Cold calling: How to respond to "I don't have time"?

by Steli Efti

When Donald Trump says he has “no time” for political correctness, what he really means is that he’s chosen not to make it a priority.

It’s the same way with your customers. Unless you happen to cold call someone whose office has just caught on fire, it’s pretty likely that “I don’t have time” is just a polite way of saying “Go away,” or “What you’re offering is not a priority for me.” After all, if they really didn’t have time, they would have just hung up on you (or chosen not to pick up a cold call in the first place).

And yet, your average salesperson still hears “I don’t have time,” stammers, gets nervous, and hangs up. It’s a difficult objection to deal with—we’re not used to responding proactively to “I don’t have time.” You can’t really argue with it, because who are you to question whether someone really has time?

A great salesperson, however, flips this objection around and finesses it into further conversation.

A great salesperson hears “I don’t have time” and translates that objection into it's true meaning—that it’s time to drive home the core value proposition that will get that customer to stay on the line.

Why "I don't have time" is a bullshit objection

Think about it this way... If your potential customer was convinced, deep down, that they could make $8 for every $1 they spent with you, would they still tell you they don’t have time? Hell no! They’d rush to keep you on the phone, and spend as much money with you as they possibly could.

As sales veteran Anthony Iannarino elaborates, "The main thing when you're engaged with a client, dream client, or prospect is to create value during every interaction. The more value you create, the more valuable you are to your client. The greater the perception of value, the greater the likelihood you gain a commitment that moves you forward together."

Therefore, it's your #1 job when someone tells you they don’t have time, to quickly and effectively demonstrate all the value and upside you can possibly bring them—proving that you're worth their time.

You need to work around this objection by showing your strongest value at every turn, whether this objection pops up early in the sales cycle, or later and more insidiously, toward the end of the process.

Now, let's talk about how to manage the "I don't have time," objection at each stage of the sales process.

Early stage objection management

Let's be honest, nobody loves getting cold called.

And the “I don’t have time” objection is often a polite way of shooing you down early in a call, by far the most likely time you'll get this objection.

Instead of feeling defeated by this often knee-jerk reaction, choose instead to view this as your chance to differentiate yourself (and your product) from the swarm of telemarketers out there selling candy and cable upgrades. 

Take this simple, two-pronged approach:

1. Show how much you value your prospect's time

At this stage, you haven't earned any trust or respect whatsoever. It's your primary goal to start establishing that by first acknowledging the value of your customer’s time, and by showing them why they should allocate some of that precious time to what you have to say.

Do that by empathizing with their position, while making sure you grab their attention and quickly hook them on your best value statement.

So, immediately after your prospect tells you something like: 

Prospect: "Hey, I'd love to but I really don't have the time right now..."

Respond immediately with a phrase along the lines of:

You: “Hey, I get that, maybe it’s not worth your time right now! But let me be honest with you—the last seven people I talked to in your field, said that too. And they were all wrong. Just give me three minutes to see if you’re right—let’s confirm that talking to me is not a wise investment of your time.”

Be polite, charming, and decisive in your delivery. This is as much about conveying confidence in your solution, as it is about showing value for their time.

Give them compelling proof for why they should stay on the line, and why they’d be missing out if they hung up. After a statement with this much conviction, most customers will be willing to give you a few more minutes—which is all you need to start establishing value.

2. Pitch to their top priorities

After you've bought yourself a few extra minutes of your prospect's time, you need to maximize your effectiveness. Show them how your product or service can help them meet their most important goals today.

But first, you need to determine what those key objectives are. And you'll be able to pitch to their priorities by asking a couple crucial questions.

Start with these 3 questions that'll help you understand what your customer's needs are, while demonstrating your expertise and authority in the field:

  1. What is your number one priority at this point? Because if you’re like our other customers I've worked with in your field, your number one goal for next quarter is ______.
  2. Does this sound like it matches your priorities right now or are you thinking something totally different?
  3. If not, what are your top priorities right now?

At this point, there are a lot of fluffy things about your product or service you could choose to start emphasizing. But the last thing you should do is to start spouting off a list of features just because you think they're cool.

Given the answers to these questions, you need to tailor your value proposition to the specific needs of this prospect.

Remember the old sales parable about the guy trying to sell a home-heating system to a little old lady? He starts off by talking all about BTUs, his company’s achievements, his CEO’s resume, and continues until she stops him. She just has one question she wants to ask: “But will it keep a little old lady warm?”

The only thing your customer really cares about is how your product is going to help them solve their problems now—how it's going to help them increase revenue, cut costs, whatever it is.

