Insider Tip: Conversation Starters for Sales Calls

When you launch into a sales pitch, it can be jarring for potential customers. But the best salespeople are intuitive conversation starters. They know how to ease a customer into a dialogue and ultimately edge them towards that sale.

Starting a conversation is as much a science as it is an art form. At Direct Message, we obsess over how to start conversations, and we’d like to think that we’ve developed our own brand of expertise. Truth be told, the art of sales-oriented conversation should be a trade secret, but we don’t mind lifting the curtain for our devoted readership. Consider it an insider tip.

With that in mind, we’re going to offer some insight into how we go about breaking the ice during a cold call. These are strategies that your company’s sales team can use. And of course, should you choose to charter Message Direct’s Outbound Marketing Services, we’ll put these strategies—and, admittedly, a few others (we can’t divulge everything after all)—to work on your behalf.

Understand the Purpose of a Cold Call
Before we get started with the actual tips, let’s take a moment to consider the purpose of a cold call. It’s important that your sales staff have clarified their goals before they pick up the phone.

In the course of a sales call, your goal is to determine whether or not your potential customer satisfies the following two criteria:

  • They have a clear need that can be met though one of your products or services.
  • They have the budget to pay for that product or service.

If you determine that they have either (or neither) of the above without the other, then it’s in both parties’ best interest to quickly and politely end the call. Time is precious, and cold calling is only worth it when the possibility of making a sale persists.

However, it’s worth noting that the only way you are going to determine the above is by cutting through the potential customer’s reluctance to have a conversation like this to begin with. With that in mind, your conversation-starting strategies need to be in place from the first word.

Here are a few potential ice breakers that you can leverage for your next sales call. Most of them assume that you know little to nothing about the person on the other end of the line:

Did you watch the [significant event] the other evening? What did you think about it?
The goal here is to choose an event (usually televised) that just about everyone either watched or at least knows about (think: major sporting event, royal ceremony, awards programme, etc.). Be sure to steer clear of heated topics. As long as the topic is safe and comfortable to talk about, then the potential buyer will most likely be willing to open up. Getting them talking inches them into a more comfortable zone, and that’s exactly where you want them to be when the real pitch begins.

I saw that your company recently announced [something important/significant]. What are your thoughts on that?
This approach assumes 1) that you’ve done some research on the company and 2) they have recently made an announcement worth talking about. If you can fit this one in, it shows the person on the other end of the line that you’re not merely dialling random numbers in hopes of making a sale.

There’s another side to this strategy as well. It puts the potential buyers in the spotlight and gives them a chance to talk about something that they almost certainly have an informed opinion about. By listening to their answer, you may be able to discern some important information that affects how you go on to frame and shape your pitch.

Did you read the recent [op-ed/blog post] that everybody’s talking about? What do you think?
Again, it’s important to stick to well-known online and offline publications. If you put the person on the spot about an article or post that they haven’t heard about, you run the risk of alienating or even embarrassing them.

If you are fortunate enough to be calling in the wake of a major publication by an industry thought leader, this is a great tactic for establishing report. It also gives you a chance to pick their brain and get an idea of how they think. Yet again, you may be able to glean some critical information to assist you in formulating the rest of your approach.

I noticed on Linked-In that you are connected to [such and such person]. How do you two know each other?
The strategy assumes that you have access to at least a little bit of information about the person you are calling. You always want to know as much about them as possible before the call, as this decreases the risk of wasting time on calling a person who most likely isn’t going to be interested in your pitch.

It’s amazing what a difference it makes when you and the person you are calling are both acquainted with the same third party. Simply knowing someone that they’re acquainted with has a humanising effect, and it instantly makes you more approachable. It’s a fast track to credibility and report.

You will not always have the luxury of having a connection in common. But when you do, it’s critical that you leverage that angle. Cold calls can become several degrees warmer as a result.

Conclusion: Focus on Building Rapport

As you can see from most of the strategies listed above, one of your core focuses should be establishing rapport with the person that you are calling. This builds assurance that you are a person worth talking to. Beyond that, you also want the person to loosen up as much as possible so that they’ll be comfortable talking with you by the time you are ready to segue into your actual sales presentation. Practice these strategies consistently, and you’ll find yourself closing more sales than ever.


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