My friend Dave is the only person I know who actually likes cold calling.

"I learned early on," explains Dave, "that most people hate having to make cold calls, and that if I could learn to like it--or at least tolerate it--I would succeed in sales." This interesting perspective has worked well for Dave: today he is a highly successful sales manager and sales consultant.

I'm not going to suggest here that you actually like cold calling (although that's really not a bad idea), but that you find ways to make it tolerable. This is important; cold calling and prospecting are the foundation of any business.

The following are a few strategies that can help make your prospecting and cold calling successful.


1. Beware of Passive Prospecting

Perhaps you've tried this technique: this is where you send out a batch of mail and sit, waiting for the phone to ring. This doesn't work. I have lost time and money confirming it.


2. Storm the Gatekeepers

There are entire books written telling you how to handle the person whose job it is to prevent you from getting to the person you want to reach. Screening calls is the gatekeeper's job. You cannot bluff or lie your way through--and even if you do, the attempt will only make the prospect angry. The best thing is to be honest; solicit the gatekeeper's help by explaining how your call is important to the company.

You may also have more success if you follow the "before 9, after 5" rule: make your calls between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning, and after 5:15 in the evening. Your chance of getting through to Ms. or Mr. Big is greatly increased. Most secretaries are not in until 9:00 a.m. and leave around 5:00 p.m.


3. Email

I have found email a great way to warm up a cold call. Send an email to your prospect, telling him that you will be calling and why. If you spark enough interest in your email, you will have an open door when you call. Be creative.


4. Pre-Call Letters

Send a letter to your prospect, telling her about what you can do for her company and close with the fact that you will call in X days to answer her questions and discuss this further. This will warm the call a bit. She may or may not remember the letter, but it gives you a reason for the follow-up call. You can tell the gatekeeper you are calling to discuss some information you sent to Ms. Big.


5. Follow Up

If you are like most business people, you do a lot of networking. When you return from a networking event, you probably have a stack of business cards you diligently collected at the event. Separate them into two piles. One pile you can put away for future use. The other are those of people you spoke with who expressed interest in your business. Send them a card or email to jog their memory. Contacts made at networking events are only beneficial if you follow up.


6. Referrals

It always amazes me how infrequently people use the power of referrals. You will be pleasantly surprised how much people like to help, if you only ask. If you provide a good product or service and I am your customer, it is reasonable to assume I would want to tell my friends about you. Just ask! Be sure to send the referring person a thank-you note or even a small gift for the lead. You can take this a step further by asking your customers to make a call for you or even write a letter on their stationery to their contacts, recommending your company. This is a more active referral system and can bring you significant results.


7. Magic Question

"Can you help me?" I was taught this technique many years ago and it has gotten me through to levels in companies that would astound you. The principle is really quite simple: people like to help each other. It's human nature. If you cold call a business, especially a large company, and ask the person who answers the telephone if they can help you, they will generally go out of their way to be of assistance. Receptionists, in particular, can be extremely helpful; if you tell them what you need, they will generally know who in that organization you should be speaking with. And especially in larger companies, getting to the right person is half the challenge.


Remember, cold calling and prospecting are the backbone of any business. Make a habit of prospecting every day. Take some small action, such as making three to five calls every day, or sending three to five letters each day, and you will never be without fresh leads.

You may never learn to love it, like my friend Dave, but you can make it easier. If all else fails, remember the wise words of the highly successful insurance tycoon, W. Clement Stone, who said: "Do it now!"


JIM DONOVAN is author of Handbook to a Happier Life; his articles, books and a free subscription to his newsletter are available from