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Sharpening your cold calling skill involves understanding and perfecting a "warm" introductory call and including a personalized reference point in the conversation. — Getty Images/PeopleImages

Cold calling is a sales strategy that involves calling someone who has had no prior contact with your business to solicit their support. Cold calling is something most people find intimidating, but it can be an incredibly powerful way to close a sale or raise money.

For example, nonprofits use cold calling to raise money for their cause, and politicians use cold calling to ask people to vote for them. For small businesses, cold calling can be a great way to generate new sales.

[Read: Does Your Business Need Funding? Do These 5 Things First]

Does cold calling work?

Expert opinion is somewhat divided as to whether or not cold calling is a good tactic. The short answer: Despite some great alternatives, like email marketing, cold calling is here to stay.

On one hand, the stats don’t look to be in its favor. Americans hate spam calls, which is what most people perceive cold calls to be. The national “do not call” list has over 235 million people on it. Research by Harvard Business Review showed that “cold calling is ineffective 90% of the time”, and less than 2% of cold calls actually lead to a face-to-face meeting.

[Read: 7 Tips for Converting Leads into Sales]

That said, cold calling has been found to be one of the top lead-generating tactics salespeople can use to their advantage. One sales blog analyzed over 1 million cold calls and found that 6.3% “resulted in meaningful conversations with a prospect.”

Cold calling works with one big caveat: It only works when done properly.

Cold calling works with one big caveat: It only works when done properly.

Tips for great cold calling

Cold calling works when done well, and part of that is taking the right approach to the person you’re speaking to. Follow these steps to become proficient at cold calling.

Start with an email

“Warm” calls work much better than completely cold calls. A warm call is one that has some sort of outreach preceding it, whether it’s an email, LinkedIn message or customer referral. For example, when a contact is in a common LinkedIn group, your chances of speaking to them on a cold call are 70% more likely. Get your brand on someone’s radar before you reach out, so there’s at least some familiarity on which to base your conversation.

Decide on your objective

It’s unlikely that you’ll close a sale the first time you initiate contact. Instead, consider the cold call your opening gambit and the beginning of your relationship. As one expert recommends, “Use cold calling to identify and make first contact with prospective customers, qualify prospective customers in or out, and secure a pitch meeting opportunity.” Ask for a face-to-face meeting or follow-up call to discuss your pitch more in depth.

Script or no script?

It’s important to prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time. Some salespeople even go so far as to write a script they’ll stick to line by line. A script is a good way to organize your thoughts, but keep in mind that a cold call is all about setting the foundation for the relationship to grow. If you sound too robotic, a lead won’t be interested in moving forward with your business.

Experts at say this structure tends to work to open the call: "Include a greeting and an introduction, a reference point (something about the prospect), the benefits of your product or service, and a transition to a question or dialogue." Standardize your opening line, know your elevator pitch and be prepared to answer detailed questions about your business. Then, let the conversation flow organically.

Follow up immediately

When you do get the chance to speak to a lead, capitalize on that conversation right away. During your call, ask for a time that is available for an appointment. Schedule the meeting, get the lead’s email address and take the next step toward moving the relationship (and the sale) forward.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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