You’re ready for the first call of the day. Coffee is hot, talking points are down pat, and you’re ready to close some deals. You click dial, the phone rings, and someone picks up. Then, wham!

“I’m sorry, is your call expected?”

Gatekeepers are often considered the brick walls of the sales process. But thankfully there are ways to work with them, get past them, and get to your decision maker. Here are 5 strategies to get you on your way.

Redefine “Gatekeeper”

It may surprise you that “gatekeeper” is not this person’s job title. Those that salespeople consider gatekeepers are most often just administrative professionals doing their job. You won’t ever get on the gatekeeper’s good side if you’re forever picturing them as the bridge troll spouting riddles that won’t let you cross.

Steli Efti of Close.io narrows it down to this: “don’t treat executive assistants, office administrators, and interns like nuisances.” That includes tossing the popular assumption that gatekeepers don’t understand the sales process. Office staff members are often knowledgeable in almost all parts of the process because of the variety of work they have to do.

The first step in proceeding past the gatekeeper is remembering they are human, and that their role is an integral part of the business process.

Be Polite

This tip may sound a bit too simple, but its surprising what you can accomplish with the use of some good old “pleases” and “thank yous.”

Even when you’re just giving your name and company, sneak in a please. “Hello, this is Jane Doe from XYZ, may I speak with ____ please?” Even if (and when) calls don’t go your way, being polite keeps your reputation squeaky-clean, so that when you call back with a referral, you’ll more likely get through.

Be Direct: Don’t Pitch

There’s a lot of debate over whether or not to pitch to the gatekeeper, but the truth is that launching into a pitch is intrusive and probably not worth the time.

Pitching to the gatekeeper is another inference that office personnel don’t truly understand the sales process and need to be reminded of the value and purpose of your product. The truth is, the gatekeeper just needs enough information to get you to the next branch of the communications tree.

As an article for Mr.Inside Sales explains, it’s time to “stop trying to hide, trick, or fool the gatekeepers.” Be honest about who you need to reach and why, and cut out all that extra stuff.

Get A Referral

When Max Altschuler of SalesHacker asked several experts about getting past the gatekeeper, almost all of them recommended getting a referral as the best approach.

One referral can go a long way. It not only gives you credibility but provides a starting point of conversation when you do reach the decision maker in question.

Try Other Points of Contact

If all else fails, technology provides countless other avenues for getting in touch with a decision maker, or at least someone higher in the business hierarchy. Connect with them on LinkedIn, or email them directly

If you make another point of contact, it will at the very least increase your likelihood of getting past the gatekeeper, if not just allowing you to bypass them completely.

Mind Your Gatekeepers

The bottom line is, the dreaded gatekeeper is just another human doing their job. There are ways to avoid them and try to skirt around them, but often your best bet is to acknowledge their humanity and communicate empathetically, and perhaps get a referral first. The gatekeepers aren’t out to get you, I promise.

Do you start your calls off anything like this: “I’m calling because I’m selling a [product] that can save you money.”

Nothing shuts down a prospect faster than feeling like you’re reading a script on your 1,000th call of the day. Somehow you need to create a connection, interest someone in your product, and kick off the sales process all before someone decides to just apologize and hang up the phone.

We’ll walk you through how to properly start a conversation on a cold call, so you can stop having to listen to dial tones.

Break Through The Stranger Danger

Research shows that the human response to a call from a stranger, even an unfamiliar business, is fear. One study revealed that 11-17% of business prospects were annoyed by cold calls because they were in a state of fear.

It’s natural to put up boundaries around people that we don’t know, even over the phone. The first task of a cold call conversation is to break through that initial distrust in order to proceed to a genuine conversation.

Judith E. Glazer, an expert in conversational intelligence, explains that you and your customer must “co-create a situation where she experiences the value of your product without the fear of distrust in you.”

Only after you build this sense of trust can you sell effectively.

Personalize Where You Can

Part of starting a cold call off on the right foot is simply making sure you don’t sound like a pre-recorded robot. Using the same generic script or recorded message will quickly communicate that you don’t value customers individually, which then creates suspicion and disinterest.

You certainly don’t want to sound creepy, but there are a few tricks you can use to personalize your call so that even if you are using a script–which is highly recommended–you can still express that you value the individual prospect.

