Tales From the Field
by Frank Lee
What makes a salesperson reluctant to go out and ask for business? Do you know what roadblocks keep you from obtaining financial success? If you knew what your reluctances were, would you do something about them? And how do you find out what they are in the first place?
There is a sales call reluctance test called the SPQ Gold. SPQ stands for Sales Preference Questionnaire. Sometimes, salespeople look at their SPQ reports, groan, and think the reports tell them they should immediately give up their sales careers and just find another job. It does nothing of the sort. It simply says, if you would like to make selling a lot more comfortable for you, here is the treasure map that will show you the way. Some salespeople follow this map and improve their financial positions. Others argue over the quality of the paper or the validity of small issues and never take the steps needed to correct their call reluctances. And, of course, their incomes do not improve either.
All of us have dreams. Some of us have even figured out what we need to do to make our dreams come true. However, for some, taking the steps to get to those dreams becomes an emotional impossibility. The SPQ report highlights these emotional roadblocks and then gives salespeople options. The first option is acceptance or nonacceptance. Then there are several other options that, if chosen, can improve their abilities to make money—from gradually to dramatically.
Some salespeople receive the report too late. The following stories show the tragic depths that sales call reluctance can drive salespeople to. In both cases, the outcomes could have been very different had the proper interventions happened in time.
Several years back, an insurance agent in Hawaii called me. He asked a lot about call reluctance. After speaking to him for some time, I suggested he take the SPQ. He agreed. When I scored his test, it showed he had quite a bit of call reluctance. However, two types stood out—Role Rejection and Emotionally Unemancipated.
Role Rejection Call Reluctance occurs in salespeople who are secretly ashamed of being in sales. Even though intellectually they believe that sales is an honorable profession, emotionally they still feel as if they are letting someone important down. This eventually destroys their ability to enjoy their successes in sales. They often experience serious conflicts about their role in sales.
Emotionally Unemancipated Call Reluctance inhibits salespeople from selling to their families. I am usually unconcerned with this one because most people know many more people than their families and they usually find ways to deal with this. I always feel it is a pity since family members should be the one market salespeople should be able to rely on but it is almost impossible to convince the salesperson of this.
When he called for his test interpretation, I zoned in on the Role Rejection and, at first, disregarded the Emotionally Unemancipated. I questioned him about the Role Rejection. At first, he denied that he was ashamed of being in sales but, after some prodding, he told a shocking story that revealed the conflict.
He had gone into insurance sales 2 years earlier and had done very well. He became one of the stars in his office. At the time we spoke, he was still riding the crest of the wave. He spoke proudly of the awards he had received and the recognition bestowed on him. His voice beamed when he told of the money he was making and the lifestyle it afforded him. Then he dropped the bombshell.
When he decided to go into sales 2 years ago, his father immediately cut him off telling him that he was a disgrace to his family. His father hated all salespeople and thought insurance salespeople were the worst of a bad bunch. This was why he had worked so hard to have his kids educated, he told him. For 2 years his father had not spoken to him once. They had been a close family so this had been on his mind from day one.
He had worked harder than most to become successful so that he could demonstrate to his father that he had made the right decision. However, nothing he did satisfied his father. Each award only caused his father more pain because he saw it as further evidence that his son had learned how to deceive people. He kept in touch with his family through his mother who secretly called and encouraged him. She told him that the only way for him to reconcile with his father was for him to give up selling altogether.
"What are you going to do?" I asked him.
"What do you think?" he shot back. "My family means more to me than a sales career. Eventually, I'm going to have to give in."
I told him what he needed to do to overcome the call reluctance but I had the feeling he was not going to do anything to fix it. I asked him to read the book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance. I specifically asked him to read the chapter entitled "The Parable of the New Eldorado" that talks to salespeople with Role Rejection. He said he would, but I'm not sure if he did or not.
Years later, I met a salesperson from Hawaii at an insurance convention. I asked if he knew the salesperson I had spoken to.
"Didn't you hear?" he asked. "He committed suicide."
I have no way of knowing why. I can only guess. I don't know that call reluctance was the main reason, but I have a feeling that it played a major role.
