Cold Calling Fear: How to Deal With Phone Anxiety as a Sales Rep
Contemporary sales teams have far more tools and tactics at their disposal than their predecessors from 20 – or even 10 – years ago.
Today, a rep can research a prospect, guide them through the user journey, demo a product, and close the deal, all without leaving their desk.
But while some things have changed a lot, others have stayed largely the same. For instance, cold calling is still a big part of the sales role.
How big? Well, the average rep makes 45 calls a day. Cold calls that convert into some form of “next step” last an average of 7.5 minutes, of which the rep does 40-45% of the speaking. That’s a lot of heavy lifting. And it requires a lot of motivation for reps to keep picking up the phone and dialing after hearing rejection after rejection.
So it’s extremely worrying that 48% of reps say they feel afraid to make cold calls.
WHAT CAUSES PHONE ANXIETY IN SALES REPS?
What’s the worst that can happen on a cold call? The person at the other end of the line might say something rude and hang up. But that’s a pretty rare occurrence.
Cold calling can’t do you any real harm. So why does phone anxiety exist?
1. Fear of the Unknown
This is the crux of the matter: however well-prepared you are for a cold call, you can’t predict what will happen. How your prospect will react, and how you’ll react to their reaction. Yet you’re expected to put all those uncertainties to one side and strike up an instant rapport with that person.
2. Impatient Prospects
Your prospect didn’t ask you to call them; they’re busy and want to know the purpose of your call. Most likely, they want you off the line as quickly as possible so they can get back to their actual job. That puts reps under a lot of pressure to demonstrate their value, fast.
3. Packed Workloads
Time pressure is yet another factor that causes phone anxiety. Cold calling isn’t the only task on a rep’s plate. Indeed, the average salesperson spends just 37% of their time on revenue-generating activities. Yet they’re often expected to make a certain number of calls each day or week.
4. Pressure to Get Results
Each touchpoint with prospects plays a key role in driving sales. No one wants to be the person who says the wrong thing and turns off a potentially valuable customer. This pressure is exacerbated by scrutiny from sales managers and colleagues.
5. Fear of Being Judged
No one wants to be screamed at by an irate prospect who doesn’t appreciate having their day interrupted. But it can be just as bad when the prospect questions your knowledge or ability. This can really knock a rep’s confidence.
8 TIPS FOR DEALING WITH PHONE ANXIETY
We’ve established that phone anxiety is real, and considered some of the reasons it exists. Now, here are eight cold calling tips to help you or your team overcome it.
1. Create a Detailed Sales Script
A strong cold calling script can be a rep’s best friend. It can help you break the ice, strike up a conversation, and navigate between key talking points. You know that if you stick to the process and keep the conversation on track, you’ve got every chance of delivering a positive outcome.
However, a lot of sales scripts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
Some simply don’t contain enough detail, but in my experience, the bigger issue is when they go too far in the other direction.
Think of your script as a GPS. It should offer salespeople multiple routes to follow, rather than leading them down a single one-way street with no room for manoeuvre. If your script is too regimented, it’s extremely difficult for reps to react effectively when prospects steer the discussion in an unexpected direction.
Instead, the ideal sales script should feature a compelling introduction designed to help the rep get a positive response. Beyond that, it should be limited to detailed notes offering helpful prompts on where to go next.
Those notes should look different for each part of the sales funnel. For instance, notes for a discovery call could look like this:
- “What does your typical day look like? What pain points do you encounter regularly?”
- “Why is [X problem] a priority for you right now?”
- “What would success look like to you?”
- “What are the biggest barriers to success?”
- “What can I do to remove those barriers?”
- Detail your initial thoughts on a solution/next steps
- Schedule follow-up meeting
- Confirm any other actions
Tip: A tactical way to improve your sales script is to have sales managers listen in on either live calls or call recordings and provide thorough feedback.
2. Normalize Cold Calling Through Roleplay
If fear of the unknown is a big part of the problem, it makes sense that roleplaying with a peer or sales manager could help take away some of the fear surrounding cold calling.
Truth be told, no salesperson looks forward to roleplaying. It feels stilted and awkward. But that can actually be a good thing – if roleplaying is so unenjoyable, the real thing starts to look a lot less intimidating.
There are more practical benefits to roleplaying, too. It provides a ready-made opportunity to talk through worst-case scenarios and share best practices. One salesperson could have a particularly effective elevator pitch, or a brilliant response to a common objection. Doesn’t it make sense for everyone on the sales team to know about it, and integrate it into their own approach?
3. Have Something of Value to Say
Whether you’re reaching out to a new prospect for the first time or trying to upsell an existing client, your cold call is ultimately an interruption. That’s a big part of why phone anxiety exists – it’s not great to feel like you’re annoying someone.
However, it’s important to remember that cold calls are only annoying if you have nothing of value to say.
