Call Reluctance: The Career-Killer, and How to Avoid It

June 5, 2020 Tarmo Tamm

Call reluctance has been referred to as a mental short circuit, diverting energy from prospecting to procrastinating. Rather than making required calls, salespeople develop a block which allows fears to stand in the way of goals. This block often comes with detrimental emotional and professional results. Call reluctance can even extend beyond the telephone, preventing salespeople from arranging in-person meetings with potential clients. All based on the same insecurities and anxieties. While call reluctance is a common issue among salespeople, there are methods and strategies to overcoming. You just need to know where to start. 

Spot the problem: Signs of call reluctance

Call reluctance can rear its ugly head at any time in any work-related situation. Sometimes, signs can appear without notice—and by then, the damage is such that it can take longer to correct. The key is recognition. Notice and address these behaviours and how they wreak havoc on your professional and personal abilities. Only then can you accurately and effectively execute a plan of action for recovery.

Here are some of the most common signs that you may be experiencing call reluctance:

You are frequently putting things off

Procrastination is a real fear for everyone, not just those in sales. We live in an age of distractions—so it’s no wonder that when the going gets tough, we tune out. Typically, we pick up a magazine or log on to a social media account. Or, we turn on the television, thinking, “I’ll tackle that thing as soon as this program is over.” Big mistake!

When it comes to call reluctance, you must resist giving in to subconscious thinking. By focusing on irrelevant tasks instead of work, you’re only exacerbating your poor time management skills—and the cycle continues. And it’s not just before you make your calls. Procrastination can have an overreaching effect on contacts you have already made. It diminishes existing working relationships and forces established clients to reexamine their options.

You are over-preparing before your calls

That’s right! You may think that by cramming tons of information into your scripts that you’re guaranteed to close deals with prospects. You may want to think again! Obviously, preparation is key for anyone in sales. But being too prepared can also pose challenges.

Putting too much thought into your delivery is a problem. So is ignoring key considerations, like researching the needs and expectations of prospects or developing meaningful connections. In either scenario, you risk sounding over-prepared. This common misstep is rooted in procrastination (see above). Humans always tend to engage in activity that is comfortable and familiar (working through your own presentation pitch) rather than attempting something daring and new (learning more about leads). Despite the obvious importance of knowing your stuff, preparation does not necessarily guarantee success. Sales is not an industry for the faint of heart. In order to establish a working relationship, you need to be knowledgeable but also authentic. Too much preparation can make you sound robotic, indifferent—like you’re looking to make a sale, and nothing else.

You tend to think negatively

There is always the potential for delivering bad or uncomfortable news to prospects. Maybe there is a lack of resources available to address their particular needs. Or they perhaps have not yielded a profitable enough return on their investment. These types of phone calls can be difficult to manage. But if you allow yourself to think that every call is going to have a negative outcome, they likely will. Rid yourself of this doubting and self-sabotage, or else call reluctance will not be your only issue.

Call reluctance and your career—how it can affect you?

There are many ways in which severe call reluctance can have detrimental effects on your career. And it doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned veteran or brand new to the field. What’s important is that you recognise your aversions, or else your career may be tested in the following ways:

Jeopardising your sales performance

Simply put: if you cannot establish yourself as a successful salesperson, you will not become a successful salesperson. If call reluctance overtakes your ability to turn leads into contacts into sales, then your performance will suffer. Prospects will have a difficult time relating to you. They will lose trust in the effectiveness of your products and chances for future work will dry up. Additional leads may taper off and your workload will lighten (and possibly disappear altogether). The results? A drastic decrease in your overall sales performance. Do not allow your situation to reach this critical point.

Missing out on promotions or partnerships

Without a track record of consistent sales transactions, you are unlikely to be considered for advancement opportunities when available.

Losing your job

In rare but serious cases, the anxieties and fears surrounding call reluctance can reach a fever pitch. They can so negatively affect your job performance that you become a liability at your office. This can translate into reassignment or termination. If it’s determined that you can’t build or maintain relationships due to call reluctance, your superiors may have no choice.

What are the causes of call reluctance?

