For the first few years I questioned whether I had made the right decision to get into sales. I was not (and I am still not) endowed with natural speaking abilities. I lacked confidence with both prospects (strangers) as well as long-term customers. My awkwardness became obvious at various stages of the sales process.

My ability to stay employed and moderately successful during the first five years was largely due to my persistent nature to constantly follow up my sales proposals with customers.

A customer gave me this feedback, “If you don’t have confidence in yourself then how can I have confidence in anything you have to say?” The comment was painfully accurate!

To be successful in sales you need confidence in your own abilities as well as the solution you are offering.

In the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion believed that his fear made him inadequate. The wizard gave him a magical liquid that temporarily took away his fear. He then told the Lion that he could continue to do brave deeds despite being openly and embarrassingly fearful.

My journey to develop sales confidence came through the following realisations:

Redirect the attention to the customer

The more curious I became about what faced my customers, the less I focussed on my fears and negative self-talk. This allowed me to develop greater empathy and when it came time to describe the solution, I could reference the issues the customer had raised. My sales confidence increased as my approach was similar to that of a doctor, seeking to diagnose a condition before making recommendations.

Because I lacked confidence I managed to listen more than speak

Listening more gave me an advantage in sales. Most people believe that successful salespeople are the ones that talk the loudest and appear the most confident. The reverse is true! Top sales performers around the world, regardless of culture listen carefully to their customers. They generally allow the customer speak about 70% of the time. They want to understand why the customer took their call or invited them to the meeting. They dig deep into the issues. When it comes time to pitch, their message is concise, articulate and very persuasive.

Sales is often about building good relationships. And good relationships take time and patience to develop.

In the early days I would get nervous when a customer liked my solution but was not in a position to purchase. My self-doubts took it as evidence of my lack of ability to “close the deal”.

My confidence grew when I understood that sales is a process and not a single event.

It recently took me 12 months to displace an incumbent supplier to a customer that I wanted to acquire. The incumbent was overpriced and I could tell there was a reasonable level of dissatisfaction with the engagement. Over a 12 month period we had three formal visits and a few coffee meetings and phone calls. The comparatively small amount of time invested in the relationship over 12 months had a good payoff.

Success breeds greater confidence

Ten years ago my sales manager at the time gave me an awesome piece of advice – when you have just made a sale, you should immediately start phoning all your other customers!

That advice was often contrary to what most of us wanted to do. We wanted to celebrate!.

Why should you phone other customers immediately after a sale?

Firstly a good sales experience puts a smile on your face. When you speak with customers, they will detect your happiness. People can even tell when you are smiling over the phone! The positive emotion you convey to the customer will always be a good thing. Secondly it gives you something to talk to your customers about that is outside of  “Have you made a decision yet?”. Instead you can tell them about another customer has just made this decision. And you are excited to be helping them to achieve A, B and C. Finally people generally like to follow the herd. If they see a trend in your customers going in a certain direction, it will have an influence on their decisions and confidence in you.

Managing your own psychology

Many people have applied this phrase to how they overcame great failures and saw success through heroic choices and hard work.

For me, managing my own psychology has been applied in a very mundane way. It’s when I start work at 8.00am and have a whole of small un-pleasurable things to do. I need to make several calls to people who seem to be avoiding me. I need to cold call strangers that might reject me…

This can be difficult even for someone like me who has done it for 15 years. Especially when I’m feeling tired, I need to re-discover my enthusiasm in each phone call. My subconscious is trying very hard to check out Facebook or News websites. Anything else is more important than the tasks ahead of me.

When I do manage my own psychology I get through tasks in 30 minutes that I have been struggling with for days!

How do I do it?

I keep a separate notepad where I write down my tasks for the day. For me it’s about drawing up a checklist such as: Call John Smith at John Deere about the proposal and organise follow up meeting. There might be 15 tasks I need to do. Each time I complete something I strike it out with a yellow highlighter. Over the next 10, 15, 30 minutes I can view the progress I’m making through eliminating these tasks. Seeing a checklist that is 90% complete gives me a sense of achievement and confidence.

It is surprising how completing these small tasks can have a big impact on sales outcomes.

Foolish Optimism

To be good in sales you need to be an optimist. This will allow you to see an opportunity in every challenge. Optimism is a great cure for lacking confidence. When you are feeling optimistic you have more energy to call people. Optimistic salespeople are not affected by rejection. They laugh a rejection off while phoning another customer. Foolish optimism will shorten your sales troughs and lengthen your sales peaks.

Experience breeds sales confidence

And finally your successes and failures will be reference markers throughout your career. Failure is often a better teacher than success. A few very painful memories in the early years have been wonderful guideposts for the last 15.

I hope the above experiences in my sales career will be helpful for someone wanting to build sales confidence.

I am still the Cowardly Lion. Despite being embarrassingly fearful I can do brave deeds…

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