Call Reluctance: What It Is and How to Overcome It

Call Reluctance: What It Is and How to Overcome It

Posted by Pinney Insurance in NAIFA Solutions Center

Call reluctance: the struggle is real. On one hand, your career depends on prospecting. On the other hand, you have serious doubts about your readiness or what your prospect will think of you.

That doubt is often enough to keep new and unexperienced agents from picking up the phone. Even worse, if you do make the call, that doesn’t mean the doubt is gone. Oftentimes, it’s still there, lurking beneath your words, making you talk too fast or get tongue-tied as you deliver your sales pitch. Isn’t there a way to keep this from happening?

First, let’s start by saying that this happens to nearly everyone—even experienced advisors, as we’ll see below. To get a better understand of what’s happening, we need to look at the different types of call reluctance.

Types of Sales Call Reluctance

As it turns out, “call reluctance” is not a one-size-fits-all description of the problem. In The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance: Earning What You’re Worth in Sales, George W. Dudley and Shannon L. Goodson identify and describe 12 types of call reluctance.

  • Doomsayer: always sees the worst-case scenario
  • Over-Preparation: fears being under-prepared
  • Hyper-Pro: fears being humiliated
  • Stage Fright: fears group presentations
  • Role Rejection: ashamed to be in sales
  • Yielder: fears being pushy
  • Social Self-Consciousness: fears being intimidated
  • Separationist: fears losing friends
  • Emotionally Unemancipated: fears loss of family
  • Referral Aversion: fears losing a closed sale
  • Telephobia: fears using the phone
  • Oppositional Reflex: tends to criticize or blame others instead of taking responsibility

Insurance-Specific Call Reluctance

When it comes to insurance, the authors dug deeper and tried to figure out which of these types was the most prevalent. After studying 2,110 insurance salespeople, here’s what they found:

  • Hyper-Pro (fear of humiliation)
  • Over-Preparer (fear of being under-prepared)
  • Stage Fright (fear of group presentations)
  • Emotionally Unemancipated (fears losing family)
  • Yielder (fears being pushy)
  • Telephobia (fears the phone)
  • Separationist (fears losing friends)
  • Social Self-Consciousness (fears being intimidated)
  • Role Rejection (ashamed of sales)
  • Referral Aversion (fears losing client by asking for a referral)
  • Doomsayer (sees worst-case scenario all the time)
  • Oppositional Reflex (critiques and blames others)

MDRT vs. a Control Group

Dudley and Goodson also did the big MDRT Call Reluctance Research Project back in 1988. Yes, that was a long time ago, but since call reluctance hasn’t gone away, it’s valuable to bring back these results for a second look.

In this study, Dudley and Goodson gave participants a questionnaire, scored and examined in terms of age, time in the industry, and MDRT commissions category. A control group contained other insurance salespeople of roughly the same age and time in the industry who came from different agencies and who didn’t qualify for MDRT.

Here’s what they learned about the top three forms of call reluctance in the insurance industry:

  • Hyper-Pro. MDRT Top of the Table members scored an average of 46.88/100, while the control group averaged 53.67. The lesson? Be concerned with results, not your image.
  • Over-Preparation. MDRT Top of the Table members scored an average of 39/100, while the control group averaged 47. The lesson? The most successful insurance sales people prepare, but they know when enough is enough.
  • Stage Fright. MDRT Top of the Table members scored an average of 41.61/100, while the control group averaged 53.67. The lesson? Top producers use group sales techniques like seminar selling that other salespeople might shy away from.

And although the following types of call reluctance aren’t in the top three, they show an interesting difference in the way MDRT members approach the job:

  • Role Rejection. MDRT Top of the Table members scored an average of 29.5/100, while the control group averaged 46.67. That’s a huge difference! Unfortunately, we don’t know if this means top performers are comfortable in their role because they do well, or if they always believed in their role and their profession before they made money at it.
  • Yielder. MDRT Top of the Table members scored an average of 23.67/100, while the control group averaged 38.14. That’s another significant difference. Top producers don’t let the fear of being considered intrusive derail their prospecting efforts.
  • Referral Aversion. MDRT Top of the Table members scored an average of 18.72/100, while the control group averaged 38.89. Another big difference! Clearly, top producers aren’t afraid to ask for referrals, and they’re more successful because of it.


One thing is clear – call reluctance happens to everyone. As Dudley and Goodson learned, about 40% of veteran salespeople will experience periods of call reluctance that are bad enough to threaten their future as a salesperson, no matter how many years of experience they have.

Success isn’t a guarantee that you’ll sidestep call reluctance forever. The authors quote an MDRT member who said, “Twenty-eight years a member of Million Dollar Roundtable, I produce approximately 7-9 million dollars for my company annually. I still experience call reluctance.”

As many as 80% of all salespeople who fail within their first year do so because of insufficient prospecting activity.

If you’re struggling with the idea of being in sales (role rejection), you might like our blog post, Sales Is Not a Dirty Word.

There’s also an anecdote from Dudley and Goodson that may make you feel better. The authors describe two insurance agents they met during this study. The agents’ business cards represented the difference between them. One agent’s card read “Senior Financial Services & Estate Planning Advisor,” followed by a list of credentials and degrees. The other? It simply read “Insurance Agent.”

Guess which agent was a member of MDRT? It was the one with the simple “Insurance Agent” tagline.

This is proof that people need insurance. They want to buy it to protect their loved ones. There is no shame in helping them learn more and decide whether what you’re offering is right for them.

How to Overcome Call Reluctance

So now we know what it is, but how do we stop it? There are quite a few books, programs, and seminars available, but before you sink any money into them, try these common-sense tips.

  • Know Your Value. According to prospecting coach Connie Kadansky, you need to be emotionally resilient when you call a prospect who’s not interested. If you aren’t, the tendency is to let that prospect bruise your ego and derail all your prospecting efforts. To avoid that, you need to be convinced of the value you provide.
  • Emotionally Detach from the Outcome. You can’t control your prospects, Kadansky says, but you can control how many calls you make. Detach yourself from the outcome, and keep making calls because that’s what you can control. The more you can do this, the more emotionally resilient you’ll become.
  • Lower Your TTD. According to advisor coach James Pollard, your Time to Dial (TTD) should be less than 30 minutes. This means that you’re making your first call within 30 minutes of arriving in the office. Following this rule keeps you from procrastinating. If you need to set a timer to remind yourself, use your phone or an egg timer.
  • Set Small Goals. Kadansky and Name agree here – set a goal for a number of conversations you’ll have that day. Start small, with 5 or 10. When you hit that goal, give yourself a reward (break time, for example). The more conversations you’ll have, the better you’ll get at asking good questions and getting referrals and more introductions.
  • Have a script. Don’t read this word-for-word, but have it handy if you get tongue-tied or your fear gets the better of you. Use it as a “cheat sheet” that can help you if you get stuck.

That’s our look at call reluctance and how to overcome it!

What are your experiences with call reluctance? If it’s affected you, how did you overcome it? Tell us in the comments – and reassure others reading that they’re not alone.