When meeting with a sales manager, they often tell me they want their salespeople to be more Confident. They know that if their team is more confident, they will sell more and run into less resistance when calling on customers. I couldn’t agree more.
However, the struggle is that confidence it is an outcome. It’s an emotion. You can’t tell someone to be confident and have it stick. I guess you actually can tell them. But it’s not likely going to bring out the actual emotion of confidence. At least not the kind of confidence we need in a salesperson.
In highly competitive markets like agribusiness, salespeople are hit with a lot of resistance (mostly price resistance). They need a deep self-driven confidence that they help their customers. This comes from the knowledge that they bring great solutions to their customer’s problems.
Great! So how do we gain that confidence? One way is to spend a career in the industry and develop it over time. However, I like to speed up that process by developing Courage.
Courage and Confidence seem so similar that we often confuse them. However, in sales, they take on a very different meaning. Understanding the difference will help you improve your sales approach.
First, confidence can be defined as a belief that something is true. You believe you will be successful in selling a customer. You believe that your products are the best solution for a customer. This belief comes from actually doing it. However, how do we do it when we lack the courage to even try?
Courage can be defined as the ability to do something that scares us. The courage to drive down the driveway on a cold call. The courage to ask for the sale. Working with salespeople, I find courage to be the biggest struggle for them.
Fear is of course the real issue. We fear making a mistake, appearing salesy, or upsetting a customer. We are definitely afraid of losing the sale. We are also afraid we won’t make our sales projections or that our peers will look down on us for not making enough sales. Courage is the ability to manage these fears and act anyway.
3 Ways to Develop the Courage to Sell
- Practice, practice, practice: If I could give one piece of advice to any salesperson who lacks confidence and wants to build up the courage to sell, it would be to practice, practice, practice. Find a way to make it as real as possible, but somehow find a way to rehearse. Go to training that includes role play. Rehearse with a more experienced salesperson on your team or your manager. Your research/technical/product line departments are great places to rehearse if that is a big part of your selling success.
- And my personal favorite is to practice while driving. I recommend this to groups I work with. When working on Closing Skills, salespeople will often say they just don’t know the words to use. So, they don’t ask a closing question. My recommendation is to think it through during their pre-call planning. Write the closing question out if they have to. Then, while driving to the sales call, rehearse that moment when you switch from presenting on your products to asking the Closing style question. That is the most important moment to rehearse. Trust me, this will boost your courage to ask for their business.
- Start small with a safe customer: Take this courage journey in small incremental steps. Don’t try out your newly developing skill for the first time on your biggest customer or prospect. Find a current customer to work with on these skills. No disrespect to a smaller customer, but you will feel less nervous trying out a skill with them. The stakes don’t seem as high which makes it less fearful for us.
- Any school or training you have been through always starts with gradually increasing difficulty. Going through the army’s jump school, we started by making five-foot jumps, then fifty-foot towers, followed by 250-foot free falls before jumping for real at 1000 feet. My courage to jump from a perfectly good airplane was bolstered by the fact that I knew it worked at 5, 50 and 250 feet. It also helped that there really wasn’t much of an option when they opened the doors. So, take these same incremental steps to be more courageous in your sales approach. It only takes a few seconds of courage to turn down the driveway. Once you do, it’s never that bad.
- Review your fears: Cold calling on prospects is typically one of the most fearful activities for salespeople. Contrary to popular social media memes, fear is real and I don’t downplay it. Jumping from a plane is dangerous and I was right to be fearful. There is real evidence that something can go wrong. In jump school, we reviewed and practiced what to do if something went wrong. Turning down the driveway onto a prospect’s farm is one of those fearful events in sales. To manage this fear, I like to walk a training group through their fear with a set of questions.
- “What do you think will happen? How many times has that happened in the past? If that happened, what was the outcome? What actually happened? Did the prospect yell at you, kick you off the farm, or tell you to never come back?” The answers are typically, “No” to these questions. Now, think about what you fear the most when out selling. Walk yourself through the worst-case scenario. Then ask yourself how often that actually happens. If it did happen, how could you react? Now, practice that reaction!
One final thought, you are not going to be perfect in the beginning, nor are you going to be perfect every time you act on your courage. You can’t expect the first cold call on a prospect to be the same as three years from now when you make your 300th! It sounds needless to even say it, but that is what we do to ourselves. We go out, try something once, have some failure or a poor performance. Then decide that we are terrible at it, which is probably true. How could we not be terrible at it? It was our first time. Trust in the fact that you will get better.
Give yourself a break and go back to the three tips above to build up your courage to try it again and again.