This question was raised by Haw, one of the little people in Spencer Johnson’s classic parable, Who Moved My Cheese.
For salespeople everywhere, let me pose the question to you, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Fear is one of the greatest roadblocks to sales success. Edmund Burke, a British statesman said of fear, “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” There are many varieties of fear and you are familiar with most of them. Salespeople deal with these fears every day. The fear of failing, the fear of looking foolish, the fear of working on your own and even the fear of success, are all known factors that impact your ability to be successful in sales.
You will never achieve your highest level of sales success until you are willing to take a risk. I’m not talking about being reckless in your activities. I’m talking about taking calculated risks like moving out of your comfort zone and doing those things that have proven successful, even though you might feel uncomfortable at first. You must be willing to create the habit of doing those things you fear most, until you systematically over come your fears. There is nothing wrong with being afraid; we all have our fears. But, once you have formed the habit of standing up to fear, it will lose its power over you. To quote Albert Gray, “The common denominator of success, the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.” I believe this statement encompasses overcoming your fears. The salespeople who are successful have risen above their fears.
I remember vividly my greatest sales fear. I had just completed graduate school and was working as a salesperson in my first “real” sales job with the M.A. Hanna Company in Cleveland, Ohio. At that time, Hanna was the world’s second largest producer and marketer of iron ore for the steel industry. My sales territory was North America and I was responsible for the sale of iron ore to the fourteen integrated steel mills in the United States and Canada. My degree was in International Business, not steel making, so naturally I felt a little intimidated working in an industry where I had zero experience. My boss had given me a copy of the book, The Making, Shaping and Treating of Steel, published by US Steel, hoping to give me the technical knowledge I so desperately needed. If you understood everything within the covers of that huge book, you would have the knowledge equivalent to a Master's Degree in metallurgy.
With that lengthy introduction, my fear was making phone calls. I needed to make frequent contact with the executives responsible for purchasing the millions of tons of iron ore that was consumed annually in the gigantic blast furnaces throughout North America. I would pick up the phone with great fear and intimidation only to hang up before I had completed dialing the number. I would try again as drops of perspiration would bead up on my forehead and then cancel the call before the phone was answered. I can’t explain how frightened I was to talk to those men who were typically twice my age, having a wealth of knowledge, and me still green behind the ears. I would get these huge perspiration stains under my armpits that would go down to my waist and run around the back of my shirt. I would sit and stare at the phone, mentally making the call and imagining what to say and what the responses might be. I find myself reliving that pain and fear just by thinking and talking about it. For months I struggled silently and then one day I decided to meet my fear head-on. I decided those experienced and wise men, just like me, got up every morning and put their pants on one leg at a time. Just like me, there was a time in their lives when they too, didn’t know a lot about the steel industry. Slowly, I overcame my fear of calling and talking to my customers and prospects.
I mention the experience which took place early in my sales career for two reasons. First, I have empathy for any salesperson who experiences fear and second, because I know first hand how real and paralyzing fear can be in the mind and body of a salesperson. One of the side effects of fear is a lack of belief, or self worth. You believe others are more qualified than you, or they are better suited for success than you. When you doubt your abilities you are defeated before you even begin. In William Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, he is quoted as saying, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” Here are five things you can do to eliminate the effects of fear in your sales career:
You are not alone. Understand everyone has fears, not just you.
Meet your fears “head-on”. Deal with them directly and immediately.
Believe in yourself. You have talents and abilities that are of worth. Your abilities may be different than someone else's, but different has nothing to do with value; value yourself.
Act as if you aren’t afraid. Develop an attitude of optimism that will restrain your fears.
Think beyond your fears. Visualize those things you would do if you weren’t afraid.
Here's a question to ask yourself: "What would I do differently in sales if I weren’t afraid?” I would talk to everyone about my products and services. I would get up early and work hard and smart each day. I would set goals for success, believing that I could achieve them. I would ask for the opportunity to do business with everyone I met. I would welcome rejection for the opportunity it would present to resolve concerns. I would thank my lucky stars every day for the privilege of being a salesperson.