Expert Commentary

The Doomsayer

Does fear of failure keep you from picking up the phone to make a sales call? Does the prospect of cold calling make you break out into a cold sweat? Are you convinced of failure before even taking hte first step? If so, then you could be suffering from "The Doomsayer" Sales Call Reluctance. While this is a major problem for salespeople, there are ways to recognize and deal with it.

Eradicating Sales Call Reluctance
November 2003

Doomsayers are ordinary people with built-in alarm systems. Constantly on high alert, they pick up danger signals quickly. In reality, they look for them and are always protecting themselves against things that can go wrong. More often than not, they protect themselves against fictional dangers since most of the dangers they perceive are only in their minds.

Fearing failure, they avoid situations that could produce this failure. This affects their ability to initiate contact with people who could be potential clients. They tend to overanalyze situations in case they miss something that could cause failure. Since, to them, normal prospecting is a high-risk adventure, doomsayers make poor prospectors.

Generally, there are very few doomsayers in sales—they simply don’t show up for the second interview. Whenever one does find a salesperson who is also a doomsayer, this person usually came into sales through a back door. Perhaps he had been in a service-oriented job and his supervisor had convinced him to become a salesperson. When this happens, the doomsayer can be an effective salesperson if he gives himself the chance. However, in many cases, he just does not make enough calls or avoids prospecting situations altogether.

Die without Life Insurance!

My first encounter with a doomsayer type came in my very first job as a life insurance salesperson. My branch manager, Big Bill the Basher—honest, that’s what he called himself—used to delight in telling us the story of a salesperson he once managed. We didn’t know about doomsayers back then but this person would have fit the mold perfectly.

Johnny, the salesperson that I never met, apparently was so morose that he would give up before the client did. Big Bill told us about the night he and Johnny made a first call on someone who had agreed to an appointment. Johnny parked his car on the street and they had to walk quite a distance up the driveway to the house. All along the walk, Johnny was telling Bill why the person would probably not buy from them. It became a monologue. He cited one objection after another and was getting more and more worked up about the call.

When they finally got to the house and the person opened the door, Johnny blurted out, “Just die without insurance! See if I care!” and turned and stormed back down the driveway!

Big Bill, a person never short of words, was left speechless. So was the prospect. He apologized and went after Johnny who had run to the car and driven off, leaving him stranded. He fired him the next day.

I don’t know how true this was because Big Bill was known to make up a story or two, but it left an impression on my mind and, I’m sure, the minds of many other salespeople who worked for Bill. Maybe he was trying to teach us to think positively and not negatively. I don’t know. Many years later, when I learned about doomsayers, this story jumped into my mind.

Enter George W. Dudley

I don’t think I met another doomsayer until I came across George W. Dudley, one of the two pioneers of the sales call reluctance program. I knew from the first time I spoke to him that he was brilliant. I later found out that he was also a doomsayer. So was his partner, Shannon L. Goodson.

I worked for them for 3 1/2 years as their vice president for International Sales and Marketing. I got to see doomsayers up close and personal. I learned more about doomsayers from working with them than from their book or teaching their workshop.

Two highly successful entrepreneurs and behavioral scientists, they taught me that brilliant ideas also had to have substance and well-defined practicality. They questioned everything I tried to do to make money for them. It was frustrating. It took me a while to learn that I had to think through every brilliant idea to its logical conclusion and beyond before I presented it to them. Even then, they would ask questions that no sane business person would ask. I found out that selling to a doomsayer is not easy.

To begin with, they do not trust salespeople. They think that salespeople only tell them what they want to hear. I learned that when selling to a doomsayer, you should present both the good and the bad sides of an issue. Never minimize the bad side. When you sell to them in this way, they are more inclined to assign some measure of credibility to what you say. You’re talking their doomsayer language. When you don’t, they listen with only one, very skeptical ear.

Scientists Who Sell!

Mr. Dudley and Ms. Goodson knew they had doomsayer call reluctance, and they knew that it would prevent them from ever earning what they were worth. So they used the same techniques they had been teaching other people, overcame their doomsayer call reluctance, and went on to become very wealthy with a business that does not seem to want to stop growing.

Interestingly, they seem to have managed their call reluctance in one area only—their business. In their private lives, they are still the two shyest people I know. They avoid social contacts and prefer, like most doomsayers, computers to people. Yet in their business lives, they are tigers. They compete eyeball to eyeball, belly button to belly button with the best in the world and they come away victorious most of the time. They do not miss opportunities to promote themselves and their work. Before overcoming their call reluctance, they had avoided those same opportunities.

While they were frustrating to work for because of their over-caution, they taught me that you don’t have to change your principles, beliefs, or personality in order to earn what you’re worth. All you have to do is change one small aspect of your behavior, and you can earn big money.

I have enormous admiration, affection, and respect for two scientists who taught me everything I know about call reluctance and a great deal about selling and business.

These Are Not Pessimists

Because they always seem to look three times before doing anything, people often assume doomsayers are pessimists. There is a big difference. A pessimist is someone who thinks something will go wrong. Doomsayers know.

Faced with a situation that could possibly go wrong, they assume it will and begin immediately preparing themselves for this worst-case scenario. This takes a tremendous amount of their energy and time. In this heightened sense of alertness, they are tense and not very effective in a sales environment.

Selling becomes an ordeal and they are forced to work much harder than everyone else just to keep up. I knew a doomsayer salesperson who told me that getting out of bed in the morning was the most difficult part of his day. He dreaded so much the stress he was going to endure that he had to force himself out of bed every single morning. I asked if his day was ever as bad as he imagined it would be. His answer: “Not yet!

Does this mean you should not be in sales if you are a doomsayer? No. It means that you should get help. You should learn to manage the call reluctance the same way you would manage any other call reluctance. It’s not difficult to do. Like all the call reluctances, if you do not learn to manage them, they will eventually drive you out of a very lucrative profession. When doomsayer call reluctance gets out of control, it does not take long to send the salesperson looking for a safer job.

Sinutab to the Rescue

One of the oddest things Mr. Dudley discovered in his research is that doomsayer call reluctance can actually be caused by inner ear problems. This only sounds strange until you think about it. The inner ear is responsible for balance. If it is infected or damaged, balance is disturbed. When you are constantly off balance, your body tends to compensate for it. You tend to become extra cautious not only when walking but in doing many other simple things. If you want to find out what this feels like, try covering one eye for a day and see how you function and how eventually your body and mind start to make adjustments. This extra caution eventually translates into caution about contacting people. That’s when it becomes call reluctance. So, if you remove the core problem, you can more easily contain the call reluctance.

Not all doomsayer call reluctance is caused by an inner ear disturbance but, when it is, a simple antihistamine could help!

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

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 1-800-898-3743 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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