The Ever-Increasing Costs of the “Fear of Calling” Syndrome

Recent studies have confirmed the obvious, that is to say that “fear of calling” in sales can contribute to a significant proportion of lost sales revenues. One study that I read recently found that as many as 40 % of established salespeople experienced periods of fear of calling severe enough to threaten their future in sales.

Stemming the ever-increasing costs of the fear of calling syndrome cannot be addressed by training alone. It requires an experienced coach or mentor to work with each salesperson’s particular set of beliefs, so that they feel truly empowered to break through their self-created mental barriers. One particular statistic, in the following survey, should give any salesperson suffering from fear of calling renewed confidence.

How Customers Regard Salespeople Survey

Salespeople who do not bother to make appointments – 45%

Salespeople who know nothing about the customer’s business – 60%

Salespeople who don’t know enough about their own products and services – 60%

Salespeople who call too often – 9%

Salespeople who don’t call often enough – 49%

Salespeople who do not have the authority to negotiate prices – 45%

Salespeople who do not ask for the order at the appropriate time – 40%

Salespeople who are not properly or sufficiently organized – 55%

Most desirable quality customers want to see in salespeople?  Competence!

We must remember that a salesperson’s state of mind is instantly transferred to their prospect or customer, which means that the challenge for organizations is to constantly create a highly resourceful state in their salespeople. This is extremely important, because when salespeople lack belief in themselves, their product or their service, they unconsciously transmit their attitude to in a variety of subtle and sometimes overt ways.

Most sales managers grasp the concept of activity management, skills development and knowledge development and a few intuitively also understand the vital importance of the right mind-set. Yet, far too many feel powerless to help their salespeople turn their negative beliefs into positive ones. Those who do tackle such negative beliefs and are able to change their salespeople’s self-limiting beliefs into empowering ones have found an unbeatable path to success.

What Will Distinguish The Top Sales Professionals of Tomorrow?

It is common knowledge that even today in most industries, a very high percentage of training budgets are spent on product knowledge workshops and training sessions. This is understandable to a degree, particularly in the more technical sectors, but what about all the other types of “knowledge?”

That statement is guaranteed to produce a lot of blank faces, and considerable head scratching!

But, if we are highly motivated, and we have received on-going skills training, and we are using the very best process tools, and we are totally au fait with the benefits of social selling etc. we are bound to be successful aren’t we?

Short answer? No, not any more. Let’s look at recent history…

Forty years ago frontline sales professionals believed that success would automatically arrive if they developed their personalities and adhered to the mantras of Tracey, Nightingale, Ziglar and co. And it is true even today that self-confidence, self-motivation, empathy, rapport building etc. will indeed take you a long way, and without most of those personal characteristics you will not succeed.

Then thirty years ago the “mega-training” companies such as, Huthwaite, Holden, Target etc. arrived with new selling models – what I termed “scientific selling solutions” It was new thinking at the time and it was all rather good. Meanwhile, the rapidly developing “tailored solution” organizations such as Miller-Heiman, Wilson, Sandler, to name just three, were becoming market leaders in their fields – so that’s the “skills-orientated era” taken care of, which of course is still with us today.

Twenty years ago, “process and control” were the new buzzwords. CRM systems began to flood the market, and sales managers licked their lips at the prospect of all that data at their fingertips. Consultative sales processes were developed – not always adopted and implemented successfully though – and the Attitude + Skills + Process loop was complete  … well almost.

When people began congratulating themselves that they had adopted ASP, most forgot about “K” Well, that’s not quite true. In fact they spent millions of dollars on “K” in the certain belief that it stood for “Knowledge” as in product knowledge – only half-right.

As I alluded to earlier, “Knowledge” is a much more complex issue. What about:

Industry knowledge

Sector knowledge

Competitor knowledge

Political knowledge

Commercial knowledge

Own company knowledge

Economic knowledge


These then are today’s realities, and I believe that every organization that intends to survive in this new re-engineered environment must, in my view, respond to those realities.

Let’s be clear, today’s clients/customers – who have never been more “commercially educated” are looking for vendors who can be business partners, who are willing and able to share risks and who are able to properly manage the entire sales process.

It is suggested that 84% of buying decisions are based on emotion – if that really is the case, buyers will not entertain entering into a long-term relationship with us because they like us, but rather because they trust us. Trust does NOT happen overnight, it never did.

