Telephone Dread: B2B Sales Reps Fear Calling, But Are Bad At Email: Study

B2B sales reps hate calling new prospects — in fact, many fear it. But email is no substitute, judging by B2B Prospecting Challenges From the Front Lines, a study by ValueSelling Associates, conducted by Selling Power.

Of 160 sales processionals queried, only 23% rate email campaigns as an effective way to reach prospects. Email is outranked by referrals (77%), phone, (46%), groups (39%), trade shows (30% and social selling (29%). Webinars were near the bottom, cited by only 8%. 

And sending compelling email messages ranks sixth as a necessary skill for sales reps. The top three are doing research to target decision makers, getting an introduction and face-to-face networking.

The biggest challenge faced by sales reps, cited by 59%, is getting prospects to respond at all.

Email has a slight advantage here, if you want to call it that — it takes eight emails to draw a response, vs. 11 phone calls, statistics show.  

But it’s not one or the other. ValueSelling Associates recommends “respectful persistence,” meaning “spacing your outreach in a manner that is consistent, yet not annoying.” This is best done through multiple channels, including email, it says.



Overall, 44% say it takes five to ten attempts to gain a meeting, and 54% say it requires over five touchpoints.

Of the individuals polled, 42% rate sales reps in general as good at sending compelling email messages. Only 4% are seen as excellent and 13% as very good.

In contrast, 23% of sales reps are perceived as good at consistently making cold calls, versus 35% who are fair and 26% who come up as poor.

Reps are a little better at leaving voicemail messages — 42% are ranked as good. But another 26% grade them are poor.

Still, 24% see the average sales rep’s ability to land an initial meeting as very good, and 39% as good. And 27% view it as fair, and 6% as poor.

Their greatest skill appears to be qualifying opportunities — 45% say they are very good, and 8% excellent. And they are dedicated — 41% describe them as very good when it comes to commitment, and 22% and 22% as excellent. However, only 18% prospect for nine hours or more per week.

The biggest challenges to outbound prospecting by sales reps?

  • Being organized and consistent with their outreach efforts — 59.6% 
  • Giving up too easily when cold calling — 52.9% 
  • Fear of picking up the phone and making calls — 48.1%
  • Finding and accessing the correct decision maker — 42.3%
  • Unskilled at using social media for prospecting — 37.5%
  • Doing adequate research to know the prospect’s industry, business and background — 34.6%


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