How to coach your sales people to pick up the phone

It might seem like an anomaly that sales staff don’t want to make new business calls. But we’ve found that it’s a key issue that comes up with client-facing service providers. They will do almost anything but pick up the phone to potential new clients. We look at the reasons why and suggest three ways of tackling these issues when coaching new staff.

A sales person who is reluctant to pick up the phone? This may seem a strange question – after all, isn’t the ability to pick up the phone to potential customers supposed to be one of the defining features of a sales person?

There are a number of reasons why:

  • In professional service organisations, people’s training has been spent developing and honing their professional skills – financial advice, IT skills, legal training and so on – rather than their sales skills. They have usually come late to needing sales skills, and it wasn’t their first choice of career.
  • For many people who have not gone into sales as their first career choice, the idea of pitching themselves and their professional services to people they have not yet met is terrifying. Paralysed by this, they place their faith in telesales, search engine optimisation, advertising – anything which means they won’t personally have to pick up the phone to a relative stranger.
  • Many professionals have a touching belief in the power of all that training and education to attract clients; they ‘shouldn’t have to’ sell their services. The world is full of underemployed consultants and advisers in all walks of life for just this reason. Sorry, you may be the world’s most brilliant graphic designer, wealth adviser, lawyer (fill in the gap), but the world will not beat a path to your door unless you get out there and tell people about your brilliance.

Here are three of the most common limiting beliefs, and some suggestions for how to tackle these in coaching your staff:

1. “I’m a trained (lawyer, designer, financial specialist) – ‘sales’ is beneath my dignity”

What to say: ‘Sales’ is a highly skilled profession in its own right. These days, consumers have an unprecedented level of access to information about products and services. It takes a skilled and subtle approach to cut through the noise and stand out against the competition, especially for sophisticated and complex personal services like the ones you offer. No one else can sell you as well as you can. Get over it – and learn how to do it as well as you do your day job.

2. “If I ask, they may say ‘no’ – and I hate rejection”

What to say: Yes, that’s true – it’s a fact of life that if you ask, you don’t always get. But they are not rejecting you – they just don’t need your service right now, or you haven’t made a good enough job of conveying its value to them. Stop hiding your head in the sand, hone your sales skills and get really good at conveying the value you provide. And remember, when you pick up the phone, it’s only the beginning of a long and subtle journey. Remember, you are not trying to close the sale today. Just get permission to call again, to send some literature, or to set up a meeting, and next time you call them, they won’t be a stranger!

3. “I prefer building long-term relationships with clients – I’m sure new business will magically ensue.”

What to say: There are two key areas of sales activity: ‘hunting’ – landing new contracts and clients, and ‘farming’ – taking care of, and growing, the clients you already have. A big enough operation may employ specialist hunters and farmers, each focusing on the area they are best at. However, most of us don’t have this luxury, and have to learn to do both. Your sales strategy should include new business targets both for hunting and for farming – but every business needs fresh blood from time to time. You cannot rely on farming alone to keep your business afloat.

There’s no need to struggle with client-facing staff who avoid new business calls – use the tips above to coach the ones you have, and, when recruiting, to winkle out limiting beliefs and ensure the problem doesn’t arise in the future.

A version of this article written by Kate Mercer first appeared on in March 2016.

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