Use their name if you know it, be conscious of any previous contact with the company, and make sure to ask questions. The purpose of your initial call is to get to know the prospect to find out whether they are a good fit, not to provide a lengthy list of the services that you offer.

Don’t be afraid to add some color to the conversation. Ask where they’re located and then make a comment on a connection you have to place or something you know about it. Worst case you can always ask about the weather.

If you have the time, you can even cheat, look up where they are, and prep your small talk ahead of time. Your goal is simply to make them feel more at ease and less like they’re just being sold to.

Take Your Time

This advice is both literal and figurative. Under pressure, we tend to speak quickly. This is even more magnified when you become accustomed to rattling off your script. Ever get through a conversation and realize you don’t even recall that person’s name, or maybe even what prompted the conversation in the first place?

Steli Efti of Close.io advises: “You need to speak clearly and allow people to process your message. Don’t cover ten different points if your prospect still hasn’t caught up to the first point you’ve made.” Take your time, speak clearly, and go at a pace that is comfortable for both parties involved.

Hold Off on the Pitch

This is where the more figurative aspect of taking your time comes in. Contrary to popular belief, the pitch is not where the sales process begins. The buyer must be taken on a journey according to their specific needs and context. This often means you won’t be giving a full-blown pitch on the first call.

While you want to move the process along and explore how your product could benefit the prospect, it’s important to make a connection with the prospect before launching into your pitch. Barging in with a pitch kind of makes you like that sitcom neighbor who was never invited over in the first place, except worse, because the prospect doesn’t know you at all.

Don’t Be Afraid

The cold-calling process can be difficult for sales rep and customer alike, but if you start the conversation off on the right foot, you have nothing to fear!

When you’re launching a fresh sales campaign, it doesn’t matter how good your product is, how efficient you are at closing deals, and what amount of value you have to offer if you can’t get anyone to respond to your email.

When you’re reaching out to prospects for the first time you want to make the best first impression possible.

From properly editing your emails to the rules you should never break, here are 6 lessons for increasing your cold email response rates.

It All Starts with the Subject Line

The first step to interest a prospect in your email is an engaging subject line. Subject lines should be short and to the point with simple vocabulary. However, your subject line should still be intriguing enough to stand out.

Emma Brudner of HubSpot explains that “the best email subject lines are creative, compelling, and informative,” but don’t give too much away. Simple changes like making the subject a question or including the prospect’s name can go a long way in making your email stand out.

Whatever you do, try not to sound desperate in your subject line, even if the prospect has proved to be unresponsive in the past. Please: take your finger off of the caps lock, and don’t even think about using the word “urgent.”

Keep It Brief

A recent study by Ciceron showed that even in an email, you only have about seven seconds to make a good first impression. Use them wisely.

Marketing Consultant Ryan Robinson advises that “it shouldn’t take you more than 30 seconds to read through your entire message.” He even suggests reading it out loud and recording your message to ensure that it is brief but interesting. If you’re not interested, the client won’t be either.

Time it Well

When it comes down to it, there are just specific times of day that are better for emailing, just like there are best timing parameters for social media responses. Email has proven to be more effective in the morning.

Edward Suez of Freelancer reminds us that “email analytics indicate that virtually all office employees spend two hours each morning reading and responding to email.” That’s right, it’s not just Twitter we check up on over our morning coffee.

If you can manage to get your email into a prospect’s inbox an hour or two before the regular work day, it’s more likely to be part of that morning regimen.

Make Your Requests Clear

A cold email should include some sort of “subtle ask.” Okay, maybe not so subtle. You need to make sure you’re requesting some kind of response in order to move the process along.

Suez writes that one reason cold e-mails are often so unsuccessful is that they “beat around the bush.” He recommends a clear call to action with a specific time frame. If you want to set up a meeting or conference call, suggest a few times. If you would like them to fill out a survey to provide more information, give them a deadline.

Don’t sacrifice clarity simply because you’re afraid of sounding demanding. It’s better to get to the point with the few seconds you have than to never reach your point at all.

The less your prospect has to think about what they need to next the better. You should make it as simple as possible for them to move ahead with you.

Do Your Research

Demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the person or company your emailing. There are plenty of ways to get general information about people and their companies so that you can show genuine interest.

Don’t go down a Google wormhole, but do check out the usual sources like press releases, websites, and LinkedIn to show that you know who you’re talking to and are taking them into account as your audience.

