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Another exciting and profitable week was drawing to a close as I climbed aboard the 8:45 p.m. Delta flight bound from Atlanta to my hometown of Daytona Beach, Fla.

I buckled into my window seat and soon began collecting thoughts for another article I was writing on the subject of professional selling, in particular, the common occurrence of call reluctance.

It seemed like I had just begun, when my rumination was interrupted by the flight attendant as she announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign indicating our initial descent into the Daytona Beach airport.”

While the crew picked up the remaining cups and glasses, I watched as the young lady seated next to me struggled to push her backpack into its secured position under the seat in front of her. During most of the one-hour flight she had barely said a word and kept herself occupied doing crossword puzzles and listening to what I presumed to be one of her favorite CDs. As we began our descent I “broke the ice,” asking if she was heading to Florida for spring break.

Volunteering that she was in her second year of high school, she further told me she was coming to visit her aunt who lived in Daytona Beach. She had heard intriguing stories about the beach community and, as this was her first trip to Florida, she was anxious to investigate first-hand.

For the remainder of our flight, she came out of her shell, so to speak, as we talked about fun things to do, sights to see and where to get the best deals on T-shirts and various souvenirs for her teenage friends back home. By the time the wheels of our MD80 touched the ground and we began taxiing to the terminal, I was enjoying a lively conversation with my new acquaintance.

As we parked at the gate the cabin lights went up and the bell rang once, indicating it was safe to rise and gather our belongings. As everyone packed the aisle and began retrieving their carry-ons from the overhead compartments, a voice two rows back called out, “Be sure you have all your things, Pumpkin!” Whirling immediately in the direction of her mothers voice, the young lady shot back, “Dont call me Pumpkin on the plane!”

Startled by the outburst and the sudden metamorphosis that had taken place in my new friend, I wondered if this scenario had anything to do with call reluctance. The answer? You bet it did!

To make the connection to call reluctance and use this situation to our advantage, we must turn for a moment to psychologists who tell us, as human beings grow, they build within them five basic fears. All of these fears are associated with various types of loss. The fear of losing a loved one, fear of losing our possessions, fear of losing our health, fear of losing our life and, the strongest fear of all, the fear of losing face, or being “put on the spot,” ridiculed, turned down, and embarrassed.

As my young airplane friend engaged in “adult” conversation with me, she began to let her fa?ade down, becoming more open, comfortable and free with her verbal involvement. While we greatly enjoyed our short discussion, it was clearly evident she would not have been the first to initiate our fun, rewarding exchange.

What held her back? Could the fear of losing face, looking foolish have been at work? If she were seated alongside her high-school pals, I am confident she would have been greatly conversant because she would have been in her “comfort zone.”

Unfortunately, most sales do not occur within ones comfort zone. As sales people seek riches found in uncomfortable territories, certain physical changes actually manifest themselves.

Thirteen years ago at the Million Dollar Round Table annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga., I attended an evening workshop conducted by George Dudley and Shannon Goodson on “The Psychology of Call Reluctance.” In attendance were approximately 500 of the top salespeople in the world, all of whom, as evidenced by their attendance, suffered from this common malady.

Early on, an audience volunteer was fitted with a blood-pressure cuff, thermometer and pulse rate recorder. He then was presented with a “live” telephone and asked to make his most effective cold sales call. His blood pressure went up, his temperature rose and his pulse raced almost out of control. The physical effects of losing face–call reluctance–were completely revealed.

We now know that call reluctance is primarily the result of the biggest fear we all possess and we know also that it is evidenced by several obvious physical symptoms. If we seek to overcome this debilitating phenomenon and increase our sales dramatically, however, we must simply treat the cause.

Recently NBCs investigative magazine, Dateline, profiled sports psychologist Dan Landers, who studies athletes performing under pressure. In this installment, students from Arizona State Universitys golf team were challenged to sink five-foot putts.

Using a hidden camera, Dateline recorded that, while practicing by themselves, they were successful in 15 out of 20 attempts. But then they were given a challenge–put on the spot. Dan Landers and Dateline would give each student $300 for every putt they sunk; however, if they missed, the student would have to pay $100 to Dateline and Dan.

With cameras live and each athlete facing the possibility of coast-to-coast humiliation and embarrassment, most could barely sink eight out of 20 attempts. Several team members reported physical symptoms–pulses raced and knees actually shook dramatically during the experiment.

Does any of this sound familiar? Of course it does. These student athletes experienced the same conditions that cause salespeople to shy away from making the calls necessary to bring success.

The good news is, success is close at hand! We can remedy the cause, overcome our fears, avoid embarrassment and increase our closing ratio dramatically by simply focusing our attentions on only four concerns (see chart).

We can triumph over call reluctance! Recall each day the words of “The Little Engine That Could” as he roared down the mountain, successfully delivering toys and goodies to the small children on the other side, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”

You will be happy you did!

, CLU, RHU, LUTCF, is author of several results-oriented books on strategic selling techniques. Jim can be reached at (904) 304-9684.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 10, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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