The selling process is only now being recognised as a professional competency that can be developed and enhanced in those who have a passion for communicating on a person-to-person level and with a wide range of people.   The best definition of the interpersonal sales process is:

“A conversation with a series of agreements and the incitement of a customer into making a purchase decision”.

Fifty years ago, maybe forty years ago, perhaps even less than thirty years ago, if you could manufacture it, you could sell it. Demand exceeded supply.

Today the reverse is the case. If you can sell it, you can manufacture it, yet the business world has been unable to shift its focus away from manufacture to that of competent professional interpersonal selling.

The advent and acceptance of marketing as a profession and its associated reliance on advertising as a prime method of sales promotion has further taken away the attention from interpersonal “person to person” sales communications (selling) to that of “mass marketing methodologies”.

The “mass” became the focus and not the “individual”. The result is mass promotion (advertising) to those in any market who are so keen to buy the product on offer; you could rarely stuff up the order. In this circumstance all you need to do is “turn up” and the order is yours. Yet this process continues to be referred to as a “sale”, when in reality it is “order taking”. Order taking and selling require very different competencies. 

Some businesses pay exorbitant “sales commissions”, when all that is needed is to “turn up” and collect the order. Hopefully some diligent sales people use this “turning up “opportunity to “add on sell” other products and services.

Now to a dose of tough professional reality: 

The “crème de la crème” of the sales profession have always known that “selling only starts once a prospect says no or is hesitant to proceed”. These professionals have learnt to develop their skills in order to ensure that they are fully prepared for this eventuality. Professional sales mangers understand the role they play is developing this skill.

      This ISI reference document has been created to provide all who make their living or wish to make their living from the selling function with a comprehensive and informative overview of the highly important sales profession and the issues which impede an individual from achieving their highest levels of performance.

This ISI reference document is educational and informative. The International Sales Institute (ISI) also makes a distinction between sales education and sales training. ISI believes that: “sales education is generic and sales training must be job specific”. Regrettably many sales courses are educational; however they have been inaccurately promoted as “sales training” courses.  

This ISI reference document is all about the sales career and the challenges which may restrict the achieving of excellence in this profession. It is the hope of ISI that this ISI reference document will incite a desire from the reader to reengineer their sales aptitudes. To others it will be an opportunity to review their core abilities in consideration of the psychological obstacles they may face.

Once you have read and absorbed this ISI reference document you may decide to ensure that the issues contained within it, need to be considered in how they relate to your day-to-day sales activities. Often just recognising the challenges you face can be freeing and personally developmental. All sales people regardless of their successes suffer some form of “call reluctance”.

ISI is committed to making sure that the business community gives the sales profession the respect it justly deserves and that every business appreciates the professional challenges the sales profession faces in pursuit of the sales targets placed before them. 

So creating a conversation with a series of agreements and the incitement of a potential customer into a purchase decision may not on the surface appear demanding.  The difficulty for many people is making that first connection so that this conversation with agreements can take place.  This function is commonly referred to as the prospecting and connectivity process and it is the area that generally causes most concern to people attracted to the selling profession.

These days as a result of all the technologies available the basic person-to-person communications skills in prospecting are making way for alternative technologies such as mass lead generation systems. Outbound telemarketing systems, email marketing systems and a variety of internet based mass connectivity processes, are enabling the reluctant prospector to engage in “arms length” prospecting methods. Often the seller’s “call reluctance” thus remains difficult to identify. Finding prospects who may have a need for your products and services may be now far easier, however the ability and or desire to meet with these prospects may still be the biggest hurdle many sellers face.    

So for those of us who still need to make contact with people for the first time and therefore have to build a relationship from scratch, what are the important factors to consider that will help overcome the call reluctance we all feel when having to make cold calls on even the best and most qualified of prospects?

For every completed sale, sales people have to make numerous contacts and suffer numerous rejections.  It is generally agreed that it takes 25 cold contacts with prospects to get 12 responses, which result in 5 formal sales presentations leading to 3 sales. This is considered a “success rate”.

Prospecting is obviously an essential part of the selling profession.  In sheer numerical terms it is probably the most important aspect of selling.  But it is also sheer hell for a large number of otherwise capable salespeople. Overcoming their issues about call reluctance can be the difference between an average performer and the consummate sales professional.

That sinking feeling in the stomach when it is time to pick up the phone and call a new prospect is something most salespeople are more than familiar with.  But according to the International Sales Institute (ISI) these people are really suffering from a condition called “call reluctance”.  Often this actual psychological condition goes undiagnosed.

Yet it is something experienced by almost all salespeople at some stage, but until recently little was known about its causes – or more importantly, its cures.

Regrettably, call reluctance is something which has always been treated with panic measures.

It has now been recognised that this difficulty referred to as “call reluctance” cannot be rectified through motivational talks or by providing sales people with “slick talking” sales trainers who make this part of the sales job sound simple and stress-free. 

Motivating a sales person to make cold calls when there are some deep seated psychological issues which are preventing them from doing so, only multiplies the seller frustrations.