Logically we are far more likely to trust someone if we sense synergy, if the seller talks our language and if they are “knowledgeable”

When The Leaders Are Leading, The Pack Will Follow

Unfortunately, most salesmen and women believe that a successful career in sales culminates in sales management, and yet there are of course far less management positions up for grabs than sales positions.

As a consequence, salespeople with this attitude concentrate on making sales rather than investing in themselves in order to become Top 5 % players and eventually most become disillusioned, resulting in a significant dip in achievements levels.

The knock-on effect of this is that most salespeople who move into management, take with them an underdeveloped view of selling – a “traditional” orientation and as consequence they help to create or maintain an unrealistic and short sighted vision of what will be needed to develop their teams.

Because they lack Top 5% experience themselves, and an insight into the skills needed to make it at the highest level, the environment that they help to create fails to recognise the need for outstanding performers, and this is particularly noticeable in the compensation structures they build, which neither supports nor encourages their teams to break through that final glass ceiling.

As I have said often enough, both here, and on numerous other occasions, the single most common mistake that organizations make is promoting their number one salesperson into the role of sales manager, thereby depriving themselves in a single stroke of their best producer and hamstringing their sales force with an ineffective manager.

The skills required for managing, mentoring and developing a sales team are totally different from those required for selling. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find newly promoted sales managers who regret having taken a management position and may even leave to get back into sales – that is if they are not pushed first!

The majority of sales managers – new and experienced alike – say they do not have sufficient time to train and develop their sales teams. They are so focused on sales results – and so accustomed to achieving success through their personal pursuit of those results – that they overlook their greatest potential source of power, the power to increase sales performance by developing their people.

The sales manager’s role is transforming from evaluator to developer, from expert to resource, from teller to questioner. This change is no mere tweaking adjustment, it is a 180° shift from how most sales managers manage and how they are managed. Most organizations profess to want coaching, but they don’t really do anything about it. Just as students are lucky to have one or two special teachers in a lifetime, most sales professionals are lucky if they get one real coach. Organizations don’t have role models for coaching, they don’t train for it, and they don’t hold people accountable for it.”  Sales Coaching by Linda Richardson

In “Tougher at the Top” which Linda and I will be publishing next year, you can be certain that these are just some of the issues we will be addressing.

You see, today, the role of sales manager is pivotal. It is the vital link, and ineffective sales leadership is the main reason why so many sales teams are failing.

All the current excitement surrounds lead generation – it seems that everything I read everywhere, is totally focused on finding, qualifying, and weighting leads. But what is the point of continually creating new opportunities and passing them to sales managers who are unable to cope?

Depending on which sets of statistics you believe, sales performance is spiralling downwards, and yet compensation packages are increasing? But that topic is for another day.

At the end of the day, the sales leader needs to be a “model of excellence” – only then will the pack faithfully follow.

“Selling Strategically” – What Does That Mean Exactly?

In most industries today, a handful of ideal customers have become universal targets, which means that there are maybe 500 extremely large customers for up to 100 million sellers. With such intense competition, conventional approaches are not equal to the challenge. Salespeople need to develop strategies that distinguish their products, services and their organisations in the mind of the customer.

Making a sale has always involved an element of systematic planning but strategic selling means more than rehearsing product information and timing the close. Strategic selling begins with understanding your company’s strategy, vision, and distinctiveness and then selecting high profile customers.

The next step, logically, is anticipating each stage of the buying process, from analysing the competition to identifying the influencers and decision-makers and being switched in to the buyer’s political issues. In other words, there is a need for a comprehensive strategic profile and rigorous opportunity assessment process.

Most important, strategic selling means strategizing from the customer’s point of view. Top achievers see strategic selling as a routine part of their work – not a final resort.

And Now the Good News:

It is now a given fact in any sales-related seminar or conference you may attend that traditional sales methods are being relegated to the annals of history. The new, more discerning customers of today have seen to that. They now wield greater bargaining power, demand more value for money and have become more knowledgeable and professional when it comes to decision-making. Suppliers are now faced with rising customer expectations and the need to become more flexible to the requirements of each individual client.

Yet the key to differentiation lies within these expectations, since more complex buying decisions lead customers to value closer links with their suppliers.

One Size Will Never Fit All

If we start from a position of agreeing that as human beings we are all different, then we must also concur that all prospects/customers/clients are also different: In terms of their commercial requirements, they each have a unique set of values, their own way of doing business – and how they expect the buying cycle to be managed. With me so far?

So, with all of this in mind, why is it that some people – many people actually – believe that a “vanilla” or “generic” sales methodology will serve the needs of all?

