The Psychology of Selling

In 1983, I attended a 6 weeks stockbroking training course in New York. Part of the course involved taking the tests for the National Association of Securities Dealers and part of it revolved around sales. I was one of approximately 22 Trainee Account Executives from international who lived and trained with approximately 200 trainees from all over the U.S.

Retail stockbrokers in the U.S. come from all walks of life, all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. For many of them that training course was the first time they had been to ‘the Big Apple, indeed for quite a few they had not been far outside of their own state. Their role is more like that of an I.F.A. here than what we think of as a stockbroker.

Typically, those from international were graduates in a business or an economics related discipline and were being groomed to deal with High Net Worth individuals or institutions. The vast majority of the U.S. candidates were going to work in the broker’s numerous Main Street (High Street to us English folks) locations. However, the common fate that awaited almost all of us, was that we would return, newly qualified to a desk and phone and to almost NO active clients. Our ability to ‘smile and dial’ (cold-call) would determine our fate, as we were mostly on commission-based compensation packages.

To most of us international folks, Americans are very outgoing and optimistic. We think of them as a little naïve and perhaps unsophisticated in their directness, so it was with a heavy dose of European cynicism toward ‘psychobabble’ that we prepared ourselves to listen to a lecture from a sales psychologist. Most of us were convinced it would just be corny BS, un-applicable to international cultures.

His opening statement was along the lines of ‘ The main thing stopping you from getting what you want is your fear of rejection.  Whether it is getting a date with the attractive man or woman at the bar, a portfolio of great clients or almost anything else you want, the main thing holding you back is your fear of hearing two letters ‘No!’ ‘

This resonated with almost everyone there and a hush fell over the group. Often we don’t even ask the question in sales or even in life because we are afraid of hearing the answer ‘No.’ so we avoid it, fudge it or pass the initiative and responsibility on to the potential customer or other person. We never do ask that person we fancy on a date, or ask them for what we want. so surprise, surprise, we don’t get what we want because they are not mind-readers and because if we are not willing to take responsibility for what we want, why should they?

30 years in sales (and 50 +years of life) has taught me how true this restraining factor is. Successful sales people are willing to hear the word ‘No’. They do not take it as some kind of reflection on their own self-worth. It is just the other person expressing their preference or view of their needs.

Overcoming this restraining factor is partly a matter of practice. The more calls and meetings you make the easier it gets. However, stop for a while and our natural insecurity builds up again. Hearing ‘No’ and realizing it is not the end of the world is a good habit to develop.

I have also seen, and this is born out by research, that sales people who finish their ‘pitch’ by asking for the order have something like double the success rate of those that leave their pitch hanging. They avoid rejection by handing the initiative to place an order with the client.

As we move to consultative selling, email and social networking as primary our sales modus operandi the world is changing from classic cold calling, Nevertheless, we should ask ourselves ‘In my choice of sales technique and the structure of my conversation, am I going to let my fear of hearing two letters stop me asking for what I want?’

Remember, this is as much about life as it is about sales!


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