Sales Skills: How to Wipe Out Your Call Reluctance

How do you convince yourself to make sales prospecting calls when you just don’t want to get on the phone?

Photo by Elnur/dpc

A few months ago, I emailed my sales blog readers, asking what they’re struggling with. Among the replies were two very short-but to-the-point responses.

From a radio AE in the Midwest:

“Call reluctance. Not because I lack the tools (I read your emails to improve my skills and learn, learn, learn!) but because it’s one of the least favorite things to do.”

A Director of Sales on the East Coast had this to say:

“My sales team struggles with call reluctance. It’s an every day battle.”

I assured both of them that they’re not alone. We all have days when we know we need to make calls to drum up some business, but we just…don’t…want…to. So the delay tactics start:

• We check our email.
• We go through our production orders to make sure everything’s been filled out and turned in.
• We reorganize our desk.
• We go online to do some “research.”
• We post a couple of things on social media — that’s “social selling”, right?
• We check our email again.

An hour or two goes by. We feel busy while accomplishing nothing. The problem hasn’t gone away. We still need that new business.

How do the best salespeople conquer call reluctance?

Photo by xavier gallego morel/dpc

Some great advice on the subject comes from a blog post by Rory Vaden, author of Procrastinate on Purpose.

Among other suggestions, Vaden recommends starting each day armed with a list of people to call on.

“…before you stop working on any given day make sure to choose the first person you will call on the next day. Going door-to-door 80 hours a week for five summers I always had significantly fewer butterflies on days where I knew exactly what my first house would be.”

His full post on the subject is here.

Sales Skills: Dealing With The Chicken List

Sometimes it’s a reluctance to contact complete strangers, but on other occasions the issue is someone we know but can’t bring ourselves to call. Radio sales trainer/ consultant Jim Taszarek calls these “Chicken Accounts.”

Taz used to publish a newsletter for radio salespeople called Quota Busters. The newsletter’s gone, but much of his wisdom is preserved in the book The Best of Quota Busters:

“We don’t like to talk about them, but we’ve all got them. They are the accounts that we’re just afraid to call on — for any one of one million reasons.

It’s a normal sales phenomenon called “Call Reluctance”. Everybody’s got it to some extent. We say that the accounts are “too big,”, they are “newspaper only,” they “said no” repeatedly, or we’re just afraid of them. What to do? Sit on them? No way. Try this — it’s easy and you’ll love the results:

Confront them by writing them down. Write ’em down — make a list of our Chicken Accounts in one column, then look at them (Sales Managers, if you ask your staff to do this exercise make sure you emphasize that the list is for the AE’s personal use only. The list will be shared with no one. Not turned into management. No role-playing, no open review of the accounts. That will have the opposite effect of what we’re looking for. Got it?)

In the 2nd column, write a comment next to each account, answering the big question, like, what’s the barrier? Why are we reluctant to call on them? What’s the big reason we hesitate when we think about calling on them?

In the 3rd column, write a dollar amount of what they be worth to us if we could pop a hefty little schedule out of them.

Then call on one of them a day or a week. And not a halfhearted call either, go for it — the real thing. But just one a week. Or one a day. Depends on you. Then what happens? You’ll connect with one of them. It’ll turn out that there’s a person who listens to you and they’re interested. And they’re not such jerks after all. It turns out we can cut those suckers down to size — if we do them one at a time. And, this is important — remember to reward yourself.

…They’re bigger in our head than they are in reality. Your Chicken List will disappear. Congratulations.”

As a radio seller, I learned to beat call reluctance by establishing a ritual.

I’d start with a list of 10–20 people to call. I’d set a cup of coffee on the left side of my desk, the list in the center, and the phone on the right. I’d pick up the receiver and recite the following incantation:

“Time to make the donuts.”

The line came from an old commercial (direct link here):

For me, “making the donuts” meant getting down to business; once I said those words, I made my first call. I can’t tell you why it worked for me, but it worked.

The secret to call reluctance is this: once you make that first call, it’s a whole lot easier to make the second, and the third, and the fourth. You’ve got to get started.

If you can get yourself to make that first donut, you’ll be on the road to making some dough.


A version of this article originally appeared on my advertising, marketing and sales blog. For great advice on how to prepare for and conduct that first sales call, check out my free Sales Call 101.