How to Start Sales Calls So Prospects Don‘t Hang Up On You

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January 7th, 2021.
How to Start Sales Calls So Prospects Don‘t Hang Up On You

How do you feel when your phone rings and you realize you’re receiving a call from a salesperson?

For most business people, it’s interruptive, annoying, and distracting.

But if it’s your job to call prospects, you don’t have to fall into the category of “pesky sales rep.”

To kickstart a productive, professional conversation, you need a strong opening.

Your opening should:

  1. Start off warm, friendly, and professional
  2. Hook them with an intriguing idea or question
  3. Get the prospect into a receptive frame of mind
  4. Encourage engagement with the call (because engagement reduces the likelihood of them stopping the conversation)
  5. Make it easy for them to make a positive decision

Here's how to start the sales call with openers that engage the prospect so they don’t immediately hang up.

1. Greet them warmly.

Many prospects regard sales calls as just noise, tuning out any call they don't expect. However, if your greeting is warm enough (like an old friend), you may get them to pause long enough to consider what you're saying. You might open with:

"Hello [Name], how have you been?"

Opening with their name acknowledges the prospect. We're hard-wired to respond to the sound of our name, and this greeting creates a sense of familiarity and respect.

"How have you been" is superior to "how are you" because it acts as a pattern-interrupt. The propsect often finds themselves considering if they've met you before, and this may give you an opening to continue the conversation.

However, keep in mind that some prospects view such a warm greeting as misdirection, so do your best to get to the point after the greeting.

2. Mention the research you've done about their company.

Prospects on the other end of your call are less likely to stop you in your tracks when there's some kind of personalization. Try opening up the conversation with something like this:

"My research shows that your company is in the process of..." 

This shows you are interested in them and you’ve spent some time finding a reason for calling. It also shows you aren’t trying to sell them something right away.

3. Drop the name of a mutual connection.

Talking about a mutual connection gives you instant credibility. If you've spoken to someone you have in common with the prospect, consider something along the lines of:

"One of my clients, [Name] at [Company], mentioned to me you are [looking for, might be a good fit for]..."

Your prospect will be curious to know why her contact thought she might need your product or service.

4. Reference a company contact.

Even better than a mutual connection would be a coworker of theirs who you've had contact with.

"[Prospect], I was speaking to one of your business managers yesterday, and he said that a growing part of your business is through [product, niche, market]. As that’s the case, I can…"

Bringing up your prospect’s coworker tells them to take you seriously, while focusing the discussion on an emerging revenue source ensures you’re talking about a company priority.

5. Use information from their LinkedIn profile.

Speaking of research, you can find valuable things to bring up from a prospect's LinkedIn:

"I was looking at your LinkedIn company profile and saw that one of your major projects this year is..." 

Referencing their LinkedIn page and company goals proves you’re interested in discussing something of value to them rather than just pushing your products and services. Keep in mind that it's important to have a plan for how to lead into the sales conversation from there.

6. Reference a competitor.

Name-dropping a competitor will make them curious if nothing else about the partnership and results. Try this on for size: 

"Hi [Prospect]. It’s [name] from [company]? We’ve just worked with [competitor] and have achieved [results] with them. Have you got five minutes now or in the future for us to explore how [company] can achieve the same?"

It’s important to pose your introduction as a question -- your tone of voice should imply they’ve heard of you and your company before. 

7. Bring up pain points.

Speaking of your prospect's competitors, they likely experience some of the same issues that your prospect does. Your prospect is likely aware, and solving these problems can make for a competitive edge. In some cases, an introduction like this can be effective:

"We’ve been working with a couple of similarly sized companies within your industry, and they are experiencing two major problems. I wondered whether they were causing you concern as well…"

This piques your prospect’s interest, as they will be wondering what those problems are and whether they are facing them too.

8. Don't be afraid to engage in small talk. 

Small talk is one way to humanize yourself and build rapport, but it only comes across as authentic if you've done your research. Casually mention something in common, such as: 

"I noticed you're from Tuscon. I actually met my wife at the University of Arizona."

If they are familiar with the university — or, even better, if they also attended the university — you can continue the conversation from there.

Bear in mind to respect your prospect's time as much as possible, though. Too much meandering will leave them wondering the purpose of the call.

9. Reference topics brought up in their marketing materials.

Reading their marketing materials reveals genuine interest in their company. It also implies your recommendations will be pertinent and helpful. You might open with one of these:

"I read your [Twitter, Facebook] post the other day about..."

This opening tells the buyer you’ve done your homework and are calling about a relevant and timely topic.

"[Name], in reading your company blog, I noticed that you’ve had some good reviews from customers on your new [product] and I was wondering..."

Your interest in their blog can open new doors to discuss results that your products have achieved for other clients.

"I see your [annual report, newsletter] was released on your website last week, and it’s looking like you’re expanding your operations in..."

The company likely put a lot of effort into the annual report, so discussing the topic can create opportunity as you listen for pain points and triggering events.

10. Drop the tactics altogether.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is abandon the playbook (because people get used to those) and catch the prospect off guard. For example:

"Hi [Prospect]. Yes, this is a sales call! [Wait for a response, laughter] Can you spare me just three minutes so I can tell you about [product] that will help you with [benefit]?"

Saying this is a sales call will stump your prospect. Typically they’ll make a joke because they are used to tactics and sneaky tricks. The rapport you build will earn you a few minutes.

11. Flip the script.

Many sales scripts position the rep as the individual providing help. In some cases, though, it benefits to flip the roles like so:

"I was hoping you could help me with something."

This appeals to the prospect's ego and/or sense of altruism, increasing the likelihood of them responding favorably.

These openings highlight the prospect’s business before even mentioning what product or service you represent. Simply calling and listing what your company sells is a sure-fire way to get the phone slammed down.

The purpose of a connect call should always be demonstrate your professionalism, credibility, and expertise.

When you do that, you give the prospect a reason to at the very least discuss options with you, making it likelier the call will end the way you’d like -- with a second call scheduled.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.