Cold Calling Best Practices

March 5, 2021

💘 SDR Symposium | February, 2021

Cold calling is one of the biggest components of the SDR role. Master it, and you can go far. Shy away from it, and you’ll be missing a major tool in your arsenal.

It’s only natural that our SDRs were looking for some cold calling best practices and advice – after all, they know that without a solid cold calling foundation their ceiling is only so high. So our training team grabbed four of our top reps and put together a symposium around cold calls – what’s worked for them, what advice they have, and how you can cement a cold calling foundation as part of your outbound strategy.

The Guests

Hamza Shehzad

Hamza Shehzad



Stephanie Kocourek

Regional Sales Manager


Jake Levine



James Morales


Check out the highlight video from our Symposium below!

We broke the components of our symposium into 3 sections: what to do before you pick up the phone (Pre-Call), what to do while on the phone (Live Conversations), and what to do once the call is over (Post-Call).


Before you even get on the phone, there’s a lot of preparation that needs to be done to ensure you’re getting the most out of your dials. Nobody likes making cold calls, so it’s in your best interest to warm them up a bit through research and planning.

Where Does Cold Calling Fit?

One of the first things our panel noted was the importance of understanding who you were calling before punching the numbers into your phone.

Hamza brought up a great point about the title and overall responsibility of the person you’re reaching out to. If they’re a decision-maker or someone higher up at the company, it might make sense to hold off on a call right away. They might be harder to get in touch with, and they usually respond if there’s a plan in place vs. cold outreach. He referenced his success in calling into lower-level titles to create champions and establish some credibility within the organization before reaching out to a Director or VP. You can even prep those higher-up titles with an email before reaching out – that way they have something to reference and know that your call won’t be a waste of time.

Other panelists had different ideas. Both James and Stephanie agreed that cold calling first was the way to go, but for different reasons.

Call or Email

18 sales and marketing pros answer the question:

Do you start your cadences with a call, or an email?

James, like Hamza, agreed that choosing between a cold call or some other outreach depends on who you were trying to reach, but his range was much more broad. He prefers to call first 100% of the time unless he was referred to another prospect within the organization. In those cases, he sends out an email to prep that contact and give them the relevant information (who referred him, why he’s reaching out, what a good time to connect would be, etc.). In his experience, referrals just respond in a more positive way to an email with everything laid out vs. a phone call.

Stephanie is also a fan of calling first pretty much 100% of the time. But that’s because all of her prospects are drowning in seas of cold email. Calling isn’t just a great way to figure out product fit and relay value props, for her it’s a way to stand out and make sure she gets noticed over the competition. It really speaks to the importance of knowing your audience and taking that extra step to stand out – nobody wants to be another voice that gets drowned out by all the shouting.

Jake has a different take from his fellow panelists. Instead of starting his cadence with a call, he emails all of his prospects first. Like Stephanie, he noticed a pattern – his connect rate on that first call was really low. But when he started to send emails before making that initial call, his connect rates started to jump. His prospects were more likely to pick up once they had some basic information on who he was and why he was calling. But the moral of his anecdote wasn’t that calling first was wrong, it was that you have to understand your prospects and change up your strategy to maximize connects. You’ll have to call anyways, and by prepping his prospects with some info, Jake was able to have more meaningful conversations.


Speaking of prepping your prospects, our panel turned the discussion towards research. How important is it, and how much time do you spend researching an account/prospect before reaching out?

James is a fan of minimizing research and maximizing time. Most people won’t pick up the phone anyways, so there’s no need to dump a lot of time into researching a person or account. Understand how to pronounce their name and what their title is, and then do the research live on the phone if you catch them. It requires a solid understanding of your ICP, the ability to relay clean value props, and a good grasp on storytelling, but it’s a great way to save yourself some time on the research end to boost your activities.

