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Knowing how important a positive attitude is, the typical sales person thinks positively all the way to work. He affirms that he is excited about all the cold calls he is going to make. Having heard how powerful visualization is, he might even visualize himself making cold call after cold call and having tremendous success. Surely this will be the day he takes over the sales world and attracts new customers and business like crazy.
When we take a peek at this same sales professional in his office just an hour later, we hardly believe our eyes. Instead of calling one prospect after another (as his attitude convinced us he would), we find him taking care of busy work on his desk instead.
If we could see the thoughts going through his head, they’re decidedly different than those we heard this morning:
“You can’t make that call now. You don’t feel comfortable. Go get a cup of coffee and get ready for the call. Look at your desk. How do you expect to generate any more customers with your desk in such disarray? You need to get organized before you go collecting any more customers.” etc., etc.
Perhaps you’re familiar with The Third Man, by Graham Greene. The story begins with Holly Martins arriving in Vienna at the end of World War II. He’s been offered a job by an old high school chum named Harry Lime. Right after his arrival, he learns that Harry was killed in an auto accident.
To make a long story short, the rest of the story revolves on Holly trying to understand the truth around Harry’s death, while simultaneously trying to win over Harry’s beautiful, former girlfriend. If you see the movie version, you won’t see the character that plays a critical role until the last few minutes of the story.
Why do I mention this classic story? I mention it because it reminds me of the sales process. Typically, the highlighted characters in any sales training are the salesman and the prospect, but the character that portrays a critical role is almost never mentioned simply because it isn’t visible. Similar to The Third Man, the character may not be seen, but the effects of that character are blatant and destructive.
Plenty of sales trainers will talk about the relationship between the sales professional and the prospect, but they fail to ever mention “the third man” in the sales world. This third man is so rarely spoken of that most sales people don’t have the slightest idea how to deal with it, and because of that, they fail to make most of the sales calls that they actually desire to make.
So who is “the third man,” this critical player, in the sales business? Fascinatingly enough, this critical player isn’t real in the sense that you can see it. But you can definitely see its negative effects. It’s sometimes referred to as an inner committee. I often refer to that voice inside our head as “the trouble thoughts.”
You would be hard pressed to find a sales professional who isn’t familiar with those trouble thoughts that talk him out of making calls now and convince him to wait for a better time to make sales calls or cold calls. The definition of just what is a better time to call varies. It can be when one won’t bother his prospect, when one won’t interrupt his prospect, when one is better rehearsed or better organized, when one has more courage, when one has more confidence, when it’s not so early, or when it’s not so late.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect in this entire call reluctance scenario is that most sales professionals believe they are alone. They wouldn’t dare speak about their fear of cold calling or about all the reasons they postpone making sales calls because they think they are the only ones doing that. Consequently, they believe there is some secret they have yet to learn before they can make all those calls they need to make.
Again, they’re waiting… waiting for that secret to be revealed – the secret that will make all their prospecting fears go away.
From my own sales experience, I’ve learned that the best time to call a prospect is as soon as I think about calling him. Waiting for a better time usually results in one of two things – never finding the right time to call that prospect, or waiting so long that by the time the call is finally placed, the prospect is already doing business with someone else and no longer requires the suggested product.
Always the biggest obstacle in any sales person’s career is himself. When sales people learn how to get that critical player inside their own head out of their way, the potential is truly unlimited.
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