“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.” —Michael Scott, actor Steve Carell’s character on the hit TV show “The Office”
The ego is afraid of hearing “no,” of looking dumb, of being avoided or rejected. It’s always at the mercy of external influences: Who loves me? Who thinks I’m great? Am I routinely assured that I’m smart, good, sexy or cool? The ego is constantly working to protect itself.
Every day I challenge producers to overcome their ego-induced fears. I tell them to push back on potential clients. I remind them not to be so quick to agree to a prospect’s request to send over a quote, fill out a long RFP, or jump through hoops before they’ve even had a real conversation.
For every 10 times they face their fear of annoying a prospect or losing an opportunity for business, a prospect might get put off by the approach once. Most of the time it’s no big deal. In the end, it can help the producer gain control of the sales process. If the prospect walks, you can be reasonably sure that he would have been a giant headache anyway.
If you want to lead the sales process from a position of equality and strength, you need to be willing to face your fear of making someone mad. This is especially so when you’re making a strategic decision to refrain from giving your clients precisely what they want when they want it.
I have a client who, when we first met, wanted to please everyone. This made him really good at parts of his job but made him a very inefficient salesperson. He was causing himself an unnecessary amount of stress and extra work and interactions with people who didn’t fully appreciate him. Sound like fun?
The first time I coached him to respectfully turn down a prospect, he began shaking and sweating. I thought he was going to pass out or drop dead. He lived in fear of upsetting someone. He didn’t fully understand the fear, and he couldn’t control it. He was a good guy who hated the idea that anyone would think otherwise. But he faced his fear and turned down the opportunity. He did not pass out. Nor did he die. This was his first step in interrupting a lifelong pattern that might have served him well in some settings but, in his professional life, hindered his growth as a strategic salesperson.
A fear of rejection also hampers salespeople whenever they pitch their unique value. I hear even seasoned producers talk blandly about why people should hire them. They get kind of weird, vague and trapped in this stuffy professional persona.
In individual and group conversations, I’ve seen many people talk clearly, boldly and meaningfully about their unique value and approach to their business. Yet their sales emails, marketing flyers and webinar topics are so mind-numbingly bland that they are certain to get immediately discarded. I hear stuff like, “When you hire me, you get a true partner.” What in the world does that really mean?
It’s OK to take a kernel of a concept as long as you then go deeper. Talk about how your “true-partner” qualities relate to who you are, what you do, why you do it, whom you most like doing business with, why people hire you, and how you see the world. It’s already sounding more interesting, right? Don’t be sort of bold. Be bold. Share yourself. Have fun. Risk being misunderstood—and even not liked.
This might be terrifying for the ego, but it can be invigorating for the soul. “Authenticity is a powerful attractor,” writes Susan Scott in her best-selling Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time. “When we free our true selves and release the energy, others recognize it and respond.”
The ego is constantly putting up annoying obstacles to your success and happiness. There’s really no avoiding it. So be honest with yourself about your need to be liked. Examine how it affects your life in sales. Try to face this fear head-on. You will be more productive and live a more balanced, happy life.
How do you like me now? I’m just sayin’.