Cold-calling is a necessity for start-ups. But how do you go about it?

Having worked hard to get that MVP (Minimum Value Product) in place, most start-ups struggle with getting those first set of reference customers that would help them validate their assumptions and scale their business. Most of the first-time entrepreneurs have not done any selling their entire life and are now expected to go out there and find customers. This is easier said than done. Given below is a brief step-by-step ‘How-to-do-it’ that could help you.

Step 1: Building the database

This post presumes that you have identified your target segments. Make a list of about 40 -50 names of companies from your target prospect base. You can achieve this by – (a) paying and availing a database. Many people advertise the same, but beware these are notorious for outdated and defunct data; (b) Use other databases like ‘Just Dial’ to get more accurate, industry-specific names; (c) You could also use LinkedIn to search and build your database. This is probably the most updated and accurate source of information. While building this list of prospects you should also know who your actual customer is – the CFO, the Marketing Head, the CEO or someone else.

Step 2: Validate the database

Make that first call to all the company board numbers to validate accuracy of person name, designation and contact details. You could use one of many reasons to wheedle out this information. One such reason could be “We are going to conduct a seminar and would like to invite (either the person by name or designation) and would appreciate it if you could please give me his/her email id, to send a request”. Try asking for the mobile number, but nine out of ten times you will not get it. But people are willing to share email id if the request appears genuine. That is a start to atleast reach out.

Step 3: Devise a Direct Mail campaign

It may not be advisable to straight away call a stranger and try asking for a meeting. Better to send out a mail first to establish that first contact and create awareness for yourself. Some important tips for building an email campaign:

Introduction Mail:

The idea is to ensure your mail does not get deleted as spam and is read by the person concerned.

  1. Please DO NOT send mails using a generic mail service like ‘Gmail’ or ‘Yahoo’ or some such service. It will get pushed to Spam. Register your domain and send it using your domain name.
  2. Have a subject line that will make the person open the mail. Please let it not be something like ‘A Solution to help you SAVE Money’ or some such corny line, which is a dead giveaway that this is spam. It will straight hit the recycle bin. I have found that a ‘Request for a Meeting’ normally intrigues people to atleast open the mail. To this you may add some specifics like ‘Request a Meeting – To discuss how you could reduce process steps to on-board a new employee’. Such a subject line also talks of possible, quantifiable benefits.
  3. Address the mail to the relevant person. A lot of people send such mails to the CEO, where it is sure to get discarded. Identify the relevant person for whom your product/solution could be of interest and address him by name, ‘Dear Mr. XYZ’, and not ‘Dear Sir’. Brings in a personal touch. I know I may be pointing out the obvious, but trust me I receive a lot of such mails with ‘Dear Sir’.
  4. The first line should definitely touch on the potential pain point, your solution, the benefits it can deliver and all this in not more than two or three lines. This is what will make the person read the rest of the mail. Eg. ‘Typically companies take anything between 6 – 18 hours to successfully on-board a new employee. Our (use your company name) solution, (give solution name) can enable the same in just 45 minutes through process automation’.  If this is addressed to either the HR Head or the CTO, you can rest assured he is going to read the rest of the mail.
  5. Next para should quickly list the key features and benefits.
  6. Thereafter a brief introduction to your company and lastly a Request for Meeting.
  7. MOST IMP: The entire mail should appear in one single window. That means the person should not need to scroll and can view your entire mail and your signature in one single view. The moment the reader feels the need to scroll, chances are the mail may not be read.

Follow-up Mail:

This mail should be sent 3 days after the introduction mail and should be a brief 3-4 liner referring to the earlier mail and a short reintroduction of your product as a reminder. The subject line can remain the same.

Step 4: First Call

This call should be made again 3 days after the follow-up mail. The critical factor here is your introduction pitch. In two sentences or in 30-40 seconds you should be able to introduce yourself, your product, what it does and the benefits that it can deliver. This is not easy and will need some practice. It would help to write this down to ensure the messaging is right. These first 30 – 40 seconds will determine if the person is going to give you another minute and thereafter hopefully a meeting. You screw up this elevator pitch and you may have lost an opportunity.

If you get a meeting on your first call you should be doing back flips. Most often you will be asked to call back and even then you may need to repeat the process a few times before you actually get that meeting. This is the hard part and most of us tend to give up. You may end up feeling frustrated, insulted, angry and disappointed. But don’t get discouraged. Remember the old saying, no pain … no gain. Think of the times when some sales person called you and how you reacted. So, this is absolutely normal. Afterall, you and your company are unknown entities to that person. Why should he entertain you? But, as with everything else in life, perseverance and developing a thick skin will go a long way.

All that I have related are based on my personal experience and I have benefited from the experience. This is a small attempt to share that experience with you and help you to develop that prospect list. Hope this helps.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on Mentoring and Advising start-ups. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . For more information please visit www.nodiva.co.in .

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