cold callingHere’s how to cure your prospecting problem.

Let’s set the record straight: Most everyone on your sales team has call reluctance—whether they’re cold calling or asking for referrals.

Surprised? I was. What’s to fear about prospecting? After all, I only talk to people who want to talk to me. I use the referral system I developed 20 years ago. It works. But then I remembered …

One of my first corporate sales jobs was with a global consulting and training firm. The marketing department mailed VHS tapes (yes, it was that long ago) about our new product to VPs of Sales at Fortune 1000 companies. That may seem absurd today, but it was a creative prospecting strategy in 1995. It was my job as an account exec to follow up with these executives. Now that I think back, I must have sounded really stupid. I had a call script and was told to ask if they had received the tape. Yes. Had they watched it? Nope.

I didn’t think about it then, but I was cold calling. I was terribly uncomfortable. I made cold calls for 10 minutes and then dialed a friend and talked for 20 minutes.

When I became a vice president and managed a sales team, I decided that cold calling was not the way to generate qualified sales leads. I recalled that my best business had always come from referrals, so why shouldn’t my team adopt a referral system? They all agreed that referrals were the best way to work.

As I quickly learned, it was one thing to get people to agree in principle and another to actually implement. I tried coaching, I tried demonstrating, and I tried setting goals and incentives. In the end, committing to a referral system as our primary outbound prospecting strategy met the same reluctance as cold calling.

Prospecting Creates the Same Fear Today

Why? Good question. Here’s what even seasoned sales pros tell me:

“I think I’ve told you before that I have a mild to moderate case of call reluctance. Even warm opportunities I’m following up on create anxiety.”

“I’m not sure of the reason, but I have never been comfortable asking for referrals.”

If you hear these comments from your sales team, it’s time to call it what it is—call reluctance, or the fear of self-promotion. Sales reps don’t want to appear pushy and arrogant by tooting their own horns.

That puts a different twist on prospecting. In The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance: Earning What You’re Worth in Sales, authors George W. Dudley and Shannon L. Goodson explain:

Some of the most highly-paid and powerful people did not attain their positions by being the most technically competent. They did it through purposeful self-promotion.

Some people are natural promoters. They are born with the instinct to self-promote. For others often the most loyal, motivated and deserving self-promotion is emotionally difficult. They are rendered invisible by a spirit-crushing condition the authors call the fear of self-promotion.

When the fear of self-promotion victimizes salespeople, emotionally limiting their ability to initiate contact with prospective buyers, it’s tagged sales call reluctance. Far more than the fear of making cold calls or using the telephone, sales call reluctance obstructs all forms of prospecting for new business. And it costs. Each year, sales call reluctance single-handedly accounts for over half of all failures in one of the largest professions in the world.”

Dudley and Goodson go on to name call reluctance “the social disease of the direct sales profession.”

With referral selling, self-promotion isn’t the only thing sales reps fear. They also fear rejection.  Asking for referrals is personal. It’s close to home. If someone says no, it’s 100-percent pure, personal rejection. Imagine if someone you knew refused to introduce you. Devastating? Yes. End of the world? No.

Many salespeople find it harder to ask their referral networks for sales leads than to cold call strangers. Ironic, yet it makes complete sense. Cold callers are just “dialing for dollars” and have no skin in the game. When someone hangs up on them or reacts negatively to their call script, they just move to the next name on the list.

No wonder sales reps give so many excuses for not prospecting!

3 Reasons Your Team Isn’t Generating Referral Sales Leads

How is call reluctance preventing your team from getting referrals?

1. They’re not asking.

Many reps tell me they forget to ask for referrals. No, they don’t forget. They choose not to remember. There’s a difference, and that’s call reluctance. Sales reps are often so apprehensive about asking for referrals that they don’t make the call. That’s a total waste. Current clients are our best source for generating qualified sales leads, but no rep has asked every single current and past client for referrals—everyone they’ve met during the sales and implementation process. I know this because I ask sales teams if they’ve asked. No one ever raises a hand.

2. They haven’t nurtured their networks.

If salespeople don’t stay in touch with prospects, clients, and referral sources, they can forget about generating qualified sales leads. Call reluctance keeps them from making contact. The more time passes between interactions, the harder it is to reach out and ask for referrals. What do they do instead? They focus on new deals that are currently in their pipelines. They’ve missed out on the fastest way to generate only qualified sales leads: asking for referrals.

In many companies, account execs hand off clients to account managers or customer success teams as soon as deals are signed. Then they’re off finding new prospects. Bad plan. Account execs are the ones who forge strong relationships during the sales process. They need to remain involved and in touch, so they can tap into those relationships to garner referral introductions.

3. They didn’t do a good job.

Sometimes there’s a legitimate reason for call reluctance. If salespeople don’t feel like they delivered seamlessly for the client, they’ll naturally feel uncomfortable asking for referrals.

Of course, that means you have a bigger problem than just lead generation, so it’s important to determine exactly what’s keeping your team from asking. Then you need to fix it. Are there gaps in your sales process or organizational structure, lack of communication between sales and delivery teams, unrealistic expectations from the client … or more?

The Cure for Cold Calling Reluctance: A Referral System

Sales reps won’t ask for referrals until they get over their fear of call reluctance. That requires skills building, coaching, practice, and experience. They not only need to understand the value of referral selling, but also recognize that a referral system isn’t optional.

Referral selling is the most effective way to prospect. With a 70-percent conversion rate of prospect to client, your team will eliminate competitors, shorten your sales process, and decrease your cost of sales. Why would they waste time doing anything else?

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