Someone recently asked me why Savage and Greene cold calling training does not include torturing students by forcing them to make cold calls in front of all of their peers. Well…I slightly edited their question but you get the idea.

The short answer: Making calls does not have the desired effect (not even close) and wastes a ton of time better-spent on things that will help students succeed. The longer answer is shown below, including a bit of fascinating history.

Trial by Fire to End Fear of Phone?

Understanding the history of making calls in training can be useful but for now let’s focus on current times.

The thinking behind having people make calls in class has its heart in the right place. The idea is this: People make calls in class with the added pressure and support of their peers, and a trainer’s help at the ready. When they realize they have survived the calling experience, their dislike and/or fear about calling disappears forever and ever.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. It’s true that making calls in a live workshop has a nice bonding effect for the students — and that’s pretty much all that sticks from the experience. Once people get back to their real world the dislike and/or anxiety are still there because the true sources of those have not been addressed in training.

Making calls in training also used a huge chunk of time that could have been used to teach the skills and mindset that would indeed address dislike and anxiety.

So if making calls in training doesn’t really work, why do some programs include it? As noted, one reason is the activity seems to make sense. The other reason may have to do with executives applying a misguided “If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for them” philosophy, which brings us to history.

Now for the Fascinating History

Back in the day when many senior executives (and yours truly) went through sales training the program often included making calls in class. The program was also several weeks long and only new-hire sales reps attended: keep this in mind.

In those olden days, each student went to the front of the classroom and made calls while everyone else watched. It was a pressurized situation because all eyes were on us, NOT because most people had what came to be known as “call reluctance.”

Then, as now, the experience was bonding but that was not the point behind it. The point of putting these new-hire sales reps through that was to see how they’d do under pressure. It wasn’t possible to do that with live sales meetings during the training program, and cold calls were used as the next best thing.

Unbeknownst to most students, the instructors were taking notes about each of them. Was the person on time? Presentable and professional? Helpful to others? Willing to ask questions and take risks? Learning the products? Developing sales skills? And how did they behave in that cold calling pressure-cooker? The information was gathered over several weeks and a comprehensive report was provided to each rep’s manager at the end of the training program.

Fast-forward to current time: those former sales reps are now in senior management positions. Many of them remember the cold-call-in-class experience but do not know its real purpose. Combine that with what seems like a good idea and, next thing you know, valuable training time is wasted.

What Does Work?

Here’s what works in overview: Teaching people what’s reasonable to expect. Teaching them how to make calls they themselves would not mind receiving. Giving them hands-on practice in applying effective techniques but in their own words. Giving them enough practice so they reveal what can undermine their success when the instructor can catch it and set them on the right path. Giving them enough practice so they get well-into the learning curve. And teaching them how to manage their own progress through the rest of the learning curve on their own.

As for a rite of passage to dump on the youngsters… Like most old fogeys I’m working on a good replacement.


You may also want to see this article on recording calls in training.

“Call Reluctance” was coined by Dudley and Goodson, is trademarked, and is used here without permission.