I have been a Boy Scout advisor for most of my adult life. If you know anything about Scouting, you know the highlight of the year is the week-long summer camp. I have been to dozens.
A few years ago, our troop spent summer camp at Camp Hunt. It sits on the bank of Bear Lake in amazing Northern Utah. As you can imagine, water activities are a primary focus of the camp. Some of the water activities include: canoeing, kayaking, sailing, SCUBA diving, swimming, and paddle boarding. They even have a “Polar Bear Challenge” at the crack of dawn every morning. Yes, the water temperature can be as low as 55 degrees even in the summer. Needless to say, the waterfront is the center of activity and the focus of most of the boys’ attention during the week. But not every boy is interested in the water.
While standing at the waterfront to check on our scouts one day, I overheard a group of boys out in the water yelling to one of their friends and encouraging him to get in. The boy stood on the bank with his head down telling the others to go on without him.
I couldn’t help but feel bad for this young man and I asked him how he was doing. He shot me a disappointed glance and said, “not good.” He then told me that his friends were going to do a water activity and that he was too scared to go into the water because he was afraid that fish would attack his feet.
I tried to explain that even if there were fish in the lake that they would not attack him, there were absolutely no fish around, a fact we were told on day one. “Don’t waste your time fishing” camp counselors told us, “A fish hasn’t been caught in camp in 15 years.”
He then looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I know that it’s ridiculous to think that fish are going to attack me, it’s completely irrational, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen so I’m not going in.”
Fear is a strange thing. We chuckle sometimes at the irrational fears people have and the absurd words we create to name them. Some of these peculiar fears are coulrophobia, the fear of clowns; xanthophobia, the fear of the color yellow; nomophobia, the fear of being without mobile phone service; and gynophobia, the fear of women. While these may seam funny to us, for many they are very real.
Another fear that is very real is Polisiophobia (pronounced: puh-lees-eoh-fow-bee-uh). This is the word for the fear of selling or being sold to. It’s my experience that many people have it in varying degrees, including most member-facing credit union employees.
The fear of selling is rooted in many different areas. Primarily, team members could be afraid to sell because they don’t know the products and services very well, or they are afraid a member will ask a question to which they won’t know the answer. Often team members don’t sell because they don’t understand the sales process and are afraid to ask the member for a specific commitment. But the two most common sales fears are the fear of being seen as pushy or salelsy and the fear of rejection.
It’s important to understand the impact fear has on the sales process. Often, when team members are not meeting sales expectations, it isn’t because of a lack of willingness, but rather a fear of selling that’s holding them back.
I started my career in the credit union industry as a part time teller. About a year after being hired, our leaders developed and implemented sales expectations. The expectations were nothing I should have been concerned about. If memory serves me right, I was asked to sell six additional products per month. Something that any good teller could achieve in a week or even a day. However, I struggled to reach the goal. It wasn’t because I didn’t know the products or see when a member would benefit from them. It was because I feared being rejected.
Looking back on it, I could have helped many members save time, save money, make more money, or progress faster to financial security, but I was afraid to offer the products I saw could help.
Fear also kept me from looking for sales opportunities. It kept me from developing my sales skills and addressing the fear with success. The fear also created a wonderful excuse to not meet the expectations.
When I was approached by my manager during a performance review about not meeting the sales expectations, I quickly responded, “I wasn’t hired to sell.” I thought that was a good excuse back then. Really, what I was saying was, “I really don’t want to sell. It’s difficult and scary.”
Today, I am a professional salesperson who relies on my sales skills to provide for my family. I own a sales training and coaching company called SalesCU. I teach others how to sell, and I love it.
Polisiophobia is common and a real challenge for many people. In fact, some of the best salespeople I know have also struggled with sales fears just like me; but like any other fear, it can be conquered.
Understanding the Truth Behind the Fear
For me, conquering the fear of sales started with understanding what was really going on. I was afraid to offer products and services because I thought the member would be offended, say “no,” and be personally upset with me. I was afraid of the awkwardness that also comes along with that. Mainly, I was afraid of the feeling of rejection. However, over time, I came to realize that when a member said “no,” she wasn’t saying “no” to me but rather to the product.