When sales start to drop off or level out, managers typically get in motivational speakers, introduce incentives, increase sales quotas, or just tighten the screws and tell sales staff to sell – or else. This is usually the case when the sales manager is or was a competent cold caller. Conversely the manager may have never sold before and therefore cannot relate to this psychological hurdle.

What such measures don’t consider are the reasons for the drop off in sales, and according to many psychologists these panic measures may actually be doing more harm than good.

The International Sales Institute (ISI) believes that: “Call reluctance” is something that predominantly occurs in people who are already motivated.  They want to get out there and do their job well, but are prevented from doing so by some internal limitation. By trying to increase their motivation you are only adding to their frustrations”.

The psychology of “call reluctance” has been extensively written about by two US researchers, George Dudley and Shannon Goodson of Behavioural Science Research Press.  They found there are seven types of genuine call reluctance. Call reluctance often exists in every sales call and is not restricted to first up interactions betwenn a seller and their customer. Move over call reluctance can exist to some degree in every sales call and even where the seller has called on a customer on several occasions.


1.          Intrusion Sensitivity  

The most common is intrusion sensitivity which occurs when salespeople feel uncomfortable disturbing a prospect’s daily routine. 

Sales people suffering with this ailment often have many good and logical excuses as to why their cold calling activities could not proceed.

The time was not right; the prospect is difficult to connect with during certain times or any variety of other delaying tactics which are often difficult to argue against. People with this “intrusion sensitivity issue” may also be able to disguise their condition by involving themselves in endless research about a prospect, just to be able to avoid making the initial call.

2.          Image Sensitivity  


The next most common is image sensitivity. This is an almost obsessive preoccupation with the need to be perceived as a business professional rather than a sales person.

According to Dudley and Goodson the insatiable need for image sensitivity in salespeople often makes them create exceptionally good first impressions, however they avoid taking the inevitable risks needed to ask for the business.

They are constantly blaming others, and will search endlessly for ways to demand dignity and respect without having to earn it. They often solicit the customer’s support to tell their employer how good they really are. Regrettably, many employers often see this action by the customer as an indicator of the seller’s relationship based selling competencies.


Nothing could be further from the truth. This seller needs a great deal of backing to overcome their insatiable need for recognition. Sales people with the onset of this ailment continually inform their sales manager about their activities. Their insatiable need for recognition by their employer and their customers, places the business partnership at risk in favour of a private need.

3.          Role Acceptance  

Other forms of call reluctance include role acceptance where salespeople cannot reconcile themselves to their chosen career.

Sales people suffering the ailment of “role acceptance” often seek a change in title. They react well to the brands “account manager” or territory manager” even when their income may remain unaltered. They also regularly seek promotion into sales management roles, way before they are capable or ready for such a promotion. Often this ailment is common when people have sought employment in the sales profession as a way of maintaining any form of employments. This condition is easily reversible, provided the sales manager or GM of the business knowns how to treat the cause and not the symptom of this condition.


4.          Social Differential

Social differential is a fear of more affluent or superior prospects. Also this sensitivity can be an unwillingness to take social risks.

The issue of “role acceptance” and the issue of “social differential” may appear to be linked. However there are many cases where the two issues are very separate. What the sufferers of “social differential” suffer from is the need to be recognised as experts in their field.  They are therefore very difficult to incite into new ways of doing things, and will go out of their way to involve others in support of their reluctance to change. From a call calling perspective they will show a strong desire to call on their band of supportive customers, rather than calling on new people where they may risk their perceived expert position.

5.          Deferment

More precisely put, this is a tendency to over think and under act.

A sales person suffering this ailment will have an insatiable need for new information and sales training. They will regularly identify areas of personal and professional development that would be helpful in their quest for sales excellence. Their need to defer the obvious and make that cold call is really the issue. 

This condition is directly related to their “courage quotient” or their need to be risk averse. Activities, which require impulsiveness, can be helpful in assisting these sales people in overcoming this condition.

6.          Group Sensitivity 

The fear of presenting to a group of people exists in the vast majority of people, regardless of whether they are in the sales profession or not. 

Many who are fine with one on one presentation, have a great resistance to group presentation. These people will find it difficult to make submission to Boards and management groups, yet they excel in a one on one meeting. Often this ailment is difficult to detect until the sales person has been thrust into this bigger and scarier place.

This condition is easily treatable if the manager can refocus the sellers mind from presenting to a group, to presenting to a series of individuals who make up a group. When the seller suffering this condition recognisers that each group is a series of individuals this condition can often subside.         

7.          Reluctance to sell to family members

Call reluctance also occurs when salespeople are unwilling to call on personal friends or family. 

This is a very rare condition, yet it does exist in some well performing sales people. Some suffer this ailment as they enjoy the challenge of the coldest of calls, rather then a warm walk up start.  Often in selling, sales people are referred to as “hunters or gatherers”. Hunters will often suffer this ailment as they need the challenge of cold calling. Others with a poor “courage quotient” will continually call of regulars (friends or family) to avoid the more risky calls. Changing sales territories will often assist those with this ailment. 

The good news is that “call reluctance” in its many disguises can be identified, and with skilled professional sales management,  be overcome.