Cold Calling vs Warm Calling: What's the Difference? (And How to Do Both)

You've heard it before…cold calling is dead. Long live eCommerce, social selling, and all the other newfangled ideas the kids are buzzing about these days.

Except, the stats don't back that up. In fact, 75 percent of buyers are still willing to accept cold sales calls and make appointments based on those incoming calls. Maybe that's why the majority of successful salespeople still make them.

The key to cold calls is to set yourself up for success by warm calling rather than relying entirely on calling ice-cold prospects.

Keep reading to learn more about cold calling (i.e., talking to people without prior contact,) how it differs from warm calling (i.e., talking to people with prior contact,) the differences between the two types of calls, and how to find success with each strategy. Let's get started!

What is Cold Calling?

Cold calling: A sales strategy where reps call prospects who have not interacted with their brand yet.

Cold calling is a sales prospecting strategy where sales professionals call prospects who have never interacted with the brand in the past.

Much like cold emailing, it's about reaching out to people who might want to buy the products or services you sell but haven't shown interest. Maybe they're in the right location and industry but don't know about your organization.

cold calling vs warm calling image of a cold forest

Sales reps usually start with a list of pre-qualified phone numbers and start making calls. Once they get a potential customer on the line, the rep delivers a quick sales pitch to explain the reason for the call and ask questions to better understand what the prospect needs.

The goal of most cold sales calls is not to make sales. The goal is to learn about prospects and schedule follow-up appointments if there's mutual interest. Once a sales rep makes it past the first call, they can pitch their products or services in earnest.

Cold Calling Challenges

Cold calling is a viable strategy that sales teams have successfully used for decades. But that doesn't mean it's free of challenges. Here are a few common ones:

  • Misconceptions: Cold calling is a form of telemarketing, which gets a bad rap. Because of this, people have misconceptions about this sales tactic. Some think it's illegal. Others assume it's the same thing as "robocalling." Neither of these are true, but it can be hard to convince people otherwise!
  • Getting Past Gatekeepers: Just because you dial the CEO of a company doesn't mean you'll get to talk to them. Top decision-makers often have gatekeepers screen their calls. To excel with cold calling, you’ll need to navigate around these gatekeepers so you can actually talk to someone with purchasing power.
  • Time and Expense: According to Gartner, it takes 22.5 cold calls to have one meaningful conversation. In other words, it takes a lot of effort to succeed with cold calling. And that kind of effort isn’t free.

It’s also worth mentioning that most sales reps hate cold calling. Forcing them to complete this activity daily—especially without SDRs, cold calling scripts, or other resources that make their lives easier—may result in a higher-than-average staff turnover rate.

Clearly, cold calling has its issues–which you can avoid by deploying warm calling strategies instead.

Let's talk more about that.

What is Warm Calling?

Warm calling is similar to cold calling, except the prospects you call have already expressed interest in your company or your offering.

The process might look something like this:

Company ABC publishes multiple SEO-optimized blog posts a month. Customer XYZ finds one of these posts through Google, enjoys reading it, and signs up for Company ABC's email newsletter.

They’re interested–at least a little.

Next, a sales rep for Company ABC sees the new email address, researches the lead on LinkedIn (yay for social selling!), and decides to reach out. During the phone call, the rep gets to know the lead and asks if they're interested in making a purchase.

A small shift, but it can make a huge impact on conversions.

There are several different kinds of warm leads, and they tend to convert at different rates.

  • Lukewarm leads have heard of your company, but haven't shown much interest in your products. They might have seen an ad or visited your site.
  • Toasty leads have heard of your company and shown interest by downloading an eBook, whitepaper, or engaging in another manner.
  • Red hot leads have heard of your company and expressed direct interest in buying the products and/or services you sell. For example, a site visitor who read your blog and visited your pricing page.

The warmer your leads are, the better your chance of booking future appointments and making sales. That's why you should spend as much time as you can "hot calling," i.e., talking to leads who’ve already expressed buyer intent.

It will almost always lead to a higher success rate.

Warm Calling Challenges

Warm calling generally produces better results than cold calling. After all, when a lead already knows who you are and what you sell, they’re more likely to trust you. It’s kind of like starting a marathon halfway to the finish line.

That said, there are a few drawbacks to this calling strategy. Here are the most prominent ones:

  • Time Spent: You must research each prospect's pain points to determine if they are interested. If they don't end up buying from you, this time can feel like a waste.
  • Reaching Leads: A prospect may have heard of your company, but that doesn't mean they'll pick up the phone when you call. Sales representatives who succeed with warm calling know how to leave an effective voicemail, which can take time to learn.
  • Splitting Leads: In the scenario above, Company ABC's marketing team produced the lead via organic search. Now Sales must assign a rep and ensure multiple salespeople don’t contact the same lead. That will annoy the lead and could cost you the sale!

