Call Reluctance – How to Overcome It Episode #7

Often times sales people think of call reluctance as something that only happens to newer sales people. People who are simply afraid to pick up the phone because they are “green” or “simply don’t have what it takes” to make it in sales.

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After all seasoned professionals are fearless. They would never suffer from call reluctance. Right? Well I’d like to challenge the idea that seasoned pro’s never hit a wall or have a slump but before we go there I look at what call reluctance is. Some ways to deal with it, and a few trends I have seen in the past decade. As well as how to deal with the ones that really do go badly.

What is Call Reluctance?

Simply put it is a fear of reaching out to customers or prospects. Often times it’s associated with cold calling. Which is nothing more than calling potential customers who don’t currently do business with you. The temptation is to classify it in the terms of hunters and farmers.  Hunters being the ones that go out a make new contacts and win new business. Farmers being the team members who take care of and focus on growing existing accounts.

It’s not just sales professionals, newbies, and hunters that put off reaching out and making contact with customers and prospects. In many ways it is a problem across many if not all parts of the organizations.  In sales terms it could be the New Business team that is charged with cold calling a prescribed number of calls a day.  It also crosses over to inside sales teams and account managers who have a base of business and are tasked with proactively reaching out to existing customers to inform them of a promotion, a new product or service, an upgrade or end of life or even just routine account maintenance type contact.  Making sure all is in order and you and your firm stay top of mind.

Looking at other parts of the organization that can suffer from a fear of picking up the phone let’s look at Finance.  Receivables and Collections departments seem to be more and more afraid of proactive contact. Asking for overdue money is hard. There’s a chance that the customer is unhappy, doesn’t have the money, or has decided to pay late on purpose. It’s rife with the possibility of conflict, tension, and even the loss of a customer relationship if it goes badly.

Service Departments who don’t have the part, can’t get to a customer with a problem quickly, or have to deliver other bad news can have hesitation and avoid the call or look for an easy way out.  Product managers, install teams, and even executives at times might not want to make a call.   

However from here on out we are going to focus on sales oriented roles and help you understand not only why you may not be making as many dials as you could or should but help you get to the point where to call feels natural and completely second nature no matter the reason.   

Causes of Call Reluctance?

First and foremost it’s assumed that the fear of rejection is the leading reason why sales people don’t reach out to customers and prospects. Don’t get me wrong there are some amazing sales people who have never once hesitated. In working with new and often younger sales people it’s often not the root cause. When all is said and done it comes down to confidence. Self confidence, confidence in their own knowledge and expertise.

What if I Don’t Know All the Answer?

Not long ago a rep who knew the operations side of their business as well as anyone I had ever met asked.  “What if I don’t know the answer?”  She was used to being the one who knew ALL the answers.  So she wouldn’t dial the phone. Not even to accounts that were buying that had been assigned to her.

We had a version of this same conversation three million times. Or maybe a dozen. We talked about her being honest about what she did and didn’t know. We talked about her setting expectations for a reply, going to find answers and getting back to the customer.

Still it was like watching the same episode of a TV program over and over again. Not over a period of time but literally every single time it was turned on. We would talk, she would stare at her phone and be afraid to dial it. Finally in a bit of exasperation I asked what she was afraid of?  She admitted that she believed “everyone else knew all the answers”. She was the new kid in sales and had been swept up in the sales world’s equivalent of a fishing story.

I laughed which was a little rude.  “No they don’t! and if they say they do they are liars.” We called three of the others reps together that she felt friendly with and could be transparent.  All of them said in one way or another they didn’t know half of what she already did. One who was a top performer pointed out they literally use to call her 2 times a day to get an answer,

We decided after that if she didn’t know an answer she could call the new “her”, figure it out and call the customer back.   

What if if they are mean?

Jerks exist. Yet most often people who are called on for legitimate business reasons. In particular business to business sales are willing to engage in a meaningful open conversation. Want to see mean watch middle school kids in the school hallway.  

Yes people do have call reluctance because they are worried about the person on the other end being mean but it something to be quickly over come with practice.

They Won’t Pick Up the Phone Anyway

Sure, the odds of you getting through the very first time are low.  Robo dialers, scammers, and whatnot have made it even harder. Apple and Droid have ‘block unknown caller’ features. Yet if you are in sales it’s your job to make contact. Pick up the phone, put people you need to reach into a system and rotation. Call at different times. If you have a cell phone number use it.