David, an insurance executive from Alaska, called me. At first, he was upbeat, asking me all kinds of questions about call reluctance and how it can affect earnings. He seemed a nice enough person so I allowed the conversation to go on for a while. Eventually, I asked him why he was calling me. Did he think he had call reluctance?
He hesitated for a few seconds. Then he said, "Yes," in a very quiet voice.
"So what?" I countered, picking up on the change in attitude. "A lot of salespeople have call reluctance."
"Do they have it so bad that it paralyzes them?" he asked.
He went on to tell me that his sales had dropped. He had been a very good salesperson and made enough money to be able to afford many luxuries. The decline started gradually and then became, as he put it, like an avalanche. I let him talk for about 20 minutes as he described his career. He could not put his finger on what went wrong. He knew there was something wrong with him but he could not figure it out. He had called me because he thought it may be call reluctance. From our discussion, I knew that it was.
Since I could not place what types he had, I suggested that he take the SPQ. He agreed and asked me to send it to him.
"Can you overnight it to me?" he asked. "While I still have money to pay for it?"
I asked what he meant and he told me that his paycheck was down to near zero. His savings had evaporated. His wife had left him and taken the children with her. His house was about to be foreclosed on. His car had already been repossessed. He was on the skids.
"You'd think that, with all this happening, it should spur me on to go out and make a sale, wouldn't you?" he asked rhetorically. "After all, I do know how to sell and I know that I would sell if I could just get up and go out. But I can't. I sit at home these days just watching the time go by. Can you help?"
I offered to send him the test overnight at no charge to him. I even told him I would include a return envelope with overnight postage on it. I promised to call him as soon as I got his results. I sent the package. I never heard back from him. When I called, his phone had been disconnected. I don't know what happened to him.
In his case, I doubt that call reluctance was the main reason for his decline but I have a feeling that it played a major role.
Could These Have Been Prevented?
A vigilant sales manager should have been able to spot the warning signs in both these salespeople. A caring sales manager should have been able to provide the mental support for them. Administering the SPQ earlier would have alerted the sales manager to problems before they got out of hand.
In the Hawaiian case, because he was such a good salesperson, his sales manager did not spend a great deal of time with him. As he said to me, "Just because I make a lot of sales doesn't mean that I don't need help." He complained to me that his sales manager spent more time on the salespeople who sold less and hardly any time with him. He told me he felt "abandoned" by his sales manager and that they did not have a relationship that allowed him to speak to him. Not surprisingly, this was the same complaint we found in a study of the members of the Million Dollar Round Table a few years ago. Top salespeople in companies felt neglected by management because they did so well.
In the Alaskan case, David told me that his sales manager had given up on him. The curious thing was that his sales manager had given up very early when his slide had barely started. While there was still a lot of hope, his sales manager had found other salespeople more worthy of his time. He, too, had felt abandoned by his sales manager.
And Now for Something Completely DifferentGeorge was a farm equipment salesperson from Idaho who attended a Fear-Free Prospecting & Self-Promotion workshop based on the call reluctance program. He had Stage Fright Call Reluctance in spades.
Six weeks after the workshop, he called me to tell me he had just sold several pieces of equipment to different farmers in the neighborhood café. What's so special about this?
Like many salespeople in this industry, he would often frequent the neighborhood café where the farmers hung out. He would single out a farmer, sit with him and sell him equipment.
"You don't know how many sales I made in that coffee shop," he told me.
However, the minute a second farmer sat down, he would panic and "hightail" it out of there. He was okay one-on-one. Two or more made him uncomfortable enough to run.
"You don't know how many sales I left sitting on the table in that coffee shop," he told me.
After the workshop, he diligently applied his cure and was able to manage his stage fright call reluctance. This was why he was calling me.
"I sat down with this one farmer," he said gleefully. "And then another joined in and then a third. I would normally have hightailed it out of there already but I didn't. I mentally snapped the rubber band. (This is one of the cures described in an earlier article.) Guess what? I made three sales today to three different farmers!"
He was proud of himself and he should have been. He had taken on something many people equate to death and beaten it. Did it affect his income? I'd say on that one day, it trebled it for him.