Dear Shawn:

Ever heard of anyone who has been in sales forever suddenly catching call reluctance? I used to make hundreds of cold calls each week, but that was years ago. Now I’m struggling to pick up the phone.

Shawn says:

Yes, I have heard of successful, experienced sales reps suddenly experiencing a strong desire to do anything but cold call. In fact, there are two ways that experienced reps can have even more trouble than rookies.

First of all, experienced sales reps tend to come up with very sophisticated reasons to avoid picking up the phone. The reasons can be so plausible that it’s hard to recognize them as plain ‘ole excuses.

Secondly, as strange as it may seem, fear of failure and self-doubt can go deeper. There are a few reasons for that but this is the biggee: In dark moments, many people wonder if their past success was just luck.

The good news is that it’s also easier for experienced reps to break through the cold calling blues. Have you heard of “muscle memory”? The idea is that once we’ve learned a reasonable golf swing or how to ride a bike, our body essentially remembers it. We’ve got a similar memory for things like cold calling. Experienced sales reps know when they’re on the right track again – they can feel it. (Beginners have to wait for the experience of success, which takes longer.)

So if you’re hit with sudden calling block, what should you do?

1) Go back to the fundamentals. Write scripts. Check them for a strong consultative approach and wording. Also ensure you’ve got a focus on prospecting, not selling.

2) Act as if or fake it ‘til you make it. In other words, pretend you feel confident and pretend you know you’ll succeed. This mental activity will crowd out those little voices in your head saying otherwise.

3) Put prospecting dates in your calendar, and keep those dates. This is particularly important for anyone who got to the point where they weren’t making as many cold calls as they once did. Like I said: Back to basics!

4) Set a dials goal, and set it on the low side. Instead of 100 dials; make 75 your goal — or even just 50. This will help your mental and muscle memory warm up.

5) Get a calling buddy. Find someone who also makes cold calls. Coordinate the calling dates, so you’re prospecting at the same time. Before you each begin, call each other to check that you’re really ready and haven’t skipped anything, such as setting a reasonable dials goal.

Make your calls, take your reward, then call your buddy to debrief. DO NOT make calling your buddy your reward!

6) Pay attention to the environment. I mention this because you asked about “catching” resistance to telemarketing. If you’re surrounded by people who are fretting over cold calling you can indeed catch their attitude.

Make your calls somewhere else if possible: a conference room, home, an empty office — get physically away from those guys. And don’t play along with their griping, either; it only trains your brain to be discouraged.


“Call reluctance” was coined by Dudley and Goodson, and is trademarked.