The success of your business depends on your sales skills. Everything from your profits to the effectiveness of your marketing relies on your ability to sell. But just because you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer, it doesn’t mean that you look forward to selling.
Even most professional salespeople aren’t confident in their sales skills. Research from Krauthammer, a consulting and training company, confirms that only 27-percent of salespeople feel that they’ve fully mastered the fundamentals of sales.
It’s no surprise then that people who aren’t professional salespeople are nervous, afraid, or hesitant to do anything relevant to sales—whether it’s selling face-to-face, making calls, or writing sales copy.
To fight this type of fear of selling, be specific about what you’re afraid of, then work on steps to overcome each issue one at a time. Use the following guide and free PDF worksheet to identify your sales obstacles and what you can do to get them out of the way. Learn how to overcome fear of failure and rejection, and become better at sales.
1. Fear of Rejection in Sales
One of the most common challenges of people trying to make a sale is the fear of rejection. Here’s when you know that the potential for rejection is crippling you:
- Your Focus Is on the Possible Rejection - You have one major question at the back of your mind: “What if they say no?” You’re not thinking about more critical concerns, such as: Is the client a good match for your target market? What can you help them with? Why should they choose your business over other businesses that might have cheaper offers? It’s these other questions that can help you land the sale or deal with the blow of rejection.
- Every Rejection Feels Like a Sign of Failure - You usually feel like rejections are a sign that you’re not good at your business or that your product or service isn't good enough. You also feel this way even when customers are merely unresponsive or defer on buying.
- You Take Days to Recover From Rejection - Whenever a lead doesn’t want to take your offer, it’s at the back of your mind for more than a day. It’s possible you even replay the interaction to see what you could have said or done to close the sale. You might even feel some bitterness towards the person or sales in general.
How do you handle rejection in sales? If any of these signs seem familiar, then fear of rejection plays a major part in preventing you from becoming better and more confident at sales. Here’s what you can do to lessen or eliminate this fear:
Step 1. List Your Fears of Selling
Get familiar with your fear of selling. List everything that you think will go wrong during your sales attempts—no matter how silly or unlikely.
Then, for each item, ask yourself: How likely is it to happen? What are the real-life consequences if this were to happen? If I were the type of person who wasn’t afraid of this, how would I act? Pay attention to your answer to the second question. This will give you clues on what you need to do to get past each fear.
You can work on how to handle rejection in sales better, if you have a clear perspective on your fear and what you should be aiming for instead. For example, you could be afraid that you’ll never be able to make any sales at all. Go through each of the suggested questions:
- How Likely Is It to Happen? - If you’ve made sales before, regardless of whether it’s in this business or a previous venture, then it’s unlikely that you’ll never make another sale again. Closing sales is also more than just getting paid, it’s also about helping people make a decision. Have you ever changed someone’s mind? Have you ever got other people to care about things they previously didn’t care about? If you’ve been able to do these things, then you are capable of making at least a few more sales, regardless of how many rejections you get.
- What Are the Real-Life Consequences if This Were to Happen? - Consider what it would mean if you never make a sale again. Some worst-case scenarios might include getting a job that doesn’t involve sales at all, hiring a salesperson for your business, or getting outside help to improve your sales technique. When you follow through on your fears and imagine the worst-case consequences, you’ll see that they’re not nearly as catastrophic as you imagine.
- If I Were the Type of Person Who Wasn’t Afraid of This, How Would I Act? - Think about the type of person you’d be if you didn’t have this fear. Include everything from what you’ll be feeling internally, how you’ll carry yourself, and what you’ll do to prepare for the sales task. Note also how your body responds to the idea of sales. For example, if you get sweaty and feel butterflies in your stomach when trying to make a sale, think about how you’ll react instead if you weren’t afraid. While this won’t eliminate your fear responses, you’ll at least have an idea about what your next action should be and how you should carry yourself despite your fear.
Feel free to do this exercise regularly, or before you’re about to attempt a sales-related task, whether it’s a call, a face-to-face appointment, or writing sales copy.
Step 2. Accept That “No” is Normal
Remember that only 25-percent of leads become sales. In the most competitive industries, the percentage is even smaller. Regardless of what business you run, you're likely to get more rejections than closes. Consider if your fear of rejection is stronger than your desire to run your own business.
Step 3. Accomplish Small Wins
When the fear is too much and you don’t have the capacity for the above exercises, list some small wins you can accomplish more easily. These small wins don’t have to be sales tasks, but they should be relevant to customer acquisition or lead nurturing. Here are some ideas:
- Upload some new content into your business’ social media pages. Anything short will do, as long as it fits the voice of your brand. This could be links to an article, a link to a specific product page on your site, an inspirational quote, or a fun GIF.
- Optimize your social media pages, if you haven't done it yet.
- Respond to messages from potential customers who are asking for more information about your products or service. Give them the information they need, no need to overtly sell.
- Read a chapter of a book related to entrepreneurship, sales, marketing, or your industry.
- Find ways to improve the product pages of one to two products or services on your site. Use one or more of these psychological triggers for inspiration.
Getting done with these small wins can help you feel more confident, especially if they do end up leading to sales. Then, you’d be more capable of tackling your fear of rejection in a more direct way.
2. Fear of Appearing "Pushy" in Sales
If you feel a bit of disgust when you think of sales, you’re not alone. Most people view sales as pushy or sleazy. Author Dan Pink conducted a survey asking 7,000 people “When you think of the concept of sales or selling, what’s the first word that comes to mind?” Below is a wordcloud of the top 25 adjectives that came out as a result.
