Call Reluctance Syndrome

Call Reluctance Syndrome, also known simply as Call Reluctance, is a phenomenon where salespeople become afraid to reach out and make phone calls. This is most typically observed at the start of potential customer relationships, often referred to as cold calling.

The unwillingness of salespeople to make cold calls is a common issue that many sales teams face. It can become a serious obstacle in attaining your sales goals and impede your business growth.

Call reluctance consequences

Shannon Goodson and George Dudley, the co-founders of Behavioral Sciences Research Press, shared astonishing statistics in their book The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance stating that call reluctance is the reason why:

  • 80% of new salespeople fail in their first year
  • 40% of sales veterans are at threat of decreasing sales.

Signs of Call Reluctance:

Major signs of call reluctance

1. Powerful negative emotions, such as fear, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, guilt, and even panic.

2. Negative thoughts and anticipation of the worst (“They don’t need it” “They will turn me down”).

3. The mental block that keeps a rep from taking an action.

4. Sometimes, salespeople try to deny their own negative emotional responses. In this case, they try to buy time before calling resorting to:

  • frequent procrastination
  • ‘over-preparing’ for calls

Results of Call Reluctance:

  • Failing to meet monthly/quarterly/annual quotas
  • Termination of employment
  • Loss of perspective across young sales talents
  • Stress of employees and management
  • Creation of a bad sales atmosphere

Results and impacts of Call Reluctance

Why do salespeople experience call reluctance?

Many sales professionals state that the main reason for call reluctance is the fear of rejection. Rejection is a powerful aversive stimulus to our brain that is processed in multiple regions of our cortex at once. It is believed to have an adaptive significance and an advantage to survival.

In 2015, Dr. Mark R. Leary published the article, “Emotional responses to interpersonal rejection.” According to his research, rejection can cause multiple negative emotions in us, namely hurt feelings, jealousy, loneliness, shame, guilt, social anxiety, and embarrassment.

Furthermore, he claimed that people experience a powerful emotional response not only to actual rejection but also to the anticipated or imagined ones. Dr. Leary stated that the desire to avoid rejection has a significant impact on human behavior.

The sales statistics mentioned at the beginning of this article don't seem mind-blowing if we consider Leary’s findings. No individual would want to experience shame, social anxiety, or embarrassment. That is why even sales veterans can become overwhelmed to the extent that they stop prospecting despite the fact that hitting their quota depends on it.

Call Reluctance Reasons: natural fear of rejection; individual rejection sensitivity; corporate culture; lack of training and support; calling the wrong prospects; list of low-quality leads

Other factors that contribute to call reluctance

Some sales professionals say "it's just not in your blood." Science claims it's all in your brain.

1. Neurological

In 1996, Dr. Geraldine Downey and Dr. Scott I. Feldman introduced a Rejection Sensitivity (RS) Model claiming that some people are more vulnerable to rejection than others. Several scales have been introduced since. In 2007, a group of scientists headed by Ethan Kross conducted research on brain activity in subjects with high and low RS. 

The fMRI showed that people with low rejection sensitivity have an increase in the activity of a brain region (Lateral Prefrontal Cortex - LPFC) associated with top-down cognitive control of behavior in general.

2. Corporate Culture

The approach to sales in a given company can impact salespeople dramatically. Connie Kadansky, noted author on Call Reluctance, in her interview for shared a case for correction as the sales team she was consulting to were instructed: "not to be salespeople." Ironically, the company endorsing this policy didn’t see what was, in essence, a rejection - "don't be who you are" (or who you are supposed to be on the job?!?!).  And the cherry on the sundae: the company promised a foam rubber pink pig as an incentive.

Unsurprisingly, overburdened by such a powerful message, the employees had to first overcome the initial rejection (and probably humiliation) by the company they worked for… Then the anticipated rejections of cold-calling. No surprise, they weren’t hitting their quotas.

Getting one’s corporate culture to endorse generating new opportunities from scratch is often a struggle. An atmosphere of safety is required to support sales teams that are performing emotionally difficult work, regularly.

3. Lack of Training and Support

In 2013, there were still Fortune 500 companies that applied the “sink or swim” approach to new hires despite the fact that much had been written and published across multiple media on the inefficiency of this approach. In 2017, it continued to be a problem.

A new sales rep:

  • Doesn’t know your product/service, how it helps your customers and what business problems you solve;
  • Doesn’t understand your brand and core values; and
  • Doesn’t understand the personas — the people they will be calling regularly.

If it’s their first job in sales, they don’t have enough knowledge and skills to do this job right. Furthermore, since few people ever experience much rejection on a daily basis as cold callers do, many new reps don’t have efficient coping strategies to handle the emotional burden.

Giving them a list of contacts and a telephone and leaving them on their own without a proper mentorship isn’t the best idea.

4. Calling the Wrong Prospects

Cold calling works if you call the right people. Here’s the simplest example: our C-levels get a prospecting phone call from other lead generation companies once a week. Would you offer a lead list to the head of a sales team that has over 300 discovery appointments held every month?

Another example. A sales rep working at a video production company calls into a local small business (3 employees, $50K in monthly revenue) offering to create a 10-minute VOD for promotion. Most likely the offer will be rejected because such firms can’t afford it.

If sales reps offer a product or service to too many people in a row who don’t have the real need in it, they will most likely be rejected multiple times.

5. List of Low-Quality Leads

Companies often purchase contact lists from third parties. Not all of them provide high-quality leads. And the older the list, the more outdated data entries it contains.

As a result, when an SDR makes a cold call to a prospect who doesn’t work in a company anymore, he or she feels additional stress of failure that adds up to and increases the fear of rejection.