Like me, helping your team members overcome their individual sales fears starts with understanding what the fear is and redefining what is really happening.
The following are some examples of how to reframe the old, limiting beliefs and fears:
Old Belief: I fear sounding too pushy.
New Belief: Asking the member if you can help them save time or money, make more money, or bring financial security to their lives isn’t being pushy, it’s providing value.
Old Belief: I fear the member will ask me questions I can’t answer.
New Belief: You don’t have to know the answer to every question, and the member doesn’t expect you to. Your member will understand when you let him know you don’t know the answer but will help him get the answers he is looking for.
Old Belief: I fear asking people to make and keep commitments.
New Belief: Committing yourself and the member to taking the next steps is the highest level of member service you can provide. Your member will happily make commitments when they see you are trying to provide value for them.
From this new perspective, team members will also become detached from the outcome of the sales process. As team members are no longer tied to the outcome of the process, they will be enabled to try new things and actually find an approach that works for both them and for the member.
A New Understanding of the Value Credit Union Membership Brings
The credit union industry operates in a highly commoditized market. There is very little difference from one financial institution to the next in the product offerings and features they deliver. However, there is much more to products and services than the features of each.
Many credit unions offer products with lower rates and fees or provide a way to make more money. Certainly, you should teach your team members how to leverage these advantages.
Rewards Checking: Your credit union offers a checking account that pays a high interest rate on balances up to $15,000; or it pays your members for debit card swipes; or it gives them points based on the number of ancillary products the member is actively using. Helping the member move their checking account over to your credit union could help them make more money and save money on fees.
Low Interest Rates: Your credit union’s auto rates are the lowest in the area. Refinancing a member’s loan could mean saving them thousands in unnecessary interest. These advantages are certainly helpful and should be leveraged to bring over more business. However, team members must also understand the value a member will experience when consolidating her finances with a credit union that is engaged, advocating on her behalf, and will help her reach her financial goals.
Make Sales Simple and Fun
As a teller our branch would hold a sales competition during Christmas time. Every sale a team member made earned them points that could be used to earn prizes such as a Christmas decoration, gift cards, and even some additional time off. Even though I was struggling with the fear of selling, I was willing to work through my fears to earn a few prizes. These were generally my best sales months of the year.
Sales competitions with prizes and recognitions make selling fun and can motivate some to put aside their fears for a greater reward. Extrinsic motivators, however, rarely generate consistent effort and generally become entitlements. When offered occasionally, they work, but to truly develop team members who consistently make an effort to sell, you must instill intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation happens when team members feel they are making a difference and are confident in their abilities to create that difference. This starts with competent sales training, training that teaches the why, what, and how of selling. As team members develop their skills, they have more consistent and predictable sales wins, and their belief in their ability to sell grows.
Tracking the results of their sales efforts will also build intrinsic motivation because they will be able to tangibly see how they are improving the credit union, improving their performance, and most importantly, improving and adding value to the member’s life. The intrinsic motivation to succeed often outweighs fears and helps team members push through them.
Coaching and Continuous Development
Team members need to know that they have someone in their professional life who is supporting them and helping them to improve. Every team member with sales fears needs a great coach who can help provide the support and training they need to overcome them and then provide accountability as they practice what they learn.
Coaching is a critical part for your team member’s journey to address and overcome his fears. If your credit union doesn’t have a culture of coaching, it is likely struggling with other challenges. Certainly, sales fears are going unaddressed and unresolved. Coaching must be part of the solution.
Additionally, allowing team members to be a coach is helpful for them to address and overcome their fears.
I hope that my young scouting friend can one day overcome his fear of fish and open water. I too hope your credit union’s sales team can conquer Polisiophobia. I have no doubt that by internally approaching sales fears with great training and consistent coaching, your fearful sales team can develop into a high performing team that creates value for the credit union as well as the membership.