Stephanie had similar feelings – it’s easy to get lost down the research rabbit hole, so don’t tempt yourself. Keep it light and quick, but save time for dials. She did note that if you were reaching out to a target account or a higher priority lead, then you should spend some extra time pre-qualifying them and digging up relevant information. Just like you tier your accounts, you should tier your research.

💡 Want a tip for researching target accounts? Check out the ‘10 Minute Game’ from our friends at LeadIQ!

Hamza echoed both James and Stephanie in his response. For those warmer leads and higher priority accounts, do the extra work. It pays to have a case study or two to support your point, and if you can find relevant information online you should be bringing that to the table. Understanding company news like mergers, acquisitions, earnings reports, etc. could be a big benefit.

Jake has the benefit of calling into an industry with a lot of public information online, and he uses that to his advantage. For his process, all it takes is 2-5 minutes of online research to build a use case and value proposition for his product. If he wants to go the extra mile, he looks for things like where the contact went to school, if they’re connected with anyone on his team, and if they’ve written or talked about a challenge he knows his product can solve. Bringing that to the first call helps establish credibility and authority early.

3Rs social image

Research, Referrals & Relationships

Explore the role research plays in the sales development process.


It’s no secret that cold calling takes a certain mindset – you have to be focused on the task at hand, and any distractions can easily bump you out of that zone and decrease your productivity. It’s easy to burn out during a call session – especially if no one is picking up. Making sure you stay upbeat and energize throughout is key – prospects can hear disinterest and exhaustion in your voice, and that’s a big turnoff.  Our panel has some advice on pre-call routines to get them into that zone and stay energized.

James and Hamza love motivating themselves with coffee. That first sip is a signal to their brain that it’s time to get in the zone. Hamza adds sweet snacks on top of his coffee as a mini-reward during his calling sessions (editor’s note: combining caffeine with a sugar high? He’s crazy!). And if you’re not into coffee, you can sub that out for something like soda, candy, dried mango, etc. As long as it’s something you can associate with a block of cold calling, you can train your brain to get in the zone.

💡 A day in the life of an SDR is anything but typical. Check out some of our time management tips to help you break up your day effectively.

Stephanie and Jake talk about the importance of staying loose and relaxed when you start your calling session. Standing up and stretching before jumping into a session is a great way to relax your body and get ready to hit the phones. Jake really misses the pop-a-shot machine in our office – he would try and get 5 shots in a row before settling down for a calling block. Rewarding yourself beforehand puts you in a good mood for the time you set aside. Stephanie added that her ‘pump-up music’ playlist was a great way to get in the zone and reward herself with some good music before picking up the phone.

Live Conversations

Now that our panel is warmed up and they’ve talked through their pre-call advice, it’s time to dig into some best practices when they have someone live on the phone.

Opening Lines

When someone picks up the phone, what do you say? Do you go for the same opener every time, or shift it based on who you’re calling?

Pretty much all of our panelists agreed on one thing – this is really, really important. How you open up your call sets the tone for the rest of the conversation & potential relationship with the prospect.

Stephanie likes using her full name – it adds an air of importance and authority to the conversation. And she likes to ask the prospect how they’ve been, almost as if they know each other already. It’s a bit of a pattern interrupt, and it’s very telling of the prospect’s mood/personality. If they’re guarded and taken aback, it might be a tough conversation. If they respond with curiosity and are open, the conversation will be much easier.

James agreed with Stephanie – start the call off with a quick intro and question to determine their mood. You either start building rapport right away, or you know the conversation has to be short and sweet.

Jake and Hamza brought up referencing time in their opening lines. Asking if they ‘caught the prospect at a bad time’ or if ‘now is a good time to talk’ is their go-to opener. For Hamza, he’s talking with a lot of Directors and VPs, so bringing up time is a matter of respect. These are busy people, and showing them that you respect their time goes a long way. Jake echoed that, and added that when someone responds with ‘no’ it’s an opportunity for him to set something up at a later date or provide more context via email.

