After attending a recent TEN Blueprint event which focused on ‘fear’ I remembered something I wrote a while ago tackling this very subject.  While it was written from the perspective of sales management, it is entirely scalable and applicable to any significant challenge you may face, be it at home, an ambition or a professional mountain to summit.

BY MIKE WITCHELL

Before I start, this blog will form part of a series looking at how we can simplify the process of making progress by starting with a shift in mindset.  I’ve another article which I’ll add to this one soon, one around planning and, heck, in for a penny in for a pound, I’ve more on personal ambitions and planning for the time WHEN you achieve them.

So, let’s get into the first article.

When working with sales people over the last 25 years, I’ve often come across those that are extremely competent at building strong relationships with existing customers, those in a distribution channel for example. In these cases it is typical to learn that they have had an introduction, a starting point, to an existing relationship which they need only foster.

The same confident and high achieving people, more often than not, back away from the task of finding and cultivating new, longer term prospects. Business development takes on many forms for us, dependent largely on the business environment we are in and the markets we operate in, but fundamentally one thing stands out for me as a barrier to break through for sales people.

FEAR.

Maybe it’s too strong a word to use, but in its purest sense that’s what I have observed. Asking questions of sales people and doing detailed observations during coaching days reveals they don’t tend to lack the individual skills needed to assist a client, more often than not they hold all the capabilities I’d look for. So what holds them back when it comes to finding a new client and starting from scratch to develop a strong long term relationship? Fear of the unknown is rather powerful in modifying people’s behaviors, and this sort of task is huge, right? I mean, where would one even start?

Someone once told me (and there are a myriad of similar phrases) “You could eat a whole elephant, one bite at a time”. Indeed I once saw a guy on TV famed for eating the oddest things, the particular broadcast that sticks in my mind was of the chap slowly but surely eating a light aircraft…at least, that’s what I recall. Imagine that! I often had trouble getting my Sons to eat their veg… but I digress. My point here I suppose if there is one, is to show sales people how we can help them develop new business by breaking down the task into bite size chunks. We have all put our people through sales training courses, some are excellent, and more are not. Most often they don’t get supported by the Managers and the Business, instead the common result is companies tend to expect the sales people to just get on and sell as they are now “trained”.

Well, that’s another topic and I’ll write some of my thoughts on that too, but this topic isn’t about that, it’s about breaking down the fear barriers, providing tools and coaching to your sales people to make them more effective, giving them the confidence to take on tasks that may have initially seemed daunting in their enormity.

I have developed a series of tools that help my sales people – if they need them – to visualise their business development task and to then break it down into manageable steps. Each step takes them along the way, maybe just a little bit, but it’s along the way and an achievement. Key steps from this visual planning tool are put into the sales person’s diary as actions. Once done, the sales person revisits what is fast becoming a mind map of the development task in hand, and updates it with the new outcomes and knowledge gained from that one task, more often than not more questions come up, more actions go into the diary, and the process begins. You can see how it starts to build up.

“To begin is everything. It moves you closer to your goals.”

As the sales person progresses through the process using this tool they uncover successes and achievements, which I ensure we recognise and celebrate, and they move further along and build confidence all the while they are successfully developing their new prospect. Remember our elephant meal analogy earlier? Well our elephant meal is in this case “Business Development”, and it is easy, but only if you take one step at a time.

I work hard to help my sales team with tools and guidance using coaching techniques. The results are superb, and continue to be.

Afterthought:

On reading this article, as a Sales Leader or Manager you may be thinking that what I’ve talked about sounds really obvious, and if you are sat there thinking “this is just basic selling, right?” then think again. My assertion is if you assume that, you have to examine your own management style more deeply. Are you one of those that expect your ‘trained’ sales force to just get on with it? Let’s be clear here, and I’ll use an analogy that’ll ring true with anyone that has trained for an athletic event, if you are looking to swim, cycle and run, back to back in a triathlon, would you just figure “I can swim, I can cycle and I can run. I’ve got the basics, how hard can it be?” You would be in for a real shock. Try it…

If you were a musician, would you cease practicing scales or rudiments because you can now do them? Never.

The most important things are the basics. Practice them incessantly; they are the very foundation of what we all do.

I was once at a talk at Cranfield, there, a guest speaker was explaining about coaching Olympic rowers. One thing that resonated with my own thinking in his speech was that even at Olympic levels of ability, the rowers were schooled unendingly in the basics. For rowers, hand position is important, and this particular coach told a stunned audience that the very best rowers in the world, while training, get barked at about ‘hand position’ every few seconds (!!!), in order to utterly and unquestionably drill it in to them.

How often do we really train hard on ‘the basics’?

Realising that it is ‘the basics’ that are the foundation of our abilities and confidence is vital, and in my opinion, is the best route to success, so don’t ignore them.