Overcoming Call Anxiety in New Sales Reps

Overcoming Call Anxiety in New Sales Reps

In a recent survey, we asked sales professionals: “Which aspect of the sales cycle induces the most anxiety?” The top response was unsurprising — cold outreach and prospecting ranked number one. Cold outreach essentially entails introducing yourself to someone for the first time, a situation that often rivals public speaking for inducing anxiety levels. However, engaging with as many prospects as possible is crucial to maximizing the impact of cold outreach. This article delves into practical strategies to transform cold outreach anxiety into confident communication, allowing you to break the ice without slipping.

The Truth About Telephone Phobia

Did you know that telephone phobia is a thing? It is a type of social phobia or social anxiety. A study conducted by BankMyCell revealed that 81 percent of millennials encounter phone anxiety, adding a new dimension of sales challenges for sales managers. Additionally, research conducted by LinkedIn shows that 63 percent of sales reps consider cold calling the most challenging aspect of their job. These high numbers beg the question — what is causing call anxiety?

Call anxiety for sales professionals can stem from various factors and personal experiences. The fear of rejection or negative response from prospects is among the top. Lack of confidence or training can create doubt or insecurity, which produces anxiety for sellers. Combining the fear of rejection and lack of training with negative past experiences, and feeling anxious, fearful, or uncomfortable is a normal reaction when faced with high-pressure situations.

Reflecting on my early sales career, I vividly recall my nervousness during my sales calls. I was constantly concerned about how my colleagues in the office would judge me. The fear of saying the wrong thing, or being ridiculed, had me talking very mechanically. I struggled my first few days on the phone and deliberately found excuses not to make prospecting calls.

My sales manager recognized my prospecting avoidance and provided some advice. He said, “Being nervous is part of the process. Don’t view each call as success or failure. Let go of the outcome. Take the mindset that each call is an opportunity for you to learn. Then you find the little victories in each call. The sales rep in the office who hears “no” the most is often the sales rep with the most sales.”

Implementing this advice had two significant effects. Firstly, it enabled me to detach from the outcome of each sales call. As a newcomer to both sales and the industry, I had to acknowledge that I had set unrealistic expectations by harshly critiquing my early sales calls. By consciously detaching myself from the call outcome, I shifted my focus away from “I’m failing” toward the importance of learning and personal growth.

To effectively manage negative emotions in sales, it is essential to recognize negative thinking patterns and replace them with realistic and balanced thoughts. Thoughts can hold significant power over emotions, making it crucial to transform unhelpful thoughts into realistic and constructive ones. This “realistic thinking” process involves adopting a neutral perspective when evaluating ourselves and our situation without leaning excessively towards negativity.

Additionally, this approach enabled me to direct my attention toward the aspects of each sales call within my control, my thoughts, words, and actions. Specifically, what I said, who I spoke to, and how many sales activities I performed daily. Finding the little victories allowed me to discover what was working and what wasn’t. These insights allowed me to refine my approach and continually increase my sales success.

As sales performance experts, we often observe a typical pattern among sales reps who struggle with call anxiety. Interestingly, once they achieve even a tiny taste of success, their call anxiety diminishes, and they transform their prospecting weakness into a sales strength. It’s remarkable to witness the sales rep who initially had the lowest sales results become the highest performer once they conquered their call anxiety, which had hindered their prospecting efforts.

The ability to overcome call anxiety is a massive shift. When salespeople share that they suffer from call anxiety, it indicates they are too attached to the call outcome, just like I was early in my sales career. Prospecting avoidance reduces call anxiety in the short term but prevents sales reps from learning new sales skills while reinforcing the anxiety. Avoidance creates a cycle of anxiety. Over time, the anxiety may intensify and become even more challenging to overcome. The long-term effects are that sales representatives face stagnant growth, missed opportunities, and decreased productivity.

Exposure is the Solution

The opposite of avoidance is exposure. Exposure therapy is a well-established and evidence-based psychological approach for anxiety disorders. Its effectiveness is rooted in several underlying principles and supported by scientific research. For sales reps with call anxiety, exposure allows them to confront their fears in a controlled and systematic manner. Here’s how exposure can help sales professionals overcome their call anxiety:

Habituation: The process by which anxiety decreases with repeated and prolonged exposure to fear-inducing stimuli. When sales reps confront their fears in a controlled and gradual manner, their anxiety response diminishes. This occurs due to a reduction in the activation of the fear response in the brain, leading to a habituation effect. The process of habituation for sales reps with call anxiety might involve the following steps:

  1. Start with low-anxiety situations: Begin by making role-play calls to team members or customer support calls that are less intimidating or more familiar. This can help sales reps ease into the process and build their confidence gradually.
  2. Gradually increase difficulty: Once sales reps become more comfortable with low-anxiety calls, they can progress to more challenging situations. This can involve reaching out to new prospects and making calls that require handling sales objections.
  3. Repeat exposure: Consistency is key. Sales reps should engage in regular and repeated exposure to making calls to reinforce the habituation effect. The more frequently sales reps engage in prospecting calls, the more their anxiety will diminish over time.
  4. Celebrate small victories: Recognize and celebrate each success, even if it didn’t make a sale. Acknowledging and valuing progress can reinforce the habituation process and motivate sales reps to continue facing their anxiety head-on.

Cognitive Restructuring: A psychological technique that involves identifying and challenging negative or unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with more realistic and positive thoughts. The goal is to modify how sales reps think about prospecting, which can influence their emotions and behaviors. Here’s how it can be applied for sales reps:

  1. Identify negative thoughts: “Cold calls always lead to rejection” or “I’m not good at prospecting.”
  2. Challenge irrational beliefs: Once negative thoughts are identified, sales reps can examine the evidence supporting these beliefs. Are these thoughts based on facts, or are they distorted perceptions? Challenging irrational beliefs involves questioning their validity and considering alternative perspectives.
  3. Replace with realistic thoughts: After challenging negative thoughts, sales reps can replace them with more realistic and balanced thoughts. This involves finding evidence to support a more positive and accurate view, such as “I have valuable skills to offer,” “Rejections are part of the process,” or “Every call is an opportunity to learn.”
  4. Practice positive affirmations: Sales reps can create positive affirmations to reinforce their confidence. These affirmations will counteract negative self-talk, such as “I am a skilled sales professional,” “I bring value to my prospects,” or my personal favorite for salespeople, “I love prospecting.

Once the sales rep learns that the anticipated adverse outcomes or fears do not occur, new inhibitory memories are created in the brain that counteract the anxiety response. The brain effectively rewires itself, explaining how call anxiety sales reps can consistently transform into high-performer sales reps. It is important to note that exposure is an individual learning process, and each sales rep will progress at their own pace.

In Conclusion

Call anxiety is a familiar challenge that sales professionals face, particularly regarding cold outreach and prospecting. Call anxiety hinders a sales rep’s performance, causes needless frustration, and sabotages career advancement. However, effective strategies exist to overcome call anxiety and transform it into a powerful sales strength.

By recognizing the causes of call anxiety and implementing practical techniques, sales reps can break free from anxiety’s grip and achieve their sales goals. Believing in the value you bring to prospects is a crucial sales superpower that drives success and helps combat call anxiety. The journey to overcoming call anxiety requires patience, but the long-term benefits are increased sales performance, productivity, personal growth, and improved well-being for sales professionals.

Success in sales and life is often about facing our fears head-on. If you suffer from call anxiety, embrace the challenge, dial with determination, and watch as your sales career soars to new heights! Remember, the power to overcome call anxiety lies within you. Dial that number, make that call, and let your confidence ring loud and clear.