And all panelists agreed that your opening line has to change based on the situation. For example, if you’re talking with an assistant or ‘gatekeeper’, following up on previous conversations, or connecting with a lower-level title, it’s fine to be a bit more casual when you open up the call. Otherwise, consistency is key!

Match & Mirror

Our panel referenced using the opening line to determine the mood of their prospect. Why? Because matching that energy and mirroring their behavior is incredibly important. It’s not always what you say that matters – you have to think about how you say it as well.

James learned that the hard way. Going into every call upbeat and with a ton of energy would throw some people off. If you’re at a 10 and your prospect is at a 4, you come off as annoying, not helpful.

Dropping yourself to the level of your prospect (or raising yourself to their level) is a way of showing empathy – you’re not just pressing on with your pitch without taking their feelings into account. You could even call it out – if someone is extra peppy, ask them! As Stephanie said, it’s a great way to humanize yourself and keep their attention and interest.

For Jake, he uses match & mirror to plan his call. If someone is extra curt and low-energy, he’s ready to get to the next step faster. If they’re upbeat and talkative, he’s preparing to have a longer conversation.


SDRs are well-versed in the ways of objection handling. After all, the job wouldn’t be so tough if everyone you talked with wanted to set-up a meeting!

James likes to disarm objections rather than ‘handle’ them. If someone has concerns, it’s your job to help alleviate them, not diminish them. Make them feel heard, not just another obstacle for you to overcome.

💡 Josh Braun calls this ‘diffusing’ objections, and it’s really powerful.

Hamza agrees, and he keeps a document handy for how he can best respond to some common objections. It usually involves disarming the objection, bringing up a value proposition, and then asking a question to keep the conversation flowing.

Stephanie is a question machine. In her words, “throw up as many walls as you want, I’ll just keep asking questions.” Most of the time, prospects will answer their own objection simply by answering your questions. Knowing how to ask good, open-ended questions and having solid listening skills are crucial skills for an SDR. Often, you can talk your way out of an objection and into a solution or value proposition.

At the end of the day, not everyone will be the right person to talk with, or timing will be off, or the account just doesn’t have a need for your services. You can’t win them all.

Jake likes to leverage objections into referrals. For him, more often than not the biggest hurdle is just finding the right person to talk with. If he’s hearing a lot of objections during the conversation, he knows it’s time to see if there’s someone else within the organization he can talk with.

And if enough objections crop up to the point where booking a meeting doesn’t make sense – don’t push for it! Qualifying someone out is just as valuable as qualifying someone in. In the cases where qualifying someone out makes the most sense, Hamza offers up an idea: ask to add them to your nurture sequence (maybe not in exactly those words). A low-friction ask like that is much easier to agree with, and that way you keep the communication channel open. If things change down the line and they’re experiencing issues your solution could solve, having that nurture sequence is a great way to keep your name/brand top of mind.

💡 Want that nurture sequence to work even harder? Fill it with your own content.

Asking For the Meeting

During the call, there’s an inevitable point where you as the SDR should offer up next steps – a second conversation, a meeting, a demo, etc. We asked our panel when they ask for the meeting. Is it after a certain question is asked? Is it early, or late? Do their Spidey-Senses tingle?

For James, he knows to start moving the conversation in that direction when his prospect asks a question that’s higher-level. If it should be answered on a demo, then he pushes the prospect to a demo. If he can answer it, he keeps the conversation going until it reaches a point that’s ‘above his pay grade.’ Using language like “I don’t want to waste your time answering a question I’m not 100% sure about” and “this would be more appropriate for my AE to answer” help make that transition smooth.

Hamza brought up a similar point. When the prospect mentions something he specifically knows his solution can address, or if they talk about a pain they’re experiencing he can solve, it’s time to offer up next steps.

Stephanie likes to pause during the conversation and take a pulse check. Is what she’s saying make sense? Are they following along? What questions do they have? The more engaged they are, the better. And when they stop asking questions or don’t have more to add to the conversation, she knows that it’s time to set-up next steps. If the prospect still has questions or they’re having a hard time following, she knows that it’s on her to do more education before getting those next steps set up.


