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I was in Beverly Hills last week keynoting two events in the financial industry. At both sessions, the audiences were financial advisors who sold insurance products. Feedback was extremely positive, as it tends to be for my live work, but one person’s comments stood out.
After my session, he came to me and spoke at length about how I should have addressed his “fear of looking needy.” I spent more than 30 minutes addressing fear in sales, and fear of rejection, but since I do not possess psychic powers, I replied to him that I wished he would have spoken up during the talk so I could have dealt with it in real time for everybody’s benefit. “I thought about doing that,” he said. (More on this below.)
Later, I found that his feedback form had a half-page of written commentary on the matter:
“It was nice to hear your perspective, not knowing a lot about our industry,” he began. (I’ve worked within his industry a half dozen times in the last year.) He continued, “Here is some useful info: You should have discussed the fear of looking needy. In our business, we have to be discreet to not look needy—after all we should be in good shape financially and looking needy has a larger negative impact in our business than plumbing/lumber/industrial sales.” He cited those other industries because I used some examples about my work within them.
For everyone’s benefit, I shall address his concerns. First, he is self-aware. He knows what’s keeping him from picking up the phone and doing the uncomfortable (but simple) work of growing sales.
He is also accurate and correct. I believe completely that he has a tremendous fear of looking needy. It’s why he didn’t raise his hand in real time and ask his question. He didn’t want to look needy. I also believe others in the room shared the same fear to varying degrees. He was not alone.
If he made this comment during my session, here is the constructive feedback I would have given: This fear of being needy is his discomfort, not his client’s.
He says in their business, they need to present themselves as financially successful. What, you can’t ask for a referral if you are financially successful? I run a $3M solo consulting practice and ask for referrals regularly. (Because why wouldn’t my happy clients want to connect with their friends, suppliers and customers with me? Of course they do! See the difference between my mindset and his?)
If he comes to question confidently and optimistically, nobody will think he is needy. If he calls a client proactively and says, “Tom, it’s Ed (not his real name of course), I was just thinking about you. How’s your family? What are you thinking about these days with your investments that I can help you with? I’d like to help you more…” absolutely nobody would think he is being needy. If he asks for a referral by saying, “Tom, who do you know like yourself who I can help like I help you?…” absolutely nobody would think he is being needy.
Conversely, if he comes at it uncomfortably and meekly (which fear makes us do), his clients will feel his discomfort: “Hey, Tom, I hate to bother you, but do you maybe have a referral for me?”
You can feel that difference, right? Where he was incorrect was that the fear of appearing needy and annoying to the customer is unique to his business. It’s a universal sales discomfort. All salespeople deal with fear. Including me, even though I teach this stuff and write books about it.
You know who else feels lots of fear? Customers! Their fears are just as intense as ours on the sales side, but their fear is about different things. Mostly, it’s about not getting screwed up by their suppliers. Which is why customers are not thinking about your issues. They’re thinking about their own fears and issues.
This is his own discomfort, in his mind (but not in his customers’ minds), and it’s intense. It gets in the way of how he helps his customers. And it absolutely gets in the way of how much money he brings home. It even gets in the way of how he experiences speeches.