage prospects and clients, and more importantly, increase both the size of their sales opportunities and their long-term revenue. JD started his career as a commission-only insurance representative with Prudential Insurance Company of America and is now a senior sales consultant with Aslan Training and Development, a Selling Power magazine Top 20 nominee.

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