As the economy improves in fits and starts, selling your products and services remains unusually tough. Never has resilience been more critical for small-business owners. The ability to steadfastly push through challenges is a valuable trait that seems to come naturally to some entrepreneurs. Others can adapt over time to become wiser and more confident after each trying situation.
So how can you quickly recover from setbacks in the selling process? For starters, experts suggest viewing sales in your business as a long process with many wins and losses, much like a professional athlete's season. "Try not to look at your sales record as just one good or bad deal or one good or bad week," advises Steve W. Martin, who teaches sales strategy at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and is the author of Heavy Hitter Sales Psychology (TILIS Publishers, 2009). "You're going to be at this for many years to come so you want to develop skills to be mentally ready to face the sales hurdles you have ahead of you."
Here are seven secrets to developing the resilience you need to staying positive, no matter how tough it may be to strike up new sales.
No. 1: Learn from your failures. Rather than feeling depressed that you made 100 calls without hearing back from a single prospect, take a long hard look at your approach. "Maybe you called the wrong people or called them at the wrong time," says Jill Konrath, author of Snap Selling (Portfolio, 2010) and Selling to Big Companies (Kaplan Publishing, 2005). Then, rethink your message. "Perhaps you should stress something different about your business," she says.
No. 2: Touch base with your 'friendlies.' If you've made 10 sales calls and all have gone poorly, it's easy to feel that you'll never get your company off the ground. If you have a day like that, consider reaching out to your 'friendlies,' customers that like you and appreciate your product, to fuel you for the hard work ahead. "By talking to these positive contacts," Martin says, "you'll reanchor yourself to why you're doing the work you're doing and it will help you become more ready for the next deal."
No. 3: Face your fears. Every single entrepreneur has faced fear, especially when a sales call goes awry. "When I first started selling, a prospect reamed me out in front of some of my colleagues and I fainted," Konrath recalls. "After I came to, I could have walked out saying, ' I'm not cut out for sales.' Instead, I worked hard to figure out what it would take to be successful and I moved forward, despite my fears. I truly believe that the ability to bounce back rests in your ability to look fear in the face and go forward anyway."
No. 4: Check in with colleagues for a reality check. While we're taught to keep our feelings to ourselves when times are tough, it's actually better to share our struggles with a trusted colleague. "If you have a cathartic talk with a colleague who has empathy for your situation, it will help you let go of negative feelings," Martin says. "The process of speaking about your concerns and, even your sales struggles, will help you get ready to go out there again."
No. 5: Reach out beyond your network. Instead of relying on your usual go-to people, seek out a broader network. Talk to others about their business and your business, find out who they know and share your contacts, says Joanne S. Black, founder of No More Cold Calling, a San Francisco-based sales strategy consulting firm. "Entrepreneurs tend to retreat and that's mostly because you're wearing so many hats, from doing business development, working with clients, paying taxes and so much more. But, despite how busy you are, it's key to leverage your connections. You never know where you might find new customers."
Related: How to Adopt a Sales Mindset
No. 6: Borrow someone else's brain. Seek out sales strategies from another entrepreneur whose business is a bit further along in its sales growth. "Try to intuit how this other business might approach their sales challenges," Konrath says. "You can't look at Virgin Airlines or Donald Trump and ask how each would approach sales, but you can look at someone who is just a little ahead of you. By walking a mile in his or her shoes, you'll open up a whole new way of looking at things."
No. 7: Take a break. If you've tried all these tips and still feel defeated, consider taking a time-out. "Most people think they should keep their nose to the grindstone, but that's not the best way to win your next customer," Martin says. "Prospective clients may be turned off if they sense that you're desperate." Martin's advice when your numbers are down: Take a mental health break that lasts a couple of hours or even a day. "That will help you to start fresh and project a successful image," he says.