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What is Sales Call Reluctance?
Written by: Sean McAlindin
Sean McAlindin, a business and arts writer, has a decade-long experience in music and culture journalism and recently ventured into business writing.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on October 26, 2023
What is Sales Call Reluctance?
The phone is in your hand. You’re ready to dial. You have your pitch and all the customer information you need at your fingertips. But something stops you. What is it?
Sales call reluctance syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which salespeople experience a genuine fear of reaching out to potential customers. Though common in the world of sales, the consequences of this condition can be devastating, both financially and emotionally.
In this article, we will explore the symptoms, impacts, and causes of sales call reluctance.
After reading this comprehensive three-part series and guide, you will fully understand the concept of call reluctance, what it looks like, what causes it, and, most importantly, how it’s cured.
Sales call reluctance is a psychological phenomenon classified as the fear of reaching out to potential customers.
Call reluctance can have many symptoms and causes, but some common patterns and tendencies have been studied and observed.
There are 16 distinct types of call reluctance as defined by psychologists and sales training experts.
Call reluctance can be overcome using specific tools and techniques.
What is Call Reluctance?
For as long as they’ve existed, salespeople have had a reputation as intrepid, outgoing, and determined. But for many, this stereotype disguises a darker reality. Far from being cold-blooded selling machines, many sellers struggle with a secret fear of prospecting.
Whether on the phone, online, or in person, contacting prospective buyers causes stress and anxiety. So, instead of making calls, they make excuses. It’s a costly trade-off. Sales call reluctance — the emotional hesitation to prospect — can be a true confidence and career-killer.
By definition, call reluctance is a common problem among sales professionals that manifests as a hesitation or reluctance to make sales calls. It comes in many shapes, from simple procrastination to outright avoidance, but even low call reluctance levels can significantly impact one’s success and productivity.
Take a look at these statistics to see just how common sales reluctance can be.
Call Reluctance Statistics
According to a study by Behavioral Sciences Research Press, the sobering fact is that call reluctance significantly affects the majority of salespeople at some point in their careers.
- 40% of established salespeople experienced periods of call reluctance severe enough to threaten their livelihood in sales.
- 76% of all salespeople will experience one or more episodes of call reluctance despite their years of experience, product knowledge, or current income level.
- Up to 80% of new salespeople may fall victim to sales reluctance.
Before we get to the solutions, let’s take a closer look at what call reluctance typically looks like.
Six Symptoms of Call Reluctance
The image of a salesperson sweating all over their cubicle may be easy to imagine. But that’s not quite how call reluctance usually appears. This condition can manifest itself in various ways, some obvious and some subtle.
Here are the most common symptoms of call reluctance.
Do you ever find yourself dragging your feet on what should be a simple, straightforward task?
One of the most common symptoms of call reluctance is procrastination. Salespeople may find themselves putting off calls until later, or the next day…or the next day. Rather than moving through their prospect list efficiently, call reluctance slows down productivity and sidetracks salespeople from their No. 1 responsibility: contacting customers.
But what looks like everyday dilly-dallying may actually have a deeper psychological, or behavioral, origin.
Beyond simple dawdling, call reluctance can lead to complete avoidance behavior. Salespeople may find themselves refraining from calls altogether, instead focusing on less important tasks or finding excuses to do something else. When the condition worsens, the workflow may stop completely as salespeople are overcome with an all-pervading sense of dread. And take note — most people can hide avoidance behavior longer than you think.
Once this unbecoming behavior starts to be noticed, salespeople will often try to rationalize and justify why they aren’t making calls. They may convince themselves they don’t have enough time, their prospects are all wrong, or they must do more research before making a call. Rather than getting right to work, there always seems to be an excuse for why sales calls aren’t happening.
Over time, call reluctance chips away at the salesperson’s confidence which leads to overthinking and indecisiveness. Reps may spend too much time analyzing potential outcomes or trying to predict how a call will go, preventing them from taking action. While they may try to justify these habits as faithful preparation, the truth is their obsession with the details is tanking the company’s bottom line.
5. Physical Reactions
In more serious cases, call reluctance will lead to physical symptoms such as anxiety, sweating, difficulty breathing, or nausea. These reactions can be embarrassing, especially on video calls, making it even more difficult for an already stressed salesperson to do their job. Once call reluctance has reached this point, professional intervention is usually required.
6. Emotional Responses
Besides physical symptoms, salespeople with call reluctance may experience overwhelming emotions, such as fear, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, guilt, and even panic. They will have powerful negative thoughts and anticipate the worst-case scenario in every situation. By now, the toll of call reluctance is more than just financial. The salesperson’s personal well-being may also be at risk.
