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Cold Calling Sales Sins to Avoid

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

Putting the Cold in Cold Calling

Talk about having a cold one... cold sales call that is! Check this story.

It's spring and while the landscapers were doing seasonal yard cleanup, I decided to walk the dogs who were antsy from being stuck in the house. So as I'm returning from the trek with my girl dog and am about a half-block away, I notice that there are two people standing in front of my house: a guy dressed in business casual and a gal sporting a utility worker vest. I'm thinking, "Uh oh, are the landscapers doing something they shouldn't and the village is out to cite me?"

So I ask these folks, "Can I help you?" They introduce themselves as being from Such-and-Such cable company. Oooookay... and...? They go on to tell me that they're now serving our area and can save me some money. Then the rapid-fire questions:

Are you using so-and-so competitor cable company?

And what are you paying a month?

Whoa! Slow your roll! They're asking this while I'm trying to settle down an excited 70-pound dog and open my garage. But it continues...

Your neighbors Joe and Mary (not their real names and not people I even know anyway) are using our Such-and-Such service and paying less than $X dollars a month.

I quickly told them that was around what I was paying with their competitor.

And is that for all your cable, Internet and phone?

Dear God! Are we having an official sales call? So I tell them that I'm using their competitor, but that I do use their Such-and-Such company for other services which garners this response as one of them checks a folder.

You must be Heidi.

Really? You're confirming who I am after all that? I finally got the garage open and told them to leave some info since I needed to get going.

The garage closes and so does their sales opportunity.

Autopsy of a Dead Cold Call

At some point in every sales career, there's going to be times when cold calling may be required to enter new sales territories or market segments. But there are just some sales sins that are unacceptable when attempting to reach new prospects in today's marketplace. Let's break down what broke down:

  • Bad Connection. Notice that the salespeople didn't explain their connection with me until their time with me was almost ended. Since I was already in their customer database, it would have been better for them to open with thanking me for being a Such-and-Such company customer and inquiring if I knew about their new expanded service. For less direct connection, let a wary prospect know what brought you to their door, telephone, email, etc. Don't even have the remotest of connections? At least tell them why you selected them as prospects which, we would hope, is not because you're too lazy to do research and just decided to wander up and down the block ringing doorbells (or up and down a list ringing telephones). Proximity does not automatically equal possibility.
  • Unwanted, Unannounced and Untimely. The very definition of a cold call is that it is not a requested contact. I was definitely not in a position to meet with these folks and had no interest in speaking with them anyway. If I wanted to change my cable service, I would have preferred to contact them first. I would venture to say that most customers are that way these days because the next vendor is only a click away on the Internet. That's why inbound marketing strategies are gaining ground in today's marketplace.
  • In Your Face, Literally. Door-to-door cold calling is perhaps the most unnerving contact for prospects, especially for homes. They feel violated. Even if the seller has approval from the local government offices to approach the community, it is less acceptable in today's society due to heightened security concerns everywhere. And in this instance, there were two people descending on my house. Even more unsettling. On the flip side, it's time-consuming for sellers to make physical door-to-door calls which can reduce sales productivity.
  • Unlucky Cloverleaf. When the salespeople referred to neighbors "Joe and Mary," I could tell they were using something that's commonly referred to as the "cloverleaf" door-to-door selling strategy ( Here's how it works. The company is doing work for one house. Then the company will either drop off information or actually cold call the houses to the right and left of the house served, as well as a few directly across the street, creating a "cloverleaf" of contact points. The theory is that referring to customers whom the prospect might know, like and trust can help decrease resistance. It is hoped that the prospect will think, "Well, if Joe and Mary are using XYZ Company, it's good for me, too." This technique can boomerang if a prospect does not know or like the neighbors mentioned. Since I don't know the neighbors mentioned, it didn't work on me. That being said, it doesn't hurt to drop off information at nearby prospects with a note indicating that the company is serving neighbors (unnamed) in the area and invite prospects to contact for more information.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 01, 2014:

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Ugh! What an annoyance. Lucky for you, Elizabeth, you had your furry "security" team with you! ;) Thanks for adding this story to the conversation. Have a terrific weekend ahead!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on May 01, 2014:

