If salespeople allow fear to take hold it can jeopardize their success. Here is how to overcome four common frights

By Deena Waisberg

Rory Lesperance knows selling isn't always easy. The current vice president and general manager of Ontario Fresh Bakery, Canada Bread Company Ltd. recalls sitting in the office of the then president of Knob Hill Farms a number of years ago, trying to sell a display idea to him. The president believed he had originated the idea and became angry at Lesperance. "Before long he was up out of his chair, stomping around the office, tearing a strip off of me."

That would throw off many salespeople, but Lesperance remained calm because he had encountered other hot-headed prospects before, and knew that if he got defensive or angry he would only make the situation worse. He let the president vent and quietly took notes. Later, Lesperance followed up in a phone conversation and the two ended up working together.

Though most of Lesperance's sales visits are nowhere near as dramatic, there are many situations that can strike fear into a salesperson. What's important is figuring out the cause of the fear and how to deal with it, so it doesn't jeopardize a sale. Here's advice from sales pros on how to overcome four common fears.

FEAR of Not Being Liked
Everyone wants to be liked; it's human nature. The problem is prospects often believe the stereotype of pushy salespeople who try to foist useless products on them. Don't let the negative opinions of others affect the way you view yourself. See yourself as a consultant and adopt a consultative approach of helping the buyer find an appropriate solution rather than just trying to make a sale at any cost.

Confident Tones

Using confident tones will boost your self confidence, help you overcome call reluctance and increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. Bonnie Gross, president of SpeechScience, a Toronto-based company that specializes in communication, offers tips to help you sound your best:

Adopt a conversational tone You'll seem natural. If you sound like you're reading a script, you'll come across as insincere.

Opt for low tones A low resonating tone is comforting, while a high-pitched nasal voice sounds shrill and unsettling.

Speak clearly If prospects have to strain to hear you because you're mumbling, they will tune out.

Take your time It's better to pause instead of stumbling along or peppering conversation with "ums," which sound tentative.

Don Surath, author of Conquering Cold Calling Fear, Before and After the Sale, starts a conversation with prospects by asking questions to see if they really are a match with his product.

When he was selling commercials for a post-football show on CBS, he contacted an automotive business that had a commercial running on a local cable channel. During the conversation, he discovered the business consisted of one store. "He didn't need a commercial on CBS because someone 100 miles away wouldn't use the store. So I didn't pursue the sale."

But if the prospect is a match and you pursue the sale, at some point you've got to ask for the order. However, according to research by Teneo, a company that helps businesses integrate their sales and marketing functions, 70 per cent of salespeople don't request the order due to a fear of not being liked. If you have done the proper job of probing and finding appropriate solutions for the customer, closing shouldn't be stressful. Also, you don't have to be aggressive when asking for the sale. Lisa Leitch, president of Teneo, suggests saying, "Where do we go from here?"

FEAR of Rejection
Sales is a numbers game. You're not going to hit a home run every time you step up to the plate. However, when you've had a run of rejection, it's easy to start feeling like you'll automatically strike out.

To prevent a negative attitude from taking hold, keep your successes top of mind. "Have the name of your best customer over the phone," suggests sales trainer Colleen Francis, president of Ottawa-based Engage Selling Solutions. Keep your prospect funnel full. And if you are striking out, describe your calls to a respected colleague and ask for help in pinpointing your mistake. Then avoid repeating the error, recommends Iain Walker, national sales manager at Precidio, a company that designs and manufactures promotional products.

But most importantly, keep calling. Janelle Van Halst once had two clients call her to cancel training sessions on the same day. Though neither reason had anything to do with the president of One Particular Harbor - one client had his budget cut and the other had a change in senior management - she felt defeated and retreated to watch TV for four hours that day. "I realized that was not a good reaction. I let the situation throw me off," she says.

FEAR of Not Knowing How to Sell

Though organizations should have an established selling process, some don't. Without a process, you'll be flying by the seat of your pants. You can acquire a methodology in a number of ways: read a book on the subject, invest in sales training, or shadow a more experienced salesperson in your organization.

Craig Lindsay, president of Pacesetter Sales & Associates Ltd., often accompanies new salespeople on sales calls for the first few visits so they can learn how to properly demonstrate industrial safety equipment to clients. "If you don't show customers how to use the equipment properly and they fall, they could die," Lindsay explains. For the first two visits, Lindsay will do the demo and the new hire will simply watch and assist. Then, the new hire gradually takes on the presentation. By the sixth call, the rookie is doing the whole presentation and Lindsay is simply providing feedback.

Having a methodology is especially important in difficult situations. For example, when Canada Bread's Lesperance was a sales manager for Coca-Cola, he was handed a tough client who owned four McDonald's restaurants. He knew he had to make a connection before the client would listen to him.

So he did a little research, discovered the client loved pistols and proceeded to take shooting lessons at a local range. When he went on his first sales call, the client was initially irritable. That is until Lesperance asked him if the pistol on his desk was a Luger. Intrigued, the client asked if Lesperance did any shooting and a connection was made. "He came around and I was able to address all his service issues."

FEAR of Change
Even when you are well versed in the sales process, sometimes change can create anxiety. Maybe you're selling a new product or a product that is new to you, or you've moved into a new industry or territory.

When Lesperance moved to his current position, he wasn't selling a new product, but a product that was new to him. "I had to learn how bread was made and the supply chain process. "With a product that is new to you, invest time to increase your product knowledge: read the sales literature and ask your customers how the product is saving them money or making them money, suggests Francis.

If you're entering a new industry, read industry journals and contact people who know the industry and can tell you about trends and issues. Van Halst even suggests shadowing a client for a day to better understand industry challenges.

With a new territory, start as warm as you can. Approach customers who have bought from you in the past, who may also be in your new territory, suggests Francis. Get referrals or try selling to the same types of businesses.

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Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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