Sales: What’s Holding You Back?

Sales often requires you to take a counterintuitive approach

Nothing quite holds a mirror up to yourself like a career in sales. Fears can be exposed, and unmanaged, can take a heavy toll on your wellbeing. In a world driven by metrics and money, being the person in the middle can be really tough. But why?

The Fears

We’re hardwired to be risk averse. The reality of a sales role is seeing the possibility of success, swiftly followed by the fear of potential failure. So let’s acknowledge what those fears could look like.

The fear of embarrassment

“What if they are offended by my approach”

Embarrassment is a gift from evolution, fear of it helps stop you from making a fool of yourself. However, when salespeople are tasked with introducing themselves to strangers, many can’t help but worry about negative reactions.

The fear of the unknown

“I have no idea how this conversation will go”

There’s no doubt that uncertainty can bring acute discomfort. “Uncertainty can intensify how threatening a situation feels,” says Ema Tanovic, a psychologist with the Boston Consulting Group in Philadelphia, who has also researched the consequences of uncertainty at Yale University.

The fear of rejection

“What if they laugh me out of the room”

Thanks to millions of years of natural selection, we are hardwired to find rejection painful. Naomi Eisenberger, PhD, at the University of California, found that social rejection activates many of the same brain regions involved in physical pain. In fact, rejection increases anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy and sadness.

The Manifestation

Even if you’ve never heard of the 3’Ps, you will probably have felt them in your sales role. Our fears often manifest themselves into barriers that can stop lots of us dead in our  tracks.


Do you hold yourself to unattainably high standards when it comes to sales? “The rise in perfectionism doesn’t mean each generation is becoming more accomplished. It means we’re getting sicker, sadder and even undermining our own potential.”says Katie Rasmussen at West Virginia University. Striving for perfection gives a false sense of control.


Do you find that you keep putting prospecting off? Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — anxiety, insecurity and self-doubt. “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” said Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa.


Do you find yourself paralysed by certain tasks in your sales role? We use overthinking to guard against failure. When expected to act or make a decision, we use over-analysing as a means to prolong or delay our actions, in fear of making a wrong choice.

The Solution

As researcher Dr. Brene Brown puts it, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Understand what you can and can’t control

Great salespeople can identify what they can and can’t control. They switch-off from thinking about what they can’t control and they add value by doubling down on what they can.

Have the courage to be imperfect

Great salespeople ‘own’ their strengths and weaknesses and know everyone of us is a work-in-progress. When you realise no-one is perfect, it makes trying new things easier and it doesn’t feel as bad when inevitably you get something wrong.

Detach yourself from the rejection

Great salespeople don’t let rejection or failure affect their personal worth. Sales is a game where you get a lot of knock-backs so understanding these are not directed at you personally, will help a great deal.

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