Qualify your prospect by figuring out these priorities first, and you'll know exactly wich tactic or strategy you need to employ in order to lock your pitch down and make your core value proposition as targeted and effective as possible.

If you handle it right, this initial objection can become your friend.

Here's why: Getting your prospect to talk about their priorities gives you a very clear window into the things they do have time for, and hammers home to your customers that you’re truly committed to helping them succeed. It’s this commitment that will close deals.

And if after hearing their priorities, it's clear your product won't be a good fit for actually helping them further those goals & objectives anytime soon, be honest about that.

Reaffirm that trust you've begun building by acknowledging that fact, and if you can—steering them towards something that would be more helpful at this stage of their business. You'll be top of mind to be the first person they call or email if things do change in the near future.

Now, let's talk about handling the "I don't have time" objection in the later stages of a potential deal.

Late stage objection management

It’s a completely different beast when you hear the “I don’t have time” objection toward the end of the deal.

By now, you’ve aced the initial call, exchanged some emails, maybe even had an online demo, and then they hit you with it: “Ah, I don’t know, we don’t really have time for this right now,” or, “This just isn’t really a priority for us at this time, we’ll check back in with you down the line.”

It’s frustrating and difficult to understand. “You already gave me so much of your time!” you think. "I thought we were on the same page!"

When this kind of objection appears toward the end of the sales cycle, it means that you've found a customer that was willing to hear you out without being 100% convinced of the value you could deliver.

Think of this as a more indirect version of the cold call rejection. Now you really know that they do have time and are just unconvinced of the value your product stands to deliver to them—you haven't crossed the threshold.

You essentially made one of two mistakes.

  1. You pitched ineffectively. You didn’t demonstrate your solution’s core value (in terms of how it'll most benefit their business), and your prospect is just saying this as a “nice” way of shooting down the deal now that they've determined the value isn't there.
  2. You sold them well—at first. They came into the sales process thinking your services might be worth their time, but by the end of the deal, you’d persuaded them otherwise. Ouch. That sucks.

If this happens to you, do not write an email reply.

Pick up the phone as quickly as possible, because you’re about to determine exactly where you went wrong—and yes, there's still a chance of salvaging the deal.

Fostering trust

Be aware that as a salesperson, you put your customers at risk. If your solution fails, or your company goes under, then they will have made a huge mistake, and this reality often sets in for them toward the end of the sales cycle—especially if your company is still in it's early stages.

To combat this fear, you need to foster trust.

Now, pick up the phone and call your prospect. Say:

You: “Hey, I need your help. We went through this whole process and it breaks my heart to think it was all for nothing. Clearly, I did something really, really wrong. Could you help me figure out where I went wrong? Help me understand.”

They’ll usually start backtracking: “No, no, no. It’s not you. It’s us.”

That's probably a polite lie. People are trained to be polite, rather than tell you about the mistakes you made or point out where you went wrong. Level with them, and demonstrate that you’re willing to hold yourself accountable to your own shortcomings. In doing so, you’ll build up the trust you need to push the sales conversation past a dead-end.

You: “No, I don’t accept that, because my job is to help you. My job is to help you succeed and I’m clearly failing at that. Don’t take this responsibility away from me: what did I do wrong? How did I misunderstand your priorities, and what are they actually?”

Open up to your customer. Being vulnerable and transparent makes it easier for them to trust you and reciprocate your honesty, which is what you want above all else. Only then can you move past the objection and into the heart of the real problem.

You don’t close deals being dishonest; you close deals with mutual understanding. You close deals when customers believe in you, your company and your product.

How to manage the "I don't have time" sales objection - 3 levels of trust graphicTurn the conversation back to priorities, now.

If you’re getting a “We just don’t have time” this late in the sales cycle, it’s a good indicator that you missed your chance to really get a good understanding of your customer’s problems and priorities.

This is your last opportunity to fix that mistake. Customers don’t want to be sold to—they want someone who’s going to work together with them to figure out the best solution.

Deliver value on all fronts

If you absolutely can’t get your customer to change their mind, then don’t push it. Offer them a referral to another company or service if you know one that might fit their needs better.

The end of the deal doesn’t have to be a dead end—if you handle it gracefully, your perseverance, honesty and authenticity will pay off.

Cultivate a mindset that revolves around delivering value in as many ways as you possibly can, and prove it not just by pushing past the “I don’t have time” objection, but also by knowing when to let it rest.

If you can do this, then objections won’t be obstacles, and no matter what happens you will have done well by your customers.

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