Is Sales Call Reluctance Costing You Big Bucks?

By Connie Kadansky, Professional Trainer & Speaker, Sales Call Reluctance Behavioral Sciences Research Press

“Today, I’ll prospect.”

Mark drives to the office, feeling confident and ready to hit the phones and prospect. The moment he arrives, his manager grabs him and pulls him into his office to talk about an account that is all but dead. He spends 25 minutes re-hashing what went wrong and how to avoid this problem in the future.

Now it’s time for his morning coffee. He walks into the lounge, noticing the empty coffeepot. As he waits for his coffee to brew, he glances at the headlines of the Financial Times. He’s got to read this technology story, because it is relevant to his business.

Coffee in hand, he proceeds to his office, where he sits down to check his e-mail – he has 27 new messages. By the time he’s ready to prospect, it is 10:30 a.m. and he’s got to prepare for his luncheon meeting across town with a client. Despite Mark’s best intentions, still another morning has passed without a single prospecting call.

What’s Mark’s story? He is a veteran salesperson. He knows how important prospecting is to his career. Is this poor time management? Lack of motivation? Burnout? Or could he be experiencing call reluctance?

Call Reluctance Destroys Careers
Hesitation to make contact with prospective new clients causes more failures for salespeople than any other single factor. Why? Because if you don’t approach enough people, it makes little difference how thorough your expertise is. Without a steady flow of prospects, your magnetic personality, credentials, product knowledge, and perfect presentations won’t make much impact. Inactivity on the prospecting front nullifies your ability to engage these other strengths

Successful selling usually involves five steps:

      1. Identifying prospective clients (includes identifying referral sources)
      2. Initiating contact with prospective clients and referral sources
      3. Introducing yourself, your products and your services
      4. Informing prospective clients of how you can help (giving your sales presentation)
      5. Influencing the prospect’s decision to buy from you

Many salespeople are uncomfortable with steps 2 and 3, initiating and introducing – but without them, informing and influencing can’t happen! Ultra-professional presentation skills, dazzling rapport-building, detailed product knowledge and clever closes cannot and will not return a penny of profit if you don’t have enough prospects. The math is simple: Successful salespeople consistently initiate contact with more prospects than their less-than-successful counterparts.

Fear of initiating contact can become so great that it limits one’s ability to connect with potential new clients. Many salespeople find making that first contact so emotionally uncomfortable that they avoid it, delay it, or fake it with ineffective strategies like sending out colorful mailers, email blasts, deflecting the identify (“I’m not selling anything”) or calling on only limited, emotionally safe segments of the market.

All this hesitation falls under the category of sales call reluctance. It’s common, but it’s potentially catastrophic to any career with a sales component. Call reluctance can be present at the onset of a sales career, or it can strike suddenly in highly productive sales veterans. Its origins are multiple and complex, and there is no single source to root out and destroy.

What causes call reluctance?
What causes the discrete pattern of escape and avoidance associated with establishing first contact? Why do so many experienced salespeople with otherwise superlative skills and abilities develop escape routes to avoid prospecting?

For one thing, there is a fear of the unknown when you prospect. You do not know how you are going to be received. This uncertainty alone can be a powerful saboteur. And of course, there is the fear that you will not be received well – that you will get… gasp… rejected!

But there’s more than even a flat-out fear of rejection underlying the avoidance of prospecting.

Call reluctance springs from a combination of three sources: personality predispositions, hereditary influences, and exposure to others with call reluctance. In fact, in a surprising number of cases, highly contagious forms of call reluctance are often spread inadvertently by the sales training process itself. It can also be spread by a sales manager/trainer who suffers from call reluctance. A sales manager/trainer can actually contaminate the very people he/she intends to inspire. Courageous managers do not hide behind the management veil. They take on their call reluctance. Those are the managers who truly can annihilate call reluctance from their sales force.