3 Differences Between Cold Calling vs Warm Calling

The difference between cold calling and warm calling comes down to three main things: lead awareness, prospect trust, and sales rep effort. Let's explore each in greater detail:

Lead Awareness

When you cold call a prospect, there's a chance they're completely unaware of your business and the products/services you sell. That's not true for warm calls.

By definition, warm calls are made to people who have heard of the business the sales rep works for. They may be familiar with the products/services as well.

This level of lead awareness is significant, especially in B2B sales, where the cost of goods and services is typically much higher than in B2C sales.

Psst... Looking to conquer the world of cold calling? Check out our top-notch sales headsets for crystal-clear conversations!

Prospect Trust

Who do you trust more: the woman at the coffee shop who takes your order every morning, or the guy sitting at the table next to you, whom you've never met before?

We’re more likely to trust people we know, even if we only know them a little.

Cold Calling vs Warm Calling (Guide) How to Build Trust with Prospects

Sales calls are similar. Prospects will trust you more if they're familiar with you, your business, and what you sell. Why? Because you're not a complete stranger. As such, you probably know more about the prospects' goals and pain points, making you more trustworthy.

Sales Rep Effort

Sales reps have to make a lot of cold calls to connect with potential customers and drum up sales. This is why some companies have entire call centers dedicated to cold calling.

Warm calling is hard work too but requires a different type of effort.

Sales reps must find inbound lead generation opportunities, acquire contact information, and face rejection. But the success rate of warm calling is much higher than it is for cold calling.

So, there's a case to be made that warm calling requires less effort on the part of sales reps than cold calling. (Though it does depend on how much effort you put into warm calling!)

6 Tips for More Successful Cold Calls

Cold calling can lead to sales—if you do it right. Keep these six tips in mind before, during, and after your calls to make sure they're effective.

warm calling vs cold calling woman on the phone.

1. Research Your Contacts

Research is incredibly important to the sales prospecting process.

Who are you planning to talk to? What industry are they in? What company do they work for? What challenges do they struggle with? And, what is their contact information?

You need to know the answers to these questions. Luckily, this kind of information is pretty easy to find. Just search for your prospects' social media profiles. LinkedIn is preferred, but Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok may provide more insights.

I suggest researching your prospects' companies, too. The more you know about them, the more productive and successful your cold calls will be.

2. Plan Out Your Cold Calls

You shouldn't ever "wing it" during cold calls. Instead, create a blueprint to ensure you steer your sales conversations in the right direction.

If you're really committed to cold calling, create a sales script for your cold calls that can be customized for every conversation. Your sales script may look something like this:

Hi [First Name], My name is [Your Name] with [Your Company]. I'm calling because [Reason For Your Call].

This may be a long shot, but based on my research, I think you'd be a perfect fit for our offer. If that sounds interesting to you, can we schedule a 15-minute call on [Time & Date]?

Thanks for your time and I look forward to talking with you soon!

You don't have to use your scripts word for word. In fact, you probably shouldn't. Doing so will make you sound robotic and insincere. Instead, use your scripts as a guide to make sure you hit all the main points.

3. Call at the Right Times of Day (and Week)

When you call is almost as important as what you say.

Research has shown that the best times to cold call prospects is between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Now, that doesn't mean that between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays is the right time for you to call your prospects. You’ll want to experiment and find your own cold-calling sweet spot, but these times are a great place to start.

4. Prioritize the Prospect

What would you do if a sales rep called you and immediately started talking about their super cool, ultra nifty, new gadget—a piece of technology that you have exactly zero interest in?

I'll tell you what I'd do: hang up the phone faster than The Flash just after chugging a Redbull.

Why? Because the rep made the entire conversation about them. They didn't ask how my day was going or try to understand my challenges. They launched right into a sales pitch, assuming that I would like their product as much as they do.

If you want to succeed with cold calling you have to prioritize the prospect. Ask questions, listen to their answers, and personalize your conversations based on their needs. Doing so will help you build trust, which is essential to the sales process.

5. Follow-Up as Needed

What do you do after you cold call a prospect? It's pretty simple: you follow up with them. It's a simple step, but one too many salespeople ignore.

