canstockphoto27842070What are salespeople so afraid of?

“I think I’ve told you before that I have a mild-to-moderate case of call reluctance.  Even warm opportunities I’m following up on create anxiety.”

I was a little surprised to receive this email from Sam, a sales and marketing pro with years of experience. In theory, someone who talks to people for a living should be accustomed to it. But Sam isn’t alone. Many salespeople—even sales veterans—still experience call reluctance, especially when asking for referrals.

Here’s why and what to do about it:

Silence Feels Like Rejection

Perhaps you’ve emailed a prospect and haven’t heard back. If it was a cold email, then you probably never will. But that doesn’t sting as much anyway. After all, you have no skin in the game, so you move on to the next target. But when prospects have said they’d like to talk to you, and then don’t respond to your messages, the radio silence feels a lot more personal.

Many salespeople quit here, assuming silence means “no.” In reality, there could be several reasons your prospects aren’t responding: They’ve been under the gun to meet tight deadlines; their priorities changed; they moved on to new positions or new employers; or maybe the dog died. You just don’t know … until you follow up.

When I have difficulty connecting with people—even those who know me—I do one of two things:

  • Send a calendar invite. Because there’s a date and time associated with the request, it’s easy for people to accept the invitation or propose another time.
  • Write an email withReferrals no longer a priority?” in the subject line. Then I’ll write a very nice, customized message. The person is always apologetic, and we either continue the conversation or agree that my solution no longer applies.

Usually people are very apologetic once we get them on the phone. Everyone is running a mile a minute today. We live our lives in 30-minute, back-to-back meetings.  So, when we do finally reach hot prospects, they compliment us on our persistence. There’s a big difference between pushy and persistent, and people appreciate the latter.

You never know when prospects are ready to buy, unless you ask. And consider this: What do you really have to lose? They’re not responding anyway, and you’ve taken action.

Referral Selling Feels Even More Personal

The best scenario is when you’ve been introduced by people your prospects know and trust. It’s easy to schedule a meeting through email, and you usually talk to the prospect on the first try. (I cringe when I hear it typically takes 10 or more tries to reach someone. What a dumb way for salespeople to spend their time!)

Yet, many salespeople find it harder to ask their referral networks for introductions than to cold call strangers. Ironic, yet it makes complete sense. Cold callers are just “dialing for dollars” and have no connection to the people they’re calling. When someone hangs up on them or is rude, they just move to the next name on the list. No harm, no foul.

Referral selling is very, very personal. Our reputations are on the line. We’re not talking to faceless strangers. We’re talking to clients, business associates, colleagues, or friends. So we worry:

  • What if they say “no”? (Crushing.)
  • Will asking for help imply weakness or suggest my business is struggling? (Not cool!)
  • Isn’t it intrusive or even arrogant to ask a busy person to do something for us? (No one wants to be known as a pushy salesperson.)

Reps are often so apprehensive about having the referral conversation that they don’t make the call. And that’s a total waste. Referrals aren’t an imposition, and asking for them isn’t pushy. In fact, most people enjoy connecting people who could help each other. When we make referrals, we help out everyone involved—including ourselves. We introduce a credible resource, save the other person valuable time, and endear ourselves to both connections.

Don’t be coy or beat around the bush. When you ask for referrals with confidence, your referral source knows exactly the person you want to meet and gladly introduces you.

For example, my reluctant friend Sam recently shared some good news with me via email: “This is a small story/example, but I called two prospects in my opportunity pipeline that had gone a little quiet.  Got them both live, had a great conversation, both are back on track (will be a little late, but back active).”

Well how about that!

(Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Publisher.)

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