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The 3 Biggest Mistakes Sales Reps Make on the Phone

Sales Calls

How to Sell Over the Phone: Rookie Mistakes to Avoid

1) Not picking up on pain or interest signals.
2) Failing to recognize and overcome objections.
3) Losing control of the call.

Let me ask you a question. Do you get excited when you receive a cold call? What about when you have to call into your cable, internet or phone provider?

The lack of coaching, amongst other factors, has directly contributed to a negative stigma with sales people to the point where we now prefer other methods of communication. It could be live chats or texts over speaking with someone directly.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve made some terrible cold calls! I’ve also had my fair share of awful demos, discovery calls, and  bad negotiation tactics. The good news is, I’ve learned from it all so you don’t have to go make those mistakes again.

1) Not Picking up on Pain or Interest Signals

Sales coaches and managers can give sales reps a list of the right questions to ask but they can’t listen for them. Experience can lend us a hand in knowing what to listen for but the faster we recognize the pain signals that go along with discovery questions, the better off we’ll be.

Solution: Work backward from the value prop

When you’re building a list of discovery questions, you should start with the end in mind.

How does this question align with your value prop? When you’re teaching your “Discovery Call 101” class, align your questions with possible answers from a prospect and the eventual reveal of the value proposition aligned with that question.

It should look something like this:

Discovery Question>Answer or Surface Level Pain Statement> Pain Statement>Value Proposition>Customer Story (if available).

This should help sales reps recognize why they’re asking that question and what to do afterward.

2) Failing to Recognize and Overcome Objections

What’s an objection? Well, there are common objections, or “Buyer Scripts” like Jeb Blount alludes to in his book “Sales EQ”. And then there’s just about everything else a prospect says while they’re on the phone.

I’m in the camp that believes that just about everything that comes out of a prospects mouth is an objection.

What’s your pricing?
How long does it take to implement?
Is there a free trial?
I don’t have time to speak with you right now.

These are all objections!

Solution: Practice your common objections and get to the truth

Understand this. 

The most effective sales people understand that they aren’t necessarily overcoming objections as much as they are trying to get to the truth.

When you think of objection handling from that point of view, everything changes.

Buyer scripts such as, “I need to speak with my spouse/other decision makers”, “Call me back later”, and “I need to think about it” should all be answered with scripted objection handling techniques. You should know what works, recognize, and overcome these with ease.

Other objections are often harder to recognize because we’re hungry to answer them.

For instance, “How long does it take to implement your solution” is an objection that should cause you to pause. Do we understand why the prospect is asking this question or are we making an assumption?

Use question reversal techniques to stay in control and get complete understanding of these types of questions.

The truth is uncomfortable and people would rather avoid conflict and tell you, “let me think about it” than telling you what’s stopping them from making a purchase. Remember, you’re just trying to get to the truth! 


3) Losing Control of the Call

In a shorter sales cycle, there are two types of calls reps can lose control in; inbound and outbound. When reps lose control of the call, they fail to do adequate discovery, spill the candy in the lobby (see video below), and waste precious leads.

Solution: For inbound calls—focus on the “why?”

If you’ve ever taken an inbound call from your website, mailer or anything else, you might have heard this before.

“I was just on your website, and I just want to know how much this costs” or “I’m just looking for some information, can you tell me about ______?”

Should you just give the person pricing or the information that they want?


This is where a lot of reps lose control of the call.

You can control the call flow through the questions you ask and with that, can make the call flow predictable, and in your favor.

Say something like, “It sounds like _____ is important to you and I’ll make sure we cover that. Is it ok if I ask you a few questions first to get an understanding of what you’re looking for and then we can go over ________?”

Sound good?

If you can control the beginning of the call, you can set the tone and an agenda without pushing the prospect off the phone. Yes, they do want pricing and information and all of those things, but you have to build value before giving everything away, or they’ll just hang up and call the next place.

Solution: For outbound calls—be human

Taking or staying in control of an outbound call is even more difficult. And there’s a lot more room for mistakes here.

The reason is balance. You have to balance your talk time, jar someone enough to get their attention, and retain their attention even though you just interrupted their flow.

The best way to do that is to get them involved in the conversation. If I’m repeating myself, then there’s a theme here. Ask questions!

Take time to build rapport with your prospects and always have a good handle on your time, purpose, agenda, and outcomes. If you can do this in a short and relevant way, you’ll smash your first 10 seconds and remain in control of your outbound cold call.

Sales Is Tough! So Are You

The best way to improve is to keep practicing and approach it as a learning experience. I’ll leave you with a quote from the famous Thomas Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth.

“Why do we fall, Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up”

Keep crushing it!

Also published on Medium.

Josh Schwartz is an aspiring sales leader form St. Louis, is currently a Business Development Manager at Bonfyre and Managing Director at SalesMentour. He has almost a decade of Inside Sales experience and has lead SDR, AE, and Inside Sales teams at multiple organizations.