I’m Not sure of the Value?

Go home game over! Seriously real sellers learn the features and benefits of what they are offering.  Only the customer can tell what the real value is. You have to believe in what you are doing and representing in professional selling. There may be other options. Others may have identical products the difference is you and your ability to connect, understand the need, and solve the problem.  

Nontraditional Forms of Call Reluctance

Traditionally call reluctance was a matter of dialing the phone, knocking on the door, and that was pretty much it. Gone are the days of “here’s the yellow pages kid”. While technology has enabled us to to know more about our customers and prospects than anyone would have dreamed even a decade ago there is down side and that it can cause its own form of distraction and concerns. If used correctly it can be a powerful sales tool. However in the wrong hand it will cause additional “reasons” not to dial the phone.

Getting Ready to Get Ready

You have a name, you have a title, and you have a phone number or series of them. Yes the person in question is a legitimate contact. What should you do? Dial the phone. Wait do you have any shared connections? Did maybe once upon a time you meet their great aunt Jane? Oh wait here’s a social media post? Better look at that.

There are so many powerful tools available for a price to make sure you have the best information for the most likely prospects. Don’t let them get in the way of actually making contact with your customers, prospects and actively growing your network.  

The Call Reluctance Email Trap

Email is easy, Write a few words, hit send. Job done! Not at all. The best customer relationships are ones that are cultivated through real dialog. Actual conversation and exchange between people. Email is great for documenting those things, gaining consensus, and producing information and facts. Like shipping status or confirming options or quantities on an order.   

The “Safe” Call – Calling Friendlies Instead of Making In Roads

This is one where even the best of us sometimes fall into. We call our best customers, our friends, and people we like to hit a call number. Instead of the hard thing and calling more challenging contacts, or someone new. There are days when you might be off your game a little. Days to focus on follow up, and to drive new ideas and begin new conversations with great customers. The safe call to “check in” is junk and offers no value to the other person.  

Have a Purpose for your Call

So closing out looking at call reluctance let’s deal with the different type of calls sellers make.

If you are a hunter, trying to build a customer base from scratch, take business away from a competitor, or reactivate a long lost customer. It is a numbers game and you have to play it for keeps. Offers, messaging , and effort are needed or you won’t get the right amount of airtime and consideration. Sometimes it is just timing but if you don’t have the call numbers in you are leaving it down to luck. And luck is a great way to fail.  Make your calls, make a few more, adjust your delivery, add in followup and be consistent.

Account Managers or dealing with a mix of active customers and in active customers.   You need to tailor your messaging for each. Try different approaches and keep track of what resonates where. Go wild and reach out to different people in the company, different job functions, different functional areas that benefit from your product. Odds are there are more than one buyer, decision maker, or influencer.

Set Aside Dedicated Time to Work the Phones

It’s easy when sales are good and you feel busy to ride the wave of success. That is the perfect time to make sure you know where and when the next wave will come along. The time to build out your next set of deals, accounts, and contacts is now. Get ahead of the curve. Set aside time and set a dedicated number of calls and call types you need to make. Defend that time calling time aggressively.

One time there was a sales person I worked with who was a total jerk about their calling time. It was like you were literally stealing from them if you took 10 seconds away from it. And in their mind they knew that you were. They had a great business worked their accounts, spread their contacts out across their customers business. Worked their suppliers for leads and called like mad when they got one. Yes they worked hard but they also worked smart always building on top of what they had.  It was a point of pride to be at not only the top of the sales board which is what really counts but to out perform everyone else in metrics like new customers, number of presentation, and number of demos.  None of which would have happened with out the number of calls.

So of course I had to ask how do you do it. It came out that when they were new into the sales they had struggled to dial the phone, struggled to connect with customers, the were all but a few months away from losing their job when a sales manager stepped in. Helped them with their messaging, set clear goals and told them to do a ”power hour” every day and make 20 more calls. 20 turned to 40 and that turned to sales. It became part of their routine.

In time they would take what they learned and teach it to a team they managed. One thing never changed, every single day they took an hour and called new and different people to make sure there was plenty of business in the pipe. Their market wasn’t unlimited or mass market but it also wasn’t so limited that they would ever know everyone.

Want to win awards, go to a President’s club, be a rock star? Then you have to make your own rain! Kick call reluctance to the curb. Shake off all the reasons why you shouldn’t and start making more customer and prospect calls today.


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