There are actually 12 distinct types of fear that can cause salespeople to avoid the prospecting. It is vital to know which of the 12 types of call reluctance is holding your sales career hostage. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Doomsayers will not take risks. This type of call reluctance can be lethal to a sales career. Doomsayers have bought into this is a ‘bad economy.’
  • Over preparers tend to overanalyze and avoid action. They’re busy, busy, busy people busy with current clients, admin work, organizing files, studying the latest trends – which keeps them from meeting qualified prospects.
  • Hyper-pro salespeople are obsessed with image, but when it comes to their presentation skills, they’re not better than the next salesperson. They look good, but they confuse packaging with prospecting.
  • Stage fright causes many salespeople to default on prospecting that would lead to opportunities to present before groups.
  • Role rejection plagues those who are secretly ashamed of any kind of selling. These are the salespeople who deflect any association with being a salesperson. They tend to believe that their prospects dislikes salespeople, and they themselves get irritated and annoyed when salespeople solicit them.
  • Yielders fear intruding on others. They have a strong need to be liked and are habitually waiting for ‘just the right time’ to make contact. Of course, that time rarely arrives.
  • Socially self-conscious salespeople are intimidated by up-market clients. They feel inferior in terms of wealth, education, status, or prestige.
  • Separationists are afraid to mix business and friends.
  • Emotionally unemanciapted salespeople are afraid to mix business and family.
  • Referral aversion affects those salespeople who selectively forget to ask for referrals out of fear of disturbing existing relationships.
  • Telephobic salespeople are uncomfortable using the telephone for prospecting.
  • The oppositional reflex characterizes salespeople who tend to criticize or blame others for what goes wrong with their careers. Even though they are usually gifted, talented and intelligent people, they don’t take responsibility for themselves and often don’t get ahead.

A solution for call reluctance
If you recognize yourself in any of these styles, you need not feel embarrassed or ashamed. But at the same time, you don’t have to go on living with it. Call reluctance is learned which means it can be unlearned. Most cases can be overcome. All can be improved.

The first, but often the most difficult, step in overcoming call reluctance is admitting that you are not prospecting consistently. Once you’ve admitted that to yourself, you can look at changing your attitudes. Call reluctance is simply a manifestation of a person’s negative beliefs about prospecting for new business – so overcoming it is all about learning to change your beliefs.

Thought realignment is a very effective tool for changing your thinking. Look at it this way: A belief is merely a thought you think over and over and over again. What you think determines how you feel, which, in turn, determines what you do (or don’t do). What you do everyday becomes your seemingly intractable habit.

To get past the habits that bind, then, we need to go back to their source – our thoughts. The human brain is a meaning-making machine. Before we’ve even reached for the phone to make a prospecting call, we can make up a story about why that person on the other end of the line will not take our call or why they’re not interested. The key is to stop making up stories that only spiral you into self-doubt.

A very effective way to get started is to capture your self-critical inner voice on paper, in your own handwriting. Do you recognize this voice, this internal saboteur that must be defused? It says things like, “I don’t want to intrude,” or “they will just say no,” or “they are already using another vendor.”

Once you capture these negative statements on paper, write realistic responses to your inner critic’s claims. Engage the internal voice in written dialogue.

For instance, you might counter with, “The service we provide is valuable. It is great to be able to assist people who need our software.” “I have clients who believe in me.” These prospects may not be happy with their current vendor.” “This prospect may turn into a great referral source.” Recognize the goal-obstructing statements and counter them with goal-supporting statements.

In the end, your success or failure as a salesperson depends on your willingness to meet enough new prospects to achieve your revenue goals. If you want to succeed, you must commit to prospecting, and do so with a willingness to overcome any fear surrounding it. If you want to alter what you do, modify what you feel by changing the way you think. Create new neuronets around prospecting! Retrain your brain, and watch your sales grow.


Avoiding the Void: How to Manage the Space Between Sales Calls

By Steve Kraner, TopLine Solutions, Inc.

Sales are not always won or lost because of what happens in a sales call, but in the void between calls. Why?

1) Retention. Someone once told me that a lecture is the quickest way to get the notes of a professor into the notes of a student, without passing through the mind of either. A sales presentation can be very much the same. As you know from your school days, students only retain a small percentage of what they are told. Ten per cent retention is typical. It’s also clear that what we do remember has a short half-life. In other words two weeks later we recall even less.