Another wonderful hub. I had two alarm salesmen/scammer at my door when I came back from a walk with my 3 dogs. They were highly aggressive in their pitch and would not leave- even telling me they needed to come in my house and check my alarm. Thankfully, my alarm company sent out a mailer warning us about this. I was almost going to call the cops because of their heavy persistence!!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 01, 2014:

Hi KawikaChann! Indeed, scripting can help for cold or even warmer sales calls. But, you're right, the initial resistance needs to be overcome and in a way that politely and professionally connects with the prospect. Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 01, 2014:

Jeannieinabottle, cold calling on businesses is so old school and so unacceptable these days! Unfortunately, businesses aren't often protected by the same "no soliciting" regulations that regular citizens are. So developing strategies for dealing with them in the office or on the phone is so necessary to keep them from overtaking your day. Thanks for adding that angle to the conversation! Have a great day!

Kawika Chann from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place on April 30, 2014:

Ugh... cold calls, hated giving them almost as much as receiving them. Script helps, but still can't stand the initial - why the heck are you calling me for???? lol... good times... Upvoted/useful/follow. Peace. Kawi.

Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on April 29, 2014:

I've noticed sales people are getting more and more aggressive. I've actually had to call security a couple of times to get rid of sales people at my office. Apparently telling someone "we are not interested, there's no soliciting in this building, and I am calling security" is not even enough anymore. And the phone calls... oh, the phones! At home and at work! It gets worse each day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 29, 2014:

Oh no, FlourishAnyway! Juggling groceries? Really? You should have asked them to help you carry them to the door. Ha! :) Thanks for adding that tidbit to the conversation... and for your sharing and support! Have a terrific day!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 29, 2014:

Yes! I've even had them watch me struggle with groceries in my hand as I told them "no" then they followed me up the driveway (what part of no didn't they understand?). Terrific example and analysis. Voted up and sharing!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2014:

Hi flyfishmaine! Yep, all of us in sales can relate. Definitely not professional-or profitable!-behavior. Hope things are good up there in Maine. Thanks for stopping by & have a great week!

Richard Scott from Presque Isle, Maine on April 28, 2014:

Heidi: Excellent presentation of the door to door cold call. Having done sales for years your sins section is right on. The person making this call was NOT a professional sales person.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2014:

Hello grand old lady! I never did the Girl Scout thing, but did accompany my mom on some charity solicitations. And the Avon ladies used to be welcome in many homes. It is very intrusive and, as you note, we're living in a different society. Thanks for adding these experiences to the conversation! Have a lovely week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2014:

Got that right, jpcmc! For me, the low success rate is main reason to NOT cold call. I think a lot of people need to feel that they're doing something... even if it isn't successful. Sad indeed. But hope your upcoming week is full of success and happiness!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2014:

Shawn, sorry to cause flashbacks! :) Although all the sales masters have taught us a lot (I listened to most of Brian Tracy's stuff, plus a few others), some of the dated techniques have got to go. Hope your week is successful!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 28, 2014:

Yep, billybuc, cold calling NEVER gets easier. I don't think it's because we're afraid to approach new people, a reason that has been often identified for low results. In our personal realms, we wouldn't dream of walking up to every person who attends a party, church service, etc. and starting a sales conversation. Yet we justify doing it for sales in the name of making a living. With so many other ways to connect these days, this is one way that can go the way of the dinosaur. Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great week!

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on April 28, 2014:

I could sympathize with the unpleasant experiences you mention. Things have changed a lot these days. I remember going from door to door selling girl scout cookies, and also I remember the Avon Lady going from door to door, making people happy by putting make up on them. Nowadays, sadly, thieves come in many colors and it's hard to trust just anyone who comes knocking on your door. Even if the person is a genuine salesperson, the manner is very intrusive now as there are other ways to sell more conveniently for both sides.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on April 28, 2014:

Cold calling is really hard. The success rate is just pathetic. I remember when I have to sift through tons of calls without success. It can be heartbreaking.

Shawn McIntyre from Orlando, FL. on April 27, 2014:

Man the flashbacks. I remember back in college listening to Zig Ziglar cassettes (I still have "Secrets of Closing the Sale" on my desk), and going to Tom Hopkins lectures.

Another great article.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2014:

I've done it back in my salesman days, and for me it never got easier. I literally hate cold-calling. LOL However, these are excellent points, but that's no surprise coming from you.

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