What is Cold Calling? [And How Does it Differ From Company to Company?]

Man on the phone behind two computer screensIf you’ve ever had a career in sales, you’re likely aware of what cold calling is — at least how your employer defines it. Shoot, even if you’ve never worked in sales, you’ve probably experienced cold calling.

But what is it, really? And does it vary from organization to organization?

Here at ATS, our hundreds of salespeople each make dozens of cold calls every day. But the cold calls they make here differ from the ones the local insurance agent makes. And they’re nowhere close to the ones that ring through on your cell phone in the middle of your family dinner each night from those pesky telemarketers.

We’re here to explain what we define as cold calling and the different types you can experience in the transportation industry. That way, you’ll know what to expect as you explore sales careers.

What is Cold Calling?

Cold calling is an unsolicited phone call attempting to sell products or services to someone that had no prior contact with the salesperson — and oftentimes the company — conducting the call.

Depending on where you look, the definition may vary slightly, but it’s the common way most people describe cold calling. To take it a step further, you could say cold calling is a bit of a spectrum

Glasses filled with various amounts of iceOn one end of the spectrum, you’re calling someone who has never heard of you or your company and may not even know anything about the product or service you’re selling — meaning they’ve never even considered buying it. Let’s call it an ice-cold glass of water.

On the other end of the spectrum, you might be calling someone you’ve never talked to before — making it a cold call, by definition — but they might be a previous customer or someone who almost became a customer in the past. We’ll say this is a room-temperature glass of water. No ice to be seen.

Because the definition is grayer than it is black and white, kind of like calling water “cold,” there are several other types of cold calling that fall in between the two highlighted above.

What Kind of Cold Calling is Common in Transportation?

As a salesperson in the transportation and logistics industry, your job is to sell your organization’s transportation services to companies that ship freight. So, at the very least, they know what transportation is and why they need those services.

While this isn’t true in all cases, your job won’t be selling why they need transportation services, but rather why they need your transportation services. 

It’s not true in all cases simply because not every organization you contact will handle its own transportation. Their customers may be the responsible party, meaning you’ll need to reach out to their customers or you’ll need to convince them to take on their own transportation needs.

Anyway, without going down that rabbit hole, there are three common types of cold calls you’ll be making in logistics sales (again, it’s a spectrum though, so there can be circumstances that fall in between):

  1. Calling someone who has no idea who you/your company are
  2. Calling someone who has heard of your organization, but has never worked with it
  3. Calling someone who has worked with your organization in the past

Calling Someone Who Has No Idea Who You/Your Company Are

The “coldest” call you’ll be making is to a company that has never spoken to you and has no awareness of the company you work for. They couldn’t identify it if it was standing right in front of them, so to speak.

In that case, you’ll have a little more work to do explaining your company and its capabilities — specifically how your capabilities match their company’s needs.

The transportation industry is quite large — with more than 2 million registered carriers and more than 31,000 freight brokers — so there’s a good chance they haven’t heard of your company before.

Calling Someone Who Has Heard of Your Organization, But Has Never Worked With It

Depending on the size of the organization you work for, you might find yourself calling people who have heard of your company. That can be a good thing or a bad thing though.

While some companies have good reputations across the industry, others may not. Depending on where your company falls, that may be your biggest hurdle to overcome.

You may be able to overcome that objection by providing testimonials from current or past customers or by sharing relevant case studies proving your expertise.

Calling Someone Who Has Worked With Your Organization in the Past

This is the warmest cold call you can make — no matter which industry you work in. Not only does this person know who your company is, but they also understand how your company can fulfill their shipping needs.

The one caveat here is what caused them to stop working with your organization in the first place. Was it poor service or just a reduced need for your help?

If the reason is poor service, you’ll have to spend some time explaining what’s changed that will allow you to serve them better this time around. Maybe the problem was their previous sales representative. Since you’re the one calling now, you’ll just have to sell yourself instead of the entire organization.

Salesperson on headset at desk

Important Things to Do When Making Cold Calls in Transportation

Since you don’t have to spend time explaining what your product or service is, like you would making cold calls in some other industries, you can spend more time explaining the values of your services over the services of your competitors.

What is your organization known for?

Are they the cheapest option out there, which will help the customer save money on their transportation costs? Or are they a more “premium” option that requires you to sell the value of your services, including better communication, tracking options or a full suite of service offerings?

Whatever makes your organization stand out, learn how to speak to that and do it well. It’s also important to understand common objections so you can provide quality answers to put the prospect’s mind at ease.

Beyond having prepared answers to common questions, be a good listener. Not everyone’s needs are the same, so it’s important to find out what matters most to the person you’re talking to at that moment. Maybe you hear a concern that no other cold caller picked up on. If you can provide a unique solution for that prospect, it’ll put you that much closer to making them a customer.

What Are the Different Types of Cold Calling?

If you’re entering a new sales career, you’re going to have to get used to cold calling. What type of cold calling you’ll have to do will vary, though, depending on the industry you work in.

If you’re selling products or services to people that never considered buying them, you’ll be selling on the very “cold” end of the spectrum. That’s your stereotypical telemarketing sales job.

On the other end of the spectrum, you could be selling your services to people who utilize those exact services every day — and maybe even worked with your company in the past. You’d likely find that type of sales career in transportation.

Depending on the type of cold calling you’ll be doing, there are different ways to overcome the objections that come with it. It’s up to you to become efficient at overcoming those objections and making sure you listen to all the fears, worries and concerns they present so you can uniquely address them and stand out against your competitors.

Explore a Sales Career in the Transportation Industry

If you’re ready to take your sales career to the next level — and work where you don’t have to make “ice cold” sales calls — consider a career in transportation. It’s an industry full of opportunities to succeed and grow.

It’s also an industry that can be challenging if you don’t take the right approach. Learn nine keys to a successful sales career in the transportation industry so you can succeed and grow.

Dustin Green

Written by Dustin Green

Dustin is a national sales representative with ATS Logistics, where he enjoys finding new and innovative ways to solve customers’ problems in order to deliver great service. Following his military service, Dustin served in various roles across several industries prior to coming to ATS — where he learned the importance of customer service, sales and getting work done on time.

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