How To Overcome Your Sales Fears

January 31, 2005
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Kurt Stecker
I was 10 years old when I tumbled off the garage roof and fell some 20 feet. The doctor told me that I had been very lucky since I only ended up with numerous stitches in my forehead. Physically, I wasn't injured too severely. Psychologically, the damage was much worse. After falling off the roof, I developed not a healthy respect for heights, but a paralyzing fear of them - a fear that has stayed with me my entire life.

People are always surprised to learn that despite this fear I still enlisted in the army after high school and spent three years as a paratrooper with more than 50 jumps. I have been asked many times how I got over my fear of heights.

The answer is simple. I didn't. My fear of heights never left me since the day I slipped off that roof so many years ago. I was only able to jump out of airplanes because it was a goal that was extremely important to me. I found a way to manage the fear that would have held me back.

Fear Management

There is a significant difference between the absence of fear and the management of fear. Admitting to ourselves that we have fears, facing our fears, then determining how to keep those fears from ruling our lives is not easy, but there is a process.

So how does this all relate to our success in sales, or more to the point, our lack of success? After almost 30 years in sales, I have come to believe that one of the most important skills any sales professional must master is the ability to manage one's fears. Whether it is a new salesperson trying to figure out a way, or an average salesperson trying to make the jump to a superstar, the importance of this skill is the same.

I'm certain that in most professions there is an element of fear. The type of fear may vary greatly from one job to another.

I can't speak about the degree of fear a police officer faces in an armed situation, or the fear confronting a surgeon when a decision must be made that could determine whether a patient will live or die, but I know full well about the fear faced by sales professionals every single day. I have felt it first- hand, especially early in my career.

Until I slowly and painfully learned how crippling that fear was, and how it was affecting my performance, my sales were mediocre at best.

Every time we are with a customer and ask for the order, we are confronted with the very real fear of rejection and the fear of failure. Knowing that our customer may say no means that we will have to deal with the reasons that customer decided not to purchase our product. Each time the customer rejects our offer, the customer is either rejecting us as a salesperson, the product that we represent, our presentation skills, or the investment we are asking.

Those are the simple, logical facts, but the subconscious fear is that a customer is saying to us, "I do not like or trust you as a person," or, "I do not see the value in your product for the price that you are asking."

Are You Pretending?

Most of us who have made a career in sales chose this profession because of our unique personalities. In most cases, we are extroverts by nature and are goal oriented. We need to be liked and trusted by others, and we have the desire to be successful. We are competitive in nature, and we don't enjoy losing.

With this type of personality, rejection in any form can be devastating and severely limits one's ability to be successful. So, how do we manage this fear?

Too many of us try to use what I call the "pretend" method. This is when we simply pretend that it doesn't bother us when a customer tells us no. We might even refuse to believe that any customer will ever tell us no.

Now there is nothing wrong with going into each sales call with a positive attitude and believing that we will be successful. That is a mandatory mindset for successful, skilled salespeople. Yet that does not mean that we should refuse to be realistic. It is similar to a person who is afraid of flying on an airplane pretending that airplanes never crash.

It is extremely difficult for us to try to make ourselves believe something that we know is not true. Airplanes do crash. Even

the most skilled salesperson will encounter customers that the salesperson is unable to close.

The only way we can truly manage any fear is with planning, preparation, practice, and persistence. The mastery of these four essential elements will allow any one in the sales profession to successfully manage their fears and not allow those fears to be a major roadblock on the path to success.

One of the best ways we can lessen our fear of rejection is to take every step that will prevent rejection. It begins with meticulously planning how the presentation will flow.

Too many of us feel that our failure to hear the word "yes" more often than "no" is due to the fact that we are not skilled closers. We allow ourselves to think that we do everything else well but when it comes to the point of actually asking for the order, our skills are not as strong. That is simply not true.

In most cases when we fail to gain commitment, it is not just a result of what we said or did during the closing portion of our sales presentation. It reflects on our failure to plan the sales presentation.

With proper planning, we can ensure that all steps of the sales presentation are performed to the best of our ability. That normally starts with having received the proper training and having the skills to use that training well.

