Top 5 Counterproductive Questions to Never Ask on a Cold Call
If you scour through the internet, you will come across hundreds of articles claiming that cold calling is dead. Funny thing is, nothing could be farther from the truth. Cold calling still remains one of the most effective tools for prospecting and acquiring new leads.
So, why are all these people claiming that cold calling is dead? This can be attributed to the fact that cold calling is hard.
While cold calling can be highly effective if you know what you are doing, it is not a walk in the park.
Without the right approach, cold calling can result in a lot of rejections, which is why a lot of sales people think cold calling doesn’t work – because they are doing it the wrong way.
During a cold call, you are reaching to someone who doesn’t know you and interrupting their day so that you can tell them about your products and services. No one is going to be enthusiastic about having their day interrupted by a stranger.
Therefore, if you want your cold call to be successful, you need make a good impression on your prospect right off the bat. If you don’t do this, you are setting yourself up to fail even before you mention the product or service you are trying to sell.
Unfortunately, this is what I see a lot of sales people doing. They unknowingly sabotage their sales calls by asking the wrong questions. In most cases, these questions are well meaning. The sales person is simply trying to be friendly to their prospect or qualify the prospect.
However, the effect of these questions is usually the complete opposite of what the sales person was hoping for.
After months of research on cold calling and analyzing thousands of cold calling scripts, I came up with a list of the top 5 counterproductive cold calling questions.
If you want to become more effective at cold calling, you should never ask any of the following five questions during a cold call.
1. HOW ARE YOU DOING?
You are probably surprised that this question is on this list.
This is probably the first question you ask whenever you talk to most people, such as your family, friends, and acquaintances. It conveys a feeling of warmth and friendliness, and shows you care about the other person.
Therefore, it is only natural that you start with the same question on your cold calls, right?
It will convey warmth and friendliness, which is the impression you want to create on your prospect, right? Wrong on both counts.
Asking this question during a cold call sets you up for a potential failure from the very start. Below are some reasons why this question does not work on cold calls:
It Confuses Your Prospect
Imagine your brother or sister called you and asked how you are doing.
How you answer them will probably be different from how you would have answered the same question by a friend or acquaintance. The answer depends on the relationship you have with the person calling.
Therefore, when you ask this question to your prospect, the first thing they will think about is their relationship with you.
They will assume that you are someone they should already know, and they will start searching their memory for whether they actually know you.
This puts the burden on them and leaves them confused, which is not the effect you wanted to achieve.
It Makes You Sound Like A Sales Person
When someone receives a call from a stranger, they don’t know what the call is about, and therefore, they answer the call with medium-level guard. Whatever you say next will determine whether they will lower or increase their guard.
One thing you need to understand is that no one loves picking unexpected calls from sales people.
Therefore, if you don’t want your prospect to increase their guard, you need to avoid sounding like a sales person.
There are many different things that can make you sound like a sales person, and right at the top of the list is asking a stranger how they are doing.
Doing that will immediately alert your prospect that they are talking to a sales person, and rather than being curious about the purpose of your call, they will immediately increase their guard.
They Know You Don’t Really Care
Like I said earlier, once you ask someone how they are doing, the first thing they will think about is the relationship between the two of you. Unfortunately, there is one small problem – there is no relationship between the two of you.
Ever walked up to a stranger on the street and asked how they are doing? Nope, that would be so creepy.
However, this is the same thing you are doing right now. Since you don’t know your prospect, they will know from the very start that you don’t really care about how they are doing or how they answer the question.
When asking this question, you obviously want to create a feeling of warmth and friendliness with your prospect.
However, this is what will go through your prospects mind, “Oh well, here is a sales person who is trying to act all nice and friendly just to get me to buy whatever it is they are selling.” You can probably tell that such a line of thought will definitely be counterproductive to what you were trying to achieve.
Since you don’t know your prospect, asking this question makes you come across as insincere and manipulative, and will only result in a negative mental reaction from your prospect and reduce your chances of creating a good rapport with the prospect.
Therefore, you should never use this question on a prospect, unless you have had prior contact with the prospect.
It Is A Waste Time
Your prospect is a busy person with a lot of things on their table.
However, here you are interrupting their day with your unexpected call. Under such circumstances, the least you can do is to show that you respect their time.
When you ask this question and it is already clear to your prospect that you don’t know them and don’t give a damn about how they are doing, what you are doing is wasting their time.
