Call Reluctance – Role Rejection and Referral Aversion

What might be blocking us from making outbound contacts or even “working the room” at a conference or networking event?

Test yourself right now – can you think of a prospect, client, agent, underwriter or family member that you’ve been meaning to contact this week – and haven’t gotten to them yet?  This is Call /Contact Reluctance.

Again, we wish to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by George Dudley and Shannon Goodson and their team at Behavioral Sciences Research Press.  George and Shannon formalized the Call Reluctance phenomenon in 1979 with the introduction of a robust assessment tool.

One of Redmond’s sales truths:

“Don’t worry, Call / Contact Reluctance happens only 100% of the time and is natural part of the sales process”.

Our offerings over the past couple of months were Goal Diffusion, Yielder and Over-Preparation.  If you need to, go to our website a grab a copy.

For this month we’ll focus on Role Rejection and Referral Aversion.


Does anyone remember Herb?  Herbert Ruggles Tarlek, Jr., the boorish, tasteless advertising sales executive who wears loud plaid suit jackets, striped pants, with his belt matching his white shoes at WKRP in Cincinnati?

If you can remember Herb (or even picture him), you now know about Role Rejection – “I don’t want to be one of those slick, sleazy salespeople like Herb Tarlek.”  This is the stereotype of the salesperson we all know – certainly not our salesperson hero.  Another interesting phenomenon in the United States, and we suspect around the world, is that in the last seventy or so years of filmmaking, anytime a salesperson has been depicted, it has been with a negative spin.  The stereotype is constantly reinforced and actually built into our culture.

How many of our readers have the word “Sales” on their business card?  Or are you a “Regional Client Relationship Manager” or a “Business Initiator” or an “Account Executive” or “Client Advocate” – please – anything but sales!

We experience role rejection in all sorts of ways:

  • During outbound (and inbound) telephone calls – “This is not a sales call”
  • At face-to-face new business appointments – “I’m not here to sell you anything”
  • And how about during your internal sales meetings where you hear: “We don’t want to be too sales(y) with prospects.”
  • And on our business cards

One of the observations we’ve made over the years has to do with the need and ability to create and maintain energy, interest and enthusiasm for what you do on a day-to-day basis.  If you cannot sustain the energy required to be successful, you will fail (but at least you’ll be miserable every day!).  It’s quite interesting to us that those who abhor the thought of being in sales (role rejection) are naturally NOT in sales!

You know this – we’re all in sales, including at home.  We typed in “Sales” in Google and got over a billion and a half results in under a second – don’t know exactly why I put that in here.

If you’re in sales, Role Rejection is a career threatening condition.  For much more on the subject, please refer to The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance by George Dudley and Shannon Goodson.


We know what some of you are thinking: “Referral aversion, how dumb is that?”

Well, here’s some of the dialogue we’ve heard from sales people (formerly known as Client Relationship Managers):

  • “Oh, it’s not time yet to ask for a referral”
  • “I don’t want to be indebted to anyone”
  • “I don’t want to seem too greedy or too needy”
  • “What if they say no?”
  • “What if they give me the wrong type of referral?”
  • “I asked for a referral once in 1978 – it didn’t go well and probably won’t go well now”*
  • “Asking for referrals – isn’t that a bit like asking someone for help? – I’d rather go it alone”.

*Incidentally, this is one of those call reluctance characteristics that will be reinforced and re-lived every time you are thinking about asking for a referral.  If it didn’t go well in 1978, the same chemical reaction in your body will take place today- and you will hesitate to ask for a referral while supporting it with rational and compelling internal dialogue.

Referral sources are terrific.  Referrals are quite magical.  Referrals are a continuously growing spiral of contacts.  Referrals represent the fastest way to get business in the door.  When working for referrals, and it is work, you really become a sales manager, managing your referral sources.  Congratulations – you’re no longer in the sales business, you’re in the sales management business!

Some national statistics may help in driving us to harvest referrals:

  1. Over 90% of those asked would offer referrals
  2. Only 3% of the available referral sources are actually asked
  3. Your closing ratio starts at 50% and goes up from there!

Q: What triggers these two Call / Contact Reluctance behaviors?
A: Fear.

Fear that I will be perceived by the world as one of those slick sleazy stereotyped sales people who is way too greedy and is always attempting to fill his silk lined pockets with more cash by asking for more and more introductions.  Wow, decaf from now on.

Do you see a pattern of Role Rejection or Referral Aversion in your office? With your colleagues?  With your boss?  How about with your customers?

Now you have names for these “qualities gone bad”.  See if you experience or see these behaviors today.

Best wishes,


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