Sales is Not a Four Letter Word

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“Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman-not the attitude of the prospect.”   W. Clement Stone

Two of the most frustrating challenges preventing new business owners from becoming successful marketers are: 1) fear of selling, and 2) fear of setting and discussing fees or prices. I often hear new business owners say things like, “I’m not a salesperson”…”, I don’t know how to do it”…”I feel anxious at the thought of selling myself”.

Before we discuss how to overcome your fears, let’s talk about the role anxiety plays in a sales situation.

The Look Out Syndrome

You’re meeting with a prospective customer or client and start to feel nervous and self-doubting about your ability to sell. As your anxiety level increases, you focus your attention on the other person–their body language, facial expressions, or general demeanor, instead of listening to what is actually being said.

You might assume the other person is thinking negative thoughts about you. Often, your evaluation of these non-verbal cues is incorrect.

You might say to yourself, “Will I get the sale?” Now, more doubts about yourself start creeping into your head–“Is the look on the other person’s face saying he doesn’t want to work with me or purchase my product?” As a result, you probably didn’t hear most of what the other person said. You were too busy looking into the other person.

I call this the Look Out Syndrome: I am looking at you looking at me. 
And, 
I am wondering what you are thinking about me.

When you’re on the Look Out and not listening, you don’t say what you want to say because you’re too busy trying to figure out what the other person is thinking. Can we attribute Looking Out to inexperience? Immaturity? No self-control? Probably none of these.

Chances are you are scanning the prospective client so intensely that you repeat yourself or ask the same question more than once. Clearly, your thinking brain is offline.

How to Avoid the Look Out Syndrome

  1. Look at the other person, not into them. Focus on the color of their eyes, the color of their hair, or any other feature. Focusing on physical features will calm your brain so your thoughts stay focused in the present. Then there is little or no room to think what they’re thinking about you.
  1. Listen. This is probably the easiest thing in the world to say and the most difficult thing in the world to do. What is listening? How do you listen? How do you know if you’re being listened to? My advice: go online. There are plenty of resources and tutorials that can help you develop effective listening skills.
  1. Think business at all times. Your job is to sell your product or service, not to start a budding friendship. You don’t want new friends; you want customers or clients. If you focus on understanding and satisfying the business needs of customers and clients, rather than Looking Out, you’ll be able to keep personal interests out of the equation.

Fear of Selling 

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” Mary Kay Ash

Some small business owners suffer from a debilitating condition called Fear of Selling. This phobia occurs when a business owner starts thinking about being in a position to sell their product or service. The business owner goes into a panic and fear mode. It doesn’t matter if the sales situation is on the phone, via Skype or in person, fear still rears its ugly head.

Two of the most common fears are:

  • Fear of delivering a sales presentation to a group
  • Fear of giving a talking a conference or seminar

Yes, it’s the dreaded fear of public speaking. The technical terms for fear of public speaking is Glossophobia.  Two more fears that are common are:

  • Cold-calling a prospect
  • Talking to a known prospect on the phone

The fear of talking on the phone presents a real challenge for some business owner. The business owner cannot ‘read’ the other person. The business owner can’t pick up on any non-verbal cues. It’s almost as if the business owner is involved in a monologue, not a sales dialogue. It’s also hard to know when to stop the conversation so the other person can speak.

To understand how you feel when confronting the above fears, ask yourself which one of the following reactions apply to you?

Fear of delivering a sales presentation/fear of giving a talk at a conference:

☐ A) Been there, done that – no big deal

☐ B) I feel nervous, sick to my stomach, but I do it.

☐ C) I feel nervous but I’ve got it under control.

☐ D) I’m breaking out in a sweat just thinking about it and I’m not going to do it.

Cold-calling a prospect

☐ A) Been there, done that – no big deal.

☐ B) I feel nervous, sick to my stomach, but I do it.

☐ C) I feel nervous but I’ve got it under control.

☐ D) I’m breaking out in a sweat just thinking about it and I’m not going to do it.

Talking to a known prospect on the phone for the purpose of upselling

☐ A) Been there, done that – no big deal.

☐ B) I feel nervous, sick to my stomach, but I do it.

☐ C) I feel nervous but I’ve got it under control.

☐ D) I’m breaking out in a sweat just thinking about it and I’m not going to do it.

Here’s what you should do and what you should not do to minimize your fear.

#1 Do not read, word-for-word your presentation. Refer to key talking points using an outline.

#2 If you are using PowerPoint, do not look at your slides. In other words, don’t talk to your slides. Instead, face your audience and talk directly to them. Again, talk from an outline

#3 If you want to create more anxiety and raise your fear level, tell a joke at the beginning. Chances are, you’ll be so anxious that the joke will fall flat. No canned jokes, please.

#4 Keep your phone calls brief and definitely work from a script.