This is because you are asking for irrelevant information that you don’t care about.
Asking this question gets off the interaction on the wrong foot.
Not only does it confuse your client and make you seem like an insincere and manipulative person, it also starts by wasting the client’s valuable time – time that they would rather spend working on something important, rather than talking to stranger.
What To Ask Instead
Instead of reducing your chances of success by asking your prospect how they are doing, you should instead start by quickly introducing yourself to your prospect and letting them know the reason for you call.
For instance, you could say something like, “Hi, this is Sally Johnson from Company XYZ.
We work with local businesses to help them automate their content marketing efforts.” With such a response, you get straight to the point, without wasting your prospect’s time.
The fact that you don’t try to act all nice and friendly also means that you won’t come across as insincere or manipulative.
2. HAVE YOU HEARD OF US?
You probably don’t work for one of the biggest companies in the world, therefore there is a high chance that your prospects have never heard about your company.
Well, even if you worked for some of the biggest companies like Facebook, Google or Amazon, then your prospect has definitely heard about you (unless they live under a rock), and therefore, there is no point in asking this question.
Here is the problem with asking this question.
By asking a prospect if they have heard of you, you are reminding them that you are a company that they have never heard of, which unfortunately makes them less likely to trust you.
In addition, by asking this question, you are giving the prospect a chance to say “no” early in the conversation.
Remember, people find it easier to say no if they have said no to something else, therefore you want to avoid questions that give prospects an easy no.
What To Ask Instead
Instead of asking your prospect if they have heard about your company, you should instead give them a value proposition that will make them more interested in hearing about your company and how you can help them improve their business.
For instance, you could say something like, “Would you be interested in hearing about a new solution that can help you automate your content marketing campaigns and increase your online sales?”
3. ARE YOU THE DECISION MAKER?
One of the most tiring and frustrating things as a sales person is to spend minutes talking to a prospect and trying to convince them why they should purchase your products and services, only for them to finally tell you that they are not in a position to make the purchase decision.
This means that you have to repeat the entire pitch again and try to convince another person, hopefully one who is in a position to make the decision.
Therefore, it looks like a good idea to ask this question from the onset to establish the role of the person you are talking to.
This way, if they are a person who can make the purchase decision, you can go ahead and sell your products and services to them.
If the person you are talking to does not have the capacity to make such a decision, you can simply ask them to transfer you to someone with the capacity to make the decision.
Makes everything easy, right?
Wrong. In most cases, asking this question will backfire on you.
This is like approaching someone you like, and asking them if they can introduce you to their friend if they are not willing to go out with you.
It will never work. If the person you are speaking to has the capacity to make the decision, your question will make you come across as too aggressive or pushy.
On the other hand, if the person you are speaking to does not have the capacity to make the decision, your question will most probably offend them. It shows that you don’t really care about them.
They are just a stepping stone that you want to use to get to someone who can purchase what you are selling.
Remember, while someone might not be in a position to make the purchase decision, they might have some influence over the person with the capacity to make the decision.
Therefore, you don’t want to alienate them, since they could still have an impact on your chances of making the sale.
In most cases, your cold calls will be picked up by a gatekeeper, such as a secretary.
These people usually have control over the decision maker’s calendar, and can determine whether you get the chance to speak to the decision maker or not.
Therefore, while your goal is to get past the gatekeeper, you should remain polite towards them and try to gain their trust.
In addition, taking the time to have a conversation with the gatekeeper can help you obtain valuable information that might prove useful once you manage to reach the decision maker.
What To Ask Instead
While you should never ask someone if they are a decision maker, it is still important to establish whether they are in a position to make the purchase decision, since you don’t want to keep repeating your pitch to several people before you get to someone who can actually act on your information.
The key, therefore, is to ask for this information tactfully, in a manner that does not come across as too aggressive or one that could end up offending the person you are talking to.
For instance, you could ask something like, “Is there anyone else that we might want to include in this conversation?”
Alternatively, you could ask “I understand buying decisions in your company involve a team of people, who else alongside you is involved in purchase decisions?” Or better yet, you could say, “Could you tell how the purchase process works in your department (or company)?”
You will notice that all these questions allow you to learn whoever is capable of making the purchase decisions, while still showing respect for whoever you are currently speaking with.
