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Cover image for How to Turn Cold Calling Objections Into Opportunities
Brian Nordli
Brian Nordli

Posted on • Originally published at builtin.com

How to Turn Cold Calling Objections Into Opportunities

Devon Banks still remembers her first cold call as a sales development representative. She still recalls the fear and the overwhelming sense of dread that the VP of sales she was calling would actually answer.

“Your objective is to get them on the phone, but secretly deep down, you’re like, ‘Please don’t answer, please don’t answer, please don’t answer,’” Banks said.

When the person picked up, the call didn’t last long.

“His objection was just like, ‘I’m not interested.’ At that time, you just take the objection and are like, ‘OK, great, not interested.’ And then you hang up the phone as fast as you can,” Banks said.

Over time, however, Banks grew used to cold calling and how to handle objections like that. Today, Banks makes about 60 calls a day as a sales development representative for HAAS Alert, a company that provides collision prevention software.

Cold calling has long been a staple of any sales outreach strategy. For an SDR, it’s a valuable way to create urgency with a buyer and get them to schedule a meeting with an account executive. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. One of the most difficult aspects of cold calling is knowing that the person isn’t expecting your call and will inevitably have an objection prepared to end the conversation.

As frustrating as those objections might be — especially when the buyer tries to brush you off with a “not interested” before you’ve even mentioned your product — it’s also a chance to keep a conversation going. To do that, it all comes down to the preparation you’ve put in before the call and how you respond in the moment.

5 COMMON COLD CALLING OBJECTIONS

  1. “I’m not interested”
  2. “I can’t afford it”
  3. “I’m not involved in that” or “That’s not my responsibility”
  4. “We already use a similar product”
  5. “Is this a telemarketing call?”

Before You Dial

Practice, Practice, Practice

Alexis Matthews found her voice as a sales development representative through practice.

The first couple of weeks can be a whirlwind for new SDRs. You’re learning about the company, the product and how to sell to executives. Then you hop on the phone to make your first cold call and immediately run into an objection.

While the company provided her with a cold calling cheat sheet to help her talk about the product and navigate those objections, it was still intimidating, said Matthews, who’s now an SDR manager at the application security software company Snyk.

She found that the best way to get around that feeling was simply to practice. She started with memorizing the common objection responses in her cheat sheet to familiarize herself with what to expect on a call.

But memorization will only get you so far. Buyers don’t always follow the script and you want to make your responses sound natural. So, she role-played cold calling customers with her peers and manager.

The key to a successful role-play is to make it as realistic as possible, Matthews said. She suggests picking a specific buyer from your lead list and then sending your partner their LinkedIn profile to assume the character. From there, you’ll want to practice different cold calling situations. In one scenario, it might be an account where your company previously lost an opportunity. In another, it might be a buyer you were referred to. But the best one to practice is a cold customer, or someone who has never heard of your company, Matthews said.

As you run through those scenarios, research the company and think through what assumptions you can make about how they’d use your product. Then practice objections that might come up.

Having a specific customer in mind will help you come up with responses that are relevant to their job title or industry. And the more you do it, the more natural it’ll be to handle those objections.

“[Cold accounts] are the ones that get SDRs the most nervous, and they require the most research,” Matthews said. “Once you can navigate that, everything else is smooth sailing.”

Related: 9 Phrases to Eliminate From Your Sales Emails Right Now

Optimize Your Outreach List

One of the most important steps you can take to set yourself up for cold calling success, according to ClozeLoop Senior Associate Haylee Taylor, is to make sure you’re creating a quality outreach list. If you’re not calling the right buyer personas or calling at the wrong times, they’re not going to buy from you no matter how well you combat objections.

When it comes to building an outreach list, Taylor suggests starting with a clear understanding of your ideal customer profile and the personas of who will buy from you. Since ClozeLoop provides sales strategy and enablement consulting, Taylor’s list primarily includes chief revenue officers and chief sales officers.