Everybody experiences call reluctance differently. While the cause of each case can be difficult to nail down, most are based on the same fear: insecurity. No two salespeople are alike, but there is almost always this singular thread running through every example. Once you learn to develop an understanding of your own call reluctance, you can tailor your approach. This allows you to become much better equipped to overcome the challenges. Here are some of the most common causes of salespeople experience when dealing with call reluctance:

A crippling fear of rejection

As salespeople, you are subject to rejection every single day you are on the job. And the feeling never truly goes away. One day you may feel like you have control; the next, you may find yourself facing a familiar foe. Whether attempting to secure an appointment or pushing to close an important deal, your innate fear of rejection reappears. This is the primary cause of call reluctance.

Call reluctance acts as an emotional barrier that prevents salespeople from picking up the phone. It is based almost entirely on fear: fear of the unknown, fear of looking foolish or weak, fear of rejection. And if you are a salesperson, it can be the kiss of death for your career. In an effort to avoid rejection, salespeople will often focus entirely on familiar, existing accounts and clients. In turn, they are neglecting or all-out ignoring calling up new potential customers. Before they know it, this inactivity has softened their communication skills, making them less effective and less aggressive.

Feeling out of practice

We all know the old adage, practice makes perfect. Once you have been working in sales for a while, you learn through practice and execution how to anticipate the needs of prospects. And how to tailor your call approaches accordingly. However, if you are just starting out in the field, you are probably lacking these necessary practice skills. If you are out of step recognising customer problems and expectations, you are therefore subject to higher rates of rejection.

You really don’t know your prospects…

If you fail to adequately research leads before calling, then you are making it harder to form credible connections. And you are turning up the dial on your own anxiety. Knowing as much as possible about your prospects before getting them on the line ensures that you sound confident and prepared. Have a bank of questions ready. What do they do? What does their company do? Do they need what I am selling? Can they afford it? Without these considerations, you may be wasting your time, as well as the time of your potential client. You want to close the deal, but before you can do that, you must make sure that you have solutions.

…and you really don’t know your products!

If you work in sales, product knowledge is critical. This might seem like a no-brainer, but even some of the most seasoned salespeople can miss the mark. If prospects have questions about your company and you fail to respond with answers that are informative, engaging, and authoritative? Well, you’ve really got nobody but yourself to blame for that rejection. Do not allow yourself to be caught off-guard. Do plenty of research, have all relevant information on hand and prepare to fire back with answers. Especially answers to out-of-left-field questions—anything a prospect may throw at you. Additionally, consider not just why, but how? How does your company’s products or services benefit each individual lead? If you are unprepared, you will likely experience rejection. Too many rejections and you will likely find yourself back in the vicious cycle of call reluctance.


No matter how long you’ve been in telesales, you’ll always experience anxiety before you pick up the receiver. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, anxiety is a sign that you take your job seriously—so don’t worry about that! Only when your ability to perform your day-to-day tasks become hindered by anxiety does it become an issue. If you’re experiencing a frequent fear of calling buyers, consider testing these following strategies in order to overcome your fears:

Give yourself a pat on the back—and often

It is important that salespeople never lose sight of the end result of a call with a prospective client. However, this does not mean that you also need to lose your humanity. Salespeople get a bad reputation thanks to the countless portrayals in the media as sneaky and dishonest. With this negative implication in place, some salespeople (especially newbies) may find it difficult to develop trust with their leads. This is a common cause of call reluctance—and also one of the simplest to correct. Always maintain a positive image of yourself, and your industry (helpful, trustworthy). Doing so, you will be that much more motivated to reach out in search of meaningful connections. A salesperson lacking in confidence is not likely to become a great success. Keep that in mind if you are ever feeling reluctant to pick up the phone.

Place Yourself in the Right Environment

Another factor in overcoming call reluctance is removing yourself from areas not conducive to making—and maintaining—business calls. If you don’t want to tackle a project, it’s easy to find ways to distract yourself. A change of scenery is the best way to avoid such distractions. Prepare your phone script, list of leads, phone numbers, and research, and move to a quiet, private conference room. Or, take all of the above and your phone to another, quieter office space. If keeping your computer open may tempt you to log on to social media, then power down. Or better yet, try a productivity browser extension add-on that will literally block you from irrelevant non-work related sites. For those salespeople who cannot leave their desks, try placing engaging stimuli (books, pictures, etc.) in a drawer. This way, you are completely allowing yourself to focus while freeing yourself of distractions. Whatever it takes to get a good chunk of your work done.