Your fear s related to being pushy, manipulative, and sleazy is getting in your way if you experience any of the following:
- You Do Anything but Ask for the Sale - You’re not a cheerleader for your business, you’re an explainer. You can go at lengths describing your product or service, but you’re unable to directly say to customers phrases like “Are you ready to buy?” or “Do we have a deal?”
You Hesitate When the Conversation Turns to Money - You balk when it's time to charge customers, collect on late payments, or ask for more money (via an upsell or a raise)—even though these activities are normal business practices.
- You Feel Disgusted With the Idea of Trying to Sell - Disgust is different from fear. It's feeling that sales is wrong, unethical, or beneath you.
If you know that your business provides value and that you wouldn’t do anything to manipulate or mislead your customers, here are some things you can do so that you won’t feel like your sales attempts are pushy:
Step 1. Remember What You Love
How to overcome fear of being pushy requires you to dig deep. We think of sales as something manipulative or sleazy because we often think it’s coming from a place of dishonesty. While there are certainly unscrupulous people trying to make a quick buck, the fact that this makes you feel bad means that you aren’t likely to be one of those people.
Instead of focusing on making the sale, revisit what makes you passionate about your business. What do you like best about the products or services you offer? The more passionate you are about these things, the better.
Step 2. Practice Explaining to a Friend
Review the list you made in the exercise above. How would you explain the above list to a friend—especially if you only wanted to express your passion rather than make a sale? Write down what you would say to your friend.
Compare this with your experiences with clients. How have you explained your offers to potential customers? Would they have been able to see what you loved about your business? As long as you know that you’re pairing your customers with the right solutions, and that you’re sharing with them products and services you love, there’s nothing pushy about that.
3. Sales Fear of Not Knowing What to Say
Some entrepreneurs are already willing to make the sale. What stops them is that they don’t know where to begin. It’s as if they need a script to start closing sales, sending proposals, or pitching products.
How to overcome fear of this type requires you to take some risk. The thing is, there’s no such thing as a sales script that applies to all or even most situations. You’ll need to learn how to “wing it” most of the time. If you think that you’re the type of business owner who is ready to make sales, but just lacks technique, here are the symptoms to look out for:
- You Feel Eager to Start but Haven’t Taken Any Action - You feel energetic to get the ball rolling. Despite your motivation, you haven’t really picked up the phone, sent a sales email, or gotten started on your sales copy.
- You Fumble During Sales Calls - You already act on your sales tasks, but even with genuine enthusiasm for your products and services, you can’t seem to express your ideas clearly. Maybe you suddenly develop verbal tics, such as stutters or saying “uhm” a lot. Or, if it’s a written sales task, you could be making typographical errors or phrasing your ideas awkwardly.
You Suffer From Negative Hindsight - Realizing in hindsight that a lot of things you could have said or done when you were making the sale is difficult. Almost as soon as you’ve finished your sales interactions, you realize all your mistakes and missed opportunities. You’re unable to adapt to the sales situation as it happens.
If you want to get better at saying the right things in the right way when you’re making sales, try the following fixes:
Step 1. Pick One Resource to Improve in Sales
It’s going to be overwhelming if you start trawling the web for courses, books, and guides on how to sell. To avoid overwhelm, go at it one resource at a time. Pick one course, chapter, or article. Apply what you learn. Then, look for another resource to learn from. Experiment with practicing one sales technique at a time and keep track of your results.
It’s best to start with resources that have a low barrier to entry. Choose something short, readily available, and wouldn’t take too much of your time to implement. If you want to do this quickly, start by looking for sales letter templates or sales scripts. Customize them according to your business. While they won't be applicable to all scenarios, you'll at least have some formulas or phrases to use as a foundation. The following tutorials can also be a good start:
- SalesThe Five Elements of a High-Quality Sales TechniqueGeorge N Root III
- SalesHow to Structure a Successful Long-Form Sales PageJulia Melymbrose
- Email MarketingHow to Write an Effective Email Sales PitchAllen Taylor
- FreelanceHow Freelancers Can Close the Deal—Without Seeming Too PushyLaura Spencer
Step 2. Change Only One Thing at a Time in Your Sales
Write down one thing you’ll change about your sales approach as a result of what you’ve learned from this tutorial. Specify what it is you want to change, a deadline for when you expect the change to happen, and what you’ll do to change it. Make sure that the change you want to make is easily verifiable.
Let’s say you want to be more confident during sales calls. It's difficult to spot what exactly "confident means". It's best to narrow down what you think a confident salesperson sounds like and what it is they are likely to say. You can make a number of changes:
- Memorize the unique selling point of each product or service you offer,
- List questions you need to ask clients so that you can make an informed decision on what to pitch and how,
- Slow down your voice when making a sale,
- Smile as you’re talking to customers (even on the phone).
Pick one change from your list. Once you’ve applied it in real life, review your results. Then, pick another area of improvement. This is a quick and simple way to make incremental changes in your sales technique.
Step 3. Do a Practice Sales Run
Knowing what to say is one thing, but you need to get comfortable practicing how to say it. Selling will feel unnatural at first, but once you get more practice, it will feel like just another task for your business. Do a dry run of your sales calls and emails, record or evaluate your trials, and get feedback on what you can do better.
If you have employees, you can practice with them. You can also try practicing with a business coach or a friend who is also an entrepreneur.
Get Better at Selling
At the end of the day, sales is a practiced skill and not an inborn talent. Even if you’re shy, nervous, or don’t know where to start, you can practice to become better. And everyone can be better. Every entrepreneur, creative, or consultant can find ways to improve their sales skills, even if their business is already profitable. You can overcome your fear of selling, and learn to excel at sales.