Are your fears undermining your sales results?
When we think about acts of courage, we typically don’t associate them with selling. In sales, we wake up every morning, jump in the pickup and head to our farmer or agribusiness customers. Sounds fun and friendly. What courage does that take? While we don’t face physical fears, we do face a few mental fears. After being in sales for many years, leading salespeople and interviewing hundreds (maybe thousands), I can tell you that prospecting and cold calling rank right up there at the top of our fears as salespeople.
The ultimate outcome of these fears is a reduction in sales. Fear causes call reluctance and keeps us from expanding, changing or trying new approaches. Since we work remote in agribusiness, it’s hard for our manager to help us sort out this situation. They are relying on your view of the market, who to call on and who not to call on. To avoid these fears, we spend more time on serving our current and happy customers. We rationalize that this is the “real” work which needs to be done. We use this busy work to feel…. well, busy. Too busy to do what we fear.
For those that haven’t sold or who feel these fears are unfounded, please understand that fear is in the mind of the beholder. To them, it’s real. We’ll classify a few of them and discuss how you can overcome them, but I want to make sure we are not dismissing them as not legitimate or “nothing to worry about”. Again, I have been around salespeople for many years and currently working with hundreds of them that face these fears every day. You may not see nor hear about these fears because often, we do a great job of covering them up.
The mask of courage:
As salespeople, we are great at creating this outer shell, which I am calling the mask of courage. We put on a brave face at meetings and in discussions. We are even encouraged by adages like, “fake it until you make it”. So, we pretend to have fear under control. I liken it to an actual shell. It’s like we have this outer shell or mask that we portray as salespeople that we aren’t afraid. Yet, our actions tell a different story. When coaching a salesperson, it often takes several tough questions to get to the route cause when fear is involved. For example, I like to spend time reviewing their prospect list with them. Often, there will be one or more prospects who they haven’t called on in a while or maybe never. The salesperson will typically make a comment regarding that prospect like: “Well, that guys a price buyer” or “I really haven’t had the time to go see him” or “He doesn’t seem very interested”. However, as we dig a little further into the salesperson’s time management and what he really knows about that prospect, it becomes clear. Fear in some form is preventing him from pursuing the prospect.
Level 1 Fear:
The fear of picking up the phone, turning down the driveway, asking the high value questions. Level 1 fears will keep us from actually making contact, asking for appointments or expanding the relationship. These are prevalent with new salespeople because they may feel inadequate calling on customers and prospects. Another level 1 fear is being too pushy or too salesy.
There are many methods of overcoming Level 1 fear. However, I want to focus on one. That is – Just do it! Yes, the old Nike tag line is what we need to be courageous in the face of Level 1 fears. The terrible fear you have will almost never materialize. More often than not, it goes better than you thought. It only takes a few seconds of bravery to turn down the driveway, pick up the phone, or ask the high value question. Secondly, if it does go bad, there are plenty of ways to handle it. Be sincere. Apologize if the customer becomes upset and explain why you stopped by, called them or asked the question.
And, what about that fear of being too pushy or salesy? I can only tell you about the many salespeople I have been around in agribusiness. Typically, they are so hyper-sensitive about being too pushy that they err too far the other way. They actually miss more sales because they are too worried about following up or calling a customer. For more about that subject see a previous article: 7 Ways to not be “Salesy” for the Ag Sales Professional”
Level 2 Fear:
In level 1, we were afraid of something bad happening that really may never happen nor turn volatile. In Level 2, we have an actual event that is going to become volatile and our fear of a negative customer reaction is highly likely. Examples are: dealing with a customer complaint, collecting on a customer that is having trouble paying their bill, telling your customer “no” on something they really want from your company. These situations are more difficult than level 1 as we have a potentially volatile situation in the relationship.
This becomes even more difficult in agribusiness as most of us develop customers for many years and become friends. We now have an additional fear of losing a personal relationship.
What to do? I find these four keys to managing these fears helpful: Do your homework, be available and be candid and bring your resources. Do they work 100% of the time? Of course not, but they will make you feel much more prepared when you turn down that farm driveway and face your fears.
- Do your homework: This means understanding all sides of a situation. Go to the point of the problem whether that’s at your manufacturing plant, your office, the customer’s location, etc. See it firsthand. If not, then call them and ask a lot of questions. There are always two sides to every story. Seek to understand both sides of the story and then discuss internally with those that might be able to help. Lastly, there are few new things that happen in agribusiness these days. I’m sure someone in your role has faced this similar situation. How did they handle it? What precedence is there for this situation?
- Being available: Too often, I hear salespeople wanting to let a customer calm down before they call them back. Not a good practice. Get back to customers when you said you would. Better yet, get back to them faster than expected. Even if you have nothing new to add. How many times have you told a customer, “Let me check into that for you?” and then got busy and forgot. Don’t! But if you do, call back immediately, apologize and get back to them sooner than expected in the future.
- Be candid: Many salespeople hate to admit a mistake by them or their company. However, this type of candor can end much of the customer frustration. A customer walked into our office one day and became angry with our sales manager over the price of one of our products. It seems this product went up $25 while none of the other similar products had gone up at all. Looking at it, our sales manager replied, “We may have made an error, let me look”. Seeing the relief on the customers face, our sales manager added, “or, we just decided to take more margin”. This got the customer to go from relief to laughter and we resolved the issue. Nobody expects perfection, but trying to cover up or not admit you could have made a mistake is easy to see through.
- Bring your resources: If the situation is difficult to explain or requires expertise beyond you, then bring your resources to the situation. If it is product performance related, most companies have a technical or research specialist that can be involved. If it is production, distribution or office related, you can bring in your production manager, trucking manager or your accounting person. They can explain the technical details on what happened.
Throughout your selling career, fears will challenge you. If you work through your current fears, new ones will replace them. In your early years, you fear not being able to sell. Then, you sell, grow a large book of business and fear losing your customers. Then you move into your later years and fear that you may be out of touch with current technology or customer. Not to be a downer, but fears are going to be there throughout your sales career. Get good at recognizing them, admitting them, and seeking help with them. Most of all, keep moving through them.
For more articles on managing your fears when selling farm to farm or agribusiness to agribusiness:
- Fear of the Farm Call
- Overcoming that fear of being “that damn salesman” your Dad hated
- Are Fear and Conventional Wisdom holding you back?
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