Sales and Sales Management Blog

June 3, 2007

Fear, Failure and Our Choices

Filed under: prospecting,Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 8:34 pm

This past week I acquired a new coaching client.  Nothing unusual about that–except this client, like many in the securities industry, finds himself in the position of having 120 days to develop a practice capable of sustaining his family—or he is out of the industry.  He just finished his 13 weeks of training, passed his series 7 and 63 exams, and is now on a four-month do or die schedule.

I have the opportunity to speak with thousands of sales people from dozens and dozens of industries.  Depending on their industry, their “life support” (their initial guarantee, draw or salary) to help them get started may have been as long as a couple of years—or as short as, well, none at all.  Almost without exception, each had to work their way through their initial start-up stage with the stress and fear not only of failure, but of potential financial disaster if they failed, since many had to dip into savings in order to meet their basic obligations, not to mention having funds to help them market themselves.  My newest coaching client is just starting his ramp-up period—and he is fully aware of just how short four months is.

For most of us, the fear of failure is a strong motivator.  No one likes to fail, no matter what they are trying to accomplish.  A salaried employee wants to succeed at their job.  An hourly employee wants to succeed at theirs also.  However, both the salaried and hourly employee knows that they have the security of a future income—even if they simply do the minimum to retain their job.  For us in sales, the minimum required to simply retain our positions is producing at least enough income to live.  Whereas the salaried or hourly employee is given tasks and all of the means to accomplish those tasks and is then rewarded with a set income, we salespeople are given a task, many times without the means to accomplish it, and then must create our own reward—be it large, small, or, God forbid, non-existent.

Not only do we have the fear of failure, but our failure may well have life altering consequences for numerous people.  Our fear of failure goes well beyond the personal disappointment, embarrassment, and depression of failing at a task.  Our failure literally puts our family in jeopardy.  Our failure means debt collector calls, reposed autos, foreclosed homes, and no food on the table.

In addition, often, like my new client, we have a very short period of time to either succeed or fail.  Time is an ever present enemy.  We hear the clock ticking—even in our sleep.  We wake up to one more day gone, one more day closer to the ultimate consequences of our actions.

Yet, that ticking of the clock can be either our chief motivator—or the cause of our paralyses.  For most salespeople, time is a dominate factor in our actions.  We either find the clock a massive kick in the pants that moves us—forces us— forward and we find the strength, creativity, and determination to succeed; or we become mesmerized by the metronomic ticking, incapable of productive movement as we watch the hands of the clock inexorably move toward our final hour as a salesperson. 

Even after we get over the hump and begin to establish a consistent monthly commission income, the clock ticks away.  A slump, a slowing economy, an unexpected illness, and a hundred other factors can catapult us back to the edge of the precipice of joblessness and financial crisis. 

As a salesperson, we must prove ourselves each month, each week, each day, each hour.  The clock is unforgiving.  That mortgage is due on the first of each month, no matter what your previous month’s sales were like.  The bank expects their car payment, utilities must be paid, and food must be bought. 

How do you beat this relentless, heartless enemy?  The simple answer, though massively difficult for many, is action.  Selling is a high energy, fast moving sport.  More akin to jai-alai than baseball or football, it requires a tremendous amount of concentration, dedication, and mental and physical activity. 

A more accurate and precise answer is that it is through well thought-out, highly targeted action.  Many salespeople mistake simple action for progress.  Action, though crucial, is hardly enough.  Undisciplined, random action contributes to our failure just as surely as inaction does.

What is targeted, disciplined action?  Targeted, disciplined action is action that directly contributes to putting prospects in our pipeline and clients in our database.  In simple terms–prospecting, making sales presentations, signing contracts, and handling client issues.  Everything else—all of the designing of fliers, organizing of files, making of lists, reading and studying product brochures, and all of the other “stuff” we do, may directly result in our failure.

Not that these other things aren’t important–they are;  but they are simply secondary to our primary mission, and they don’t contribute to our success in a meaningful manner if performed during selling hours.  If engaged in during selling hours, these non-income producing activities hinder, rather than aid, our production.  These non-essential activities should be set aside and performed only when some direct selling activity isn’t possible.

In order to free ourselves for the activity of selling, we must have a plan in place that will allow us to spend our time and energy performing our four primary activities.  This means using our non-selling hours to formulate our future moves.  Instead of shuffling through stacks of leads or searching the internet for our next call as we sit at our desks “prospecting,” these activities should have been preformed the evening before, so our prospecting time is really spent prospecting, not doing prospecting research.  Instead of gathering our data sheets in preparation for making calls, they should have been gathered and put in a logical order during our non-selling time.  Instead of discussing marketing methods with the new salesperson in the next cubicle, we should have phone in one hand be dialing with the other.

It’s your money you’re leaving on the table.  If you don’t get it, someone else will.  If you wile away your time and choose to fail, you’re directly contributing to someone else’s success.  Success is a choice.  It’s a simple choice that takes great disciple and effort, but still a choice.  A tremendous number of highly talented people fail in sales every year—every month, in fact.  They simply choose to fail by making the wrong time choices.  They allow the clock to win.  On the other hand, many with little talent succeed simply because they were unwilling to fail.

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