“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.