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Overcoming Call Reluctance
By Mark Sanford, PhD

Selling is about compliance seeking, and more and more, this is being done by telephone. Anyone who has done this type of work knows the experience of reluctance to approach strangers.

Direct sales may be defined as crossing the social gulf to consort with a stranger for the purpose of requesting his or her business and gaining compliance with that request. Selling is about compliance seeking, and more and more, this is being done by telephone. Anyone who has done this type of work knows the experience of reluctance to approach strangers. The prospect of cold calling by telephone can produce numerous internal obstacles which tend to have an inhibiting effect: rear of rejection, fear of giving unintended offense, fear of failure, feat of not successfully achieving the purpose of the call, self-doubt, etc. The result is that callers, or those training to become callers, find endless forms of avoidance to cope with the discomfort associated with this activity; hence the label call reluctancy.

My theory of call reluctance is that in the mind of the caller there is a conflict between the wish to make the call (they know it will bring them more prospects, build their business faster and make them less referral-dependent) and their fear of doing so, which may take a variety of forms, both conscious and unconscious. The most common fear is that of negative evaluation. The way many resolve this conflict is to procrastinate, which does take away the threat, but eliminates the chance for flew business. Hence, the challenge is to find a more functional resolution that deals with the anxiety and allows the prospector to garner more prospects.

Mary Lou Evans, an insurance agent for State Farm, finds it very easy to defer her calls and instead bone up on her product knowledge by reading journals and newsletters pertinent to her industry Brian O'Brian with Cellular One finds himself giving in to the impulse to write proposals for prospective clients rather than pick up the phone. Jack Brodsky. a real estate agent, reviews the MLS catalog to make sure he knows of all the new listings that might be of interest to his buyers - but he does this instead of cold prospecting.

This conflict is hidden by the fact that the prospector is captured by a variety of erroneous ideas concerning the possible consequences of cold calling, but doesn't know it. He or she is blind to the immobilizing power of these false beliefs and is held hostage by them. Because of the inability to perceive the conflict, the caller does not know what is holding him or her back; the caller experiences only the reluctance or averse feeling and feels blocked and immobilized by some mysterious force that prevents the activity. By understanding there is a conflict, the way is opened to explore different ways to more functionally resolve the conflict and move ahead.

Procrastination Is Not The Answer

Paralysis is what happens to most of us as we face something threatening we don't want to do: we procrastinate or find a substitute activity. One of my friends in the securities field, Joe Murray, claimed he was the most creative procrastinator he knew. He would go to the bank, talk to friends on the phone, write letters, make "to do" lists, anything to avoid picking up the phone to make cold calls. Those who have studied the matter (Jane Burke and Lenora Yuen, Procrastination, 1983) say procrastinators avoid taking action that is revealing of their abilities, skills or intellectual competence. They hide out, in other words, to avoid being judged. Many a cold caller, I'm sure, will resonate with this thought. As William James said, "With no attempt there can be no failure; with no failure, there's no humiliation,".

Since many relate their self-worth to their abilities, they avoid performances that might cause them to be judged - for it might be a negative judgment and then they would feel badly about themselves and their abilities. To perform at all means risking negative evaluation, hence it is thought more prudent to not take that risk, even though there are numerous negative consequences that result from inaction.

The same principle applies to call avoidance: it is a reluctance to self-disclose intentions, wishes and desires that are implicit in the offer to a prospect. There are many fears associated with call avoidance (see George Dudley and Shannon Goodson, Earning What You're Worth, 1992). It may be fear of negative evaluation; fear of giving unintended offense as a result of interrupting the prospect; or it may be fear of appearing stupid or inept because the caller feels the prospect is more competent.

Disproving The False Fears

The fear of negative evaluation, or other fears, is mostly false Fortunately, it can be disproved tbrough a program of gradually increased cold calling, which will work to build up confidence. This incremental exposure to the threatening stimulus is a well- established principle in psychology for overcoming various phobias. There is nothing like direct experience to prove the rule. The difficulty is in getting yourself to undergo the pain of disproving it. Motivating yourself to do a discomforting activity is not easy: it requires diverse perspectives that help build the case in favor of gaining the benefits. The formula I have worked out after years of study and firsthand experience is summed up with the acronym GIRDA. It stands for:

1. Set a goal for your daily call quota. Daily goals are more empowering than long-term goals, as the psychologist Albert Bandura at Stanford University has proven so well.

2. Incrementally increase the daily quotient so you learn that either the negative things you believe might happen don't or, if they do, that you can handle them.

3. Keep a careful daily record of all dials, contacts and agreements for a next step (i.e., appointments, send literature, sale, etc.) so you come to an understanding of the ebbs and flows of calling activity, and learn that results are a function of the amount of calling. One of the killers in call reluctance is the conviction that you can never advance because you will continually be rejected. Good records disprove this demoralizing way of thinking.

4. Disidentify or disconnect from the inner critic who keeps producting excuses for why you shouldn't make the call; this is just an archaic part of yourself that cannot distinguish between real and imaginary threats. Those who have done a lot of calling know the threats are imaginary 99 percent of the time.

5. Have an account ability partner to whom you report progress toward goals. A faithful following of this formula will do wonders for disproving the negative beliefs that cause "prospecting paralysis". As the old sales adage goes: "Who dares, wins."

(c) 1999 Sanford Associates


Mark Sanford, of Sanford Associates, is a business development coach and trainer with 30+ years of business experience. More free articles and training materials on cold calling. Mark can be reached at 925.253.0646.

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