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The 'no' game

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“I know it’s crazy,” exclaimed Barry, a young financial advisor in New Jersey, while on the phone with me. “I want to be in this business and I want to be successful, but I can’t bring myself to make the phone calls I need to make. And if I don’t, obviously none of that will happen.”

Barry proceeded to tell me how many hundreds of calls he’d initiated over the past few months and how discouraged he had become. He acknowledged that if he didn’t start reaching out to people again he would have no choice but to find another line of work but insisted that changing careers wasn’t what he wanted to do.

We discussed how the best people for him to approach would be his “warm market” (the people he already knows). But he was especially terrified about calling them.

“I’d much rather cold call,” he insisted, and although I view cold calling as a last resort for most professionals, I conceded that it might help him to at least start with some activity there.

“You’ve made plenty of cold calls before,” I remarked. “So what’s stopping you from just picking up the phone and making more?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just feel like I can’t pick up that phone for anything.”

“Then maybe you’re approaching these calls the wrong way,” I suggested. “Make it a game. Your need for a client is making calling so stressful, it’s no wonder you can’t bring yourself to do it.”

I asked him, “What if the goal here were not to get an appointment but to collect ‘no’s? How many ‘no’s could you collect in a day? Make it a game, just for today.”

Since he wasn’t doing much of anything productive in his current funk anyway, Barry agreed he could give up just one day to play our little “no” game. Now, we had to give the game some structure, so we decided to make it a bit like baseball so that Barry’s challenges were as follows:

Break up the day into innings. Make 20 calls, then take a break to reward yourself: a walk around the block, some peanuts and crackerjack, a cup of coffee or a lunch break. Then make 20 more calls and continue the call-reward pattern throughout the day.

Keep score

Every “dial” (do we still call them dials?) would be a swing.

Every “connect” (an actual conversation, however short) ending in a “no” or a “not right now” would be a hit. (Hits are what we’re looking for.)

Every “yes” (an appointment to see a prospective client) would be a home run. (Great if you can get them, but we’re really only after hits.)

At the end of the day, Barry had made 109 dials, had connected with 27 people and had booked three appointments. In baseball jargon, he was batting .248 and had already made three home runs for the season. Much more important, Barry was ready to play the game again the next day.

Business author B.J. Gallagher coined the phrase “yes lives in the land of no. But until Barry was willing to play the “no” game, he was stuck in no-man’s land.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of “The High Diving Board” and “Become a Client Magnet.” For more information, go to