Even though email marketing is an effective way to deliver your sales message, you want to think twice about whether you are using email as a way to avoid talking on the phone.

After all, you don’t want to have an anxiety attack in front of potential customers.

 “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” Les Brown

Here are four more fears of selling. These fears revolve around the business owner’s lack of confidence and feeling they are not persuasive or convincing in a sales situation.

#1 A manifestation of fear of selling is hiding behind jargon, instead of speaking informally. Using jargon make it almost impossible for a customer to relate to you, as a person. Jargon keeps you at a distance from your customer. I was attending a local networking event, and overheard a psychotherapist talking to a lawyer – a potential referrer. The therapist thought the lawyer might have clients with emotional or relationship problems. In this case, the therapist was trolling for referrals. The therapist said to the lawyer, “I do psychotherapy, Gestalt Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and EMDR”. That was a sure-fire way to turn off a potential referrer. This is a great example of how not to be relational. There might be a time, when in a sales situation, you would use some technical talk, especially if you are talking to someone who is in your industry or profession.

#2 Asking prospective customers if they want to meet rather than suggesting a specific time to meet. When people feel insecure about themselves in a sales situation, they do not want to irritate or turn off a prospective customer. So, they ‘play it safe’ and ask.

#3 Convincing a skeptical prospect of the value of your service or product. You are not a door-to-door salesperson selling vacuum cleaners. Don’t laugh, some people feel they are going door-to-door selling. You are selling value and solutions based on your professional expertise. If you stick with the tried and true sales approach of discussing the benefits of your product or service, you won’t feel like a vacuum cleaner salesperson.

#4 Knowing when to end the discussion. When it comes to closing the sale or terminating a conversation, you want to ‘land the plane smoothly’. Why is landing the plane so difficult for some people? Why do competent people get flustered? Some people hesitate landing the plane due to their fear of rejection. Landing the plane requires you to be open, honest, and direct with the other person. You might balk at having to plan and even rehearse your landing statements. What happens if during the landing process, you experience the dreaded awkward silence? It’s perfectly okay to wait a few seconds without conversation. This is a good time for you to take a deep breath and remember your landing script.

Here are five examples of how and how not to land the plane.

Wimpy Way                                                  Direct Way

Can I call you?                                                When can I call you?

Do you have a business card?               I’d like one of your business cards

Can I have your email address?
            What’s your email address?

Maybe we should have lunch?              When, at your convenience can we have lunch?

Can I be a Contact in LinkedIn?           I’ll make contact with you on LinkedIn


These suggestions might seem simplistic and common sense. But in a sales situation, with your fears and anxieties out of control, you can remind yourself that you have tools to cope.

Fear of Fees

“Fears are nothing more than a state of mind.” Napoleon Hill

Over the years, I’ve talked to small business owners, lawyers, psychotherapists, physicians, accountants, and other professional and personal service providers. When I ask them how they feel about having a direct discussion about their fees, I hear:

  • “After being in practice for many years, I’m still uncomfortable bringing up the subject of fees”
  • “I wish someone else would do it for me”
  • “I try to avoid it as much as possible”
  • “It’s always an awkward conversation”
  • “I don’t feel I’m worth it to charge this much”

 I was coaching a young woman, Natalie, who recently graduated with a doctoral degree in physical therapy. She wanted to open a private practice but questioned her ability to ‘sell herself’. She was filled with self-doubt. One of several goals of coaching was for Natalie to confront her doubts about selling. We made a list of her self-doubts regarding selling. We addressed these self-doubts by replacing each negative message with a positive one.

Negative messageReplaced with Positive Message
I have no confidence in my ability to sellI’m really good at building relationships. I can leverage that skill to promote my practice.
I don’t know where to start when it comes to selling my servicesI don’t need to know everything about selling. I can ask a friend for help.
I am more comfortable talking about physical therapy than selling myselfI bring a lot of passion to what I do. I’ll communicate this to engage potential patients.

Two years after Natalie finished coaching with me, I sent her an email and asked her how things were going. She said she opened a physical therapy practice with a colleague from graduate school. She was treating patients and loving it.

What about you? Look at the questions below and answer YES or No for each question. If you answered YES to any of the questions, ask yourself what negative messages you have about money and suggest a positive message to replace the negative one.

  • Do you feel that you do not have enough experience to justify your fee?
  • Do you ask your customers if they think your fees are reasonable?
  • Are you afraid you are not charging enough?
  • If you state your fee, are you afraid the customer will say no?
  • If a customer balks at your fee, do you drop the price?
  • Are you afraid you are charging too much?

Believing in yourself, and your competence will help you overcome your fear of selling. This won’t happen overnight, but keep on reminding yourself of your positive message.

Let’s take a deeper look at the topic of fear of discussing fees. The discussion of fees would not be complete without talking about money.

