Key learning outcomes:

  • Understand that sales calls are an effective way to build your sales staff’s skill and confidence and overcome ‘sales reluctance’.
  • Differentiate between making a sales call and leaving a phone message.
  • Establish valid reasons for making sales calls, so that every call counts.
  • Recognise the value of sales call preparation and planning.


Interestingly, we find that a vast majority of salespeople are not natural prospectors and therefore they are not very good at it. Yes they like to deal with people; yes they can usually talk the leg off a chair; and yes they usually have a fairly healthy ego, but they also, by their nature, like to be liked and tend not to take rejection well. This, along with a tendency to prefer to deal with prospects that are likely to yield more immediate results, is what usually holds them back.

The key to getting salespeople on the phones is to improve their skills and confidence. Human nature is such that we like doing what we do well, and we do well at the things we like doing. Put a sales agent in front of a live prospect who is about to buy, and without doubt they will shine like stars. However, ask them to make 100 calls a day without a guarantee of success and you will probably meet with some resistance.

Below are a couple of tips and tools that can help overcome salespeople’s ‘call reluctance’, and can address some of the mistakes they often make.

Turn messages into a sales calls

How often will a salesperson tell you that they have made 100 calls, but in reality it means they have left 100 messages? Too often we have heard “they did not call me back – they must not be interested”. Our response is “why should they?” If you are selling to someone you should never leave a message for them to call you back, especially if it is a business-generation call.

Rather, leave a message that gives the person the reason for your call and then leave them with a next step by letting them know when you will call again. This will make the person much more likely to take your call, and by doing what you say you will do, calling back, you will start to build a level of trust.

No one cares how you are

Too many salespeople start calls with the obligatory “Hi Mrs Jones, how are you?” If it is a sales-generation call you probably do not know Mrs Jones well, if at all; therefore, starting the call in this way is neither appropriate nor necessary. You should always be as genuine as you can in your communication. You do not really care how Mrs Jones is any more than she cares about you. But, it is building rapport I hear you say! A sales call over the phone is vastly different to a face-to-face meeting. You have a very limited opportunity to get to the point, so you need to do it as quickly as possible.

Have I caught you at a good time?

Never ask a question that you do not want to know the answer to. By asking this or even worse, “do you have a few minutes to talk?”, you are asking a closed question and the answer is very likely to be “no, sorry”. You are infinitely better to use something similar to the following dialogue. “Mrs Jones, it is Bill Smith here from Watson & Co. This is just a quick courtesy call and I promise I will be brief. I just wanted to let you know about XYZ.” In just a few seconds you have managed to get to your point in a very polite way. It is a courtesy call and you have promised you will be brief – there is a good chance Mrs Jones will allow you to at least get this far. The key to this strategy is that you need to then ask an open or closed question depending on the result you are seeking. You also need to be brief. The added advantage is that if Mrs Jones likes to chat, you can end the conversation politely with “I know you are busy and I promised I would be brief so we should leave it there”.

Valid reason to call

Never pick up the phone to make sales calls unless you have a valid reason to call. Again you will have limited opportunities to talk to people and you need to make them count. “I am just calling to touch base” is not a valid reason to call. You are selling to this person and you need to make sure that you add value to the relationship. If you are working in a team, brainstorm updated reasons to call every Monday. This ensures there is a consistent message coming from the team and will ensure that you are always offering value during every sales call.

Know your desired outcome

Like adding value, there is little point in making a sales call unless you are clear on the desired outcome. Is it to make a face-to-face appointment or to pass on some information? There can be any number of reasons why we make sales calls. However, as we usually make them to generate additional business, we need to ensure that every call contributes to this goal. Once you are clear on the desired outcome of the call, you can make the relevant preparation.

For example, you may want to make a follow-up call to someone who test drove an SUV vehicle in your car dealership some time ago, but they were not ready to purchase at the time. The aim of the call is to find out if they are still looking for a car and to see if you can get them back into the dealership for another look. After the initial introduction you may want to ask a closed question such as “have you bought or are you still in the market?” If they say they are still looking, then you may ask another question such as “are you still thinking of an SUV?” A “yes” or “no” answer will allow you to move to the next step. If yes, you can present a new offer or opportunity to the person. “I know you were seriously considering XYZ model three months ago. You may not be aware that we are now offering ABC for the next 30 days”. You can then finish with a closed question to convert the call into a second test drive. By having a clear idea of the desired outcome you can strategically design your dialogue to move the client through your sales call process.

Like most things, the key to great prospecting is planning and preparation. You need to ensure that the people who are making the calls are skilled and confident. This confidence comes through on the phone and in turn makes people more receptive to engaging in a conversation. By using these simple tips you will be able to overcome call reluctance and also be able to increase the effectiveness of the calls salespeople make.

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