Jeff Hoffman and other well-known sales trainers talk about the concept of using a trigger to get past the initial cold call. The main point is that nobody likes taking sales calls, and it’s often hard to get past the wall that people put up as soon as they realize they’re being cold called. If you’re hearing “Is this a sales call?” or “I’m sorry, is he expecting your call?” or even worse, “Sorry, I’m running into a meeting, you should try Judy, she handles (insert low-level understanding of your solution)”, then you probably need to help your prospecting reps understand the value in finding and leading with a good trigger.

Triggers can come from a variety of sources, but the main goal is to align your call to something relevant and enjoyable for the prospect or target. It usually comes in the form of a compliment or a mutual connection. “I just read your blog,” or “We share an investor,” or “Someone you respect and trust asked me to connect with you.” It’s followed by asking for five minutes to talk. When used properly, you’ll interrupt their default reaction on sales calls of trying to get off the line as quickly as possible and replace it with an actual willingness on their part to hear you out and understand the point of the call.

The best approach is to start with your target audience. Have you identified your target buyer yet? If not, look at your current customer base. Where are you successful? What do your buyers have in common? Think about the buyer or main contact’s title, their industry, company size, and so on. If you can zero in on the exact type of person you have sold to in the past, then you can start to find better entry points to your next batch of future customers.

How do we use trigger-based calling at InsightSquared?

A great example is here at InsightSquared. We’re building a BI solution that can answer the needs of an entire business. We connect data sources that are useful to the entire organization; sales, marketing, finance, support etc. However, we’re mainly focused on sales and marketing, and our typical buyers are usually Sales VPs or Sales Operations Managers. This means that, while we’re rapidly moving up market and reaching more departments across our customers, right now we still know where to find our bread and butter. I want to talk to the head of sales or sales ops at every growing tech company in the world.

Knowing who your target is becomes incredibly powerful in finding triggers. What do the sales and operations leaders at tech companies care about? Where can I find information that would give me a great trigger? What opening to a sales call would shift the recipient away from shooing me off their porch and instead get them to invite me in?

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How about referencing their growth? What if we could identify that they’re venture-backed as well, and that they probably have serious growth goals? Could we potentially have board members or investors in common? I wonder if the head of sales at other companies like to write blogs that sneaky brag about how smart they are? I think we just found our way in. Some things I do to get even more up-close and personal with their triggers include:

  • Monitoring Crunchbase and LinkedIn for news on companies that raised rounds recently
  • Following our old buyers as they take roles with new companies
  • Reading our prospects’ blogs and media releases to find common ground
  • Checking their board of directors and investor lists
  • Looking for companies that indicate a focus on growth or increasing sales

The next piece is transitioning to a pitch. This is where it gets difficult. You’ve grabbed their attention by leading with something about them, and not something about you. They’re aware that you hosted their primary investor at your office last week. They appreciate the kind words you said about their blog post that you read. Yes, they did just raise a round of funding and they’re excited about the prospects of growth. Now, you’ve got to find a way to move the conversation forward.

If you’ve done the right thing, and found a trigger that relates to your product or service, the heavy lifting should have already been done for you.  My trigger was about growth, and my company helps companies like yours grow. Why wouldn’t we want to have a quick chat about how that works? It’s easy, and it usually sounds something like this:

Prospect: Hello, this is Max.

Rep: Hi Max, this is Joe Caprio with InsightSquared.  We haven’t met, but we have a few people in common. You’re an Atlas Venture company right?


“Right. Well, Jeff Fagnon from Atlas is one of our investors as well, and I thought that I should reach out and connect with you. Do you have five minutes for me?”


“Well, Max, the reason that we’re connecting with other Atlas Companies is that we’ve built a reporting software that Sales VPs are using to make sure they hit their increased sales goals, and we’ve actually helped a few of Jeff’s other companies already. I wonder if we should spend some time seeing if we could help you as well. Have you built out a great process yet on how to analyze and report on your progress to goal yet?”

You’ve now found yourself in a conversation. It’s not going to work every time, but it’s more of a sliding scale. There are a few factors that will impact likelihood of success: how directly the prospect truly fits into your target, how strong of a mutual connection you have, where they stand today in regards to what you’re pitching, how busy they are that day, how competent your pitch makes you sound, and whether or not you can actually deliver what you’re proposing all play into your hit rate.

Like most things we blog about at InsightSquared, we’re not reinventing sales. We’re just using a systematic approach to build a repeatable and scalable process. Experiment and test results until you find your best path to success, and then systematize and train hard for adoption.

Trigger-based cold calling beats dialing down the cold list every time.

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