“Nearly all of the 2014 Stress in America survey respondents (95 percent) said parents should talk to their kids about money. But only 64 percent said they themselves were taught how to manage money, and just 37 percent said they often talk with their family members about the subject.” Stress in America Survey

Ask yourself:

  • Did my family of origin speak openly and in a healthy way about money and finances?
  • Did my family of origin openly and fearfully discuss money or finances?
  • Did my family avoid any discussion about money?

Money avoidance: Believing that money is bad or that you do not deserve money. For people with this personality, money can evoke feelings of fear, anxiety, or disgust. Low-income, younger, and single individuals were more likely to hold this attitude. Brad Klontz

One of my clients told me that, as a child, her parents were hesitant to discuss money. In fact, they did not discuss money at all. As an adult, my client started two businesses. Both businesses were bankrupt within two years. My client blamed her failure on her inability to handle money. After her businesses failed, she confronted her parents about the money issue. Her father said he was afraid that giving his children too much information would have a negative impact on their adult life by diminishing their child’s goal or values. You can see why this client was fearful.

What are some of the manifestations of fear of discussing fees?

You have probably encountered a potential customer/client who, the first thing off the bat says, “How much do you charge?” or “What’s your fee?” In the rush to make the sale, you tell the other person exactly what they are looking for –a price. This person gets what he/she is looking for and most of the time will terminate the discussion. I affectionately refer to these people as ‘price shoppers’.

If you have fear of fees, here’s a way to slow down your thinking, so you can focus. Initially, do not state your fee. Do not say ‘”how can I help you?” (The response to “How can I help you” sets up an unrealistic expectation that you will help this person). Also, do not launch into your elevator speech. Eventually, you’ll want to discuss fees. Instead, ask a few benign questions such as:

  • What are you looking for?
  • Have you talked to others in the same business?
  • Have you ever purchased services (or products) like mine?

If you are unable to redirect the conversation back to the other person’s needs, then quickly land the plane by simply stating your fee (or a range of fees) and ending the conversation. Some business owners make one more attempt to turn the conversation back to the customer. If this doesn’t work, say, “goodbye and good luck!

When I first started out as a freelance marketing consultant, my only reference point for how much to charge was based on my experience at a large consulting firm. I could not charge anywhere near what they charged. I ruminated over whether I should charge an hourly fee or one fee for the entire project. I had no idea of what those fees would be. I realized I was anxious about talking about fees. I’d rather not talk about fees.

No one in my family would talk about money. No one would talk about the family budget. I never knew if my parents were or were not in debt. I had no idea of what things cost and how to budget. I tried to focus on the positives. I knew I had all the credentials and experience that potential clients wanted. I then knew I could face my fears and discuss fees with my clients.  Remembering that my family never discussed money helped me realize why this was hard for me. It took awhile for me to come to grips with this fear.

Now that you’ve examined your fear of selling and fear of fees, here are four tips you can use to minimize the impact of your fears.

#1 State your fee and shut up. Don’t justify your fee or over-talk. Let the customer respond. Keep this discussion as short as possible.

#2 Stick to your guns. Do not sell yourself short by dropping your fee. In a moment of panic and in desperation to make the sale, all sorts of thoughts are racing through your mind. You know how much time, energy, and money it took to bring your product or service to market. Leave no room for negotiation.

#3 Take a sales training course. Sometimes, I recommend that my clients attend a short sales training course. I’m not referring to 2-hour sales training seminars designed to lure you into purchasing a costly training package. In fact, I have some reservations about sales training courses. First, most of what is taught is common sense, just neatly packaged in a step-by-step methodology. Some sales training courses focus on the techniques used by the course leader. These leaders tend to be somewhat charismatic and the focus is on the leader, not you. Second, many sales training courses use their own jargon, which might be off-putting to you. Third, unless specifically tailored to your profession or business, general sales training courses might not offer specific industry-related insight or buyer behavior patterns. Fourth, some sales training courses offer a plethora of tips, tactics, and ideas. This might be the case of too much information. If you do want to take a sales training course, I recommend you consult your professional or business association. See what they have to offer. Weigh the time, cost, and energy you spend on taking a course against the benefits you might get. See what happens.

#4 Get a mentor or a coach. Mentors are individuals who are willing to assist you at no cost. Mentors tend to be senior executives or retirees. Many communities around the country have mentoring programs sponsored by local business councils. Coaches charge you by the hour. Whichever you choose, getting a mentor or coach is probably the best way to get a handle on how to discuss fees. It’s been my experience the best mentors are those in businesses not related to yours. Even though they do not have your industry-specific information and experience, they do know how to do the most important thing you need: discussing fees and closing deals. You’ll get a fresh perspective on selling. Caveat: Look online and you’ll see many organizations that offer coaching certification. Before you hire a coach, check out his or her certification. Does the credential seem credible? Will the coach let you talk to current or former clients?

Now you have tips and tactics to use so you won’t be selling yourself short.