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Overcoming Resistance to Selling or Anything Else

In most inbound sales or customer service call centers supervisors struggle with resistance. Some telephone associates resist selling because they  weren­t hired to sell. Others resist because they believe that callers will buy what they want to buy, and everything else is just  pushing products on them. Even in inbound sales centers (e.g. catalogue sales), many telephone associates will resist offering the top-end product first or cross-selling attempts.

Although this can be very frustrating for supervisors, the good news is that each supervisor has an arsenal of tools available to help break this resistance. Even better news is that most resistance to selling can be broken without damaging overall center morale.


The first thing frustrated supervisors must remember is that the problem is not typically with most of the agent population, rather with just a few strong resistors. The majority of the center generally understands the need to sell and can also become frustrated by the negative attitudes of the few. In most cases, supervisors that effect the necessary behavioral changes are more respected by the majority of their people. Call centers that are thriving in sales are usually happy places to work.

Tough Love

Most parents know that strong punishments for very bad deeds (e.g. a small child breaking away from his mother and running out into the street) can mean the difference between life or death in the future. Some children learn with reasoning. Others learn  the hard way. It is the same in a call center, or any other type of work. Sometimes, managers must come down sternly and resolutely. It is actually a good thing, both for the employee and the manager (and the team). Many supervisors forget this fact, too caught up in how someone­s feelings may be hurt or someone­s psyche may be damaged. The truth is that managing to stricter guidelines of performance is actually a stress-reducer. Employees stop thinking about whether they really have to or should do the job correctly, and just start doing the job the way it was intended.

More good news. The following resistance-breakers can be employed without any fear of making people feel too badly to perform. Each technique will drive sales behavior and performance, building confidence in the long run.

Strategies For Overcoming Resistance

1) Set A Short-Term Skill Objective:

Most resistant telephone associates know what they are supposed to be doing. They are just not doing it. Well, today is the day we can change all that, and with a simple, short-term skill objective. Inform the associate that he/she is going to begin selling (or upselling, cross-selling, etc). Choose one or two easy sales skills (e.g. transitioning from the service component of a call to making a sales offer) and ask that the associate uses them on the next five calls, one hour, three to four hours, etc. We strongly recommend that skill objectives last no more than a half day. Discuss the importance of using this skill for the sales person, the customer and the organization. Set clear expectations (e.g. use a transition statement a minimum of one time on each of the next ten calls). Make certain that the associate commits to the objective. For insuring that you have both agreed to the same objective, ask the associate to repeat the objective back to you. Finally, ask the associate to come find you at the end of the objective to discuss his/her (likely) excellent sales results. Tomorrow or the next day, set a new objective and incorporate one or two more selling skills.

If the associate resists an objective like this, acknowledge his/her concern, but then go right back to the objective. Say something like,  I know you­re hesitant Biff, and I was there myself when I first started selling. Even with your hesitancy, today is the day. We­re going to come out on the other end better than ever at selling.

Short-term, skill objectives like this break most types of resistance. If you are a softer manager, remember that you must appear resolute. If so, most telephone associates will take you seriously.

2) Heart To Heart:

In the rare case where objective-setting doesn­t work, this very caring option precedes the tougher ones to follow. It is one last chance for you and the associate to work together to break through the resistance. Simply have a heart-to-heart chat with your employee behind closed doors, or even away from the office. Let him know just how concerned you are about this wall he has to selling the way that the company requires. You can tell him all the plans you have for his future, how much you want to keep him happy in the job, and all the other feelings-oriented commentary you can think of. After that, put the ball back in his court. Simply ask,  What is your real concern about selling and what can I do to help you with it? If he starts to tell you that,  Customers don­t like when you push things on them, gently interrupt and explain,  I don­t mean that, because we know statements like that just aren­t the reality of things. So what is really holding you back? How can I help?

Some associates will tell you they will never sell no matter what you do. That­s good to know, especially since the seat at least has to generate a certain amount of sales, if not that individual. In some cases, this person is just not the right one for the job.

In most cases, the associate will tell you what is troubling him about selling. It often centers on fear of selling or a perceived lack of skill at selling. If the associate is willing to commit to selling, you know that you can provide him with the proper retraining or coaching. End of problem.

3) Formative Feedback:

Over the years we have trained thousands on this process. It is a strong feedback process design to generate results quickly. It is a single last chance for the associate to respond. No longer are you working together with the associate. Now you are requiring that she creates both an immediate commitment to change and the plan for how she intends to do so.

With Formative Feedback, it is helpful if the supervisor doesn­t take a  we approach.  What can we do to help you?  What can we do to start selling? You have already given it your all, and now it is time for her to respond. Formative Feedback also works well for other types of dysfunctional behavior (e.g. constant tardiness, playing computer games while talking to callers, slang on the phone, sending an angry caller back into the queue, general negativity, etc.).

First, explain your current observations. Tell the associate that you can see that she still isn­t selling. Remind her of the agreed-to expectations. She knows she is supposed to sell. She has most likely agreed in prior discussions to start selling. What do you do if, prior to this conversation, the associate has not actually told you that she will start selling? No problem. Remember that every employee agrees to perform the basic job requirements simply by showing up that day for work. When they signed on they agreed. When they accept their paycheck they agree. If selling is part of the job, agreed-to expectations are already in place.

After establishing the facts, ask,  What are you going to do to start selling on every call? No excuses. Just explain that you aren­t interested in why they are not performing, just that they have a commitment and a plan to start. After this, summarize her plans and gain one final agreement from her that this is the plan she will embark on right now. If you have already heard this plan from her, remind her that she has told you all this before and that you­re going to need to hear something more definitive.  Okay, okay, I­ll start selling, is not more definitive.

The last step in this process is to remind her of the immediate consequences of her inaction. Explain what will happen today, tomorrow and the next day.

Remember that we do not want to arrive at this juncture. It is painful for you and the employee. In some cases, however, this may be the only thing that creates the change in behavior that you are searching for.

4) Hard Consequences:

Having taken the prior steps and still having seen no change, termination may be just around the corner, or even here presently. Some managers will give the employee a day or week off to  think about his lack of performance. Some will dock pay. Hard tactics like these work only occasionally, but they protect the organization by demonstrating that it did everything in its power to encourage the necessary changes. Some readers are probably wondering why the employee is still on board at this point, having not responded to the other coaching techniques. We have seen many organizations that keep people on board in low-performance mode for over a year before termination. It never seems to make sense to us to manage performance in this way. At this point, it may be best to make the change to a new employee quickly.

The most important thing to stay aware of is that low-performance should be uncovered, dealt with and coached quickly and often so that the above techniques do not become necessary. When problems do occur, use these resistance-breakers with confidence and you will often see dramatic change come quickly. Months later, your employees will likely thank you for remaining tough and not giving up on them.

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