Not every dial will result in a live conversation. And not every meeting you book will be fully qualified. So is life. But there are a few techniques our panel discussed that can help you make the most of your voicemails and post-call follow-up.


What kind of voicemails do you leave as an SDR (if at all)? Do you opt for the ‘short and sweet’ approach, or do you pack them with information?

James had a great answer for this. “If you have specifics, mention them. But don’t beat yourself up trying to pack a ton of information into your message. At the end of the day, you’re more likely to get an email response than a callback anyways.” Instead of focusing on packing info into the voicemail, use your emails to relay the bulk of the information. Then, direct prospects to your email via your voicemail.

Hamza has a similar process. His voicemails are quick and to the point – he uses them to lead his prospects to where he wants them to go, his email follow-up. That’s where a bulk of the value he’s delivering lies. After all, it’s way easier to relay value in a few lines of text than trying to pack it into a 30 second voicemail. That being said, Hamza agrees that if you have something specific to mention, don’t leave it out. You can really hammer home of the expertise you have in a voicemail.

Jake and Stephanie like to take a slightly different approach – don’t leave a voicemail every time.

Jake leverages ‘no contacts’ regularly in his call cadence. If you know your prospects are busy, it doesn’t do any good leaving them a voicemail – they probably don’t have the time to listen to them, so don’t bother leaving them. Instead, use that time to work channels that you know are more valuable (like LinkedIn & email).

And Stephanie echoes Jake’s idea, adding that you should pepper in some ‘no contacts’ throughout the cadence. Switch it up every 2-3 times for your prospect’s sake (and yours if we’re being honest). That being said, if the prospect doesn’t have an email address (or you can’t find one for some reason), then you have to work the voicemail angle. Keeping your messages short is best – dangle out some bait and pique their interest, but don’t give them everything in one 30-second spurt. According to Stephanie, she finds that works best when you make it seem like the prospect doesn’t have an option BUT to call you back.


Sometimes you get off the phone after booking a meeting and realize, “shoot, I didn’t get that crucial piece of qualification information.” Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. And our panel has some great advice on capturing that info.

Hamza likes to follow-up with an email in cases like this as it allows him to both capture that extra info AND confirm the meeting in one swoop. As an SDR, your job isn’t done as soon as you right the bell. It’s up to you to make sure that the meeting happens and that it’s beneficial for both sides. That takes good discovery and qualification as well as proper scheduling.

Stephanie similarly uses that post-call follow-up to make sure all of her questions have been answered AND the prospect is happy with the situation. Recapping what you’ve talked about and peppering in some extra questions gives you a second chance at qualification and tailoring those next steps for your AE.

Jake agreed. For him, qualification questions are better suited for that post-call follow-up anyways. His universe is pretty cut and dry, so when he’s talking with a prospect he already knows that they fit the basic qualification his AE is looking for. Anything on top of the basic stuff is just for making sure the demo is tailored to the prospect’s specific needs, and that’s something he can more easily accomplish via email.

And for James, he agrees with what everyone else said PLUS he brought up a great point – leverage public information online. A lot of the times you can search for the qualification info you need through the company’s website, a Google search, or on sites like LinkedIn. Supplementing what you found on the call with online information is a great way of filling in some of those gaps for your AE.


At the end of the day, cold calling is something that the best SDRs use really well. Our panel proves that by being at the top of the leaderboards month in and month out. They’ve found processes around cold calling that have worked for them and made it a core component of their outbound strategy. Give their advice a shot and watch yourself begin to grow as an SDR!

aj alonzo

AJ Alonzo is the Head of Marketing at demandDrive. A former SDR turned marketing leader, he's made it his goal to develop resources for sales reps who are looking to level up and for managers who are looking for guidance. Outside of work you can find him trying to shoot under par at his local disc golf course, sipping on a bourbon on the rocks, or continuing his quest to be the very best like no one ever was.
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