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

This is the most important step of all that is recommended across the board. In fact, it’s not just one step. Proofreading is something you should be doing all along the way.

Read it out loud. Ask a coworker read it over. Spell check, then spell check again. Any egregious errors will immediately undermine your credibility. You may have gotten away with it in high school or college, but at this level? It’s just not worth it.

What are you waiting for?

Now that we’ve gone over what it takes to craft a killer cold email, you’ve got nothing to lose. Start with an intriguing subject line, follow it up with a brief, but personalized and concise call to action, and top it off with a few more rounds of proofreading. You’re ready to e-mail away!

Poor contact data isn’t just a waste of the money spent on the list or the time spent acquiring it. Bad data has a cascading impact that costs you even more down the line.

We’ve already discussed how bad data can get into your system, but we’ll do a quick refresher. Bad data can come from mistakes made in manual data entry. It can come from buying lists that haven’t been properly vetted are made of scraped data internet. Old data can accidentally be re-synced to the system and more.

After that data gets in the system, you lose $8 every time your sales team calls the wrong number. The cost of acquisition for an appointment goes up $170 from $320 to $490.

Your sales team runs into other problems as well. To find more accurate data and prospects, sales reps have to spend 6 hours a week on average prospecting on LinkedIn.

When they do start a conversation, sales reps lack the contact information to easily include and reach out to everyone involved at an account. Each business decision involves 7 buyers on average, but at least info for two of those contacts is expected to be wrong on average.

Inaccurate data doesn’t only cost the cost of acquiring the data. It costs your sales team time, profit, and can slow down deals.

Given time, poor and unreliable finds a way to make its way into everyone’s database. A salesperson goes to make a call and finds out the phone is disconnected, or worse, gets the wrong person on the line.

But how does poor data enter your database in the first place? Everyone has to deal with it, but no one is intentionally putting bad data into the database for use.

Let’s go over four of the biggest ways that poor data finds to worm into your database.

Errors in Manual Entry

Whenever there are humans involved in a process, there’s going to be a certain level of human error. When the New York Times publishes the rare typo.

When your team is putting in data, there’s always a small chance for mistakes to be made. Maybe you mishear a prospect on the phone, maybe you mistake one prospect for another, maybe there’s simply a typo or a misclick.

No matter the specifics mistakes will always slip past detection and make their way into the database.

Natural Data Decay

Even if there are no human errors when the data is entered, data naturally decays over time. We have a great breakdown of how this process happens in detail. But, here’s a quick summary.

Every year people switch jobs, change phone numbers, move location, get promoted and more. Whenever someone makes a life change, that impacts the contact information you previously gathered on them.

Unless you’re taking the time to re-verify/update data each year then as much as 32% of your database can be out of date by the time a year passes.

Zero CRM Maintenance

As if natural data decay wasn’t bad enough, not taking time to clean out and improve your CRM data makes the matter worse. A skilled CRM admin can take measures to remove bad data and keep decaying or wrong data from impacting your bottom line.

But if a CRM isn’t maintained, it’s easy for mistakes to be made and bad data to be used over and over again. Old lists and leads can end up getting calls and emails when they’re not supposed to. Data that was removed can be re-synced and erase more accurate data.

There’s a host of issues that can happen when your CRM isn’t given the long-term attention it needs.

Buying Unverified Data Lists

The easiest way to acquire bad data is the same as the easiest way to acquire data in general: you buy it. Whenever you buy a list, you can expect their data has undergone the normal data decay, human error, and lack of maintenance that any other database has.

But if the data isn’t re-verified by your team, all those mistakes on the vendor’s end go straight into your database.

Regularly updating, cleaning, and double-checking your data is the only way to get poor data out of your system. For example, SalesIntel re-verifies our contact data every 90 days to make sure it’s accurate before offering it to customers.

Bad data is unavoidable, but it’s possible to make sure it’s doing the least amount of damage possible.

Contact data is alive. Every time someone changes jobs, switches phones, or moves their data changes which cause your current database to become inaccurate. Each year, normal life events cause 32% of data to decay and become out of date.

If you’re not regularly double-checking and updating your data then annual data decay compounds. On average, only 50% of records in any given database are correct.

Are you sending a sales email to an old lead? There’s a coin-flip chance of whether or not your email will bounce.

By wasting the time of the sales team on wrong phone numbers and bounced emails, you could be losing as much as $10.5K per sales rep each year. Instead of talking to actual prospects, money is being spent to talk to ghosts.

