Expert Commentary

Look at All My Friends!

In this article on Sales Call Reluctance, Frank Lee examines the Separationist and the fear this person has of selling to friends.

Eradicating Sales Call Reluctance
August 2002

Robert was positively beaming! He had just hired his next big hitter and he was already celebrating. After much negotiating, he had finally gotten Alec Grant to become his latest insurance broker. Everyone in the office was looking forward to working alongside Alec.

Why the excitement? Alec Grant was the son of a prominent and wealthy industrialist with contacts all over the state. When asked about his friends, Alec produced a list several pages long that read like a Who's Who. Robert was drooling dollars. As he explained to me, "I don't care if he can't sell. Just open those doors, and I'll have my best brokers in there in a heartbeat."

Of course, because of his connections, Alec did not have to undergo all the rigorous screenings other applicants would have had to endure. Pity. Because, if he had, Robert would have managed him a little bit differently.

It Didn't Turn Out Right Somehow

It took a good 6 months for Robert to admit he may have made a mistake. Despite all the connections, Alec just never produced any of his friends. He did not even produce any worthwhile introductions so others could follow up. He had a litany of excuses, none of which sounded even remotely plausible to anyone except him. As Robert noted, "He seemed reluctant to expose his friends to our business."

In fairness, Alec did produce enough business to sustain himself. Perhaps this is why Robert took so long to diagnose a problem. Looking back, Robert realized that this business came from people that were not on Alec's list of friends. That's when Robert did something he should have done at the interview stage—he asked Alec to take some tests.

What's a Separationist?

Not surprisingly, Alec scored very high on a scale called Separationist Call Reluctance. What on earth is a Separationist?

These are people who are afraid to do business with their friends. While strangers may pose no problem, they become extremely uncomfortable when it comes to exposing their friends to their business. They even avoid talking about their business to their friends just in case they are misunderstood.

In my experience, this is one of the most difficult of the call reluctances to remedy simply because sales people become defensive and uncomfortable when talking about it. They play semantics. As one executive once asked me, "Isn't it a matter of how you define your friends?"

This is a call reluctance that grows up with some sales people and which is reinforced over the years. They had learned early on that one does not exploit one's friends. Most of us have heard that saying. Some of us took it to heart while others simply heard it. Those who took it to heart did not hear the obvious follow through which is—"and what I do for a living is exploitation and it's okay to exploit strangers but not my friends." Sales people with this call reluctance bristle at that suggestion.

I have asked these sales people, "If you were buying something major, would you rather buy it from a trusted friend or from someone you did not know?" They usually answer that they would buy it from a trusted friend. My response is, "Then why is the opposite not true—that your friends would also prefer to buy from someone they know and trust?"

They become more agitated and defensive at this point and eventually walk away in disgust. They think I'm evil for even talking in this blasphemous way. Sales people with this form of sales call reluctance argue most vehemently about it.

This shows that Separationist Call Reluctance is not a logical issue. If it were, we could simply talk it away with pure logic. It is an emotional issue that requires more mechanical methods to get rid of it.


Dick, a highly placed executive, had showed high levels of Separationist Call Reluctance. We were meeting to discuss several different aspects of training for his branch. Of all the things he could have greeted me with that morning, this is how he greeted me, "You asked a lot of questions about friends. Isn't that a matter of how you define your friends?"

I was taken aback by this greeting. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, I have a certain very close group of friends that I spend quality time with. I would never talk business to them. Then I have another group of friends where business talk is acceptable although only if one of them instigates it. Then I have another group…."

I listened as he described how he had compartmentalized his friends. "What do you think?" he asked me. "You're probably right." I told him. I knew there was no logical end to this argument.

Another Cost

It was a good thing that Robert finally confirmed what he suspected. Alec tested high in Separationist Call Reluctance. Now he could help Alec get through it and eventually "exploit" his many friends.

There is another cost to this call reluctance. Repeat sales become difficult. As sales people, we all know that when you make a sale, the relationship changes from prospect to client, and from acquaintance to friend. That's when Separationists start saying things to themselves like, "George is my friend. He knows what I do. If he wants to buy more, he will contact me." They then become annoyed with George when he buys additional stuff from others who have no hesitation to ask for additional business. They almost feel betrayed. One more year and Alec would have been in this position.

Can It Be Cured?

If the sales person has strong motivation, clear goals, and very little other call reluctance, there is a good chance that being aware of what Separationist Call Reluctance can do to a sales career may just be sufficient to keep it in check. If, however, one or more of these measures fall outside acceptable limits, then a more aggressive approach, such as a workshop, is probably the only thing that will help the sales person.

What Happened to Alec?

One must understand something very important. Alec was not even aware of his problem. He had fully intended to call on his friends. He was just emotionally unable to do so. The lame excuses he made were made from habits he had developed over the years. He was not a bad person. He simply would not allow himself to do business with people he considered friends. He avoided them as a matter of habit.

Alec was lucky. Not only did his motivation, goal level, and other important scores look promising, he had a sales manager who understood how to manage people with call reluctance. The last time I spoke to Robert, he was grinning like the Cheshire cat.

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
All Dressed Up, Nowhere To Go Low Goal
Am I Adequately Prepared To Sell? Overpreparer
The Secret Shame of Selling Role Rejection
Appearance Is Everything Hyperpro
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 . He welcomes calls or email from salespersons and sales managers, even if just to chat about the call reluctance problem.

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.

Like This Article?

IRMI Update

Dive into thought-provoking industry commentary every other week, including links to free articles from industry experts. Discover practical risk management tips, insight on important case law and be the first to receive important news regarding IRMI products and events.

Learn More