Ray Collis

Are You Waiting For The Customer To Call?

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Sales in a dangerously reactive mode in many organizations. Indeed, research suggests that the seller is the initiator of contact in only a minority of instances – most opportunities are the result of the customer calling.  In this insight we will explore the implications for your sales success.


‘Everything comes to he who waits’ – that is an old saying that doesn’t quite fit with modern business. Indeed in selling you would expect the opposite to be true – “everything comes to he who hustle while he waits.” Surprisingly however research suggests that there is a whole lot of waiting in sales.

Is Sales A Waiting Game?

‘Tick-tock, tick tock’ – that is the sound of another sales organization waiting to be asked to tender or quote. It is a common sound, with some research suggesting that salespeople wait to be contacted by the seller a whopping 97% of the time.

In other words only 3% of buyers in the survey by DemandGEN had been contacted by a salesperson in advance of the buyer reaching out. So it is welcome to the big waiting room that is the sales department in many organizations.

What proportion  of opportunities in your pipeline resulted from your customer picking up the phone?

Waiting For The Call!

Sales is a waiting game – at least that is what the research suggests. Because the figure is so startling (and indeed alarming) we conducted our own research to validate it.

We asked more than 100 participants on a Citrix sponsored webinar we were delivering to a UK audience recently if they were called by the customer, or the other way around. The results, although not as dramatic, show that waiting is in reality a big part of the seller’s job description.

According to the majority of sellers (77%) no more than 4 out of 10 deals in the pipeline are originated by the salesperson.

Indeed, for almost half (46%) of those polled fewer than 2 out of 10 deals involve the salesperson originating contact.

In other words the sales department would be very quiet if it wasn’t for the prospect picking up the phone, or clicking on the seller’s web site. These figures suggest that sales in a dangerously reactive mode in many organizations.

Is there enough outbound sales activity in your business?

The Wait Is Getting Longer

The trend is towards longer waiting times in sales.  That is because the buyer is waiting longer before making the call.  More of the strategy setting, information analysis, requirements gathering and solution definition is being undertaken independent of the seller.  

An organization can be talking about buying many months in advance of calling a seller. It may have been on the agenda for many internal meetings, stakeholders may have been engaged with, the internal assessment of needs may be completed, with work on scoping the solution under way. By the time that the seller gets the call the buying process may be closer to the end than the beginning.

Are your customers involving you later in the decision making process?

Most buyers are no longer content to be dependent on the salesperson.  They have access to many sources of information and expertise other than the salesperson.

The late calling of the salesperson can mark a fundamental shift in the relationship and perhaps even a marginalization of the role of the seller.  It can result in an asymmetry of both information and power. It is what makes waiting for the customer to call particularly dangerous.

The Cost Of Waiting

Waiting is not a virtue in sales, indeed it is the opposite. By waiting for the customer to call the salesperson has become a follower rather than a leader. But that is not all. By waiting for the customer the seller risks missing out on the most foundational elements of the sale.

Are you paying a price for waiting to be called by the customer?

There is a price to be paid for waiting on the call. It can be calculated in terms of access and engagement, but ultimately in terms of margin.

Sellers who wait to be called late often find that there is little to discuss when they arrive other than price. With the specification set, they inevitably struggle to move the conversation off price and onto value. Indeed they may simply be invited into a competitive tendering situation.

How To Make The Waiting More Bearable?

The challenge (and indeed opportunity) is to get involved earlier and stay involved for longer.  It requires the sales organization to:


  • Breath new life into account management – switching the focus from managing to developing accounts
  • Continue to invest in demand generation, and in particular creating and sharing useful resources for customers (especially those that are highly credible)
  • Look beyond this quarter –  nurturing sales opportunities across several quarters, with a nurturing process that nudges prospects towards a decision based on their stage in the buying process and pace of buying
  • Balance nurturing and pre-qualification – having to create a laser like focus in terms of target customer profiling and to ban such terms as tyre-kickers from the vocabulary
  • Create a new synergy between sales and marketing – to synchronize watches between sales and marketing and to forge a new more seamless partnership between the two functions. It is time to stop taking marketing for granted – the above results suggesting that marketing (brand awareness and reputation) generates more opportunities than salespeople!
Do you appreciate your marketing and its role in generating enquiries?
  • For the salesperson it means being the type of salesperson that the customer wants to engage with – that means being seen in the role of an expert and trusted advisor
  • Look out for trigger events that will earmark a company as potentially being in the market for a solution and use more sophisticated tools (e.g. ExactTarget, Marketo, OneSource or InsideView)


One thing for sure, simply turning up the volume of cold calling is not the answer.  Doing that in isolation of the above will pay little dividend, except perhaps to reduce the volume of in-bound calls to a trickle.

Why not set a goal for increasing the proportion of opportunities where you engage in advance of the customer making the call?

What is the business case for not waiting? That is something we will address in another insight.

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