Regularly updating, cleaning, and double-checking your data is the only way to keep your data from decaying and wasting the time of your sales team. For example, SalesIntel re-verifies our contact data every 90 days to make sure it’s accurate before offering it to sales teams to purchase.

Taking the extra time to have clean data costs less than the cost of lost sales efforts and will always be worth it in the long run.

Good news: the same technology that allows us to check up on our high school buds or scope out our blind dates also gives us an edge when it comes to sales contacts. Bad news: that sounds pretty creepy.

Technology puts immense amounts of detailed information at the tips of our fingers, but with great information comes great responsibility.

While sales intelligence allows us to target the right contacts at the right time, if it’s not used subtly, you’ll quickly sound like you’re calling from the top of a telephone pole outside your prospect’s office.

What is Sales Intelligence?

Thanks to modern data, a cold call isn’t really cold at all. Sales intelligence, in the words of DiscoverOrg CEO Henry Schuck, “allows you to know who your next most likely buyer is, and how to get ahold of them.” He compares utilizing sales intelligence to using the closed nozzle of a hose, a more targeted and effective approach to the work you’ve already set out to do.

Sales intelligence tools have made it so easy to find relevant contacts, that they’ve quickly progressed to obtaining much more than a name and a phone number. You don’t have just contact information, but also what TechnologyAdvice refers to as “a body of contextual information surrounding the contact record,” including pieces like purchase history, current contracts, and business objectives.

It’s truly incredible–and terrifying–how much data we have access to. How can you use it to the advantage of a sale without giving the impression that you have a series of photos connected by red string all along your office walls?

Here are the basic kinds of sales intelligence and so you can know how to use them in a call without sounding creepy.

Fit Data

Fit data is the bare minimum of information, the kind that most of us understand salespeople attain in one way or another. It includes information like our name, job title, phone number, and e-mail address. It also includes data for companies, like their location, industry, number of employees, or tech stack.

Fit data is the kind of information most professionals understand is readily available through vendors or a bit of research. Yes, you will receive the occasional “How did you get this number?” But for the most part, fit data can be referenced in a call and not yet be considered creepy levels of knowledge. Although, it’s usually used in order to make contact, rather than a point of conversation.

Fit data is just plain necessary. For example, when I worked for a university, we couldn’t put a prospective student into our system if even one piece of that basic information was missing. Because without fit data, it’s impossible to market in the first place.

Using fit data responsibly is usually common sense. It’s what you use to contact your prospect, but it doesn’t usually factor into the conversation.

Opportunity data

Opportunity data is the information that takes a little more work to find. It can occasionally be found in a press release or on a business’s website, but for the most part would require some knowledge of the company’s inner workings. This includes snippets like hiring practices, management changes, and new company initiatives.

If you choose to reference opportunity data during a call, make sure you are certain it is publicly available opportunity data. If it comes from a press release or the company’s official website, then it’s been posted with the understanding that people outside the company do indeed have access to it.

Think of it this way: when I write a blog post or an article that eventually gets published, it’s likely something that would come up in a basic internet search of my name. I wouldn’t be flabbergasted if someone said “Hey, I read your piece about sales intelligence,” as a part of a conversation. If it’s published publicly, it’s not necessarily creepy to talk about, as long as you phrase it in a non-threatening manner so that you don’t sound like you’ve been poring over pages and pages of content.

Intent Data

Intent data is “actions which link prospects to an issue or pain point,” and that’s where conversations can really start to get creepy. It includes information like web search history, downloads, or social media metrics.

Intent data is still incredibly useful, but referencing such information directly is putting calls on the fast track to awkward and uncomfortable. Don’t use phrases like:

“I see you’ve been looking into sales intelligence solutions on our site.”

“I hear that you’ve been working on targeting more specific audiences”

“I understand that you’re struggling with marketing solutions based on the ebooks you downloaded.”

Instead of referencing that information specifically, be sure to use more general statements that gently lead the prospect to the subject naturally. Talk about trends you have noticed in their industry and ask if they are facing similar struggles. The intent data shows you what a prospect’s needs might be, but you should still lead the prospect into expressing what those needs are themselves, rather than quickly drawing assumptions from the data.

Generally, when it comes to cold calling, you’ll find that the golden rule applies. If you would be suspicious of a salesperson saying that to you, keep it to yourself.