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Archive for the “Fear” Category

This is a new time for sales.  The rules, they are a changin’.  The old verities are being heavily and quickly abridged by a combination of fiscal caution, increased workloads, and technological innovation.

Austerity has become a particular byword for business and government in the last two years.  And nowhere is it more noticeable than in executive sales.  For example, at my own seventeen year old executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain International, I’ve never seen such a timidity among real decision-makers at corporations.  Caution and conservatism reign supreme.  In fact, there is a palpable hesitancy in the air from top to bottom about anything that requires more than a short-term commitment—in government, in the private sector, in education, politics, art, and media.

Internationally these jitters are taking the form of violent and non-violent mass protests.  As much as anything, I think these actions are fueled by simple fear of the future and fear of the unknown, an inchoate anger at forces beyond our control and a distrust of uncertain change.  Greece, Thailand, and the Arab world have had violence in the streets and Wall Street is under duress from the unfocused, confusing protests in Zuccotti Park.

Individual executives are stressed too, often groaning under twice their previous workload with half the staff.  Annecdotally, my next door neighbor is vice-president of a large non-profit in NYC.  Her staff has been cut from 15 to 3 this year with no change in workload.  Though experienced and competent she is overwhelmed.  I find this is a very common tale these days.

One result of this is an increasing premium on executive time.  Decision makers will not take meetings unless these meetings are very focused and address specific needs with a clear ROI objective.  Also, if your product is perceived as commoditized you are dead, brother.

It is also not easy to get a hearing for the new, the magical, the inspired, the groundbreaking, either.  When executives are overworked with reduced budgets and scared of losing their jobs, the salesman must be succinct, soothing, efficient and yet aggressive and compelling—all at the same time.  No easy task.  Caution about taking any risk is redoubled in the harsh dawning of economic bleakness.  Buyers and decision-makers are frequently deer immobilized in the head lights.

As Edmund Burke put it in A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756),  “No passion so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”  Thanks Edmund.

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I’m a member of the International Wizard of Oz Club. (That’s only one of my eccentric personal hobbies.) I’ve been a huge fan of the Oz books since my mother read many of them to me when I was a boy. (Most people know only L. Frank Baum’s first book, “The Wizard of Oz“, but there are actually 40 marvelous, magical, beautiful books in this series.)

I love the Cowardly Lion. He reminds me so much of me. In the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy confronts the Cowardly Lion and tells him he is nothing but a great big coward. The Lion’s reply is:

“You’re right, I am a coward! I haven’t any courage at all! I even scare myself.  Look at the circles under my eyes! I haven’t slept in weeks!”

Me too. For me to be an effective executive salesman for my company Corporate Rain International I need to slay this “fear” dragon each day. One of the things I do to cope with this fear I learned many years ago from a wonderful acting teacher I had in New York named Michael Howard.

Michael Howard spoke to my acting class one day about how to begin rehearsing a new scene. What he told us was to go immediately to the most risky, scary, personal place in the scene: that place that made us feel most fearful and exposed. This might be a spot that involved physical intimacy, like kissing, violence, or nudity. Or jealousy, rage, or cowardice. By facing the most dangerous part of the scene immediately the rest of the scene became more accessible, less fraught.

How do I apply this lesson in selling to my company’s potential clients at the c-suite level? By each day immediately doing that thing I most want not to do–by immediately making that call where I have the greatest fear of rejection, where my own feelings of cosmic inadequacy might be most called out and exposed–and taking this sweaty-palmed action the first thing in the day. I act as if I had courage and confidence and thereby have it in reality. I guess it’s kind of a business version of your inner mother telling you to eat your vegetables first. For me, it works to go daily and immediately toward my most fearful task.

So go to the danger. As the Cowardly Lion so insightfully sings: “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage!” Thank you L. Frank Baum.

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