The Impacts of Call Reluctance
Sales call reluctance can quickly derail even the most promising career. While the impacts of call reluctance may seem self-evident, it’s worth taking a look at some specific consequences of this potentially disastrous condition.
1. Lost Sales Opportunities
First and foremost, call reluctance leads to lost sales opportunities. When sales professionals are hesitant to make sales calls, they miss out on potential customers, leading to a decline in revenue. Think about it like this. If your sales organization is a car, prospecting calls are the fuel that makes it go. Without continuing to fill up new prospects, your business won’t get very far.
2. Decreased Productivity and Efficiency
You’re not paying your employees to ruminate on the worst possible outcomes. When sales professionals procrastinate or avoid making sales calls, they aren’t doing their jobs as well as they should be. As an employer, this means a decreased return on investment and higher overhead costs to keep your business afloat. Not to mention the time and effort required to find replacements.
3. Negative Impact on Team Morale
We all want to be good at our jobs, right? Suffering from call reluctance doesn’t feel good. Not only that, it affects the people around you. When one team member hesitates to make sales calls, it can incite anxiety and tension for everyone. This leads to an unhealthy work environment, decreased motivation, and lower team morale.
4. Missed Chances for Professional Growth
Sales professionals who avoid making calls miss out on the chance to improve their sales skills and achieve greater success in their careers. It’s like being a baseball player afraid to take swings at the plate. Everyone knows they won’t always hit a home run, or even make contact, on every turn at bat. But if they don’t get up there and take a crack at it, they’re never going to score any runs at all.
5. Physical and Mental Health Risks
Being reluctant to make calls every day, when that is your job, can result in very real health risks. Truth be told, untreated call reluctance syndrome can seriously affect salespeople’s self-esteem, mental health, and physical well-being. We all need to take care of ourselves to be the best team members we can be, and to live positive lives at work and at home.
As employers, taking care of our employee’s health is part of our job whether or not we want to admit it or not. If you notice this problem developing in one of your employees, it’s important to address it professionally and compassionately – not only for your bottom line, but for the personal well-being of everyone involved.
11 Causes of Call Reluctance
Now that you’ve got a clear picture of what sales call reluctance looks like and how it can negatively affect your business let’s investigate the root causes of this all-too-common phenomenon.
Why do so many salespeople with otherwise exceptional skills and abilities suddenly find prospecting so difficult and intimidating? The straightforward answer is fear. Fear of initiating contact can become so severe that it limits one’s ability to contact potential new customers.
“Call reluctance is a fear,” said sales coach, Connie Kadansky, in a recent phone call with Making That Sale. “Fear is a mental response to a perceived threat. When salespeople hesitate to reach out, or it shows up at the close of the sale, there is some kind of threat they are perceiving and that’s what causes them to hesitate.”
Read on to learn about the most common causes of call reluctance.
1. Fear of Rejection
Every experienced salesperson knows you must have thick skin to survive in this game. But that’s not always the case.
As perhaps the most common cause of call reluctance, fear of rejection can cause salespeople to avoid making calls altogether. The worry of being turned down can be debilitating. Not only does it prevent individuals from reaching their sales goals, but it can also have tremendous health impacts on those suffering from it.
No salesperson closes every deal, and hearing “no” is part of the process. But once this fear reaches a subconscious level, it can be difficult to shake.
2. Fear of Failure
Beyond the fear of a single “no”, some salespeople may begin to worry they are bound to complete and utter failure no matter what they do. Instead of bouncing back from a tough sales call, each bump in the road seems to confirm what they knew all along: that they’re a loser and nothing will change that fact.
Perhaps they’ve met with disappointment in the past, or they simply don’t believe in what they’re selling. Either way, focusing on failure and worst-case scenarios inhibits salespeople’s ability to do their job.
3. Fear of Success
We are often our own worst critics. And before we can achieve success, we must first believe in ourselves.
It may seem counterintuitive, but some individuals hesitate to make calls because they are actually afraid of success. They may be worried about the added pressure or responsibility of closing a sale, or they may fear their success will be short-lived.
Let’s face it, if you don’t try, you don’t risk failing or succeeding. Avoiding the unknown may seem like the easiest path forward. But be warned, consequences inevitably come with inaction.
4. Fear of Self-Promotion
Some of the most highly-paid and influential people did not attain their positions by being the most technically competent and innately talented. They did it through purposeful self-promotion. They paved the road to their success by convincing others of their reputations, abilities, and strengths.
In their seminal 1986 book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance, George Dudley and Shannon Goodson proposed that the primary cause of call reluctance is fear of self-promotion.
