Why Sales Leaders Make Sales Call Reluctance Worse (And How to Fix It)


Are you one of the millions of salespeople still searching for ways to overcome your phone fears and finally get over your call reluctance?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone!

In my 22 years in this industry, I’ve found that Telephobia is far more common than you think. Some of the best salespeople on the planet still have moments of fear when they reach for the phone.

But those same salespeople became the best by learning how to overcome their fears. And it all starts with identifying the cause. So, let’s dive into this fear, peel back the layers, and find out how you can overcome call reluctance.

The Origins of Call Reluctance

The universal trigger for fear is the threat of harm, real or imagined. This threat can be physical, emotional, or psychological. And while certain things trigger fear in most of us, we can learn to become afraid of nearly anything.

And believe me, we certainly have created way too many irrational fears in our minds.

So, why are salespeople afraid to pick up the phone?

Is it because they’re afraid of hearing the word “NO”?

Is it because they don’t want to bother someone?

Is it because they don’t want to sound like a salesperson?

Is it because they’re afraid of rejection?

The short answer is YES! It can be any and all of these reasons, and probably a few more. It all comes down to something called Call Reluctance.

Not only is call reluctance prevalent amongst the professional sales world, but it’s also scientifically proven to be caused by three main factors.

The incomparable Dave Kurlan, the founder of Objective Management Group, has done amazing work in sales science. He and his company evaluated almost two million salespeople over the past thirty years, and they found three main causes for call reluctance that live inside every salesperson’s sales DNA.

62% of salespeople NEED to be liked. Dave calls it the “Need for Approval.” This is the most common trait in salespeople who fear the phone. They’re ultimately afraid of bothering someone, interrupting their day, upsetting them, etc. All of this is rooted in a desire to be liked by their prospect.

38% of salespeople have difficulty overcoming rejection. And this is not a good trait to have as a salesperson. Not only can this cause major damage to your sales career, but when it comes to prospecting and using the phone, it’s an action killer.

If you can’t brush off the unending amount of NO’s you’re going to hear in sales, it’s going to be difficult to fulfill your potential, and it will prevent you from picking that phone back up after getting hung upon.

34% of salespeople are perfectionists. Although this can be a good thing in some aspects, when it comes to picking up that four-ounce monster, it’s your worst enemy.

Perfectionists need their call lists alphabetically organized, spell-checked, and uniformly laid out on their screen or CRM. They need their coffee at 175 degrees, their headset fully charged, and every other tiny thing they can use as an excuse to avoid making calls.

The even larger concern is that many salespeople have more than one of these three traits, and if that’s the case, then, of course, you’re going to have a major case of call avoidance. If you want real change, it all starts with recognizing and working on these deficiencies.

How Sales Leaders Can Help

Most leaders simply don’t understand the origins of phone anxiety. They’ve never been trained, taught, coached, or enlightened as to why most salespeople don’t want to make calls. Their previous leaders have taught them you just need to:

“Smile and dial!”

“It’s a numbers game!”

“It’s a contact sport!”

WRONG. Sorry, it’s just not true.

It’s not 1992.

No amount of yelling, threatening, or fear-mongering will magically get salespeople to start calling more. That’s not effective. It never has been, and it never will be.

If you lead salespeople, you have to understand something. They’re not you. They may never be you. And they may not have your talent, disposition, charisma, confidence, or skill set. This is precisely why Ted Williams, one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, was one of the worst managers in the history of the Boston Red Sox.


For the life of him, he could not understand why other players couldn’t see the spin on a curveball. It’s easy!!

Well, it was easy for him because he was gifted, had a unique talent, and eyes like a hawk. But it wasn’t that easy for everyone else.

This is just another example of why great salespeople don’t always make great sales leaders, but that’s an entirely different topic for another day.

Let’s look at this another way. When a puppy pees in your slipper or poops on the carpet, do you blame the puppy? Do you berate him, yell at him, and shove his nose in it?

If you do, you should be arrested, but my point is this. It’s NOT THE PUPPY’S FAULT! It’s your fault for not training him.

Think about this the next time a salesperson doesn’t perform.

According to a recent study by Forbes Magazine, 55% of salespeople are untrained. According to Blender, 82% of B2B decision makers think sales reps are unprepared. And according to Spotio.com:

Untrained salespeople doom companies. Organizations that spend more time training reps see better sales numbers. It seems like a no-brainer, but over half of sales reps are lacking the proper skills to become effective at their job. A long-term commitment to ongoing training – seminars, workshops, books – will give your sales team a competitive advantage.