Call Reluctance Handling - Best Practices

Call Reluctance handling best practices for  salesmen, SDRs and their managers

1. Greater frequency is the only answer

The first and best practice to reduce Call Reluctance is to practice frequently. Since the human brain cannot distinguish between types of rejection and rejection cannot be rationalized away, it simply needs to become a managed fear through repetition.

A relevant corollary is learning to ride a horse. Fall off and the fear of falling off again intensifies. Horse trainers know that the most important thing after falling off a horse is to get back on. Same with cold calling.

2. Hire people low on rejection sensitivity

The good news for sales teams and HR departments is that there's a scale that can measure rejection sensitivity. Screening here will often mean that you can reduce the amount of repetition required to break through the inhibiting fear of calling.

3. Change Your corporate culture

Examine how your employees treat salespeople who make prospecting calls to your company. Do they respond politely in a calm and pleasant manner? What is said about salespeople in your corporate canteen or by a water cooler? Are they described as too pushy, too bold, too salesy? Is there any "sales-shaming"?

Does everyone in the company understand that your revenues and business growth depend on your sales team just as much as marketing, production, accounting, and other departments?

Tips: Talk to your HR department about the problem and come up with a “Respect Sales” Strategy.

4. Train both newbies and veterans

According to the Sales Management Association, firms with effective onboarding programs have 10% greater sales growth rates and 14% better sales and profit objective achievement. It is suggested to start with your brand and corporate culture then speak about your product.

Make sure that your salespeople know:

Assign mentors for new sales reps. At CIENCE, we have around 250 SDRs. Many of them expressed gratitude to their Team Captains on multiple occasions. A good mentor provides guidance and emotional support. It is very important when it comes to working with people.

5. Give Your Reps Only Good Leads

Before handing the list of contacts to your sales team, you need to make sure that they’re ‘prequalified’ or in other words would be interested in purchasing your service/product.

For this purpose, you need to first define your Ideal Customer Profile. Then acquire a list of leads that fit the ICP and are up-to-date. Read more about creating your ICP here and how to do sales research correctly

BONUS Best Practice: Outsource

Hire CIENCE and forget about call reluctance.

Call Reluctance Handling - Tips for Salespeople

According to the research by Kross et al. mentioned above, the subjects low in rejection sensitivity engaged the LPFC region for "interpreting rejection related events in ways that minimize personal distress, perhaps by evaluating whether the rejection cues are self-relevant or from people who matter."

This information might sound fatal. However, there are several things to consider. First, similar to any psychological constructs, there’s a normal distribution, meaning there are fewer people high or low on RS scale than those in the middle.

Second, if you became a salesperson, you probably are in the middle or bottom of this scale rather than its top. Third, your brain can be trained to process rejection stimuli in a less harmful way.

1. Admit the problem

Remember, there are 40% of veterans and 80% of newbies who admitted being prone to it. Being among them doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or not good for a job. It means that you’re a human.

2. Define the reason for your problem

Is it rejection fear, or corporate culture or lack of training or maybe all the above together?

3. Talk to your management about it

It is their best interest to tackle this issue, providing your guidance, support and training.

4. Remind yourself that you call to help

Your product or service can increase ROI, assist companies and individuals in attaining their goals, make the business processes more efficient, etc. They need your product/service. And you can give them what they need!

If you think about it that way, you will perceive yourself as a savior rather than an intruder. It will also make your call valuable.

5. Remember that rejection is inevitable in prospecting

Rejection is part of your job. It’s normal that many people won’t be able to purchase your product right now. They might be using a similar product of your competitors or have some other solution. Keep in mind that it’s them who miss the great opportunity.

6. Prepare to calls

Learn more about your prospect and their company, try to identify their key needs, think how your product and service can help them. Make a list of prospecting questions that will help you learn more about the needs and problems.

7. Provide positive feedback

It’s pretty much like training a child. You can force kids into doing something under the threat of punishment or incentivise them by giving a ‘treat.’ The former will put them in stress and eventually traumatise. The latter will help you upbring a happy healthy individual.

You need to create positive emotions after each call. A good parent will always praise the attempt and reassure that the result will come with time. Here are some lines you can say to yourself after you finish your call:

  • “You did a great job!”
  • “I’m glad that you made this call”
  • “You talked so confidently”
  • “I’m so proud of you”
  • “Keep on like this and you’ll meet your quota!”
  • “You are the best!”

8. Listen to inspiring salespeople

Find several sales bloggers who publish inspiring podcasts and videos about prospecting. Listen to them when you feel negative emotions or understand that you procrastinate (and here’s a good example).

9. Stop procrastination

Everyone does it from time to time. However, if you understand that it has become overwhelming and impedes your goal, you need to do something about it. The minute you understand that you procrastinate, you need to stop what you’re doing and remove the distracting factor.

10. Set time frames

For example, you plan to make 20 calls in 8 hours. This means you need to make a call every 24 minutes if you are lucky enough to connect every call (this never happens, BTW). The best case — your calls will last up to 10 minutes at max (including the time necessary to fill in the data in CRM). You will also need some 5-10 minutes to prepare for it. And 5-10 minutes to reload after a call.

Once you finish a conversation set a 5-10-minute countdown. This will be your time to relax after a call. Once the time is over start searching on the new prospect.

11. Perform “Rituals” and use talismans

Many people that have anxiety issues state that they perform certain rituals or take certain objects to reduce emotional burdens. For example, one individual put on glasses during public speaking to tackle her fear.

Call reluctance is the problem that hits many sales teams preventing them from attaining their goals. However, a number of countermeasures can help sales organizations and individuals successfully overcome it.

12. If nothing helps, read our blog post on how to overcome the fear of cold calling