To be clear, this post is aimed at all those sales training organizations that claim to have an “out-of-the-box” solution which meets the needs of all front-line sales professionals. They don’t! They can’t possibly have! No such thing exists! There is no single one way to sell – different situations, industries, roles, cultures etc. require a totally different approach. Here is why.

Let’s begin by thinking about sales roles: As I have discussed before here, there are effectively three “stages” of a sales cycle, which requires us to recognize that there are actually three identifiable sales functions – or as I prefer to refer to them, “Sales Phases” i.e. Phase One: lead generation/prospect attraction. Phase Two: prospect conversion/closing the deal, and finally, Phase Three: client/customer retention and development.

We then need to think about the skills needed in each of our phases, because they are completely disparate: For example, when you are working in Phase One, logically you need to be skilled at cold-calling, or email marketing, or referral selling. Most social media pro-activity is also focused on creating incremental opportunities – and you will not learn any of these skills from any sales methodology program that I have ever seen.

During Phase Two, if we follow the “traditional” sales/buying cycle path, we need to qualify the opportunity, create a solution that precisely fits our prospect’s requirements, present that solution, negotiate, and close. That all sounds rather simplistic, and we all understand that complex sales can be far more … well complex. Here most sales methodologies come into their own.

Finally, Phase Three, this is the phase where most companies are weakest, preferring to concentrate most of their resources on Phase One: The ability to first build and then develop a strong customer base, which promotes strong two-way loyalty, and is founded on a totally symbiotic philosophy is what differentiates highly successful companies from the also-rans – and for also-rans, read much less profitable. Again, you will not gain anything from a sales methodology program if you wish to take these skills on board.

So far I have merely illustrated how out-of-the-box sales team development can never provide a precise solution in terms of skills development: We then need to look at industry/sector specialization. And then, what about culture? Do we all sell the same wherever we are located in the world? Of course we don’t.

Be assured, one size will never fit all – in fact, it won’t fit many.

How Percy the Persistent Pigeon Finally Got to “Yes, I’ll Buy”

I have never contemplated the fact that I might be even slightly voyeuristic, but now I am not so sure. You see, for the past month, from the comfort of my study, I have sporadically been witnessing the exploits of a very resilient pigeon, who I have affectionately named “Percy” – and yes, my choice of name may have a deeper Freudian meaning, after all wasn’t it Freud who said “Anatomy is destiny?” – but let’s not go there for now.

Percy the pigeon, and his flighty female companion Prudence – yet again, a name chosen after careful observation – first came to my attention after what I perceived to be a minor high-wire altercation, at least that was my first somewhat naive perception. Pru was clearly making her feelings known, and Percy made a pretty swift exit – well as swift an exit as a pigeon can make, which actually is not really very swift at all.

Ten minutes later he was back. Obviously he had made a quick flight around the block, summoned up his courage once more, and was ready for another tilt at this finely feathered girl of his dreams. Again he was rebuffed, and once more he circled the neighbourhood, only to return again.

By now it had dawned on me that I was not witnessing an aggressive contest of wills, but rather an intense passage of ornithological courtship. As a consequence, I became even more intrigued as to how this would all pan out for poor Percy, and prudent Pru.

Gradually, I observed, Pru appeared to becoming more responsive to our heroes’ overtures, and for a while, they seemed to be cuddling up. Perce would nudge her with his wing, and I chuckled imagining what he might be whispering: “Come on love, you know you want to” At which point she would move away a little: “In your dreams bird brain” she may have been responding.

Well, to cut a slightly long story somewhat shorter, after about another hour of this frankly hilarious performance, dear Pru’s resistance was worn down. At that point, I averted my eyes to allow them as much privacy as they might reasonably expect whilst indulging themselves twenty feet above the ground, clinging to the most thinnest of telephone wires.

So, what is the moral of this story? What on earth could this possibly have to do with professional frontline selling?

Isn’t that obvious? It’s persistence! Percy demonstrated amazing patience and persistence – he never once thought about giving up. He simply would not accept that “No means Never”

A recent survey carried out by The Results Corporation PLC discovered:

* 60% of clients buy after five “No’s”

* 22% after the second “No”

* And 14% after a third “No”

Yet 44% of salespeople give up after the first rejection! That is almost one in two?

If Percy and his chums adopted the same mentality, pigeons would soon be an endangered species

A well-known oil company whose name I cannot mention, (but let’s just say that their senior executives will not be vacationing on a certain US gulf coast for a while) discovered that it took their best salespeople an average of three visits and five follow-up calls to convert a prospect into a client. Yet their average sales performers only visited prospects twice and then gave up, costing the company millions of pounds in wasted sales effort and even more in lost potential sales opportunities.