This way, there is reduced risk that you might alienate your contact and therefore mess up your chances of being transferred to the right person.
4. DO YOU HAVE A BUDGET FOR THIS?
This is another question that sales people ask to help them determine whether the prospect is worth following.
After all, there is no use trying to sell your products and services to a company that doesn’t have the budget for it. Even if they really love your products and services, they might not have the money for it.
Unfortunately, a lot of sales people ask this question during the very first call.
This is like going on your first date with someone you just met and then asking them how much they earn.
Even if they like you a lot, this will come across as a very weird question. It will seem that all you are interested in is their money.
This is a question that might be asked once things have gotten a lot more serious, such as when you are discussing marriage or moving in together. Similarly, asking a prospect if they have a budget for your products or services on your first call is just awkward.
It shows that you don’t care about helping their business, but are only interested in making the sale.
In addition, with this question, your prospect can stop you cold on your tracks by saying that they don’t have a budget for whatever it is you are selling.
What To Ask Instead
Since your prospect can easily reject your pitch by saying that they don’t have the budget for your products and services, what you want to do at this point is to focus on what your products and services can help them earn or save.
You can so this by asking something like, “Would you like to see some calculations of the estimated ROI you could earn by using this solution?”
If you show them they value they stand to gain from your product, they are more likely to see your product or service not as an expenditure, but rather as an investment.
5. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN THIS ASPECT OF YOUR BUSINESS?
Sales people ask this question to help them understand the problems and challenges prospects are going through, which in turn helps them position their products and services as the best solution for these challenges.
There is nothing wrong with that. However, this is another question that should be reserved for later. It should not be asked on the first call.
Asking a prospect what their biggest challenges are is like going on a date with someone you like for the first time and asking them to tell you their life’s dreams and aspirations.
While this is a great question to ask someone you want to date, it comes off as a very weird question when asked on the first date.
It should be reserved for later. Similarly, asking about your prospects biggest challenges should be reserved once you have established a sales relationship with them.
What To Ask Instead
Since this is a prospecting call, what you are trying to do at this point is to introduce your company and what it does, build credibility, get the prospect interested in your products and services, and then hopefully get them to commit to a next step.
If you can get a client to commit to a second step, this is a clear sign that they are interested in your products and services and might consider buying.
Therefore, instead of asking for their greatest challenge at this point, you can ask something like, “Would you be willing to set up an appointment where we can discuss this in greater detail and perhaps go over a product demo?” If they agree to this, you know you are on your way to making the sale.
At this point, you can go ahead and agree on the appointment date and time, thank the prospect for their time, and end your call.
BONUS QUESTION: DO YOU HAVE A MINUTE TO TALK?
This is another common question that a lot of sales people use once their prospect has picked up their phone. Another similar question is “Is it a good time to talk?” or “Did I catch you at a bad time?”
The aim of these questions is to put the prospect at ease and indirectly request them to give you a few minutes of their time.
However, there are a number of things that make these questions counterproductive.
First, if you think about it, is there a good time to receive unexpected calls from strangers trying to sell you something you might not even be interested in? Do you have a specific segment in your daily calendar that is dedicated to receiving sales calls from strangers? Probably not.
Therefore, it’s most likely not a good time, because you are interrupting your prospect’s day.
Actually, statistics show that using such questions can reduce your chances of success by up to 40%.
Second, asking your prospect if they have a minute to talk, or if it is a good time to talk gives them an easy way of opting out of your call.
If they answer your question with a no, there is not much else you can do to get the call to continue.
What To Say Instead
Since you are already interrupting your prospect’s day, instead of asking whether they have a minute to talk, or whether it is a good time to talk, you could say something like, “Thank you for taking my call, I’ll make it very brief.” From there, you can quickly move on to your value statement.
With this approach, they are more likely to listen to you because it shows that you have respect for their time, and because you have not given them an easy exit.
And if it’s not a good time to talk, they will tell you themselves. However, if you say that you are going to make it brief, don’t forget to do just that.
Cold calling can be one of the most effective or one of the least effective ways of gaining new clients, depending on how you approach it.
The key to getting the most out of cold calling lies in knowing what to say to your prospects, as well as what not to say.
While the six questions discussed above seem to like great questions to ask your prospect, they are actually counterproductive questions that can make it harder for you to see success in your cold calls, and you should avoid them as much as possible.
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