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How to win the networking cold call

By Troy Harrison

Troy HarrisonWe’ve all been there before. There’s this person that we're sure we could benefit from knowing, and who might be able to benefit from knowing us. We go to the functions where they might attend, and either they’re not there or you don’t get to make a connection. Check LinkedIn, and they’re fourth degree at best from you. So, how do you make that connection?

You decide to take the bull by the horns and simply call them. Why not? You make cold calls all the time; how much different could this one be?

Well, the answer is: A lot. There are many pitfalls to making a cold call to network – and there’s also a clear path to success. I receive a lot of these calls, and unfortunately too many of these people get it very, very wrong. Let’s look at how to do it right:

Plan and research. This is the opposite of my approach to cold-call teleprospecting; I’m not a big fan of extensive pre-call research in teleprospecting because teleprospecting is, at some level, a numbers-based approach. This type of call is different. You’re targeting one specific person with whom you’d like to build a relationship; it behooves you to have at least a basic understanding of who the person is, what they do, etc.

I receive calls all the time from people who don’t do that research. They see one article I’ve written somewhere and want to ‘connect’ with me. The problem is that they make all their assumptions based on one article, so if they see me in a magazine for the copier industry they assume I’m a ‘copier industry guy’ – which I’m not. I’m a sales guy, and perhaps a bit more than that, but I’m not an industry guy, so dropping names that are prominent within an industry probably won’t be meaningful to me. At the very least, you should know what the person does, what their desired target market is, and how they help their clients.

Build a concise approach. This is one area where teleprospecting and telephone networking are similar. If you waste someone’s time, you won’t get a second chance. You should build an approach to your target contact that includes who you are, what you do (stated in terms of the value you provide to your clients), and why you think that the two of you should connect. Ideally you should be able to articulate this in less than 30 seconds.

Drop the fake rapport. As many of you know, I’m from the Kansas City metro area. For many years, this has not been a fun place to be in terms of professional sports. At the moment it’s very much a fun place, which causes people to think they can build rapport by calling and saying things like, “How about those Chiefs!” or “How about those Royals!” It doesn’t work – with me or really with anyone else. I’m the most casual of football fans, so while I enjoy the Chiefs’ success, it’s not meaningful to me. I do love the Royals – and I spent a lot of money to watch some pretty awful baseball for a lot of years – but cold calling me that way won’t generate a win for you. And seldom does it work on anyone else, in my experience.

Articulate the win. In any good relationship there is a win for both parties. You should be able to anticipate and plan to explain a meaningful win for the other person, preferably within the first 30 seconds, but beyond that if necessary. Whoever you’re calling for a networking relationship should be able to win by meeting you and knowing you. If there’s no win for the other person you’re just grasping for coattails. Think hard. There has to be a reason that both parties can win with this relationship.

Remember that it’s not about YOU. One of the greatest pieces of advice ever given to me in my speaking career came from my good friend Darren LaCroix. He said, “Remember, Troy, it’s not about YOU – it’s about the audience. Don’t worry about looking good, powerful, and expert on stage. Worry about whether the audience is getting what they need from the program.” In a networking call situation, it’s easy to find yourself wanting to drop into telling your entire professional life story. Don’t. Instead, give a quick thumbnail to establish your bona fides as a person that your contact would want to know, and then move on. It’s about THEM.

For the love of all that is good and decent, get to the point. I had a call recently that violated all of these rules. My cell phone rang about 20 minutes before I was to speak at a conference in Las Vegas, and I took the call. That’s not a big deal – I was all set up, my technology worked, and I don’t get my game face on until about 10 minutes beforehand.  So, I had 10 minutes to talk to whoever was on the other end of the phone.

The person said that he’d met me three years before and wanted to ‘reconnect.’ He started rambling on about his professional history, what he did, that there aren’t many companies that do what his does (which I still don’t know despite being on the phone with him), etc. On three different occasions, I politely asked, “What can I do for you?” He even said, “I know, you’re saying to get to the point,” yet he didn’t. Finally – with 10 minutes to go before my speech – I had to let him go. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but it was time to move on, and if he couldn’t give me a reason that we should talk within the first 10 minutes, I was willing to bet that another 30 wouldn’t have made a difference.

Cold calls can work in networking just as they do in teleprospecting, but you have to make sure that you’re doing it correctly and creating a win for the other person. Do that and you can greatly expand your contact base.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and his new book, “The Pocket Sales Manager.” For information on speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, e-mail, or visit


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