Make no mistake, persistence pays – just ask Percy and Pru!

The Meek Will Not Inherit the C-Lounge!

I used to be indecisive – now I am less certain!

Disclosure: I really struggle with “ditherers” Life is far too short.

Prudence? Yes. Due diligence? Of course. But in business if you want to distinguish yourself from the average, you have to trust your judgment – absolutely have to.

While some decisions are easy (what to eat for supper) many more are extremely hard. Usually, a hard decision involves greater consequences/implications or, in some cases, a higher level of resource commitment.

In reality, not all so-called hard decisions are hard. Some feel harder than others owing to scale:
* If a friend asks to borrow $5, you’re likely to oblige without thinking about it.
* If that friend asks to borrow $1,000, you’re likely to be circumspect and ask questions.

The decision is the same one in essence – concerning creditworthiness. But, where the amount is greater, we perceive the decision to be much harder because the consequences are greater. Who cares about $5? But $1,000 is a sum most people would not wish to lose. It represents a risk, but at what stage does the decision become hard – $6, $25, more? The risk is that the friend might not or cannot repay the money and therefore you might regret your decision. Your decision will be based on your consideration of the risk and the magnitude of the possible loss, although you might not see it in this way.

We can define a decision as having “hard” characteristics when:

* The situation is uncertain i.e. there is a greater perceived risk

* The situation is inherently complex with many different issues e.g. the siting of a new airport is immensely complex, especially in these environmentally-aware times, because of the factors that must be taken into consideration (flight paths, air traffic control slots, residents, communications links, etc.).

* There are several objectives, but one or more is blocked and compromises or trade-offs are needed.

* Different perspectives can lead to different conclusions – especially true where two or more people are involved in making a decision; they may disagree about the assumptions, probable outcomes or even the decision.

The key issue is how to handle hard decisions to ensure they are taken as painlessly as possible. This requires the use of a robust, consistent approach and an appropriate level of detail – essential to ensure that risk is minimized, or at least understood.

I hope I articulated all of that well; you’ll have to decide!

What is Your Definition Of Successful Leadership?

Defining just what makes a leader effective remains as difficult today as it ever was. But that does not prevent us from seeking to distil their secrets – quite the reverse.

Of course, there must be almost as many theories on leadership as there are leaders themselves and models for the best kind of leadership change with the times.

In the 15th century, Niccolo Machiavelli advocated a combination of cunning and intimidation as a way to more effective leadership. His philosophy, if not his practices, became unfashionable some time ago – thank God!

Great Man” theories, popular in the 19th century and early this century are based on the notion of the “born leader” who has innate talents that cannot be taught. An alternative approach that is still in vogue is based on trying to identify the key traits of effective leaders.

Behaviorist theory prefers to see leadership in terms of what leaders do, rather than their individual characteristics, and it tries to identify the different roles they fulfil. More recently, attention has moved away from the individual in the leadership role, to embrace a more holistic view and investing less in what some commentators refer to as the “myth of the heroic leader.”

To those who would suggest that great leaders are born, not made, I would say this: We can examine all of the great leaders in history – and I have examined most of them – and identify some common characteristics, but we cannot say they were “Born Leaders” They all developed into their leadership roles over a period of time, learning the skills along the way.

I do believe that leaders can be developed – I have to believe that, because currently we have far too few of them in the world, but we are certainly over-blessed with managers.

The Most Important Phase of the Entire Sales/Buying Cycle?

It is essential that all frontline sales professionals fully understand both the value and importance of rigorous objective qualification, not just at the front end but right the way through the sales cycle. Qualification is a process not a single event and everyone  should be fully skilled in asking a small number of basic questions regarding precise requirements, time scales, budget, competition etc. before they are prepared to reveal their price and delivery.

As the value of the product, service or solution increases, the depth of the qualification should increase proportionally.

External salespeople have the opportunity to meet with prospective customers and it is far easier to extract information face to face than it is via the telephone or conference call however, it is vital that some initial answers are elicited prior the that first exploratory meeting in order to ensure that the meeting will be worthwhile to both parties. With sales costs spiralling upwards and sales time becoming limited, considerable prudence is required on the part of the salesperson.

