The expression, "He could sell ice to an Eskimo," acknowledges that certain people are born salespeople.
For most small-business owners, however, the selling process is anything but easy. In fact, when it comes to pitching their product or service, many entrepreneurs struggle with any number of issues, including lack of confidence in themselves or their product, fear of failure and fear of closing the deal. The good news: Experts say these fears can be overcome with the proper attitude, training and practice.
Related: How to Adopt a Sales Mindset
Here are five of the most common fears about selling and how they can be conquered.
Fear No. 1: You will make a negative first impression. We all know how important a first impression is, and the fear that you will not make a good one can be intense. It may even make you avoid meeting ideal prospects.
How to overcome it: Show credibility through your appearance and nonverbal behavior, says Larina Kase, author of Clients, Clients and More Clients: Create an Endless Stream of New Business with the Power of Psychology (McGraw-Hill, 2011). Research shows that people are attracted to others who dress like them, she says, adding, "If your audience is school-aged girls, you may wear hot pink or purple, or if your audience is conservative business suit types, you may wear a suit with a bright shirt or tie, something that also shows your personal style." Focus on nonverbal behaviors like smiling (though not a "perma-smile"), eye contact and open posture, and be sure not to fidget and play with keys or other objects.
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Fear No. 2: You will be rejected. Experienced salespeople know they aren't going to be successful 100 percent of the time, but newcomers may regard failure as the end of the world. Joe Stewart, owner and general manager of Danco Transmission in Fairfield, Ohio, remembers attempting his first sale at age 21. "I almost turned white with fear from what might happen if they said that awful two-letter word we all despise as salespeople, 'No,'" he recalls.
How to overcome it: Professionals not only know rejection happens, they look forward to it, says Peter Shallard, a Sydney, Australia-based business psychology expert and blogger. Understanding the reasons behind a rejection can help you refine your product and presentation. Stewart, now 43, reflects on that first experience, saying, "For me, the only way to beat that fear was to confront it. The more I did it the better I became at it, and less fear was the result."
Fear No. 3: You'll come across as pushy. We've all had at least one negative experience with a salesperson who kept pushing and pressuring and wouldn't let us leave or hang up the phone. Many business owners worry they'll make prospects feel that way.
How to overcome it: Kase suggests focusing more on having a conversation with someone than simply selling. Learn the prospect's needs and ask yourself if what you're offering is of real value to that person. When you care about your prospective customer and develop a sense of trust, you're more likely to make the sale. "My first customer let me know that at first they felt uncomfortable due to the horror stories they had heard about other auto repair places," Danco's Stewart says. "But that quickly subsided after speaking with me because I made them feel as though they were family."
Fear No. 4: You won't deliver. Even when you do get a yes, you may fear you won't be able to fulfill all of the person's expectations. You may even suffer from the "Impostor Syndrome," which means you're starting to question the value of your own products.
How to overcome it: Kase suggests gathering feedback from customers and taking note of all the ways you have delivered. That approach helped Christine Buffaloe, who started Serenity Virtual Assistant Services, an online business management service, in 2005, and feared people would think she wasn't worth what she was charging. Buffaloe says she gained confidence from reading the testimonials on her own website. "Continuously look for ways to improve your services so you are sure you're providing optimal value," she adds, "and you will always be confident in your abilities."
Fear No. 5: You don't know if you're doing it right. Going into sales without any training can be terrifying. How do you know you're using the right tactics and offering people what they need?
How to overcome it: Debra Condren, president and CEO of Manhattan Business Coaching and author of Ambition is Not A Dirty Word (Broadway, 2008), recommends learning sales techniques by attending a training program. When Tanner Shepard co-founded Austin, Texas-based Ranch Road Creative Solutions, a marketing services provider, in 2005, he was thrust into a sales role and gained confidence only after an intensive weekly sales course. "I had to challenge myself out of my comfort zone," he says.