If someone called out of the blue and gave me detailed directions to find millions of dollars in buried treasure, I wouldn’t be annoyed, I’d be thrilled!
Likewise, if you’re genuinely able to help a prospect, they’ll be glad to hear from you, and they’ll be more than happy to give you the time of day. So be honest with yourself. Ask:
- Am I offering prospects something useful and valuable?
- Will they be better informed after my call than they were before?
- Do they have a real reason to keep talking to me?
If you can’t answer “yes” to all of those questions, it’s no wonder you or your team hate cold calling so much. Switch things up; don’t just list the features and benefits of your product, but talk in your customer’s terms and explain how you can solve their specific problems.
4. Take Advantage of the Hold Button
It’s okay to feel anxious on the phone. As I’ve already noted, there are a lot of unknowns – you could be asked an unexpected question, or take in so much information that you feel overwhelmed.
The hold button can be your best friend in these situations. It’s totally fine to take a short time-out to consider your response – it’s far more professional than making something up on the spot.
When you’re asked a tough question, try saying: “I don’t know, but if I can just put you on hold for a second, I’ll find out.”
Whether you use that time to seek out the answer, or just to catch your breath, you’ll be much better placed to continue the call.
5. Block Out Time for Cold Calling
Remember when I said that revenue-generating activities are only a small part of a salesperson’s regular working day?
By extension, that means cold calling is an even smaller part. It’s easy for salespeople to push it to the back of their mind, rather than actively considering how to improve. At worst, they could even try to avoid it altogether.
Whatever your attitude towards phone prospecting, the most sensible approach is to accept that it’s an important part of the role, and to dedicate sufficient time and mental bandwidth to it. Try blocking out a regular chunk of time in your calendar, and commit to using it solely for cold calling. Block distracting websites during this period, use a landline instead of a cell phone, do whatever you have to do to stay focused for the time you’re calling.
Naturally, the more calls you make in quick succession, the more likely you are to overcome phone anxiety. Not only that, but you’ll generate better results. Closing a deal or two does wonders for any salesperson’s confidence.
One obvious but important point is that the chunk of time you book for cold calling needs to align with when your prospects are available. If you know the people you speak to likely have board meetings on a Monday afternoon, or daily standups at 9am, don’t call at those times!
6. Get Your Prospect Hooked Right Away
Cold callers have five seconds to earn themselves five minutes.
If you don’t hook your prospect right away, they’ll be fighting to get off the phone as fast as possible. But if you capture their attention, you’ve got an opportunity to run through your key talking points and get another meeting in the diary.
What’s more, if you pique their interest early, the rest of the call becomes much easier and less anxiety-inducing.
However, there’s no such thing as a surefire line that will resonate with every prospect.
Finding your “in” requires a little research. Try to find something relevant on your prospect, or their organization, around which you can angle your introduction:
- Has your prospect’s company recently completed a merger? Ask if they’re excited, and how it affects their role.
- Have they recently opened a new office? Offer your congratulations, and ask if your prospect was involved.
- Have they just written a blog or posted on LinkedIn? Let them know you read it and what you enjoyed about it.
7. Analyze Your Own Performance
When Tiger Woods has a bad day on the golf course, he probably wants to forget about it as soon as possible.
But he doesn’t do that. In reality, he’ll analyze his performance, scrutinizing shot after shot to see where he went wrong.
It’s no different with cold calling. Sure, no one likes listening to themselves on the phone, and they definitely don’t want to hear themselves struggling to handle a tough prospect. But this is how we learn.
Analyzing your calls helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe there’s a specific part of the call that trips you up time after time; only by listening back can you understand what puts you in those positions in the first place. That will help you avoid potential speed bumps in future, or at least ensure you’re better prepared next time you encounter them.
Over time, you’ll become detached from reviewing your calls, allowing you to focus solely on extracting the learnings and improving your performance.
8. Change How You Perceive Rejection
In b2b sales, we’re almost hard-coded not to take “no” for an answer. Given that only a minority of cold calls will lead to next steps, this can cause a lot of anxiety.
This requires a mindset shift. After all, a “no” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Jack Wilson, Head of Sales at Right Inbox states that on every cold call, your goal is to move your prospect through the sales funnel. Naturally, that means discarding those who, for whatever reason, just aren’t a good fit for you right now.
The sooner you remove those prospects from your pipeline, the more time you can spend speaking to the right people.
Typically, phone anxiety is an issue that affects less experienced reps.
It stands to reason that the longer you’ve been selling, the more time you’ve spent on cold calling, which in turn means you’ve received more positive responses and closed more deals.
Keep doing it and you’ll see results. Those results will breed confidence – and confidence is your best protection against phone anxiety.
Author – Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel is a partner at Ramp Ventures & co-founder of Mailshake. He has over 15 years of marketing experience and has led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Salesforce, Mint, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.
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