Regardless of what you sell, you need to reach the right audience.  As a startup, you probably need to do that as inexpensively as possible.  You build a website, start a blog, sign up for Twitter and create a Facebook page... but it's a slow process to build critical mass and you'd be right to feel a strong sense of urgency about generating revenue.  This is generally the time when you start buying lists and the sales force is told to cold call.

I believe B2B cold calling can work.  I've seen it work.  I've witnessed cold calls that launched a sales cycle that eventually turned into multi-million dollar contracts.  I've also been on the receiving end of hundreds of "crash and burn" sales calls.  On average, I get three to four "crash and burn" sales calls per day, and those exclude the ones that were filtered before they got to me.  Even when I may have a legitimate interest in saving money on office supplies, when the cold call is so bad, I quickly decide your company is not worth my time.  Think of a cold call as a blind date.  You need to make a good impression.

The problem with cold calling is the approach companies (or salespeople) take to it.  I would rather have a salesperson make three good calls a day than a 100 blind, misinformed and mismatched attempts.

Anatomy of a bad cold call.
 - Not knowing who you are asking for.
 - Lying to get to the person you need.
 - Mumbling, bad grammer, giggling and other bad telephone behaviors.
 - Not understanding the business you are calling.
- Not valuing the time of your "target" by making sure you have something of value to offer.
 - Underestimating the intelligence of your target, their inability to do a Google search or check reviews.

The good news is these cold-call snafus are preventable.  Write yourself a script, but this time instead of asking who buys this and who is in charge of that, write your story around what you have done to help a company exactly like the one you're going to call, make it the best 30 second story in history.  The story should include the problems to be overcome, how you resolved them, what you saved the company and so on.  Practice it until you can deliver it naturally.  Record it in an audio version and play it back.  If you were in your target buyer's shoes, would this story be compelling to you?  Would the voice you hear, earn your trust?

Don't rush through this; understanding the value proposition of what you are selling is essential.  This effort naturally helps define who you should call.  Don't attempt to reach a senior executive in a large company until you've tested this story in dozens of companies and fine-tuned your approach.  You will not get past a gatekeeper until you have truly refined your message.

The next step is to research companies in dozens of free sources like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Glassdoor and so many more.  Once you know something about the company and the people, you are in a better position to understand how you might be able to help them.

Prepare!  Once you have someone on the phone, tell your story and ask if you can schedule 15 minutes of their time to discuss your offering and how it's helped one of their competitors solve a difficult problem.  It's hard to resist what sounds like free competitive intelligence, many executives will bite at this offer unless what you are pitching is so far off that they don't care.  If they seem engaged, it's then OK to have one or two carefully crafted probing questions, solely for the purpose of determining need.  I would not try to qualify at this point, you are still demonstrating your value, it's all about them.  Pay rapt attention to how your contact answers those questions because you will incorporate their comments, issues and problems into your next conversation.  You've shifted your approach from cold calling to warm calling.

Once you have the second call, you're on your way.  Now is a good time to start researching the company's decision makers and influencers.  The more expensive your product, the more of these people that you will have to get on board.  Don't be lazy and ask your contact to provide all that info, it will run off even a serious buyer if you turn the conversation into qualifying them before they are emotionally on-board with doing business with your company.  Each and every contact should build trust and add value.

By now, you're probably hoping for an example of an effective cold/warm call.  Here's one that worked on me:

The person had done their homework and knew I was the VP of Marketing for a software company that they wanted to sell an IT product to. The IT staff was besieged by these calls and wouldn't take any vendor calls.  The vendor carefully practiced their story and called me and simply said this... "I am hoping you can help me.  I sell a great product that I think could save your company a lot of software development time but your IT people won't talk to me.  Can I have 30 seconds of your time to critique my pitch?"  Critique your pitch?  Marketing folks LOVE to critique pitches.  I was all over that.  It was a mediocre pitch, but the person was so sincere and compelling that not only did I critique the pitch, but had them try again with a revised version and then I put the vendor on hold, walked over to IT and suggested they take the call.  They did, we (eventually) bought and everyone was happy.

Cold calling can work... but warm calling will work better and faster.