Sales is the lifeblood of any business and profitable sales is the starting point towards cash in the bank. No cash means No business. For many businesses in the recession sales provide them with their regular source of cash. Most business owners understand this intellectually and yet at some level many people who start a business for themselves hate the idea of having to sell.

Many people think they are OK with sales, but you just have to look at the consistency of their sales activity to see if there is a problem. The classic symptom is the ‘feast or famine’ cycle. The business owner realises they do not have enough sales coming in and something must be done about it. They do a whole burst of activity that eventually leads to some work coming in. Soon even more work comes in and it’s normally at this point the sales activity slows down and eventually returns to a complete standstill.

In my experience many business owners will admit to some form of sales reluctance. There are so many causes but the only thing that really matters is whether the reluctance is causing activity levels to be lower than you know they should be. Here are some ways to overcome sales reluctance and boost sales activity.

1. Increase self motivation

Having highly motivating goals and a plan to obtain them can often overpower any sales reluctance and drive forward activity. The problem is that many business owners do not understand how to keep their motivation levels consistently high. ‘Feast and Famine’ is driven by fear and that is not a good form of long term motivation. I prefer to help people to learn how to motivate themselves.

Our Self motivation is driven by our values, or in other words, what is really important to us. For some people it is family. For others it may be things like success, or a sense of purpose, or fun. Whatever it is for you, make sure you build your goals around these. So if the number one value is family then build goals around your family. For example, rather than focus on sales goals, set your goals around what you will be able to do with your family once you have reached your sales targets.

2. Increase clarity

You can be highly motivated but if you are unsure about what you should be doing or where you should be focusing your efforts then the uncertainty can lead to reluctance. Your energy will be sapped and you will not know why. It’s because you are confused and need more clarity. Clarity comes from asking better questions of yourself that get you thinking in new ways. I find that people often complicate matters and the best answers are so simple that a five year old child would be able to understand them.

When working with people to help them gain clarity around sales I ask these 5 questions:

Who is your target audience?
Where is their pain (i.e. what problems do they have that are hurting badly)?
How do you take the pain away?
Why should they do business with you specifically?
How can you prove you can take their pain away?

You could write these questions down on a piece of paper and then write down the answers until they make sense. Alternatively get a friend to ask them of you. Ideally someone who will challenge your answers if they do not make sense.

In answering these questions it is normally the understanding of the target audience and the degree of specialisation that is the issue. Once they are able to answer all of these questions together the clarity is there and it almost always leads to both confidence and excitement.

3. Work on your selling skills

I find that when people get more practice in sales, their confidence increases. Its a little like a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Increased activity will give you more practice and improve confidence. As you become more confident you will increase activity.

Confidence will not come from just reading or listening about it but by doing it and reviewing the activity. Sales training that focuses on role play is very effective in boosting confidence. Self coaching can be effective too.

Ask yourself these questions after doing the activity:

What did I do well?
What else did I do well?
What would I do differently next time?

It is hard to believe that many business owners with no sales background have had little or no sales training or coaching. I ask people if they felt like they knew how to drive the first time they had a driving lesson! A few would say they did but most will have experienced the awkwardness of having to do lots of new things at the same time. If feels uncomfortable until you do it enough times and then you do not even think about it. Yet so many business owners never think to invest in sales lessons!

I find that when business owners take charge of learning sales skills and understand sales processes they feel more in control of their sales.

Five areas of education vital to sales, in addition to sales techniques are:

People skills
Questioning and Listening skills
Self motivation
Communication skills
Time management and prioritising

4. Managing emotions

Many people do not realise that we can directly affect our emotional state. Many do this without realising by using stimulants like coffee and cigarettes but we can quickly change our state of mind just by changing our posture, breathing, and our thoughts.

Remember a time when you felt really confident. What was your body posture like? What position was your head in? Was your back straight or slouched? How were you breathing? Were you still or moving? In what part of the body were you breathing? What were you thinking? All these things will have a big impact on you feel. If you are cold calling you should get your state right for each call rather than just at the beginning of the session so that no matter what happened on the previous call you are fresh and ready to go! If you have a bad call, just stand up, move around , change your posture and change your breathing.

For most people, they can quickly feel calm and confident by simply straightening their back lifting their head and breathing from their abdomen. Breathing in through the nose for four counts and out for eight counts can add a quick boost of energy too.

5. Removing emotional baggage

Business owners that feel dread or fear aspects of selling are likely to have some kind of emotional baggage. Its like trying to run a marathon with a heavy sack of rocks on ones back. Removing the sack of rocks results in a massive boost in activity as everything seems so much lighter.

For example, if you believe something like ‘All sales people are dishonest’ and honesty is important to you then this may cause you to resist sales activity in some way. Many people that start lifestyle businesses like coaching seem to have issues with money that cause them to undercharge or feel uncomfortable talking about money. In sales that is definitely a drawback!

Beliefs can be either empowering or limiting. The trick is to replace limiting beliefs with more empowering beliefs. If you are someone who likes to be liked and yet believes ‘People do not like sales people, would you be motivated to sell?

Write down on a piece of paper and complete the following:

All sales people are….
Selling is….
To succeed in selling you need to….
I don’t like selling because…….

Add any other statements that come to mind that you think may limit you.

In order to change these you need to first be open to doubting them. Then you need to seek counter examples and a different expression. For example, one of my limiting beliefs when I was first introduced to sales was ‘To succeed in selling you need to be pushy’. I have now replaced this with a belief ‘To succeed in selling you need to be good at relationships’. This was done by speaking to people very successful in sales.

Some very deep beliefs may be hard to change. For example, beliefs about ones self-worth or beliefs about one’s abilities in certain areas. In such cases you may want to take a course in NLP or you may find it quicker and less expensive to seek out a Master Practitioner in NLP that focuses on business breakthroughs.

Whether you use one of the above tips or find your own way of boosting your sales activity, I hope that you will make the extra effort in the weeks and months ahead. The businesses that survive and thrive in this economic downturn will be the ones that keep sales activity levels high.