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The secret to successful cold calls.

I'M A WILL SMITH FAN--have been since his days as a rapper when I was in college. I like his music as much as his movies. In 2005, he released an album with a single called, "Pump Ya Brakes." It was a manual on how to behave when trying to get a date. As if the title doesn't clue you in, he sums up his advice early in the song: "Be a gentleman. Try to be gentle, man."

Our three boys are 15, 12 and 9, so they hear, "pump ya brakes," multiple times a day, though it's usually about running in the house.

But I also teach salespeople the same principle when it comes to cold calling. I know, I know. You hate that term, but here's the deal: You're walking into a door where you don't know them and they don't know you. I don't care how you dress it up by calling it "canvassing" or "prospecting," that's a cold call. And it's not fun.

I won't waste time arguing for cold calling because it's a fact of life. You cannot make a living in the benefits business without walking into a few doors that haven't been warmed up for you. We can talk about referrals another time, but you have to cold call if you want to stay in business.

I once attended a seminar where the speaker told us "traditional" cold calling is no different than sending a junk mail flyer: It's hit and miss at best. He exhorted us to "work smarter, not harder." And guess what? Everything is hit and miss at best. Do all your referrals buy? Did Michael Jordan hit every shot? Does every Harlem Shake video make you laugh?

The bottom line: If you don't see lots of people every day, you will not make sales. Period.

The reason we--and our prospects--hate cold calling is because we too often come across as "pushy" salespeople on that first call. We're all guilty of laying the entire presentation on a gatekeeper.

When teaching new sales associates, I always refer to cold calling as "card collecting," but as a way to keep our focus. We're not expecting a new group authorization today. We're merely picking up a business card and gathering some information about the decision maker so we can call back later with a better understanding of who's in charge.

So as you hit the streets today, remember to pump ya brakes.

Pump the brakes

1) Ask, "Who makes decisions regarding employee benefits?"

Point out that you don't expect them to see you; you just wanted to make them aware of (till in the blank). Then ask, "Do they have a card I could take and maybe reach out to them later?"

2) Don't get sucked into a presentation.

If the gatekeeper says, "What is it about?," simply respond that there are exciting changes in the benefits space that he/she would probably be interested in and you'd like to make them aware.

3) "Don't argue.

If the gatekeeper says, "He'll never do that in a million years." resist the urge to tell them all the reasons why they'd be idiots to not work with you. Remember that the gatekeeper's job is to keep from getting to the decision maker, not to decide what benefits get offered. Smile and thank them for their time. indicating that you'll try back later.


The only cure for call reluctance is to go to work: One call and one day at a time.

Read "Be a cold call king"

Brian Hicks is the author of The Tinderbox Tapes, an inspirational novel. He is also vice president of business development at Piedmont Payment Services. You can find him on the web at
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Title Annotation:selling benefits
Author:Hicks, Brian
Publication:Benefits Selling
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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