Expert Commentary

All Dressed Up, Nowhere To Go

Lack of clear career goals is a common problem found in many underperforming salespeople. Their careers are lackluster and mediocre. This article examines characteristics of Low Goal Salespeople and what can be done to motivate them.

Eradicating Sales Call Reluctance
May 2001

David is ready to pick up his date for prom night. He has on his rented tuxedo, complete with bow tie and boutonniere. He has the keys to his dad's car. As he walks to the door, the phone rings. It's his date. "Sorry," she tells him, "I won't be going with you after all. I'm going with someone good looking."

David hangs up the phone, devastated. For him, there is no longer any urgency. He has no reason to go out. He is all dressed up with no place to go. Right now, he is the embodiment of a condition known as Low Goal Impostor.

There are salespeople like David. They have no urgency and lack direction. They seem to drift aimlessly in their careers. They know that they have to make sales, but there does not seem enough reasons or urgency to make those sales.

They appear to lack motivation.

Low Goals Is a Common Problem in underperforming Salespeople

Lack of clear career goals is a common problem found in many underperforming salespeople. Their careers are lackluster and mediocre. They drive sales managers crazy because they have the talent and skills necessary to succeed in sales. They just don't seem to want to put forth the effort. Even when threatened with the loss of their jobs, they still struggle with getting out and pounding the pavement.

The SPQ Call Reluctance test detects this condition on a scale called "Goal Level." Whenever this score is low, it indicates one of four possible reasons.

  1. Severe Call Reluctance
  2. Lack of reasons to prospect
  3. Traumatic occurrences
  4. Apathetic disgust

Severe Call Reluctance

Because their motivational energy is being diverted away from their goals into Call Reluctance, their goal levels become dimmed. Struggling with the emotional distress of coping with unresolved Call Reluctance, they lose sight of their goals. Until they repair their Call Reluctance issues, they drift aimlessly. It's almost as if they are driving a car without a steering wheel.

Lack of Reasons

This occurs when salespeople have no real reasons to prospect. The best way I can describe this is with an example.

Many years ago, I owned an insurance broking company in South Africa. One of my agents, Patrick, was the best salesperson I have ever met. He would come into the office, pick one name off our prospect list and call that person. He always managed to get an appointment. And, when he came back from the appointment, he always had a sale. He never missed. Not once.

The problem was that Patrick only did this once a month. Nothing could get him to do it twice—no amount of begging, pleading, groveling, threatening, or bribing. I even threatened to tell his girlfriend about it to no avail. This was a mystery to me until I met his father. Patrick's father was one of the richest men I have ever met. He had a walk-in safe the way many folks have walk-in closets. His walk-in safe was the size of a small office. There were shelves all around piled high with real money. He had barrels overflowing with coins. It was like an Aladdin's cave. Patrick's father ran an illegal business known in South Africa as "Fah-Fee," a sort of numbers racket. As a result, he could not bank his money. He told Patrick that he could have anything he wanted as long as he had a job and brought home a paycheck.

This explained a lot to me about Patrick. He had no reason to do anymore than he already was doing. If I had measured him on the goal level scale, he probably would have registered sub-zero. He was just waiting for daddy to die. It was a pity, because he had a great deal of talent.


Whenever people experience something traumatic in their lives, their goal levels seem to drop. Traumatic events include events such as losing a loved one, getting really bad news, or losing a job.

As an example, I work with a group of people in Dallas that we refer to as being "in transition." These are victims of downsizing. For one reason or another, they have either already lost their jobs or are in the process of losing them. Whenever we test these people, their goal levels are generally very low. The longer they have been out of work, the lower their goal level scores.

Apathetic Disgust

Whenever we find an abnormally high number of people with low goal scores in an organization, we look for apathetic disgust. This is what it looks like:

Management says, "We'll go in this direction."

Employees say, "We're right behind you, don't stop."

Then management stops. "Oops," they say, "Wrong direction. Let's go this-a-way."

"Okay," say the employees, "we're still behind you." Then management changes direction again. And again. And again.