“Some people are natural promoters,” says the book’s abstract. “They are born with the instinct to self-promote. For others, often the most loyal, motivated, and deserving, self-promotion is emotionally difficult. They are rendered invisible by a spirit-crushing condition of fear of self-promotion.”
The seeds of this condition are often complex, deep-seated, and murky. Nevertheless, by facing this fear and developing a greater sense of self-worth, most salespeople can overcome it.
5. Lack of Confidence or Self-Esteem
Self-perception varies greatly from person to person, and successful salespeople come in many forms.
But the truth is, if individuals don’t feel good about themselves or their abilities, they are probably less likely to engage in productive sales activities.
Perhaps they were put down in the past, or they are working for a manager who belittles them and undermines their confidence. These issues may be deep-rooted in a salesperson’s personality or they could occur due to organizational dynamics.
Either way, emotional challenges such as these can put the brakes on any promising sales career. Even if you genuinely believe in what you’re selling, it takes a lot of courage to reach out to a complete stranger. Without that level of bravery, salespeople don’t have a leg to stand on.
6. Lack of Preparation or Training
You can’t just throw someone into the deep end and expect them to swim. It takes time and patience to develop talent and confidence. Salespeople who feel unprepared or undertrained may be hesitant to make calls, since they don’t have the knowledge or skills to succeed.
Companies should plan on taking time at the beginning of a new team member’s career to properly train them on all aspects of the organization, products, and sales processes. It’s only fitting to show your employees the ropes before they take to the open seas alone.
7. Negative Past Experiences
Most of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives. Suppose a salesperson has had negative experiences in the past, such as being berated by a potential client or criticized by a supervisor in front of their peers. In that case, they may be hesitant to make calls in the future.
If this is the case, it’s important to discuss these experiences with a colleague, supervisor, or mental health professional who can help to brainstorm potential ways to move past these difficult memories. We all go through loss and failure along our journey, but with the proper support, it doesn’t have to hold us back forever.
While setting high expectations is a healthy habit for any salesperson, an attachment to perfectionism will ultimately limit productivity over time. Some individuals may feel they need everything in order before making a call, leading to procrastination and avoidance.
Others simply can’t handle the feeling of making a mistake. The reality of coming up short on a deal, let alone hearing a flat-out “no” on the other end of the line, is simply unacceptable to them.
Supervisors must convey to the sales team that no one will land every sale. It’s okay to make mistakes; it’s an essential part of the learning process. Unless those in leadership positions communicate that landing every sale is not possible, a tendency toward perfectionism could become their sales team’s undoing.
9. Neurological Predisposition
There’s actually a study that backs up your fear of rejection.
When Dr. Geraldine Downey and Dr. Scott I. Feldman proposed the Rejection Sensitivity (RS) Model in 1996, they claimed that certain persons are more sensitive to rejection than others.
Since this discovery, several scales have been introduced. A group of scientists led by Ethan Kross conducted a study on brain activity in people with high and low RS in 2007. According to the MRI results, those with poor rejection sensitivity have increased activity in the brain’s lateral prefrontal cortex.
So part of your call reluctance might have its roots in your DNA. Potential employees can take tests to determine their risk factors toward rejection sensitivity and other red flags for call reluctance. It may be worth investing in these as a standard part of your hiring process, so you can pick the right people and prepare to support those who need it.
10. Toxic Corporate Culture
No life form can thrive in an unhealthy ecosystem. Likewise, a toxic working environment can lead salespeople to feel anxious and ashamed about their jobs.
On the contrary, a safe, supportive workplace leads to numerous positive outcomes for businesses, including higher creativity, better employee retention, and increased productivity.
Salespeople get the confidence they need to make cold calls by working in a space that pushes them to improve and prepares them for the tasks ahead. If you believe in what you’re selling and who you’re working for, instances of call reluctance will be drastically reduced.
11. Low-Quality Leads
Cold calling is only effective when you have many solid leads to work from. But quality over quantity is the name of this game.
While you can easily get long lists of prospects from lead generation firms, ensuring your prospects fit your customer profile is crucial. If you’re sending your salespeople on a wild goose chase, calling prospects that will never deliver, you’re wasting your time and theirs.
And it won’t be long before they don’t feel much like picking up the phone at all.
Sales reluctance can be deadly to a budding sales career. However, now you have a clear understanding of its symptoms, impacts, and root causes. This all-too-common condition affects many different types of salespeople, but it can be treated. With the right help, you can move beyond this mental roadblock and have the successful sales career you’ve always dreamed of.
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