The National Institute of Mental Health defines people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as those who are extremely worried about things, even when there is little or no reason to worry about them. But there are many lesser degrees of anxiety that are intrusive and impede sales people in doing their jobs. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, and fear of the unknown plague many, even experienced sales people. And of course the fear of not making sales and losing your source of income doesn’t help.
I have seen sales anxiety manifest in a wide variety of forms. I see colleagues plagued by insomnia, and if I don’t watch it, I can catch myself carefully removing every trace of gel nail polish from my fingernails by picking it off at the end of a rough quarter.
Anxiety is common, it affects about 3.1% American adults age 18 years and older, and twice as many women as men. But you don’t have to let it. Severe anxiety can best be treated with medication, therapy, or both, but sales anxiety can best be managed by embracing it, understanding it, and making it work for you.
I suspect anxiety is a very early physiological response to fear of being attacked by an animal or cast out of your group. Worrying about those things and taking steps to prevent them allowed our early ancestors to survive and thrive.
Studies from as early as the 1950s show anxiety has a debilitating result, for example, in making a cold call. People fear rejection and fear looking like a fool.
But are there ways that anxiety can be harnessed, managed, and dare I say, leveraged? Some people have described feelings of anxiety as “I just couldn’t let something go.” For better or for worse, this can be a real asset in some professions, particularly sales. Many sales are not closed on the first, second, or third call. They are closed when the sales person is persistent enough to get the buyer's attention and when they have a need that the sales person can fulfill.
If the sales person is familiar with most likely outcomes of the call, anxiety drops. When they have confidence in their sales skills, they are more likely to be comfortable and relaxed when the call does occur. Being prepared for most likely outcomes and understanding that rejection is not personal makes a sales person perform better. Sometimes rejection is beneficial in pointing you in a direction from which you can succeed.
Long ago, I worked with an exceptional sales woman named Ashley. We were talking about anxiety and how we made it through each month to our sales quotas. Ashley told me that she worried about everything that could go wrong when she was making a sale, and that by doing so, she took steps to make sure that none of her concerns came to fruition. That’s the first time I started to think that maybe anxiety was actually helping me achieve sales success when I managed it properly.
When you are a high ego-drive person working in sales, you want to be the best. The extra preparation and adrenaline that anxiety can bring can help you focus and bring the best performance to the table.
I look at managing anxiety as one of the most important parts of my job. Going into a big renewal knowing that a client is probably being pitched by the competition or may have another reason to consider not renewing a contract with me is enough for me to make sure that I have convincing return on investment (ROI) information for them and compelling data to insure that they decide to continue working with me and my company.
Preparation helps defeat anxiety, but sometimes a sales person still has to walk into a situation facing some major unknown issues.
I have a call coming up with a major client. Their company has a new CEO and my contact has a new manager. He put an invitation on my calendar and he could be planning to tell me anything from that he has lost his job to that he is ready to move forward with a $75K deal we've discussed. Those things are totally out of my control, so while I have thought though how to appropriately deal with either situation, I’d certainly prefer the latter! Because I have planned out conceivable outcomes, I’m relatively calm and my nail polish is intact.
While anxiety can be challenging in sales, for people with manageable anxiety, it can provide the impetus to do your job as well as possible and secure the most business an activated you can.
I work for Monster Worldwide. Views expressed are my own and do not reflect my employer’s. Follow me on Twitter.
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