Eventually the employees become frustrated, angry and disillusioned and they psychologically check out. This is a scattered anger. They sit down right in the middle of their careers and declare, "Enough! We're not going anywhere until you can figure out where you really want us to go. And you only have one more chance."

I expected to only see this in large companies, but I witnessed it enough in smaller companies to know that it exists there too. In smaller companies, such as agricultural implement dealerships where I have done a great deal of testing, one hears comments from employees such as, "Is this another one of those flavor-of-the-month programs?" This is a clue that apathetic disgust has already settled in.

What's the Result of Low Goals?

The behavioral results of low goals are mismanaged sales careers, lack of urgency, procrastination, wasting time, and seemingly aimless prospecting. The financial results are often drastic. Low goal salespeople prospect less, sell less, and require more management time. They tend to frustrate sales managers who often see them as motivationally challenged or even lazy. Worse, they sometimes diagnose them as being call reluctant and try to get them to deal with their call reluctance.

While these salespeople may be call reluctant as well, it makes no sense to treat the call reluctance until the goal level issue has been dealt with. Until the goal level issue has been properly addressed, they will generally not do very much about their call reluctance anyway. Why should they? It can always wait until tomorrow.

Targets become mythical numbers. Business plans are simply written fictional essays with more mythical numbers. Developing a sales plan is a chore that can always be done later. Details on the sales plan become difficult to pin down. The further into the future those plans go, the hazier they become.

Can Low Goals Be Eliminated?

Generally, the answer is no. At least, it is impossible for the sales manager to eliminate the condition in the salesperson. However, it should be understood that low goals are often time-based. In other words, circumstances in the salesperson's life can change. This can have the effect of lowering or increasing their goal level. These circumstances are usually out of the control of the sales manager.

In selecting candidates for the sales position, the sales manager would be well advised to probe any candidate with low goals to determine the cause.

How To Detect Low Goals

The most objective instrument is the SPQ Call Reluctance Test. Another way is to discuss long-term goals with a candidate. People with high goal levels generally have no difficulty with this. Low goal people tend to be vague about details or become uncomfortable. The further out one goes, the more uncomfortable they become.

Getting Salespeople with Low Goals To Perform

Managing low goal salespeople presents a challenge. They are not bad or evil people. They simply need to be managed differently. In directing high goal salespersons, often it is enough to point them a target and send them after it. With low goal salespeople, one must manage their behaviors by setting and monitoring their behaviors. Short-term targets and rewards work best. Micromanaging becomes necessary until they learn to manage their own careers. There is more work involved in managing low goal salespeople, but they can be led to become high producers despite their low goal levels.

I have worked with many low goal salespeople where replacing them was not an option. By getting them to perform simple successful behaviors and managing these behaviors, I have seen them deliver more and bigger sales than those with higher goal levels. Since success breeds success, they are often able to sustain this level of performance. Are they still low goal salespeople? Most of them probably still are, but a caring management style has them performing anyway.

Other Sales Call Reluctance articles include the following:

Article Topic
Can You Swim? Referral Aversion
Who's Afraid of the CFO? Social Self-Conscious
Did Your Mom Intend You To Be a Wimp? Yielder
The Most Difficult Salesperson in the World Oppositional Reflex
The Telephone Bug Telephobia
Am I Adequately Prepared To Sell? Overpreparer
The Secret Shame of Selling Role Rejection
Look at All My Friends! Separationist
Appearance Is EverythingHyperpro
A Fate Worse Than Death Stage Fright
You Can't Pick Your Family Unemancipated
The Doomsayer The Doomsayer

Call Reluctance, the Fear-Free Prospecting and Self-Promotion Workshop, and all related terms are copyrights and/or registered trademarks of Behavioral Sciences Research Press, Dallas, Texas. Sales Academy, Inc., is an Advanced Authorized Dealer for the Call Reluctance® Program. Frank Lee is an international expert on Call Reluctance®. He can be reached at (800) 898-3743 or at

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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