It's your first time contacting a prospect. Should you call or send an email?

The Best Way to Reach Out to a Prospect For the First Time, According to 20+ Sales Experts

For years, there's been a debate raging in the sales community: When reaching out to a prospect for the first time, should you call or email?

After all, first interactions with prospects are fundamental -- you're aiming to establish trust, provide value, gather essential information, and secure a follow-up meeting. If you don't use a suitable medium, they'll be less receptive to your message (assuming they engage).

Luckily for sales reps everywhere, more than 20 sales experts and practitioners on Quora decided to weigh in.

When In Doubt, Email First

The majority of experts recommended starting with an email. "An initial email usually makes more sense because it doesn't require [the prospect to] answer at the moment they receive it," writes Robert Graham, author of Cold Calling Early Customers.

Plus, as others pointed out, you can use an email as a reason to call.

"I always start by referring to this first email to show we're one step further in our relationship," explains Stan Frering, head of Client Relationship Management for Easytrip France.

According to EchoSign co-founder Jason Lemkin, emailing has a third advantage over calling. It lets you educate your prospect on the product's value proposition and connect it with the prospect's situation.

"The prospect needs to understand the value proposition first," he explains. "It needs to be very strong and very clear. No one will take a random call about a product they've never heard of. It's not 100% crystal clear. They have a huge, pre-defined need for it."

When to Ignore the Email-First Rule
However, there is one exception to the "email first" rule.

Lemkin says once your brand has been established, it's time to call your prospects.

"If your prospect has already heard of [your company], they'll know if they want to speak to you about the product and learn more about buying," Lemkin writes.

For example, say you're a salesperson for Dropbox. You call a prospect and say, "Hi John, I'm with Dropbox, and I noticed your CEO tweeted that your company is almost out of free virtual storage. I'd love to discuss how we could get you some more so you can keep all your files in one place."

John already knows Dropbox and understands why it's a valuable product -- so he's got a good reason to stay on the phone.

However, if you were selling a brand-new cloud storage solution, Lemkin argued that it would be better to email John first so he has more time to consider your value prop.

I need to find out how much clout your company name carries. To gauge brand awareness quickly, go to Google Trends and compare how many people search for your company versus your top competitors. If your company gets the most searches, it has the highest name recognition in your space.

A Better Method Than Phone Or Email?

But to one expert, the "phone vs. email" question is innately flawed.

CEO of KiteDesk Sean Burke says that, in fact, your default shouldn't be calling or emailing. He recommends using your network to get an introduction. That's great advice, considering that having a referral makes a buyer five times more likely to engage.

"You'd be surprised how often this crucial first step is ignored," Burke writes.

Once your mutual connection has agreed to introduce you, ask him or her which communication method the prospect prefers. Most people have an individual preference for calling or emailing.

However, Burke suggests looking at the prospect's social media presence if you need a shared connection. If she is "social" -- meaning she's got 500-plus LinkedIn connections and an active Twitter or Instagram account -- use those channels to interact with her and start adding value. If she's "traditional" -- meaning she doesn't meet those criteria -- Burke gives you the go-ahead to call or email.

Whatever You Do, Don't Cold Call or Spam

While opinions differed on the relative merits of calls vs. email vs. social media, the experts were unanimous on one point: You should only reach out to a prospect via a channel if you do research first.

"Ultimately, you are in a much better position -- either calling or emailing -- if you have background information on the individual you are contacting," notes Jeremy Boudinet, head of marketing for Ambition. "That way, you can tailor your message since you know how to add value to that person or company."

Sales Email or Sales Call? 

Experiment and Find Out

Although these guidelines should guide your prospecting strategy, remember they're just those guidelines. "Why not take a test-and-learn approach to this problem?" writes Nick Dellis, Weebly's VP of Business Development. "What works for you may not work for others."

Dellis suggests emailing first, then calling with 10 to 20 prospects, doing the reverse with another 10 to 20 candidates, and comparing the results.

"Taking this approach of testing ideas and optimizing is the only way to find out for yourself," he says. "And it'll help you be a better salesperson in the longer term."

Do you call or email first? Do you agree with the "email-first" rule?

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It's your first time contacting a prospect. Should you call or send an email? It's your first time contacting a prospect. Should you call or send an email? Reviewed by Hernani Del Giudice on December 24, 2017 Rating: 5

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