During that first meeting, a considerable amount of detail can and should be uncovered e.g. background and history of the company, the key individuals, the composition of the DMU (Decision Making Unit) if there is one, timescales, budget, competition, current suppliers, buying criteria etc. Only by rigorous questioning will the salesperson be able to answer the following questions when they get back to the office:

Is there a requirement/need that my company can satisfy?

Is it winnable?

Do I want it?

The very best sales professionals will not pursue the opportunity – after proper objective analysis – if the answer to any of those questions is “No”. They will rather invest their precious selling time seeking out and closing opportunities that will provide a profitable return on that investment.

At the very highest selling levels i.e. strategic “big-ticket” selling and marketing, clearly the sales cycle is much more protracted, complex, and typically moves through four stages i.e.

Rigorous opportunity assessment
Develop a strategy
Present the solution and re-assess the opportunity
Gain formal commitment, sign the order and develop

Having a tilt at every windmill that presents itself is neither practical nor profitable.

Qualification is a core competency that every professional salesperson should take on board as quickly as possible. Working to the maxim that “All business is good business” is unrealistic and totally erroneous.It takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the pipeline only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one – the ability to determine which is which, can have a huge impact on your ultimate success in a front-line sales role.


Latest News: This week’s Top Sales Magazine is out today: Leading social selling pioneer and evangelist, Barb Giamanco is in the interview hot-seat, and Linda Richardson provides the lead article – “Finding Your Creativity in Unlikely Places” Plus we have great contributions from Tamara Schenk, Jeffrey Gitomer, Kevin Eikenberry and Jeff Perkins.

As usual, we announce this week’s Top Sales Blog Post and Top Sales Article, and in my editorial, I ask “Are you about to be commoditized or will you survive?” Not subscribed? You can register for free here –

Selling on Top of the World

As you can imagine, I am often asked by sales leaders anxious to recruit the best salespeople they can afford, just what is it that makes a consistently top performer; what are their characteristics, where are their strengths, and what differentiates them?

Over the past twenty-five years I have trained and developed more than one hundred thousand sales professionals from foundation right up to “master craftsman” level and this has given me the opportunity to formulate an accurate profile of a Top 5% Achiever.

So What Is It That Top 5% Players Do?


  •  Position themselves with the real decision-makers and avoid those without ‘approval power’. They are able to first identify and then access the formal decision making unit.
  •  Not only get the order but a satisfied customer, repeat sales, enthusiastic reference sites and constantly increase sales penetration within their accounts.
  • Know how to minimise the uncertainties of a cold call on a new account, by careful planning and rigorous opportunity assessment.
  • Recognise when to treat an old account as a new prospect and keep the relationship fresh, alive and maintain profitability
  • Never entertain business they do not want because they recognise that it takes just as long to work an unprofitable opportunity through the sales funnel, only to lose it at the death, as it does a profitable one. They trust their own judgement but also rely heavily on objective assessment.
  • Readily identify and know how to deal with the four different buying influences present in every sale.
  • Understand how to prevent sales from being sabotaged by an internal enemy. They insulate themselves by developing strong allies within.
  • Are able to recognise fail-safe signals that indicate when a sale is in jeopardy. This comes from experience but also information supplied by their allies.
  • Are rigorous in tracking account progress and are able to accurately forecast future sales because they use proven methodology, which allows them to weight every opportunity in the pipeline.
  • Avoid ‘dry-months’ by allocating time wisely to their critical selling tasks i.e. Prospecting for new business, covering the bases with existing opportunities and finally closing the best few.

In summary, the very best sales performers do not achieve that status overnight. They work tirelessly to develop and hone their skills-sets, insist on regular top-up coaching, and seek out those who are outperforming them, so that they may learn and improve still further. They have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of their industry and sector.

Finally, they concentrate on eliminating any weaknesses and are anxious to be assessed and receive feedback on a regular basis.

They are selling quite literally on top of the world!

I deliberately highlighted the “coaching” element, because it is my view that around 80% of sales managers/leaders around the globe lack the necessary skills and experience to coach their teams effectively. It isn’t their fault they have never been taught this fundamental pre-requisite of successful management, but the smart ones are waking up, recognising that vague caffeine-related aroma, and seeking out appropriate guidance. The good news for them – and you? – is that on Wednesday both you and them have the opportunity to attend a FREE 45 minute masterclass with one of the world’s leading sales management experts, Dave Kurlan, Founder & CEO of Kurlan & Associates, and Objective Management Group. I will be hosting the event, so do please join us for this second session in the 2014/2015 Top Sales Academy series – please register HERE