High anxiety

The signs are familiar: the sweaty palms, the rapid heart rate, the debilitating self-doubt. It’s sales-call anxiety, and even the most seasoned sales veterans battle it from time to time.

Anxiety itself isn’t an entirely useless emotion, and in fact, the experts say it’s quite natural. “Anxiety is a sign of your healthy sense of responsibility to your audience. Your anxiety gives you the energy to get up for the call,” says Carol M. Simpson, Ph.D., president of Standing Ovations: Executive Speaker Training in Alexandria, Va.

The trouble begins when the anxiety becomes overpowering enough to result in call avoidance. In most cases, says Sherry Buffington, president of the Dallas training and consulting firm Peak Potentials, extreme anxiety stems from unrealistic expectations. Before a sales call, overanxious salespeople are often picturing either a best-case or a worst-case scenario. A rep expecting the worst is likely to be too frightened to close the deal. Best-case scenarios shut salespeople down because they can’t trick their minds into believing the best would happen. Between the extremes is a range of reasonable expectations.

Buffington says focusing on those is one way to reign in anxiety. If you expect, for example, that close or no close you’re going to learn something from each sales call, every call will be a success on some level. Anxiety and unrealistic expectations may also signal the need for further preparation. “It’s my strong belief that most people who become very uptight about a performance of any type haven’t done enough on-paper homework,” Simpson says.

Another method for anxiety control, then, is to research the product, marketplace and client. Know the presentation cold before initiating a call. According to public-speaking trainer Alan Grishman, Ph.D., president of Alan Grishman Associates in Pittsburgh, it’s just as important to know your presentation style.

“I’m a big believer in delivery over content. It’s more important how you say what you’re going to say than actually the material of what you say,” Grishman says. Concentrate on the performance itself and making it the best it can be. Business owners and managers can help alleviate anxiety among their sales forces by decreasing competition, Buffington says. While competition is good at some level, she says, “extreme competition creates anxiety.”

Finally, Buffington suggests providing salespeople with humorous tapes to listen to while driving to a sales call. “It helps to find some way to be amused because we can’t be amused anxious at the same time.”