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

by Steli Efti
sales call no time

Unless you’re cold calling someone whose office is on fire, there’s a good chance they have time for you.

Nine times out of ten, “I don’t have time” is just polite-speak for “you’re not a priority right now.” If prospects were really busy, they’d simply hang up—or ignore your call altogether.

So how do you make your cold call a priority?

Prove you’re worth their time

If prospects knew they could make $8 for every $1 spent on your product or service, would they still avoid your call?

Of course not.

On cold calls, it’s your job to demonstrate value early and often. As sales veteran Anthony Iannarino says, “The greater the perception of value, the greater the likelihood you gain a commitment that moves you forward together.”

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So let’s talk about two stages of the sales process where you’re most likely to hear “I don’t have time”—and discuss the ways you can provide value to your prospects.

Early-stage objection management

Nobody likes getting cold called, so you’ll often get the no-time objection right away. While the average salesperson might take offense to this sort of knee-jerk reaction, a great salesperson sees this as an opportunity to move the conversation forward.

To manage this objection, try a simple, two-pronged approach.

1. Show how much you value the prospect’s time

Here’s how this conversation might go:

Prospect: “Hey, now is not the right time for me to talk about this.”

You: “I completely understand. Maybe this isn’t worth your time—the last seven people I talked to said the exact same thing at first. But after a brief conversation, they were all glad they took the time to learn more. Just give us three short minutes to figure out whether this is a wise investment of your time.”

This response covers a lot of ground:

  • For one, you’re acknowledging the value of their time and empathizing with their situation—they probably get a bunch of shitty cold calls every day.
  • You’re also offering them a competitive advantage. Other prospects might not see the value of your product or service, but the smart ones do.
  • And you’re taking things a step further by explaining how little time it takes to gain that competitive advantage.

If you’re polite, charming, and confident, most prospects will give you three more minutes to make your case.

2. Pitch to their top priorities

After you’ve bought yourself a few minutes, ask this question to identify the prospect’s needs and demonstrate your expertise:

“What’s your number-one priority right now? Because if you’re like my most successful customers in this field, your goal for next quarter is ___________.”

At this point, the key is to listen carefully. If your number-one priority doesn’t match theirs, ask follow-up questions. The more context you have, the more you can tailor your value proposition to their specific needs. 

You might feel the urge to spout off a list of product features to address those priorities, but it’s way more important to ask questions. The more opportunities they have to discuss their goals, the more likely they are to stay on the line—giving you a chance to better understand what they do have time for. Plus, it shows you’re truly committed to helping them succeed.

Pro tip: One of the best ways of really internalizing this strategy is to make a lot of cold calls. Speak with a high number of prospects, and the "I don't have time"-objection will inevitably arise again and again.

Our CRM with a built-in predictive dialer will help you actually speak with more prospects on the phone than ever before possible, without having to hire more reps. Instead of wasting time listening to dial tones and ringing, sales reps can almost seamlessly move from one sales conversation to the next. Curious? Learn more here.

Now let’s talk about managing the “I don’t have time” objection in the later stages of a potential deal.

Late-stage objection management

Hearing “I don’t have time” near the end of a deal is a completely different beast. The most frustrating part isn’t that prospects are ignoring you—it’s that they haven’t been ignoring you...until now. You’ve talked on the phone, exchanged emails, gave a product demo. Both of you have invested a considerable amount of time in this deal. Then, out of nowhere, they hit you with the no-time objection.

Why does this happen? Because you found a prospect who was willing to listen without being 100% convinced of your value. 

They had the time. They’re just not sure you deserve any more of it.

When you hear this objection so late in the game, you’ve likely made one of two mistakes:

  1. You pitched ineffectively. You didn’t demonstrate enough value early on, failed to gain momentum, and the prospect finally gave up on you.
  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 conversation, you’d persuaded them otherwise.

There’s still time to salvage a deal in this situation, but don’t rely on an email to do so. Instead, pick up the phone and say:

“Hey, I need your help. We went through this whole process and it kills me to think this was all for nothing. Can you help me understand where I went wrong?”

Most prospects will backtrack with the it’s not you, it’s me routine. People are trained to be polite, so they’ll come up with excuses that have nothing to do with you. But you need to demonstrate that you hold yourself accountable for the breakdown in communication. Here’s what you might say next:

“No, I don’t accept that. My job is to help you succeed and I’m clearly failing at that. Don’t take this responsibility away from me. How did I misunderstand your priorities? Tell me what really matters to you.”

This kind of vulnerability builds trust and encourages prospects to reciprocate your honesty, which is what you want above all else. Only then can you move past an objection to identify the problem. This is the last chance to prove your worth, so put it all on the table. Show them you truly care about their priorities—and that you’re confident your product or service can deliver real value.

If you absolutely can’t change their minds, take a step back. Refer them to another company that fits their needs and move on. Do this well and you’ll be top-of-mind the next time they’re looking for a new solution.

In the end, it’s all about providing value

Great salespeople don’t push prospects into buying products and services—they help uncover value that otherwise would’ve been missed. That’s the secret to cold calling. When prospects understand the value you provide—and you address their priorities throughout the sales process—they’ll always make time for your call.

For most sales teams, the biggest challenge is to actually get prospects to speak with them on the phone. Reps waste so much time listening to dial tones, ringing, and voice mails, and not enough time actually speaking to real prospects.

With Close.io's predictive dialer, built right into your CRM, you can move seamlessly from one sales conversation to the next, minimizing the wait-time in between. Now, your focus shifts on actually making these conversations count, and the tips shared in this article will help you do so.

Want to become a master at overcoming common sales objections? Download your free objection management template now!

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