Believe it or not, today, some companies’ sales training goes like this…

“There’s the phone. Here’s the script. Start dialing.”

I really wish this was a joke or an exaggeration. It’s not.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of companies who properly train their sales reps with the most up-to-date tools, technology, and support. But overcoming Telephobia takes more than just threats, intimidation, and admonishment.

3 Steps to Overcome Call Reluctance

For those of you who want to start overcoming this fear right now, here are some tips I know will help!

#1: Stop cold calling and start warm calling.

I don’t mean this in every case. I actually love cold calling. What I do mean is that to overcome your fears, you’ve got to start somewhere.

That somewhere is Warm Calling.

You have a network. You have a Sphere of Influence. You have LinkedIn ( you better). It’s always easier to call warm prospects and connections than it is to call ice cold ones. So start reaching out to the people you’re already acquainted with.

Most salespeople still haven’t called everyone in their sphere of influence. Guess what?

If you don’t call them, someone else will.

Why don’t salespeople call everyone they know? Wouldn’t that make sense to do?! Yes! So why don’t they do it?

They NEED to be liked.

It all comes back to that need for approval most salespeople possess. They don’t want to upset their friends, relatives, colleagues, and connections. They don’t want to bother them or come across as too salesy.

Unfortunately, the need to be liked has cost salespeople billions of dollars in lost opportunities, missed sales, and unformed relationships.

As you’re finding out, overcoming call reluctance isn’t about using the perfect script, some antiquated calling technique, or some hot lead list.

It’s about diving deep to understand why you have that fear, how to start overcoming it and conquering this demon until it’s an afterthought.

#2: Utilize LinkedIn properly

Sending canned and over-the-top form messages to your prospects is NOT how you properly use LinkedIn. No matter what the guru-of-the-day tells you, people don’t respond to 1,000-word soliloquies that are self-promoting, war-and-peace-like messages that end with your calendar link.

You know what works? Calling people! On the phone. You know, that device that’s actually meant for contacting and conversing with other human beings? Ya, that one.

There are two very simple suggestions I have that work for me all the time.

When people connect with you, call them.

“Hey Mike, this is Steve Heroux with Victory Selling, I just accepted your connection request on LinkedIn… (pause)

I’m just sitting around using my social distancing time wisely to connect with more people, so I figured I’d give you a call and say hello! How are you handling this whole thing?

The words are irrelevant. Say whatever you like. Put your own spin on it. Make up your own cadence. The point is this.

Just call people.

They’ll answer. They want human interaction, and nobody else knows how to dial a phone anymore. Well, a lot of people don’t.

After they post something, call them.

“Hey Mike, this is Steve Heroux with Victory Selling, I just read your blog/saw your post about networking/wanted to congratulate you on your promotion…

How are you handling this whole social distancing thing? Is it affecting your business?”

Once again, I’m not saying you MUST do this in these exact words. This is just what I do that I’ve had tremendous success with.

#3: Use science to your advantage

There are reasons why personal trainers don’t run six-hour workouts with their new clients in the first session. It’s the same reason you shouldn’t be cold calling six hours a day when you first start in sales.

If you have a fear of heights, and you want to overcome it, skydiving wouldn’t be my first suggestion. I’d probably take you for a short walk up a large hill in the neighborhood. Maybe even have you get on a stepstool before the walk.

Baby steps.

So when it comes to overcoming your phone fears, calling all day will only add more pressure, exacerbate your anxiety, and increase that fear.

Start with ten calls at a time. That’s it. 10 calls. Then gather your thoughts, talk to your leader, and hit the next ten.

My second tip is to call when decision makers are actually there. Wouldn’t it make sense to go fishing when all the fish are there? Decision makers are most often available in early mornings and late afternoons. Calling from 7:30 am to 9:00 am or from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm will give you the best chance to reach decision makers.


Usually, owners/CEOs/Presidents are the first to arrive and the last to leave. And last time I checked, there weren’t a lot of gatekeepers working at 7:30 am and 5:45 pm. That means you’re far more likely to get direct access to that decision maker.

Find What Works for You

You’re not going to overcome telephobia after this one article, but it’s a start. And whether you decide to try any of these techniques, thoughts, or tools is up to you.

But if you work on it with intention, using science, and committing to doing what really works to rid yourself of this destructive fear, you’ll start enjoying this amazing industry we’re all a part of. And your results will start lining up with your expectations.

Happy Calling!


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