Expert Commentary

Sales Is a Numbers Game

So, what keeps salespeople from making sales? Outdated beliefs, myths, misconceptions, and fear are some reasons. The 12 faces of Sales Call Reluctance and its many facets can hamper even the best-intentioned salesperson.


Eradicating Sales Call Reluctance
August 2001

We've all heard it before. Sales is a numbers game. We've heard it from sales managers, sales gurus and sales trainers—but from a behavioral scientist? George Dudley, world-renowned behavioral scientist and author of the book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance, comes to the same conclusion.

George started studying salespeople some 30 years ago. He wanted to know why some salespeople made so much money while others, with the same amounts of talent, skills, and abilities, did not. He thought at first that it was simply due to personality differences. Perhaps some were more shy or withdrawn. He came to the same conclusion that all salespeople had realized for years—success in sales is determined by the number of contacts initiated with prospective buyers on a consistent basis.

Let's assume that you and I have the same product knowledge, abilities, experience, and territory. However, you make 10 new contacts each week and I make one. Who is likely to sell more? This is such a basic concept that he calls it the one indisputable secret of success in sales.

So Why Don't We Just Do It?

If that is what it takes to make sales, then why do salespeople not just go out and initiate contact with people who are likely to buy what they sell? After all, they know how to do it and they agree that this is what they should be doing. Intellectually, they have no difficulty buying into this concept. Emotionally, it's a different story. When presented with the opportunity to promote themselves and their products or services, they hesitate.

They spend endless hours and gobs of energy avoiding these opportunities. They come up with the most logical reasons why they will not get out and prospect for new business. The most common reason they give is lack of time. "If only there were more hours in the day," they complain. "Perhaps we need time management training," they tell their sales managers who dutifully supply it only to find that sales do not improve. They simply become more efficient at their avoidance behaviors.

Three Reasons: Myths, Misconceptions, and Fear

One reason why salespeople avoid prospecting is because they are still stuck in outdated beliefs or myths. Remember your mom telling you that little kids should be seen and not heard? Remember the saying that worthwhile goods and services don't have to be sold, they sell themselves? Or the hardest working and most deserving will earn the most? We call them myths because they no longer have any validity even though we cling to them as "facts."

Another reason for contact avoidance is misconception about selling. Some people believe that they must become the stereotypical salesperson in order to promote themselves, and they shy away from that. After all, salespeople lie and cheat, don't they? They're bombastic manipulators, aren't they?

There is nothing further from the truth. There are no liars and cheats in sales. Do you know why? They get run out of town pretty quickly. Those are the dishonest hustlers who are not true salespeople. In order to make consistent money as a salesperson, you have to be professional and honest, and care about your customers.

The third reason for contact avoidance is fear. Salespeople are afraid that they would look unprofessional if they tooted their own horn. Or they would appear pushy if they called someone to sell them something. This fear is Sales Call Reluctance and it causes more salespeople all over the world to give up on their dreams than anything else.

Do I Have It?

One of the biggest problems with Sales Call Reluctance is that it often lurks undetected in salespeople. They know something is wrong but they don't know what it is. They find it very difficult to admit that they have any kinds of fear about calling on people. Their managers know something is wrong, but they attribute the lackluster production to laziness, lack of motivation, or an uncaring attitude. They talk about attitude adjustments.

Salespeople find some ingenious ways to cope with their call reluctance. I remember how I did, and how much it had cost me. Several years ago I had my own life insurance brokerage company in South Africa. I was doing very well and sold a number of policies.

There was one insurance salesperson who used to rile me because he always seemed to sell more than I did. One day I did an analysis of the two of us. I came to the conclusion that he was not smarter than I was. In fact, I could run rings around him on product knowledge. He was not better connected than I was. Some of my friends would not even talk to the likes of him. He didn't look better than I did. (Okay, he was marginally better looking but I dressed better.) So what was it?

I thought I knew. I was too busy with paperwork! I needed to free up more time to be out there selling. So I hired a secretary (we still called them that back then) and got ready to beat him. However, instead of improving sales, I just got busier. So I hired a second secretary. Guess what? No more extra sales, just extra expense. (Here's a note for sales managers—I have only once seen a salesperson increase sales after getting an administrative assistant. Don't fall for that one!)

It finally did dawn on me why he was more successful than I was—he contacted more people than I did! That was all. While I debated about the value of prospecting, he did it. While I honed my prospect list, he was calling on his. While I held meetings with my secretaries, he was talking to my potential customers. But I looked good!

Coping with my sales call reluctance was expensive but I have seen many salespeople waste countless hours and dollars coping with theirs. They simply don't know that they have sales call reluctance and may never know until someone tells them. The biggest strength this fear has is to stay hidden because that allows it to strike with impunity. It makes logical, educated adults very creative—but not in sales. They become creative in finding excuses. They believe these excuses and, like me, will spend huge amounts of money on these excuses. Call reluctance is expensive!

The 12 Faces of Sales Call Reluctance

In previous articles, I described some of the call reluctances. This may be a good time to divulge all twelve. Remember that these are all fears; they cause salespeople to avoid opportunities; and they don't come free. Many started as something good and then got out of control. Once out of control, they exact a painful penalty.


Referral Aversion
Prevents salespeople from asking for referrals even when they know how to do it, intend to do it, and want to do it.
Doomsayer™
These are salespeople who always seem to see the worst-case scenarios. They spend a great deal of time, energy and effort worrying about things that can go wrong.
Overpreparer™
Concerned about knowing everything, they avoid by spending too much time getting ready. They tend to bore customers with their product-oriented presentations.
Hyperpro™
Over-concerned with the image they project, they spend their time checking themselves out in the mirror. They often suffer from big case-itis and find many ordinary prospecting methods beneath them. Performance often does not justify the ego.
Stage Fright™
They become flustered by having to present to a group. One-on-one prospecting is unimpaired.
Role Rejection™
Secretly ashamed of being in sales. Even though intellectually bought in to the sales career, still has emotional doubts.
Yielder™
Over-concerned with being liked. Afraid to appear pushy or intrusive. Defaults a lot of business to more assertive competitors.
Social Self-Consciousness™
Intimidated by people they consider above themselves, they routinely avoid them and prefer to call on people at a lower level.
Separationist™
Refuses to mix business with friends. Fears loss of approval from friends.
Unemancipated™
Rigidly refuses to sell to family members. Referral Aversion™ Never seems to find the right time to ask for referrals. Afraid to lose the present sale.
Telephobia™
Has to psyche self up to use the telephone to prospect. Other uses of the phone unimpaired.
Oppositional Reflex™
Reflexively opposes even when to do so is not in best interests. Argues with customers. Refuses to accept help or even admit to needing help.

How Do I Know If I Have Sales Call Reluctance?

One sure-fire way to know if sales call reluctance is present is to look at sales production and prospecting. If sales production is not where you think it should and could be, then you should look at your prospecting activities. Is prospecting low?

Low prospecting exists if:

  1. You're not selling enough to achieve your personal goals.
  2. You're not selling enough to achieve goals set by your company.
  3. Selling opportunities exist that are not being addressed by you but are being addressed by your competition and you could or should be addressing them.

Take a good hard look at yourself and your sales career. If you feel you could do more but are frustrated because you cannot seem to comfortably prospect and you want to, sales call reluctance may just be the one thing that is getting in your way. I know this is small consolation but it's probably the same thing that's preventing your competition from really beating up on you!


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
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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