Have a pen and paper handy

A great way to plan ahead for a busy day of calls is by putting together a list. This should include a series of open-ended questions that you can track and assess after each call. For example, while dialling up your first contact of the day, have a notepad and a pen ready to answer:

  • What is my goal for this call?
  • Is this contact a relevant prospect?
  • What about this call did I enjoy?
  • Where could I incorporate improvements?
  • How likely is it that this contact will call back?

By maintaining a written assessment of all of your calls, you’re not only tracking your progress, but you’re emboldening yourself to do better with each new call. After completing a handful of calls in succession, you will slowly but surely rid yourself of anxieties and fears.

Don’t focus too much on the end results

Closing a sale is key to any salesperson’s success, except when it’s not. It’s rarely a good idea to enter into a phone call motivated solely by making a deal. Without realising it, you may be setting yourself up for failure. For example, Monday morning, fully charged, you pick up the phone and call ten people—all of whom reject your offers. Despite your energy and positive outlook, a string of letdowns now means that you have no meetings planned for the week. Resultantly, you’re not going to be at that same level of motivation tomorrow when it’s again time to make calls. By focusing on the end result, and not the process, you are opening up the door for defeat. Reassessing your approach so that you are not disappointed at the end of the day is key. This way, at least you’ll go home feeling better knowing that you accomplished your objective. Even if it didn’t result in a sale.

Consider swapping leads with a fellow sales rep

If you’re struggling to make calls, another way to combat anxiety is switching leads with another member of your team. For example, you call five of their prospects while they call five of yours. If you each manage to find success with the others’ leads, swap back. If you aren’t calling your own leads, chances are you won’t be so emotionally attached to them. And you’ll be alleviating a great deal of unnecessary pressure. Once you hit a stride with someone else’s contacts, you can go back to your own list fully renewed.

Work with a coach

Choosing to be proactive and getting ahead of your work-related challenges is not only commendable, it’s also extremely healthy. Additionally, it will likely instil new habits and insights that you can take with you beyond the office. There are incredible benefits to working with a sales coach in order to combat your call reluctance. These types of professionals have the skills required to motivate you to become a better salesperson.

Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable working with a coach, reach out to your sales manager or director for guidance. Remember: call reluctance is something faced by every salesperson at some point throughout their career. So your direct reports will know how you feel and be willing to work with you to address opportunities for improvement. Do not consider this option to be a last resort! On the contrary, having a manager who understands your struggles can be key to developing a stronger working relationship. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, nor is it an indication that you are unqualified or inept. In fact, it demonstrates how seriously you take your job, and bosses will recognise this.

Think about prior success stories

When you get into the habit of living with great fear or scepticism, then your image of yourself lessens. It becomes muddied by constant thoughts of failure and disappointment, which make it very difficult to secure contracts in business. On the other hand, if you can get past this counterproductive, self-sabotage and train yourself to focus on past successes in your career, you will absolutely feel more confident about picking up the phone. Frequently playing—and replaying—positive examples of success in your mind a number of times is a great trick. Alleviate the negative thinking and develop a greater more productive approach to telesales. And it will likely carry over into your personal life, too.


Take it easy! If you’re riddled with anxiety while making a phone call, your potential client will recognise it. And you’ll likely find yourself on the receiving end of a rejection. When it comes to calming down—especially when you are on a deadline—it is often easier said than done. One way to alleviate stress and tension in your body is to approach relaxation physically. Lower your shoulders, take calming breaths, unclench your fists, release the tension in your face and jaw, and smile. You would be amazed by what a minimal amount of physical unwinding can do to bring on waves of relaxation.

There you have it! Whatever the reasoning behind your struggle with call reluctance, there are plenty of methods to overcome this very present obstacle. And doing so will get you back in front of your potential clients and leads with confidence—where you belong. As you have read, the most important step is making the decision to transform your thinking, followed by a swift and firm course of action. Once you’ve learned to stop avoiding those familiar fears, you can become a much better—and much more successful—salesperson.

Tarmo Tamm

Tarmo has sold at least 12 different products and services and worked as a Sales Manager on at least 14 projects. The efficient practices described in this book have been successfully implemented for B2B and B2C. These principles have been tested over the phone, in conference rooms, implemented in retail business, at shopping malls as well as in door-to-door sales.