2) Waning urgency. When you leave, focus dissipates as new issues arise. As a result, the buyer’s sense of urgency will diminish and new concerns may move to the front burner, pushing your project to the back burner.

3) New options. Even if you did a great job in the pain step, once the buyer becomes aware of a pain, fear or gain she actively begins to search for options. As new options appear and your customer’s concept of the solution evolves, you may lose traction.

4) Mutual mystification. Unfortunately, it’s also possible the buyer was not being completely strait-forward with you. If a call ends in mutual mystification, you are reduced to guessing and hoping what will happen next.

You need to build a bridge to cross over these gaps. Here are the top 3 rules for managing the spaces between the calls.

RULE #1: Never ‘spill your candy in the lobby.’
David Sandler taught me what this means. Recently I read that Ross Perot – the founder of EDS – was also a practitioner of this concept. The buyer always asks you for things – information, quotes, demo’s, proposals, answers to questions, references. They want these things from us.

What are they going to do with these things? It depends on the buyer Sometimes they want the information to help them make an informed decision, sometimes they want it and have no intent of buying from you. They want FREE CONSULTING and find sales reps ready and willing to give it away if there’s a glimmer of hope that there’s a deal. Sometimes they want information from you to help justify the purchase of somebody else’s solution. In every country and culture I have visited around the world, people believe they can lie to sales people and still get to heaven.

Regardless of the reasons, what happens if you freely give them everything they want, right up front, without getting anything in return? YOU SPILLED YOUR CANDY IN THE LOBBY. You squandered the little bit of leverage you had going in. The best time to get a commitment from someone is when he or she wants something from you. I used to think that if I was a good guy and worked real hard, they would buy. This approach will turns you into a selling mammal – a hamster on a wheel – working hard and getting nowhere.

Back to Perot. Whether you like the man as a Presidential candidate or not, he was a successful entrepreneur. He built EDS from nothing to a global powerhouse. He would hold a ‘pre-proposal’ meeting with the customer. He’d pass out a DRAFT proposal, so that it could be discussed and critiqued. If it was accepted without much change, he’d try to close on the spot. If it required change, he’d pick up the copies and leave, rather than leaving them with the customer. Why? As long as you are still working on the proposal, you have a reason to stay in contact and an ability to influence the outcome. As soon as you hand a final proposal to the buyer you surrender all control of the process to them.

RULE #2: Avoid mutual mystification.
Two common versions of mutual mystification are:

1) Being used as leverage
Avoid being used as leverage in a pricing battle with the person’s present supplier. When a buyer immediately wants your best price and gets restless when you slow them down and ask questions about their specific needs, a warning should go off.

2) Mistaking mild interest for commitment
When a prospect says: “Could you send a proposal?” remember there’s a difference between someone who is truly committed, and someone who will allow a proposal to enter his mailbox. Proposals should be “Agreements” and not documents that will be paraded along like contestants in a beauty pageant.

How can you, in a professional way, test commitment?

Test commitment by asking about details and building an action plan.

What could get in the way of getting this project off the ground?
Is there a way to prevent that or deal with it?
Who else will need to be involved?
Who will do what and when?
Are there any key deadlines?

Test commitment by pointing out potential negatives. It’s tempting to gloss over discussions of risk. Though it’s natural, it’s wrong. It’s wrong because if you don’t point out potential pitfalls you don’t get to test commitment. It’s wrong, too, because you miss-set expectations.

When you point out the negatives – what impact does that have on your credibility? Trust? Your leverage? Your ability to separate ‘verbally committed’ from ‘truly committed?’ Your ability to help people? Your success rate?

RULE #3: The faintest ink is better than the fondest memory.
Written follow up – a recap letter or an ‘Ultimate Contract’ – can help you cross over the voids in the sales process. It will provide an additional impression or touch between calls. Since it’s written it also helps improve retention. Students recall about 10% of what they hear, but 20% of what they hear and see. Product literature or big, thick, fancy proposals won’t have the same effect, either. Think about it. What do you do with literature or big, thick proposals? We all have a ‘reading pile.’ Few of us ever read much of it!

