Overcoming the Fear of Sales Prospecting

Overcoming the Fear of Sales Prospecting

Prospecting, seeking new opportunities and clients, is an integral part of sales. It is critical to success, for both reps and their organizations. However, when it comes to prospecting, many salespeople experience fear. Although common, this malady can affect both rookies and seasoned pros. A driver of performance anxiety, it can lead to sales slumps, missed quota, and restricted pipelines. Of course, admitting the problem is the first step to getting help. Here are some insights into the psychology of prospecting fear and actionable tips to overcome it:

Prospecting is Not a Dirty Word

Due to the negative stereotype of salespeople, sellers often start from a defensive position. Part of this stems from a mistaken idea that prospecting means selling products prospects don’t want or need. Of course, this is not what professional salespeople do. However, the media-driven perception can give us pause. To counter this, in both email and phone calls, consider these steps:

  • Lead with value, not banter
  • Less selling, more questions
  • State a legitimate purpose
  • Name drop connections or mutual acquaintances
  • Use insights to spark conversation

Always think of prospecting from the prospect’s point of view. They’re preoccupied or busy. They also get a lot of sales calls. They don’t need enthusiastic strangers making small talk. Legitimate prospecting is purpose driven and focused. It’s understanding the prospect, valuing their time, and presenting useful information.   

The biggest fear of prospecting is rejection. But what is this fear that takes a toll on even the most experienced sales reps?

For one thing, we’re taught to strive for acceptance and appreciation. We often link our success to our self-worth. An unsuccessful call can feel more personal than is. Even thinking about an unwanted call can drive fear. Here are a few examples of negative thoughts that can make cold calling overwhelming:

  • What if I catch them at a bad time?
  • What if I push too hard?
  • What if they say no?

These questions are projections based on faulty logic and incorrect assumptions. Instead of thinking negatively about prospecting, break these perceptions. Simply shifting one’s mindset, from selling to helping, can overcome this fear. Rather than calling to sell products, you’re calling to offer options and solve problems.

Set Realistic Goals

Most people think they must face fear alone, but this is not the case. Sales managers can prevent negative thoughts. For one thing, setting achievable goals is paramount. To do this, think of these tips:

  • Work with your manager to set realistic goals for the number of calls
  • Know that making 20 cold calls a day won’t net 20 closed deals
  • Shift your focus from the bigger picture to the smaller
  • Take actionable steps

While lofty goals can inspire some, they can also spark fears. Rather than thinking countless closed deals, think good conversation, interest, and memorability. Successful sales prospectors are not home-run hitters. They are leadoff batters, with a great on-base percentage.   

Do Your Homework

If you are unprepared, prospecting can seem overwhelming. One can feel like a fisherman casting nets in every direction. Instead, target specific prospects. This is where preparation comes in. If you want to present useful solutions, you must first understand need. Consider these tips:

  • Based on your research, create a list of questions
  • Target these to the prospect’s organization and industry
  • Ask questions that display your knowledge
  • Consider prospects that will value your value proposition (think other existing clients)
  • Project confidence to inspire confidence

An unprepared seller is a charlatan. They are someone who vales their gift of gab over their problem-solving ability. Of course, some will “fake it until they make it.” But most prospects are too busy, too informed, and too tired of this approach. To overcome prospecting fear, know your stuff. It may not be the right time for your solution, but buyers will remember you.

Avoid Distractions

These days, many sales professional are stretched thin. They must make calls, attend meetings, prepare for coaching. With all this, it’s normal to want to do more. For many, this involves multitasking. However, prospecting requires our full attention. To minimize fear, eliminate distractions. Here are a few ideas:

  • Prepare a fixed time for cold calls
  • Shut off notifications
  • Do not check email
  • Focus on the prospect’s every word

You may think you’re in stealth mode, multitasking. But prospects can sense your inattention. Even the faintest “ding” can interrupt your flow or break the spell. Do not type. Take notes with an old-fashioned pen and pad.


Mindset dictates action. Like everything in sales, prospecting is a process. It’s a series of steps we follow to seek opportunity. As such, it requires commitment. If you don’t trust the process, prospects will not trust you. These tips can help sellers overcome fear and commit to prospecting:

  • If you view prospecting as drudgery, it will be drudgery
  • Committing to the process conjures success
  • Expect resistance
  • Prepare for rejection
  • Take detailed notes

Not every call leads to interest. Not every conversation earns a call back. However, each call is a learning experience about prospects and their needs. Always gauge interest and take notes. Revisit these notes and reapproach prospects when the time is right.

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

There are any number of reasons prospects say no. They’re too busy. Their team lost. Their spouse is angry. The list goes on. However, very few of these have anything to do with your products. They have even less to do with you. For the fear of rejection, remember these things:

  • “No” is part of the job
  • Prospecting is business; it’s not personal
  • Don’t dwell on a completed call
  • Each call is an opportunity
  • It’s not a no until your prospect says no

Too often, fear of rejection inspires phantom nos. Sellers get so worked up about failing, they hear a no in every skeptical question. Skeptical questions are good. They show your prospect is considering you or your proposal.

Don’t give up on a prospect before they reject you. They might not reject you at all. Celebrate small wins and shift your focus to the benefits you can offer. Even if they do reject the offer, understand that they didn’t reject you as an individual. They’re passing on an offer they don’t need right now.

Lead the Call

When a call goes long, sellers can feel pressured. Do you push the close or hold back? You don’t want to miss an opportunity, but you also don’t want to rush the prospect.  

Sometimes, prospects need a sense of urgency. Do not feel guilty about this. Anyone who has ever contemplated a new cell phone or car knows the hesitancy of a large purchase. Try these tips:

  • Remind them of the problem they need to solve
  • Stress the benefits of making a change
  • Reassure them of their decision to explore
  • Ask if they’re willing to move to a discovery call

If they are not willing to go forward, it’s not personal. Try to understand, but don’t express displeasure. Maintain congeniality and keep communication open. Yesterday’s rejection is often tomorrow’s new client, so do not dwell on it. Move on to the next customer.

Fear is normal. Fear is healthy. Often, the higher the stakes, the more we fear. That’s why it’s common for professional athletes to start slowly in a big game. They, too, must work through performance anxiety. Professional salespeople know the importance of prospecting success. This increases the pressure to succeed, which heightens the fear of failure. However, rejection is part of selling. It’s not a sign of failure. Setting realistic goals and making a consistent effort is all we can control. Overcoming one’s fear of sales prospecting helps sellers reach their goals and provide more value to prospects.