“I’ve got my target market really well-defined for the personas that would buy from me,” Taylor said. “And what I know to be true about outbound and cold calling is that that list gets even smaller. So I only want to talk to the people who want to have a real business conversation and talk to me about their business challenges.”

In addition to identifying the right buyers, she also uses a sales tool that ensures she has a verified cell phone number for each buyer to increase the chances that they’ll pick up her call. Once you’ve removed those obstacles, it’s just about making the calls, Taylor said.

She estimates that 80 percent of her meetings in 2021 have been from cold calling customers.

Research Your Prospects

Early in Banks’ career as an SDR, nothing was more frustrating than being told to put herself in the shoes of the VPs of sales she was calling.

It’s a common piece of advice managers and sales trainers give to SDRs to help them research and prepare for cold calling their buyers. The idea is to think through what the executive does all day, what they care about and how you can help them. But for an entry-level sales rep, that can be difficult.

“How am I ever supposed to understand what it’s like to be a VP of sales? … They have years of experience,” Banks said. “People keep saying to me, ‘What do you think they care about?’ I’m like, ‘I have no idea. What do they care about?’”

Instead, Banks would tell new reps you just need to understand the different problems your product can solve and what problems your buyer persona might have. If you can show the buyer you know them and that you have a solution to their problem, that’s usually enough to keep them from hanging up the phone, Banks said.

From there, she suggests spending about three minutes before every call researching that buyer and their company. During that time, try to find one post or news story from the company that hints at a problem they have that your company can solve.

This will help you break the ice and sound more informed when the buyer tries to tell you they’re not interested.

“You have to show them that you notice a gap, show them that you have a way to fix that gap, and then that’s how you book the meeting,” Banks said.

Common Objections

No matter how much you prepare and how well you curate your outreach list, objections are inevitable when you cold call a customer. But they’re also an opportunity to engage.

Here’s how to turn around some of the most common objections into informative conversations and, potentially, a booked meeting.

‘I’m Not Interested’

If you work in sales, then you’ve heard this objection. It might come up before you even introduce yourself or moments after you’ve shared your elevator pitch. If you aren’t prepared to handle it, odds are your conversations won’t last long. The key to moving past this roadblock is to understand why the customer said it.

“Not interested” can come from different places, Banks explained. The first occurs before the buyer even knows what you’re selling. It’s a reflexive brush-off. Their goal is to preserve their time and get you off their phone. When you hear it at the front of your call, try to ask a question tied to the value your product can provide them to pique their curiosity.

For example, Banks will tell a tow truck company owner, “Oh, you’re not interested in a product that can make your tow truck operators safer?” Doing so requires them to engage and start a dialogue, and it introduces your product in a way that’s relevant to them. If they still say “no” and hang up, it’s typically a sign that you called at a bad time and should try them again later, Banks said.

And while you might remember every cold call you make, 90 percent of the time, the buyer won’t, Banks said. So don’t sweat calling people back a week or month later.

On the other hand, when the buyer listens to your elevator pitch and still tells you “I’m not interested,” then you have a problem. If that happens frequently, then it could be a sign that your pitch isn’t resonating with buyers. Banks suggests reviewing those calls and seeing what you’re doing differently from your successful days. It could mean that you’re spending too much time on the product and features — which should be saved for the demo — or you’re not focusing on the buyer. Either way, it’s an opportunity to tweak your mechanics and get back on the phone.

‘I Can’t Afford It’

This is another reflexive brush-off from buyers. Banks often hears them say “I can’t afford it” before she’s even discussed the product, let alone the price. Most of the time, it’s because they’re fielding dozens of cold calls a day and are protective over their businesses’ coffers. But if you respond correctly, it can also be an opening.

“They’re not focusing on fixing the problem, they’re focusing on the money,” Banks said. “We need to close that gap and show them the value behind the money they’re spending.”

Banks suggests highlighting the cost they face for not fixing the problem your product solves. She knows from her research that renting a tow truck can be expensive and that tow truck driving is a dangerous profession. So, she’ll walk them through that scenario to underscore the value her product provides. It changes the conversation from a focus on money to solving a problem, which is far more likely to engage the buyer and motivate them to book a meeting.