The follow-up email should recap the key points of the conversation, including:

1) The problem. It is especially important to make sure you cover the pain step. Restate, from notes you took during the call, the business problem you are trying to solve, it’s impact on the organization, quantification of the impact and cost, and the personal importance of the problem to the person you met with. It’s most effective if you use their words, not your own interpretations.

2) A high-level solution concept. Ideally the concept is primarily built based on your customer’s vision. It’s their baby. Retention is increased to 80% when students are involved in doing – developing answers or solutions on their own. In addition, if it’s their baby, they will fight to defend it in the spaces in between contact with you. If the CFO tries to deny it sustenance (funding) they will fight for it. If the competition presents an alternative solution, they will have to tell your customer that her baby is ugly.

3) Project funding and timelines. Real projects have real deadlines and real budgets. While you may not get this on the table in the first call, at some point it has to be discussed.

4) The decision process. Next steps are great. Even better, wouldn’t it be nice if you could co build a plan to move through the entire due diligence process – from today to the ultimate ‘YES’ or ‘NO?’ Again, it may not be the first meeting, but top sales people ‘see the end of the deal at the beginning of the deal.’ This plan then becomes the ultimate bridge between the steps of the process.

Good Selling!

Five Steps to Cold Calling Success

By Ron La Vine, Founder and President, Accelerated Sales Training, Inc.

Are you having a hard time reaching decision-makers, setting up well-qualified appointments, getting past gatekeepers, gathering information or finding if you are calling on an appropriate prospect in the first place? Maybe it seems impossible to get your cold calls returned or you are getting stuck into an endless loop of voice mail. The big problem today in cold calling on businesses is that it is so hard to get a response.

It is a bad situation, but it really doesn’t have to be. This problem often stems from sales training where reps are trained to start selling BEFORE they have determined if there is a need to sell. The problem becomes further compounded when sales representatives think they are speaking with a decision-maker, but they really aren’t. They have the urge to speak about their solutions rather than to ask questions and listen to the complete answers and all of a sudden cold calling becomes really difficult.

Becoming successful at cold calling requires you to switch from the old ‘If I make enough calls, I’ll sell something’ to ‘If I speak with the person who has the authority and need to buy and if I have the right solution to fit their needs, then they will buy’ approach. This approach emphasizes finding the decision-maker(s), using exploratory questions and active listening to gather the information needed to understand who has the authority to buy, if there is a need to buy, and if so, what you should be presenting so the prospect will buy.

Step 1: Establish Call Objectives
Your first objective should be to locate what we will call the ‘WHO’ or decision-maker(s). Second, you need to determine if a need exists. Third, suggest a solution based upon the information you’ve gathered. Fourth, ask for and set up a time and date for specific action steps.

Step 2: Find the Decision-maker(s) First
Before you can find the ‘WHO’, you must first know how to work your way through the maze of a large organization. It is easy to get sidetracked by someone who says he/she has the authority to buy but doesn’t.

There are three approaches into an organization: TOP DOWN (most effective) or SIDEWAYS IN or BOTTOM UP. Whatever direction you choose, remember to seek out the ‘WHO’ first.

The easiest one of the three is the ‘top down’ approach using the power of referral from above. Cold calling goes much easier if you always start at the top of an organization and work your way down. It is much easier to work your way downstream than fight your way up stream.

On your initial call, your goal is to discover ‘WHO’ is responsible for making decisions to buy your type of solution. Start with these questions: “Maybe you can help me? Who is responsible [for your solution]?” “Do you have a [ask for the highest level title] responsible for the final decision to acquire [your solution]?”. Such as, “Do you have a CIO or a CFO?”

This isn’t the time to talk about your solution. Your goal is to find the ‘WHO’ first. A set of questions in this order will keep you out of sales mode and help you stay in information mode. These questions will diminish your fear of rejection and build your confidence since people are usually willing and able to answer them. You’ll also find people less defensive and more helpful when they don’t feel like they are being sold something.

