Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling, part 2 of 4

4 Sharks Of Fear (photo via Iggy.)There are many ways to think about sales and selling. You can focus on value propositions, sales processes, sales management, motivation, techniques, and models. In this blogpost series,  I focus on something else that’s common in sales – fear.

In Part 1 I talked about the importance of dealing with fear in sales. Here I’d like to talk about how to recognize and categorize fear. In Part 3 I’ll talk about solutions, and in Part 4 I’ll talk about Shark-proofing your market – how to replace fear permanently.

The Four Sharks of Fear

There are many ways to categorize fears, just as there are ways to categorize sharks. I like to lump them in progressively more fearful categories, from relatively tame to terrifyingly fearful.

  1. Execution Fear. “I might mess up in doing this sale; I might not do it right.”
  2. Competence Fear. “I might not know how to do this sale right; I may not even know what I don’t know.”
  3. Outcome Fear. “I might not get the deal at all – everything I wanted to happen won’t happen.”
  4. Shame-based Fear. “They’re not going to like me or respect me anymore; and they’re probably right.”

The first thing you’ll notice about that list is that it gets “worse” as you go down the list – it starts off with incomplete education and ends up with self-loathing. All of us find it a lot easier to deal with the former than the latter.

But they all can drive equally negative impact on sales.

How Fear Affects Selling

Whether your fear is tactical, existential, or in between, it will keep you from doing something right.

  1. If you have execution fear, you are likely to not make the call, schedule the appointment, or send the email. You will be physically not present. You will miss opportunities and appear undependable.
  2. If you have competence fear, you are likely to appear ragged, unconfident, changeable and second-guessing.
  3. If you have outcome fear, you are likely to annoy everyone around you, because you try to over-control, micro-manage, obsess, and frequently blame others; you are in a bad mood because the world doesn’t obey your commands.
  4. If you have shame-based fear, you are mentally not present; you are probably chronically sick, or often busy elsewhere; you are probably inconsistent, moody, and often a poor listener. And in sales, the inability to listen is a major handicap.

Have you been mentally jotting notes?  Write them down. Which type of fears do you seem particularly prone to?

Negative Feedback Loops

One of the most pernicious aspects of fear is its self-fulfilling nature. If you don’t make the appointment for fear of making an error, you have made an error. If you’re afraid of appearing competent, almost anyone will perceive that fear and interpret it as – incompetence.

If you’re afraid of a bad outcome, some kind of karmic rule of life intervenes – you nurture what you fear. And if you are ashamed of yourself, nobody will be comfortable  being around you; which of course is more fish-food for the shark of shame.

This feeds-on-itself aspect of fear is powerful – picture a feeding frenzy when sharks congregate around some little piece of distress, compounding the terror.

The Wrong Shark Repellent 

Unfortunately, people are almost hard-wired to respond badly to the Sharks of Sales. In the real world, if we see a shark in the water – we run.  Good call; avoiding the shark is the right thing to do.

But with Sales Sharks, that’s exactly wrong. In almost all cases, fear of doing something wrong drives us to not do something that is right. Think sins of commission and sins of omission.

We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we say nothing. We may not lose what we have (dignity), but we create a much bigger failure to get something we wanted (the sale).

Imagine a lifeguard who sees someone drowning. If the guard dives in to save the person, and it turns out the person was just playing, the lifeguard may be slightly embarrassed, and feel put out.

But what if the person really was drowning and the lifeguard thought, “Well, I’d look stupid if I dove in after them and it was a false alarm, let me wait a bit longer and see.” Wrong answer!  Yet that is the mistake that fear drives us to make in sales.

The pattern is clear: fear drives us to avoidance, which ensures failure. You can probably envision some of the solutions to fear in sales, but in any case, that’s the next post. Stay tuned.