Small Business

Fear of Selling


Don't let it stifle your sales potential. Here's how to keep eight common phobias from holding you back

Fear is one of the most powerful human emotions. Its grip is strong and persuasive. To be a successful sales pro, learn to identify and tame your fears, instead of letting your fears control you.

I assume you're not in a place where your customers will threaten you or your loved ones with bodily harm. Rather, your fears are probably over what will happen if you call a new client on the phone, propose a high-cost solution, and have to respond to their objections. The best way to combat these fears is to talk to yourself, either out loud or silently, and re-program your thinking.

Before making any sales call, the first person you've got to sell is yourself. Convince yourself that your offering has value, that you have the right to call on quality prospective customers, and that these same prospects would would be well-advised to speak with you because of how much benefit your offering could provide their operation.

Here are eight common selling fears I've confronted over my 25 years of selling—and some strategies to combat each one.

1. Fear of calling on a new customer. In this scenario, small-business consultant Lois Creamer says she tells herself, "I'm already not working with Company A. If I call on them, I'm really only risking a 'yes.'" Seen in this light, you really aren't risking anything, so start selling them today.

2. Fear that a high-level customer won't take your call. If you're sure that you're calling on the right individual, then pick up the phone and try. If that doesn't work, you might use your network to see if you know anyone who might introduce you or let you use his or her name to get through. And remember, no matter how high up the chain you're calling, the target is human, too. She puts her pants on one leg at a time, just like you.

3. Fear that customers are too busy to talk to you. Tell yourself that most people work at least eight hours a day and are responsible for finding ways to increase revenues or decrease expenses or liability. Therefore, they're paid to speak to people like you who can help them achieve these goals.

4. Fear that a customer will be unkind to you. Experienced salespeople know that the higher up the corporate ladder you call, the nicer people are in general. And when you finally get that appointment to meet with the executive, you will probably be offered Starbucks-qualify coffee in fine china instead of crummy coffee in a Styrofoam cup.

5. Fear that a customer might ask a question to which you don't know the answer. First, learn everything possible about your offering and your customer's situation to diminish the likelihood of this and to build your confidence. Then, if a customer stumps you, say, "You know, I have read X number of books and Y magazines and spoken to Z experts on these topics, but I'm not completely sure about your question. I want to be sure you get the best answer for your situation. May I get back to you?"

6. Fear of losing your composure during an important sales call. I once heard a speaking coach comfort wannabe speakers with the line "The good news is it's physically impossible to pass out, throw up, and cry all at the same time." This applies to salespeople on calls, too. Be prepared for your customer meeting so you can be mentally present when you're in front of your customer. Then you can deal with any challenges or surprises if they happen.

7. Fear that something embarrassing will happen during a sales call. If this really does happen, laugh. My parents used to tell me, "When things go wrong, you can laugh or cry. Why not laugh?" You may have to force your laughter to get started because it's so awful or embarrassing, but laughter eases almost any situation.

8. Fear that if you lose a major sale or client, your business or career will collapse. Throughout my years in sales, I have lost several big clients and deals. Recalling the losses, and subsequent wins, strengthens me. I remind myself that the worst has happened before and I'm still standing—in fact, I'm thriving. If the worst happens again, I know I can survive it again—and emerge even stronger than I was before.

Fear can be like a grizzly bear that roars so loudly you cover your eyes and ears—and thereby miss prime selling opportunities. Don't let it happen. Remember that your customers have fears, too. In my next column, I'll explore some of your typical customers' fears—and how you can use them to sell more. In the meantime, happy selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Reno, Nev. You can visit her Web site at savvyselling.com She is also the Savvy Selling columnist and podcast host for BusinessWeek.com.

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