You start by calling the headquarters receptionist and after confirming the address, ask for the name and correct spelling of the CEO (or President, etc.). Next ask to be transferred to the CEO’s assistant.

The advantage of calling the CEO’s assistant is twofold. One is they work and deal with the higher level people (C-level, VPs, etc.) and secondly when they refer you to the person they believe is the ‘WHO’, that person or their office’s gatekeeper will usually take your cold call.

The reason for this is, it is very difficult for a subordinate to refuse a call coming from a superior or a superior’s office (make sure you tell the truth and say you were referred by the CEO’s office). This fact alone eliminates many of the roadblocks such as getting return calls or being put through to the decision-makers themselves. Remember, you DO NOT want to speak with the CEO or President, you want their assistant.

When you are transferred, the first thing you need to say is that you were referred by the CEO’s office (or the CEO if you speak with them).

Using the sideways approach begins with choosing a department such as Investor or Public Relations, Purchasing or Sales. Your objective again is to find the ‘WHO’.

Finding the ‘WHO’ using the bottom up approach begins by calling on people who work in the mail room, an outlying factory, retail location, or customer service and then working your way upwards.

Remember to be flexible and continue transferring to different departments to maximize the value of each call. The objective is to find a live person who will speak with you and provide more pieces of the selling puzzle.

Starting from the top and establishing the who’s who of the organizational hierarchy eliminates a person at a lower level in the organization from saying “Don’t go above me, you deal only with me.” This is because you can mention all the names of the people above.

Step 3: Ask Permission to Speak
From a business perspective, there may be nothing more valuable than our time. Let people know that you respect their time by asking, “Is this a good time to speak?” or “Do you have a few minutes?” before using your opening statement. Not only is this a more professional approach, you’ll find people will offer their full attention since you’ve been given their permission to speak.

If it isn’t a convenient time for your prospect to talk, SCHEDULE A FOLLOW-UP CALL and then HANG UP THE PHONE. Why waste their time or yours? If they are busy, you certainly will not have their attention. Make a good impression by being polite and respectful of the other person’s time.

Step 4: Use Direct Open-Ended Questions
Start by using direct questions such as: “Who is responsible for?” or “How do you currently handle?” or “What are you doing in the area of?” or “When do you plan to make a decision on?” or “Why do you think that is?” Direct questions demonstrate you are in control of the conversation and you know what you are doing.

Avoid using weak questions or statements: “Could you possibly” or “Might you be able to tell me?” or “I’m just trying to find out some information” or “I was hoping to find out” – These type of statements imply a lack confidence.

Step 5: Summarize Your Conversation
At the end, and after any conversation involving action items, summarize verbally and in writing important points and clarify time and date specific next steps. Follow the verbal summary with a written one in an e-mail, and then call to be sure the information was received.

Use a summary email to help you move forward towards the close of a sale. This email provides a detailed summary of what you heard during the conversation, what it means and what are the next steps to be taken, by whom and by when, in order to complete the sale.

In this email include:

  • Prospect’s Company Background (describe the past and current company situations).
  • Current Challenge or Situation (list the needs, problems, pains or challenges and why they are occurring).
  • Timing (specify the evaluation completion and decision dates you have been told).
  • Evaluation Process (identify who will conduct the evaluation and the criterion that will be used).
  • Decision Process (note who will be involved in making the decision and how will they decide).
  • Budget (establish that budget has been set aside or there is access to budget).
  • The Next Step (layout of the process of who will do what and by when).
  • A Signature (include your complete contact information and a tag line explaining the benefits of your solution).

You can make cold calling easier and more effective by starting at the top and by following these steps.

      1. Establish call objectives
      2. Find the decision-maker(s) first
      3. Ask permission to speak
      4. Use direct open-ended questions
      5. Summarize your conversation


Want to remove fear and rejection from cold calling? View cold calling as an informational puzzle. Your goal is to see how many pieces of information you can get on every call. When you gather information you didn’t have before, you’ve got a result. If you’ve got result then you haven’t been rejected. This puzzle approach will allow you to maximize your valuable selling time by calling on the people who can and will buy from you.