Coaching to Overcome Fear of Prospecting
When we say that we want a salesperson to “think more strategically,” we mean we want the salesperson to start thinking about the big picture. We want to help the salesperson adopt less of a task-driven focus … and more of a vision-driven focus, one that supports both the salesperson’s goals and the team’s goals over time. After all, strategies are associated with the big picture, and tactics are associated with the details. My experience is that many salespeople tend to focus on the details. They don’t automatically focus on the bigger picture. That’s where coaching comes in.
A case in point would be the salesperson I’ll call Carl, who came to me recently for coaching. Carl sold IT consulting. According to Carl, the reason he needed coaching from me was that he was underperforming and “no good at prospecting.”
I had trained Carl myself in no less than five different prospecting tactics, and I felt certain, based on what I had seen from him during those sessions, that he thoroughly understood and was competent in executing all five. I suspected that there was some kind of internal belief preventing Carl from designing and implementing a strategic prospecting plan, one that actually supported his income goals. I said, “Just out of curiosity, Carl, what does your current prospecting plan look like?” “Well,” he replied, “I make cold calls on the phone. A hundred a day. That’s how I prospect.” “Nothing else? ”
“No. A hundred dials a day. No matter what.” His jaw tensed as he said this. Interestingly, this was not what I had taught him during our prospecting course, which had emphasized the importance of establishing a balance of prospecting activities.
I asked Carl what he believed about prospecting. He said, “Well, prospecting is difficult. Nobody likes to receive prospecting calls, and people almost always reject an outsider coming in. But the calls have to be made, just the same.”
I asked: “You say you focus 100% on cold calls, Carl – but what about networking meetings? What about asking of your current clients for referrals?” “No, I’m not doing any of that. I’m just focusing on the cold calls.” “Okay. Why is that?” “Well, because I don’t see those other tactics as being effective for me. I’m an introvert. I don’t like making phone calls at all, but I’m more comfortable behind my desk than I would be in person.”
Carl not only believed prospecting was something that was difficult, and something that people were inclined to reject—he also believed he was fundamentally ill-suited to the task! After a little more digging, we were able to uncover one of the major reasons for Carl’s discomfort: He told me he always felt that he was under scrutiny in these face-to-face settings … and also that whenever people said “No, thanks” to him in person, that they were rejecting him. Not his company’s IT consulting offering: him!
In short: Carl’s belief structure was keeping him from putting together a strategic plan that supported him. His “picture” was very small. He couldn’t point to a compelling future he was creating for himself. All he could point to was a single well-worn tactic for avoiding face-to-face personal rejection … by replacing it with voice-to-voice personal rejection. We spent much of our session deeply examining Carl’s beliefs about himself, about the services he offered, about the value he had personally delivered to his very best clients, and about why he had chosen to work for his company … which happened to have a great track record. One interesting thing we discovered was that, although Carl was indeed highly introverted when it came to talking about himself, he was far more confident, and far less hesitant, when it came to initiating conversations about his product, which was something he strongly believed in. “What we deliver fixes broken IT teams,” he told me. “No doubt about that!” I said: “Okay. What if you didn’t talk about yourself at these in-person events? What if you talked instead about your product, and about the value that it has delivered to your best clients? Would that be more comfortable for you?” The answer was “Yes.”
Thanks to this simple piece of repositioning, Carl has transformed his entire emotional response to prospecting. He has also totally redesigned his prospecting plan. Instead of getting 100 painful dials out of the way each day, he’s looking at the bigger picture: Delivering value and being paid fairly for it.
Carl’s prospecting plan is now much more balanced, and it’s connected far more realistically to his personal income goals. He has set up clear time blocks, and realistic target metrics, not only for cold calls (which are far more effective than they had been), but also for social media engagement, in-person networking, referral generation from current clients, and business introductions. Just as important, Carl is now personally motivated to meet his own targets in all five of these areas … because he’s no longer talking about himself, which was something he loathed doing. He’s now talking about the value his company delivers. That’s a subject he actually enjoys!
-Rebekah Tucker, CEO Sandler Training Sydney