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Sales and Marketing

Why Don’t People Like Selling?

March 20, 2015 by Dr. Jon Warner in Sales and Marketing

Why Don't People Like Selling?

Every individual involved in the sales process, whether it is directly with a full sales title (such as sales rep or territory sales manager) or indirectly as a support person (but still one who talks to customers frequently) will have a different personality. This may be a more “extraverted” personality, meaning that he or she is happy to talk to strangers or a more “introverted” one, meaning that he or she is not wholly comfortable with cold calling of any kind (and certainly not without lots of preparation). But irrespective of whether a person has a more extraverted or introverted personality, they both have a common set of barriers or internal “fears” to overcome when trying to sell, or to be successful at convincing another person to buy. Although there are many possible barriers, research suggests that the following five are the ones that affect sales people the most.

A lack of self-belief. This is top of the list because we all know, almost intuitively, that we are often our own worst enemy when it comes to going beyond our comfort zone and being defeated in our head even before we try. This is often called “head trash” because they are little pieces of negative self-talk that can easily be discarded with a little focus and effort but instead, more often, they build up over time to become a huge barrier to success.  For example, we may tell ourselves that the customer has much greater expectations, would not believe our “pitch”, likes our competition more etc., all of which makes it very hard for us to get the “win” we are looking for. The simple “anti-dote” here then is to not make any assumptions about what the customer is thinking. First we cannot really know what they may be thinking and second we are likely to be wrong (so stop trying to guess!).

The Need to be Liked. Very much related to the first barrier, many people either have a high need to be liked or feel uncomfortable when others deal with them in transactional ways (or in a less than friendly manner). However, while we should always be friendly and polite with prospects and customers, selling to them is a professional process that should be about whether or not the service is a good fit or not. In other words, any rejection of a sales pitch, at any stage in the cycle, should never be taken personally. Simply assume that the offer is not quite right or the timing is wrong for now and close out the discussion as positively as you can. You can then think about when you could reasonably re-contact that prospect again in the future.

Getting overly emotionally involved. In addition to the fear of not being liked, another big obstacle/barrier in sales activity is the tendency to get too involved at an emotional level. This often happens when a prospect behaves in ways that are perceived to be unfair when engaged by the person trying to sell to them. For instance, this may be to not return calls or emails, when he or she behaves in overtly defensive ways or when he or she is emotional when contacted (irritated, angry etc.) or even cancels an appointment (especially at the very last minute). These outcomes are not only inevitable, from time to time (and should therefore be simply “taken in our stride”), but the emotions that they generate in us are never personally intended, so the best approach is not to take them as personal slights but a signal that a new/better approach is required or to move on to the next prospect.

Empathizing with the prospect/customer too much. Because we are all customers ourselves in a variety of situations, we often have particular attitudes in terms of how we would like to be treated in the engagement process (which includes being listening to carefully by anyone trying to sell to us other than in a highly transactional way). When we are engaged in selling activity we can sometimes take this too far and over-empathize with a prospect or customer. This may mean calling or emailing them only once (so as not to annoy them), giving them too much time to think or reflect rather than to set reasonable time expectations, and even inviting them to look elsewhere (sometimes telling them where they might look).  Although some of this behavior may be appropriate, it is a problem for both seller and prospect if this goes too far.

A fear of closing. Last but not least is perhaps the biggest problem when people engage in sales activity – the fear of bringing the discussion to a close and asking for an order, talking about a price to purchase or in short “closing”. Although you don’t want to close too early (and risk losing the sale altogether) this is the natural conclusion to any conversation, not just a sales one. A good approach to overcome this barrier is to come up with a variety of credible closing approaches (which you can run past friends and colleagues you trust to invite comment). Once you have three or four of these that you like or can use in different situations, you can then practice saying them until they sound natural and can be deployed in real sales situations.

You will have noticed by now that all five of the above barriers start with our mental attitude before we even enter the sales process. Always remember therefore that mental preparation is critical well before you start talking to a prospect or a customer for real.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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