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The Buried Crypts of Cold Calling
By Mark Sanford, PhD

So what is the lesson of discouragement? Perhaps it is that the suffering it entails cannot be defined away. Unless there is a modicum of rewards, discouragement is almost intolerable. The best remedy is success and that only comes as one rises above discouragement..

Cold Calling is:

    1. a means of expanding business
    2. a self discipline requiring will power and determination
    3. a form of striving like weight loss, stopping smoking or overcoming fear of public speaking
    4. a developmental experience promoting the development of a thick skin, initiative and the ability to shun your conflicting thoughts and impulses
    5. a form of practice for moving beyond dysfunctional beliefs so that one is nolonger held hostage by them.

Calling work seems destined to bring about various situations and opportunities for stalls: obstacles that come up that slow you down, make you want to quit, or take up an alternative line of work. These are the events that impede or intercept your calling activity. And most are internal to the caller, though sometimes activated by what happens during the calling activity itself.

One category worthy of note are the often discomfirmable SELF DEBILITATING NEGATIVE BELIEFS that can emerge such as: they won't answer, they'll just say no, or I'm not skilled enough at this, or my script isn't right, or I won't get the right decision maker.

These beliefs produce in turn the second block: DISCOURAGEMENT. I find this happens if I do a long calling campaign during the day and the contact rate is unexpectedly low. (In my experience, calling on named prospects with direct telephone numbers, the contact average is about two per hour. There are days, of course, when it falls below this level. But by keeping records, I know this will be a temporary downturn.

Discouragement can come about in other ways as well. Too much rejection over too long a time will bring it about as will not doing as well as others who are doing the same work. Discouragement can get generated just by the frustration of trying to reach the prospect or by the gatekeeper who successfully deflects your best efforts.

If you fall beneath your expectations as to how well you will do over a period of time, this too can be very discouraging.

The effects of these negative feelings can only make matters worse. Chief among these is the tendency to give up. And with surrender, next comes guilt and self criticism for not having sufficient fortitude. In the end, one gets waylaid by his own responses including most notably the tendency to blame oneself.

So what is the lesson of discouragement? Perhaps it is that the suffering it entails cannot be defined away. Unless there is a modicum of rewards, discouragement is almost intolerable. The best remedy is success and that only comes as one rises above discouragement, continues forward and does not allow this block to kill your initiative and hope.

Another way a caller can get sabotaged is by his or her own sense of INFERIORITY or lack of self confidence. This especially shows up when calling on high status prospects. Timidity begins to raise its head as evidenced by a shaky voice and stumbling delivery.

I find my confidence wanes as the going gets tough, the calls don't work or my proposition falls on deaf ears. Confidence levels seem to rise and fall in this work. A sale, an appointment, a qualified prospect uncovered: these all tend to boost one's spirits.

My own rule of thumb: if results decline, I either change the script or change my calling list. There are often objective reasons for poor results. It isn't always the case that a poor showing is a function of a negative attitude.

A final block that can be deadly is a sense of FUTILITY. The inner voice declares: "Why bother making another call? It won't work, no one will answer or if some one does, they'll just say no, so what's the point?"

With all these blocks the challenge is to maintain a sufficient level of self control to be able to continue despite feelings of futility, discouragement and ineffectualness. And this, I believe, is a self management issue. And the heart of self management in this work comes down to these factors:

  • You need to have the PERSPECTIVE that calling work is a battle ground; there will always be a striving against something, either one's own contrary impulses or the resistance of the prospect.
  • It then becomes your RESPONSIBILITY to be accountable to yourself. Your behavior should be function of your decisions, not your conditions. If you give way to the conditions, i.e, the obstacles, you will never 'win'.
  • You need STRONG MOTIVATION to keep going in the face of this adversity. And it's best if your motivation is in alignment with how you value this activity. Which leads to:
  • BELIEF that this method of growing your business will work. It has for me, and thousands of others; it can do the same for you.


When I first started giving seminars to the real estate community on overcoming call reluctance, it never occurred to me that scripts or having a pre-thought out reason for your call was important. I thought the trick was just to force yourself to pick up the phone and start talking.

At the end of the first seminar a sales manager from a local firm came up and asked: "But what about scripts?"

I have found that for your own comfort you need a pretext for the call. You need a reason that is more or less legitimate for making the approach; otherwise, if you just try and wing it, it shows, it's unprofessional and makes you seem like a time waster.

In my present calling job for an IT consulting company, we are fortunate to have leads from lots of trade shows and conventions. People have come by a booth, received value and now when you call, it's a follow up call.

They are more receptive. The reason for the call is that you are following up to get more information about their needs and to discover whether they are qualified to warrant further attention.

This is always an easier call to make than a true cold call where you don't have a name and maybe no reason for the calling other than a 'fishing for new business' type call.

Other pretexts: the prospect has been in the news recently and you are calling to acknowledge and/or use this information to direct them to your offer. You are calling because you have a special offer such as a new price structure, a special time delimited opportunity for new clients, or an added benefit producer for your company.

The reason for the call is primarily to ease the way, to make you the caller feel more comfortable in making the call. Ironically, I have found that as I have made more and more calls, the pretext becomes less important as you realize that to the prospect it really doesn't matter. What matters to the prospect is: WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME!!!


In an e-mail from London, a software salesman asked:

"How do I get past secretaries to reach the IT Director?"

Several points come to mind: Be sure to have the name of the prospect when you call. If the secretary asks what the call is about, you can say: I'm returning his call; I'm following up on his attendance at X event; I sent him some information and he requested that I call. It's best of course that these be honest statements, not one's you've made up. Often any plausible excuse will do. They just want an answer.

Give general, ambiguous answers but always end by asking the question: "Is Mr/Ms. Big available?" Leave message but don't expect them to return your call. This warms up the call when you finally do get through. If the secretary says after you've explained your call: "We'll call you." Ignore that and make another try in a few days. You should realize that it may take 10 or 20 calls to get through.

These are a few ideas. I have written a booklet on this subject available for purchase at the site which contains a more complete treatment of this subject.


There is a lot of interest in reducing the frustrations of voice mail. I find that in sales, your chances of getting a return call are about 10% or less, which is pretty low.

I used to not leave messages out of a wish to avoid those frustrations. Now I have a different outlook. Rather than expecting a call back, my current conviction is that voice mail is actually another vehicle for relationship building and getting the word out.

If you leave your message, explaining the purpose of your call, when you do get through, assuming you do eventually, then you have warmed up the call. The callee knows your voice, may remember your mission and a small degree of familiarity has been gained.

Hence I don't leave message expecting to be called back. I do it to deliver my communication. And, of course, every once in a great while your product or service is exactly when is needed at that hour, that day you called and you get an agreeable call back asking to do business.


An HR manager from the DETROIT NEWS called up for advice on training some callers for newspaper advertising. He reported that one of his callers far excelled over all the others in her effectiveness on the phone. I asked why. He said it was because she was so "GENUINE" on the phone.

Although I don't know how to teach this, it corresponds to my experience: it's best to be your natural self on the phone, show concern, be self disclosing, stay away from sounding stilted. Be SINCERE. Be honest, above board and try to stay relaxed. It helps your tone of voice.

(c) 1999 Sanford Associates

Mark Sanford, of Sanford Associates, is a business development coach and trainer with 30+ years of business experience. More free articles and training materials on cold calling. Mark can be reached at 925.253.0646.

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