Today is Friday the 13th, and it seems like all week long I have been witness to example after example of fear controlling how people around me behave. Maybe it is the full moon this week, or people’s reactions to the pending inauguration of our President Elect here in the US.
An example even closer to home comes to my mind however. Here in the lakes region of southwestern Maine, it’s been warm. Which means melting and refreezing- which means lots of icy hills. I’m used to it, I learned how to drive in these conditions with a stick shift Ford pickup truck. But most of my neighbors are ‘from away’- they hail from the suburbs of Connecticut, Massachusetts and even New Jersey. This country living is unnerving to them. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard; “Why aren’t there any street lights anywhere?”
One of these neighbors has a driveway that is a hill. Earlier in the week they needed to leave the house when I got this text message: “Can u walk over here for a minute? I’m in the car.”
Having no idea what was up, I walked over to see them sitting in the car, white-knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel of their new and massive 4 wheel drive SUV, both feet on the brake pedal with a look of panic on their face.
“Can you stay here with the car so it doesn’t slide down the hill so I can get more sand? I have to go by 1 (it was 12:50) but the car keeps sliding and I know I am going to hit that tree there.” I looked around. There was sand everywhere. The tree was over 4 feet away. They were almost at the bottom of the hill. When I explained all this and said it would be fine, just put the 4 wheel drive on and go slow, they sat there for a few more minutes debating what to do, unable to make a decision. Do they risk it and just do it as I said? Or chance being late, getting the sand from the top of the hill, spread it out- but then what if they still slide anyway? What if they take their foot off the brake and the whole car slides? I finally made the decision for them, “Get in the passenger side, let me drive it down the hill.” In a few seconds I had them and their car down the hill without a single slide.
The power and destruction of fear.
Why didn’t they just do it? Their fear had convinced them they were sliding, even though they weren’t. It was a myth they had created in their mind. The fear was so powerful that they imagined they felt the slide happening, even though there was no evidence that it was. Like a deer in the headlights, it immobilized them from taking action.
I see this happen daily with salespeople too. You can see it too, just watch how people buy, make decisions and especially when they set goals. Making a decision on anything means taking saying no to other things. If you choose option A, you will never know if option B would have worked. Those who need to obsessively research, compare, research again, clarify and discuss are afraid of missing out by making a choice. What if they choose wrong? What if it doesn’t work or happen? They are so weighed down by the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘what-abouts’ that they are convinced that any action they take is doomed. And so they don’t.
How fear impacts your sales competencies and skills.
What you believe and the stories (mindsets) you tell yourself directly impact your behaviors and skills- in sales and in life. Here are 13 myths that I see salespeople buy into out of fear and how they impact their sales effectiveness.
- “I can’t get referrals.” What if they think I’m desperate? What if they don’t want to impose on someone? What if I am not good enough to refer to other people and I make them uncomfortable by asking? If you let these myths prevent you from taking action, it means you will not get introductions to decision makers or prospects.
- “I can’t call on actual decision makers.” Who am I to call on a CEO? What if they get angry with me because I am wasting their time? No, no- better to have a go-between and not risk upsetting anyway or looking foolish. It’s ok to spend a lot of time with people that can’t buy from me, I’m being helpful...
- “I understand when my prospects want to shop around.” When we feel the same risk they do of making the wrong decision, or have the same fear of missing out on something by choosing something else, it’s easier to give in to it and less scary to face the no later, and not now.
- “A personal sales plan isn’t crucial.” Is that even possible? Is it possible for me? This fear prevents us from committing to our goals. When we need to know that something is possible before we will take action, it’s because we fear that it isn’t. If we don't break through the fear asking us "what if?" we never will ask, "not if, but how?"
- “A tracking system isn’t important.” Eeek- accountability! Who isn’t afraid be being held accountable and responsible for their own outcomes? What if there really isn’t something else to blame and the only reason I am not successful is me? A tracking system is evidence of whether or not we do what we said we would.
- “I need to educate my prospects.” Sharing insights and information is one thing- telling prospects everything you think they should know comes from a fear of not seeming smart enough. Whenever I ask salespeople why they didn’t ask a question, I often get the response “I didn’t want them to think I didn’t know or hadn’t done my research.” They end up doing most of the talking, meanwhile never really knowing what they buyer does and does not know, nor what they believe is important.
- “I can’t talk with prospects about their finances.” There are few people who are completely comfortable talking about money. Among the top reasons most marriages fail is lack of communication- especially about money. We fear being judged by how much or how little we have. We are afraid that people will think we are inappropriate.
- “Prospects that think it over will eventually buy.” This one you have to believe because you are afraid to think ‘What if they don’t?’ or even worse, believe that they won’t? That might mean having to pick up the phone more and prospect more. Oh no- much better to believe that almost everyone in your pipeline will buy. Positive thinking rules the day right?
- “Prospects are honest.” They want to fix their problem even more that I do, they agreed to the meeting after all...why wouldn’t they be honest? This fear again excuses us from digging deeper under the surface of what prospects are saying and accept it at face value. By asking layered questions to discover why this is a problem and why it’s an important problem for them to fix, we can understand what their bias, perspectives, and experiences are. It’s not that people always intentionally lie, it’s that they are looking through their own filters at a problem- and it might not be the truth. (hence this whole entire post…)
- “I have to tell my prospect how to reach a decision.” If you feel you need to tell prospects why they should buy from you, it might be because you fear that they don’t know. Instead of being consultative and uncovering why they already think they should buy from you and how by asking questions, your fear compels you to tell rather than ask. If you want to be wrong, tell it. If you want to learn and help others learn for themselves, ask it.
- “It’s more difficult to sell in this industry than in others.” Again, what if you really do have everything you need to succeed and your circumstances are of your own creation? For some, that is freeing. For others, it creates a fear of the unknown.
- “Buyers have all the power.” We hear this everyday don’t we? Buyers are X % of the way through the buying process. We buy into this myth because it excuses us of the responsibility and accountability for our own results.
- “I have a long sales cycle.” How long is long? Is it long because you are afraid of getting to and talking to decision makers? Is it long because you are sympathetic to price shoppers and endless comparison demos? You don't have a long sales cycle, you create a long sales cycle.
Our fears of how others will see us and of missing out on something is what creates these myths and lies that prevent us from becoming value adding, insightful, and self sufficient salespeople.
What to do about the fear.
Fear isn't something you ignore and it goes away, nor is it something you overcome and destroy. It can be something you work through and use.
The first step to any type of change is awareness. To gain awareness, sometimes we need to seek out a new perspective. My neighbor sitting in the car paralyzed by fear could have sat there all day debating what to do. But they called me over.
You can too.