Stop me if this sounds familiar – you build the perfect cold calling script, complete all the trainings on how to cold call sales leads, pick up the phone, and start calling prospects. After a couple of phone calls, you get into a rhythm: call, voicemail, hang up, record in CRM, repeat. Then, suddenly, someone answers…and you freeze up. None of the training told you this would happen!? The prospect keeps saying, “Hello?” and hangs up after you stumble or say nothing for 5 seconds. Don’t be afraid. You’re not alone.
While this is more common when new to cold calling, even veterans can get stumped. Think of it like singing the national anthem – you know every professional knows all the words, yet every couple years, some major star screws it up live. The fact is the human brain does freeze up occasionally – especially when it’s stuck in a routine, and something disrupts that routine.
So how do you prevent yourself from freezing up when a decision-maker picks up?
Understand “Fight, Flight or Freeze”
Human beings have something called a stress response process – a chemical process that kicks in when we perceive a threat in the animal brain (specifically the amygdala). You’ve heard of “fight or flight”? That’s what we’re talking about.
Now think about the last time you saw an animal in the middle of traffic. Still, as stone – you can honk and scream at them to move for 30 seconds or 20 minutes, but they barely blink. They’re completely frozen until they aren’t, and suddenly they spring into a blur of motion and scamper away.
This reaction is the third part of the Trauma Reaction Process – FREEZE. The “freeze” instinct kicks in when a prospect answers, and you can’t remember the name of the company you work for.
The fact is your brain is trying to protect you by “freezing” you – it’s attempting to slow down your thought processes so you can react properly to the threat. The hormones being released by this harmless but stressful event cause your mind to go blank. Then you panic more because trying to remember becomes another stressor, which makes the “blankness” worse. Now you’re in a vicious cycle, and your prospect hangs up because you were silent for 5 seconds.
This video is a great 5 minute summary on the relationship between this stress response and your memory. (And can explain what’s happening with much cooler graphics and alacrity than I can muster)
“Okay,” you say. “Now I know why it happens – but how do I make it STOP?”
How to Prevent Freezing
Nearly every sales rep will freeze on a call at some point in their career. Whether it’s during cold calling or in the middle of a client presentation (ever seen Shark Tank – those entrepreneurs prep for months and at least once an episode someone freezes in the middle of their opening statement), your brain will at some point get its wires crossed and misinterpret stress as a threat triggering a freeze response.
But there’s good news! You can take small steps to avoid triggering this response and limit the duration when it does it.
Start with self-care
- Exercise regularly. When you exercise, it elevates your heart and breathing rates, which stimulate chemical changes in the brain that reduce anxiety and release hormones that promote a sense of well-being (Source). Make the time as often as possible (and with the guidance of your doctor) to get moving.
- Avoid excessive stimulants. It’s easier to be more “on-edge” and overreact to minor inconveniences or stressors when you’re riding a wave of caffeine (or other medical stimulants). To be clear, I am not saying your morning cup-o-joe is causing this phenomenon. But I’ll bet there’s a correlation between those days when you guzzled 2-3 times your normal volume and freezing up. This author didn’t make the connection until she had to go on steroids for medical reasons and found herself freezing way more frequently. Everyone reacts differently – know yourself.
- Deep breaths. Doing deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness exercise daily (or at least on days when you know you’ll be stressed) reduces the chemical stimulants for anxiety, which will give you an edge to combat the fight/flight/freeze response. (Source)
Control Your Environment
- Practice in real-world environments. If you find yourself prone to freezing on calls – do more mock calls! Make them as “real world” as you can. Sit at your desk, call a coworker or your boss, who is in another room or part of the office. Use your computer as you normally would. Sit or stand as you normally would. The more realistic the situation, the better practice it is for your brain to remember, “Hey this isn’t a threat – it’s just challenging – and I can do this.”
- Keep your desk clean. Keeping your desk free of clutter will ensure you can find what you need when you need it. The worst thing that can happen while dialing is to not have what you need directly at hand, leaving you physically and mentally floundering. If you don’t need it while calling, find a way to put it in a desk drawer or out of sight.
- Print off scripts and prompts. There are two ways to organize materials that will be commonly referenced on calls – literally tape them to your desk or around your monitor (think of it as productive wallpaper) or put them in a “quick reference handbook” that had organized tabs so you can find things quickly. Printing things out and preserving them this way means even if the computer freezes or your brain freezes, all you have to do is look down and read what you see.
Now for some real talk. Even if you do everything above, you will still have moments when you’ll freeze. Maybe a text arrives from a family member and you see the preview as the client picks up the phone (another reason to keep your desk clean/put away your phone while calling…but that’s another issue) – it can rattle you enough to make you forget who and why you’re calling. Life happens, and the first step to dealing with it is to have a plan.
What to Do When You Freeze
- Take a deep breath. The first thing you have to do is re-focus. Stop thinking about what to say and breathe in deeply. This will help reset your brain and hopefully prevent spinning into the “freeze-stress about freezing – freeze more” cycle.
- Look down/over at your notes. Position your call script/prompts where you can easily see it. Keep it in the same place at all times so you can instinctively know where to look. This eliminates the “wHaT DO i SaY?!” panic, and gives you a simple instruction – LOOK AT YOUR SCRIPT.
- Read what you see. It’s that simple. Just read. Even if it isn’t as personalized as you’d like, get something going.
- Be ready to apologize. If the gap is too long, and the prospect notices, be ready to be honest. “I’m sorry brain froze up for a minute there – the reason for my call is…” and get back to work. Everyone in every role freezes – it happens, and there’s no point pretending it doesn’t. If you lose the prospect, send an email saying the same thing. No harm in admitting you’re human, and it might be so different from other emails that the decision-maker may just take pity or empathize and respond! Who knows?
- Breathe deeply again. You survived. The call went the way it went. You have more calls to do. Maybe walk to get a drink of water or a snack. Don’t get in your head obsessing about what happened. Shake it off as best you can and try again!
Now You Know How to Cold Call Sales Leads Even When You Freeze
Hopefully, now you better understand why it’s so common to freeze in a sales pitch or on a cold call and have some ideas to reduce the number of times it happens to you. Potential customers are likely more understanding than you expect as long as you don’t give up. Just keep trying and pay attention to the stressors in your sales life. Remove what you can, manage the rest, and prepare for the moment your brain goes blank.
Those of you who have mastered pushing past the fight/flight/freeze response – what helped you? What tricks did you pick up that got you in the door regardless of the freeze? Do you have any horror or funny stories about a time when you froze on a call? The first step is admitting it can and will happen – the second is dealing with it; the third is sharing your experience and learning from it. You got this.