Cold-call lessons from your garden

With spring approaching, many of us turn to gardening as a wonderful way to enjoy our outdoors, escape from the sterile world of work, and relieve ourselves from the stresses that build up over winter. For a few weeks at least, life is good.

And then come the weeds. These nasty plants invade our vegetable gardens, choke out our delicate flowers, and generally make a gardener’s life miserable.

Cold calls can be seen as weeds to sales representatives. The need to address them is a constant, unpleasant chore on our way to building a garden of good customers.

But, just as in weeding, if you approach cold calling with a positive perspective and a set of procedures that work well, you can leave your desk at the end of a day feeling better about the work you’ve done, and the confidence of knowing that work will bear fruit in the end.


Would you ever go into your garden, pull a weed in one place, stop, and walk a few feet to another place to pull a few more? Ridiculous. Yet this is precisely how a lot of professionals approach cold calling.

Sales representatives, pressured to sell, sell, sell, feel forced to prospect for new business over the telephone. Sometimes they’re given a sales script for this; often they have to “wing it.” The result is an inconsistent effort with little result.

The problem grows because people truly believe everything is fine in this haphazard approach. They literally run from one garden or hot lead to the next, instead of making steady progress within their current lists. As with gardening, cold calls need to be consistent, focused, and approached with a great attitude.


When you go into your garden, you don’t over water. You know you’ll kill your plants that way. Yet again and again sales representatives are so busy selling, branding, or otherwise marketing to the person on the other end of the phone that they lose business and any opportunities to make their own market knowledge stronger. Here’s an example of such a call:

Decision Maker (DM): Good afternoon, Bill Fisher with ABC Company. What can I do for you?

Sales Representative (Rep): Bill, hi. I am Chuck Foster with XYZ Company. Did I catch you at a good time?

DM: I have a few minutes. Go ahead.

Rep: Great! Well, we offer blah, blah, blah and we have been providing this solution since 1995.  We have helped companies like (name dropping goes in here) and would like to offer you a web demonstration to see the functionality of our solution.

DM: Sorry, but I am not interested. Click—he hangs up.

Rep’s sales note: Hang up. No interest.

This is a wasted call and feels like the failure it is. The sales representative is let down, and maybe takes a break for an early lunch. Just as you need to nurture your garden plants into a healthy state, you need to build your business relationships with open-ended questions and genuine interest.


The main problem with the call above wasn’t that the sale didn’t happen. It’s that the focus wasn’t appropriate, and the representative didn’t collect any information about the decision maker or his current solution.

The right way to make cold calls is to think like an investigator. Ask questions to qualify or disqualify the decision makers you speak to on your list. Value each call as a “win,” no matter the sales result.

Here are the key pieces of information a sales representative should be able to acquire, starting with the very first call:

  • The name of the buyer’s current solution
  • Who at the buyer’s company is using that solution (either in numbers or specific names)
  • The number of years the prospect has been using the current solution
  • The year of the last upgrade
  • Current glitches or levels of dissatisfaction
  • Possibility of purchasing something new, and when that may occur
  • Executive sponsorship for making a different choice

If you, as a sales representative, keep the above data requirements in mind instead of pushing your own product, you’ll have a better chance of aligning your prospects with your solution, or pulling them out of your lists the way a good gardener pulls incompatible plants from his garden.

Let’s try that “sales” call again, with this new focus:

Decision Maker (DM): Good afternoon, Bill Fisher with ABC Company. What can I do for you?

Sales Representative (Rep): Bill, hi. I am Chuck Foster with XYZ Company. Did I catch you at a good time?

DM: I have a few minutes. Go ahead.

Rep: Great and thank you. I was wondering if you could tell me about the widgets you currently may use at your company.

DM: Oh! You mean Tomato Widgets. Been using them for years.

Rep: How many years?

DM: At least six.

Rep: That’s impressive. And who’s using Tomato Widgets in your company?

DM: Let’s see. We have five people in accounting, seven in production and three at the executive level. I guess that makes 15 or so.

Rep: And are all those people happy with Tomato Widgets?

DM: Well, accounting keeps complaining of too many seeds . . .

And the conversation goes on. Notice that Sales Representative hasn’t pushed his product at all?  But he’s managed to garner some good information while building the chance for a good relationship that should eventually bear fruit in the form of either a sale or better market information for his own company.


You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” The same applies to cold calling. Approach it as you would weeding:

  • Plan where you’re going to work
  • Stick to that area until you’ve covered it well
  • Ask open ended questions in order to build great conversations
  • Garner as much market intelligence as possible
  • Lay the seeds for good relationships and possible sales, whether they’ll happen tomorrow, next week, or a year down the road.

When you do all of this, you can be sure to reap the rewards of great sales and a solid business reputation.

Categories: Sales & Marketing