“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”
- William Shakespeare
An account manager recently sent me a note with this cool compliment: “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I always feel so confident after we speak.”
That last line stopped me in my tracks and brought a smile to my face. Confidence is such an important aspect of what we all do. With it, great things can be accomplished; without it, few things will even be attempted. So I reflected on the conversation that led her to make that statement. Why did she reach out to me? And what, exactly, happened during our call?
Let’s start with “why.” She was getting ready to reach out to three different new business prospects, and felt uneasy. After listening to her for a few minutes, it occurred to me that basically, she was suffering from stage fright; she didn’t want to get up in front of these people for the first time (even if by email or phone) and make a fool of herself.
So here’s what we did during our brief phone call:
- We focused. For the duration of our call, we spoke of only these three accounts, one at a time. We did not multi-task or dilute our discussion with talk about her goals for the month, her pending business, or “the one that got away.” Laser focus: these specific accounts.
- We changed our perspective. Instead of focusing on what she was hoping to accomplish, we focused on what her prospects might be trying to accomplish using publicly available intelligence (their websites, social media, press releases, customer reviews, etc.).
- We scanned the horizon for potential threats and opportunities. After discussing each company’s apparent priorities, we explored some consumer and industry trends that might influence how those objectives could be met, or which issues might hinder the effort. To state it simply, we put ourselves in the shoes of the people she hoped to be selling to. We empathized.
- We opened the toolbox and looked around for the right weapons. Because I am on the outside looking in, I was able to suggest some assets within her company—and some attributes within herself—that she may have overlooked, and that could be helpful to this endeavor. Because she is on the inside of her organization, she was able to pick up on that thought process and started thinking of all the other ways she—and her company—could help each of these prospects with their likely goals or needs or opportunities.
- We framed our ideas from the prospects’ point of view. Briefly, we assembled a few Valid Business Reasons… not with the idea of selling her product, but with the simple goal of selling the idea of an appointment. We phrased each invitation based on how it might sound to the prospect, and how the meeting might contribute to their current, apparent priorities.
Sales stage fright (especially in the new business development stage) is pretty simple. It comes from not wanting to look stupid in front of others, or a fear of saying or doing the wrong thing (both of those conditions just say that you care about the quality and ultimate success of your work). There are two important keys to overcoming that anxiety. First, stop focusing so hard on your performance, and focus instead on the performance of the company you are trying to help. Consider the business reasons you and your prospect should be talking, from their point of view.
Second, realize that your sales anxiety isn’t so much about “stage fright,” but about the lack of staging. With a little time focused on the prospect you aspire to serve and by thinking about their objectives, you’ll begin to discover ways you can be of authentic help to their company. In just doing so, you’ve already put a spotlight on how you can bring them value. As an objective outsider, you have studied the business of your prospect; from afar at first, and then that learning process continues through the various stages of needs analysis. You are acutely focused on what’s important to them, and you’ve studied the obstacles in their way and the tools that might help.
Because of the care you have taken and the staging you have done, you have good reason to feel confident. Perhaps even more importantly, you have given your prospect reason to be confident in you, too.
And that’s a nice compliment to get.