May 3, 2012

Many hopeful men and women become involved in sales work with visions of closing big deals and earning top dollars. Unfortunately, a large number of them never realize these dreams. It is estimated that the sales profession experiences a 30 percent annual turnover, according to a 2011 Harvard University study of 100,000 business to business salespeople. This represents a massive waste of dollars in both onboarding expenses and opportunity costs as inept salespeople fail to close perfectly viable deals.

One factor that contributes to this large percentage of failed salespeople is simply fear, which inhibits action. Managers and trainers interested in sales optimization can reduce this fear by attacking two distinct weaknesses present in insecure salespeople: lack of product knowledge and fear of rejection.

Increase product knowledge

Expanding product knowledge is probably the best front-line sales optimization action to counter salesperson fear. An adept sales manager should cover the main talking points of a company’s offerings at sales meetings and even conduct regular role-playing sessions with team members to aid in memorization and confidence. Having in-depth product knowledge builds persuasiveness as the salesperson feels comfortable she can answer most questions thrown at her, rather than hem and haw uncomfortably.

Once the salesperson thoroughly understands her products, she should expand her study to include her direct competitors’ offerings and similar solutions in the general marketplace. Not only will this allow for more professional presentations, but it will also come in handy when the salesperson’s products are not the best fit for a client. In this case, how much trust do you think can be built by her admission of this and referring a quality competitor she has networked with to truly solve the buyer’s problem? Chances are that this simple act of providing a real solution instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole will create a strong willingness to do business with the her company in the future.

Increase tolerance of rejection

Fear of rejection is a common barrier to sales. Salespeople who are afraid to hear “no” will literally just sit there, avoiding making their next sales call and approaching the whole matter with a bit of dread. The primary mistake made is to take the rejections personally, not realizing the following five truths:

•A rejection does not close the door forever; salespeople should continue to build the relationship over time. Competitors make mistakes, providing an opportunity to get the business down the road if the relationship is kept alive.

• Success in sales depends on making many attempts. It truly is a numbers game.

• Each rejection should be viewed as a learning experience. In some cases, salespeople can even ask the customer why they didn’t earn the business and use that for their own sales optimization.

• Each time a failed sale occurs, salespeople are that much closer to hearing the eventual “yes” which brings home the money and the accolades from management.

• Only about 20% of sales calls are successful, according to the Harvard study mentioned earlier, so rejections are completely expected and part of the job for the typical salesperson.

How to help a salesperson overcome this fear? Simple — have her understand these truths above and then go out on sales calls and face the rejection. They will close one eventually!

In summary, building a brave sales force takes some time and effort, but pays off in increased action and sales. Managers and sales trainers should use sales optimization techniques that target the two areas above and give potentially valuable, but underperforming, salespeople confidence in what they are doing. A company’s survival may even depend on it.