Try calling them again in a week, or a month, or whatever amount of time is appropriate. Or take a multichannel approach and send them an email or send a text message instead. Maybe you can take advantage of social media and comment on their latest LinkedIn post.

There are many ways to follow up; just make sure you do!

6. Track Your Results

Finally, assess your cold-calling efforts. Are you connecting with prospects and generating sales? Or are you wasting your time?

If your results are less than stellar, try to figure out why. Experiment with new tactics. Implement new strategies. Do what you have to do to achieve success.

If your results are amazing, congratulations! But don't get lazy. Analyze your calls to learn why your current cold-calling approach is working. Once you figure out why, you can double down on winning techniques and supercharge your sales.

5 Calling Tips For Warm Calls

Looking to implement a warm calling sales strategy? Smart move. Here are five ideas to ensure your warm calls turn potential clients into paying clients consistently.

phone on a desk warm calling vs cold calling guide

1. Get the Basics Right

Warm calling is a great way to build your sales pipeline.

But it's not that much different than cold calling. As such, you’ll want to implement a few of the same ideas I shared in the previous section.

  • Do Your Research: Who are you about to call? Make sure you know as much about this person as possible so you can personalize your conversation.
  • Have a Plan: Remember what I said earlier? No winging it! Create a game plan for your warm calls. It takes a bit more effort, but will help you achieve better results.
  • Consider Timing: It doesn't matter if your leads already know who you are. They won't answer the phone if they're busy with another task. Figure out when your prospects are most reachable and call at that time.

2. Ask Open-Ended Questions

What's an open-ended question, you ask?

Any question that requires prospects to elaborate. In other words, if the prospect can answer your query with a simple "yes" or "no," it's not an open-ended question.

In sales, open-ended questions might include:

  • What solution are you currently using, and why isn’t it working?
  • Oh, that’s interesting. Why do you think that is?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • What task do you spend the most time on?

Open-ended questions are ideal because they encourage prospects to engage so you can learn about their daily challenges, and whether or not they're worth your time.

Plus, people love to talk about themselves. Open-ended questions give prospects a chance to do that, which will help them enjoy your conversations more.

3. Listen to Your Potential Clients

Don't just ask questions during your warm calls. Listen to the answers.

Listening is an important skill. Seriously, your sales team won't make many sales without it. When you learn to listen well, you can easily identify pain points, suggest solutions, and earn your prospects' trust–resulting in a higher close rate.

Consider recording your warm calls—with your prospects' permission, of course—so you can listen back to them. This will make your follow-up communications more effective.

4. Provide Next Steps

Every warm call should end with the next steps, so your prospects know when you'll contact and what to do next.

It could be as simple as asking, "Can I send you a quick email, recapping our conversation?" Or maybe, "What if I call again next week? If you're interested, I can prepare a demonstration of our product, which you'll be able to view via Zoom. How's that sound?"

Providing the next steps gives prospects a chance to decline future communication with you as well. While it might sting, it's better than wasting your time on leads that won't convert.

5. Assess Your Sales Strategy

Last, but certainly not least, take a moment to evaluate your warm calling sales process. Are you happy with your results? Do prospects seem to enjoy your calls, and are they converting? If not, make a few changes.

Maybe you need to connect with leads on a more personal level before the call to "warm" them up. Maybe you need to step up your research game to be more prepared for every call. Or maybe you need a better lead qualification process!

Psst... Need to optimize your lead game? Our guide on MQL vs. SQL is a must-read.

Cold Calling and Warm Calling Sales Tools

So, warm vs. cold calling—which is better?

There’s no right or wrong answer. Many sales teams use both strategies to increase revenue, build their brand, and increase their market share.

cold calling vs warm calling guide phone with a headset digital art

To improve your efforts, invest in a few cold calling and warm calling sales tools. The solutions below will help you with outreach, social selling, referrals, and more.

  • Social Selling: If you're in the B2B space, you need LinkedIn. It's an amazing resource that will allow you to connect with your target market, build meaningful relationships with them, and help you determine who to call when the time is right.
  • Customer Relationship Management: Every serious sales rep needs a CRM to help them track leads through the funnel and store contact data. I suggest Close. Why? Because Close features an easy-to-navigate interface, powerful automation features, and everything else you need to win at sales. Close also has a predictive dialer, which will kick your productivity up another notch.
  • Referrals: Cold calling is an outbound sales strategy, but inbound leads can also be super successful. Especially if they come in nice and toasty, which referred leads generally do. To boost referrals, use a tool like Referral Factory to build automated referral programs that actually work.

While the true power of sales calling comes from research and learning to listen, these tools will make your life much easier.

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