Related: Ditch Formulaic Emails and Make Your Prospecting Fun

‘I’m Not Involved in That’ or ‘That’s Not My Responsibility’

When a buyer tells a sales rep “I’m not responsible for that,” it’s either because your product isn’t relevant to their role or they’re trying to get off the phone (sensing a pattern?). While instinct might be to ask “Who should I talk to instead?”, it’s best to respond with an education-based approach, Matthews said. This is where you explain how the product has helped similar people in their role and what they stand to benefit from it.

Matthews offered this example response: “I understand that you might not be responsible for this specifically, but based off what I’ve seen from your LinkedIn profile and what I see with your company, we typically work with people who have similar backgrounds to you. So, I’m curious: What part of application security [or your product’s field] might you be involved in?”

The question engages the buyer and allows you to collect more information from them. From there, you can share insights into what other organizations are doing to pique the buyer’s interest. And if they still say, “No, that’s not in my wheelhouse,” then you’ve built enough credibility to ask who you should speak with.

“No one wants to share information when you just ask [‘Who is responsible?’]” Matthews said. “You have to give a little about what’s going on in their space. You’ve got to give what’s going on with their competitors and what you’re seeing with other people with their title before you ask for a referral.”

‘We Already Use a Similar Product’

In an era where customers have more product options than ever before, odds are you’ll encounter prospects who are already using your competitor’s product.

While this objection might seem like an impenetrable wall, it’s actually an opening in the conversation, Matthews said. Before you dig into your battle cards, she suggests mirroring their rejection so they feel like they’re being heard. For instance:

“I completely understand you’re using [insert existing product]. However, the majority of time we reach out to prospects, they’re already using another tool,” Matthews said.

From there, you can pivot to introducing your product’s competitive advantage and a question to advance the conversation, like this:

“The reason I’m reaching out to you is because we work with a lot of customers who use [insert product] who have encountered [insert issue]. That’s one of our main problems we solve, so I’m curious if you have insight into how the tool is working?”

If the buyer has an issue with their current product, they’ll bring it up to see if your company can do any better. This creates an opening to book a meeting. But even if they are happy with your competitor’s tool, you can ask additional questions to learn about how they’re using it. That information can be used to shape follow-up email campaigns to challenge the status quo, Matthews said.

“Any time we can get any type of information around who [our prospects] are using, that’s always going to be ammo for our teams,” Matthews said.

‘Is This a Telemarketing Call?’

Thanks to the proliferation of spam and telemarketing calls, we’re all wary of picking up the phone for an unknown number. Sometimes, Taylor will encounter buyers who just assume she’s a telemarketer before she even has a chance to speak. Obviously, you would never say “yes,” but the key to fielding this type of instant rejection is to show how you’re different from a transactional telemarketer.

Taylor suggests addressing their assumption head-on and then challenging it. For example, she’d tell the buyer: “I’m confused. Why would you assume I’m a telemarketer?” Taylor said.

Often, this gets them to engage in conversation and vent. From there, she’ll validate their frustration with telemarketing calls, and then she’ll ask for permission to ask them a quick question and 30 seconds of their time. The time frame gives them control and is short enough that they’ll be open to hearing what you have to say.

But the key is to follow up with a question that’s specific to their role and industry and easy to answer. Since her company provides sales training and consultation, she might say:

“When I’m talking to CROs, they’re anxious about win-rates, they’re struggling to ramp people quickly and they might also be concerned that they don’t have the right people in your seat, none of these are a concern of yours, are they?”

Most of the time, one of those problems will resonate with the buyer and it opens up an avenue of conversation. And that’s all you can ask for when you’re cold calling.

“I’m making it easy on them and making them feel like I’m genuinely interested because I am,” Taylor said. “You just have to separate yourself from being a sales-y salesperson and into someone who is just managing resistance.”

If you like this story and want to read more sales and revenue related content, check out Built In.

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