If we have not correctly greeted the customer, built trust, or established a relationship, it will affect our ability to close. If we fail to question customers to determine their needs before presenting solutions, it will affect our ability to close.

If we are unable to smoothly and professionally respond to objections, it will affect our ability to close. Every single step in the sales process must be planned before the sales call takes place or we will face more than our fair share of rejection.

Preparation

Like any good Boy Scout, we need to be prepared. Being well prepared is a bit different from planning. Planning is setting the stage. Preparation is knowing what to do if the stage catches fire.

Even after giving a sales presentation that is planned perfectly and delivered flawlessly, we have to be ready for the customer to say no. We naturally don't want to assume that it will happen every time, but we must be ready for it when it does. If we are not prepared for a customer who does not agree to purchase the first time the customer is asked, then we will have no idea what to do when it does happen. We will fumble, mumble, and stammer.

When I was attending jump school in Fort Benning, Ga., much of the training and education revolved around what to do if everything didn't go right.

It was important that I knew exactly what to do in case my exit from the airplane did not go as planned, or if my parachute didn't deploy properly.

By being prepared for the negative possibilities, I became more confident and it dramatically lessened the fear factor. Consequently, a large part of my ability to manage my fear of heights came from knowing what to do if something should go wrong.

This is another good example of the difference between planning and preparation. I never planned for my parachute not to open, but I was prepared if it didn't.

With proper preparation, our reactions to negative possibilities become second nature. All successful, professional salespeople will be prepared any time a customer does not readily agree to make a purchase. Objections will not be a surprise; they will have been anticipated. A prepared salesperson will know immediately what to do in every situation, and how to do it well enough so that when the salesperson tries to close the customer again, the salesperson has a very high chance of succeeding.

Practice

No matter how many sales calls we make, we can never hope to become proficient without practice. Any golf instructor will tell you that it is not the constant and continual playing of the game that allows a player to improve one's skills and lower one's scores. It is the amount of time practicing off the course that determines how well one will perform on the course.

The education, determination, time, and effort put into practicing will determine how much one will improve.

Although a good golfer needs to spend time planning his game and being prepared for certain conditions on the course, it is crucial that he also practice, then practice some more. The time spent on the driving range and putting green is essential for strengthening and improving skills.

We salespeople need to spend time developing, studying, and rehearsing our responses to a multitude of situations with which we might be confronted. Remember, practice is only constructive if we do it the right way.

There is an old saying that practice makes perfect; this is a fallacy. Practice only makes a habit, and habits can be beneficial or detrimental.

Practicing correctly is what makes us perfect, or as close to perfect as we can get. Merely knowing what to say to a customer when the customer refuses our offer is not enough. It is critical that we have practiced enough with the correct response, so we actually say and do exactly what will increase our chances to make the sale.

Persistence

You can't give up! Whether you have had 50 presentations in a row that you failed to close, or whether you have tried to close the same customer 10 times, the key is not giving up. Every time we give up before succeeding increases our fear that we will fail the next time out.

Success is not counted by the number of times we fail but by the number of times we succeed. Each time we succeed, it puts the fear of failure and rejection farther into the recesses of our minds. The fears may persist, but they will not be daily and constant thoughts. We will deal with them if necessary.

Persistence must be tempered with talent, or we will become the bulldogs of the sales world, tenacious but not knowledgeable or successful. You can ask a customer for the order 100 times, but if you are not prepared for what the customer's response might be, if you haven't planned and practiced what to say, you have no better chance of being successful on the 100th attempt than you were on the first. Simply being persistent without having planned well, prepared properly, and practiced correctly will not yield many positive results.

There is an old German proverb: "Fear makes the wolf look bigger than he is." It is too easy for those of us in sales to allow the wolf to haunt us. We may never slay the wolf, but with the proper amount of planning, preparation, practice, and persistence, we can certainly keep the wolf's actual size in perspective.

We will not only run the wolf off but also keep him at bay. You don't have to allow your fears to prevent you from achieving all that you can achieve.

Kurt Stecker is a consultant in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at 402-690-2260 and at kstecker@aol.com.

Publication date: 02/07/2005

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