If you’re looking for one of the most rewarding careers in the world, professional sales may be for you. The ability to determine your own worth through hard work, self-sacrifice and consistent effort nearly always pays off for those who walk this rugged road. But earning a living in sales isn’t a Sunday stroll either – far from it. In fact, many would argue that it’s right up there as one of the most stressful and demanding occupations in existence.

In some cases, sales success is black and white. You’re either cut out for its rigors, or you’re not. However, unlike professional athletes or musicians (who are often born with a certain level of pure natural ability), there has never been a natural born salesperson. Selling is an art form nurtured over character building experiences and social skillset development. You don’t need to be seven feet tall with cat like reflexes, have an arm like a cannon, or blessed with the voice of an angel to succeed in the sales universe.

Excelling in sales requires two primary attributes: a can-do attitude and major self-discipline. The confidence and killer phone game will come in time. But due to the “trial and error” nature of some sales lessons, all too often some well-worn excuses can creep into the minds of the modern sales pro. And it’s these excuses that frequently hold those pros back from their true sales potential.

The four common excuses below are excuses I have been guilty of making during my sales career. But the good news is each one of them is very beatable – and I’d like to show you how to do it.

Excuse #1: “I can’t reach the decision-maker”

Generating new business leads is the fuel for every sales team’s engine in the world. And the only thing more difficult (and frustrating!) than persuading a high priority prospect to take a “next steps” meeting is……getting them on the phone in the first place. These big fish prospects love to make it known that they have a million better things to do than spend two quick minutes talking to you. This is why these decision-makers delegate fending off sales wolves to their trusted administrative personnel. If you’re like many early-stage sales pros, it’s easy to lose hope of ever reaching the head honcho when you’re constantly blocked by tough gatekeepers.

An article from the Entrepreneur Middle East, The Six Worst Sales Excuses You’ll Ever Hear by Karl Hougaard, paints the picture quite nicely with respect to how many people in business development roles call it quits after the first or second outreach. Hougaard references insight from marketing guru and founder of Marketing Wizdom, Robert Clay. Clay states that 44% of salespeople give up after one negative response, 22% after two negative responses, 14% after three, and 12% after four. The statistic that might be the most eye-opening, though, was that 80% of prospects say no four times before agreeing to a sale.

If you apply that knowledge to your approach with gatekeepers, you’ll see that persistence will almost certainly pay off. The “sale” with these individuals is getting them to let you through to the prospect. Don’t quit when all the other sales pros are quitting – set yourself apart and keep looking for ways to win them over. The statistics say you’ll be glad you did.

Excuse #2: “Nobody calls me back”

Konrath BookPerhaps the most defeated feeling a sales pro experiences is the feeling that you’ve done everything you can to provide value to a prospect, and you still end up in the “send me an email and if we are interested we’ll reach back out” zone. It’s gut wrenching. The conversation flows smoothly, the prospect is clearly interested, but they simply won’t agree to any concrete next steps. We may never understand why these prospects eventually turn into ghosts, but instead of letting it sap your initiative and morale, try putting yourself in their shoes for a moment.

I recently read Selling to Big Companies, by Jill Konrath and inside, Jill helps readers understand the truth behind why we never hear back from these sought-after prospects.

The very first chapter in Konrath’s book is titled, “Why Nobody Calls You Back” where she references some of her personal experiences with this rough element of professional sales.

Some of her key points around the daily struggle sales pros face are worth remembering:

Arranging sales meetings with decision-makers at big companies is very difficult.

It’s no secret, and it’s certainly not in our imagination. The frustration and struggle of getting through to a key decision maker at a big company is not, and never has been, easy.

Decision-makers are under the gun. Don’t even think of wasting their time.

Konrath notes that big decision-makers are dealing with constant change and are overwhelmed with what they already have on their plate.

You have to make your value clear from the outset.

Far too often, salespeople appear as if they are only concerned about personal gain instead of focusing on the pain their solution mitigates. Boasting about how great your product is and showcasing your own product knowledge is not nearly as valuable to them as providing a potential solution to a problem they may be facing right now.

This key thought really highlights things well:

Corporate decision-makers want you to bring them ideas, make them think and expand their perspectives on what it takes to run their firms successfully.

If you’re letting the “nobody calls me back” blues consume your thoughts, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Observe the bigger picture, put yourself in your prospects shoes, and adjust your sails to run in a better direction – one that your prospects will be interested in traveling with you.

Excuse #3: “It’s the holidays – don’t even bother”

Of the four common excuses listed in this article, I was guilty of making this excuse right up until a recent Christmas holiday season. As I was going through the motions on my call list, getting directed to about 95% of my prospect’s voicemails, I received one of the most eye-opening responses I had ever heard from a prospect. Dialing yet another number I expected to result in a dead end, I finally got a “Hello this is Dave” on the other end of the line. I immediately fixed my posture in my chair, sat up straight and scrambled for my call opening. Trying to build some rapport, I commented “Cheers to you for picking up the phone today, you’re one of very few!” Dave then replied, “Someone has to put presents under the tree, am I right?”

I didn’t end up advancing a sale with Dave that day. But we had a strong conversation and he was very polite. My solution just wasn’t quite a suitable fit for what he needed. However, hearing his initial response had a deeper meaning than the simplicity to the words that were spoken. That call made me realize it’s hard-working people like Dave who make companies successful. The people working tirelessly in the hours nobody else has the fire to put in. And if you’re lucky, you just might find your golden goose who admires a professional grinding out sales prospecting calls during non-traditional work times (such as holiday season).

Many other successful tech leaders share Dave’s beliefs. In an article posted on titled 7 Advantages to Selling During the Holidays, by Mark Hunter, I came across some other applicable points that might make you think twice before sandbagging your sales efforts in the next holiday period.

Point #1: “It’s the end of the year for a lot of companies, and that means residual budgets need to be spent.”

If you detect pain that your solution addresses, get cracking and make it clear that this could be something worth considering before an annual budget resets.

Point #2: “The gatekeepers are often the people with the most vacation time to use up in December, meaning your calls to the person you can’t reach at other times of the year may just get through.”

When going after those big fish, there is no better time to call then when the gatekeepers are more likely to be out. This may allow you to connect directly to the prospect or another colleague who could point you in the right direction, rather than deferring you to a sticky note message never read by the prospect.

Excuse #4: “I forgot to follow up”

Arguably the most important aspect of a sales professional’s role is following up. At times, following up may feel like you’re simply pestering the prospect. However, in many cases, it opens entirely different doors. A follow up is no longer a cold call – that fact alone should make it infinitely more appealing. Although you should always recap your initial conversation, an extensive introduction and qualification is not necessary when following up with a good prospect. Since you aren’t exactly a stranger anymore, this outreach gives you an opportunity to showcase your attentiveness and punctuality. If you’re able to effectively recap the previous conversation and you’re timely, the prospect should gain an appreciation for your professional dedication.

In the early stages of my sales career, following up with important prospects was something missing from my sales repertoire. Once I discovered the beauty of how well these conversations flowed and how good it felt when a prospect acknowledged your persistence, I decided to re-think my approach and incorporate this key element into my game plan.

coveyThis revamped approach to staying persistent is largely credited to one of the most influential books I have ever read and strongly recommend to everyone in any profession: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey.

I found that the most applicable of Covey’s seven habits for follow-ups (and sales, in general) was his first: Be Proactive. Covey emphasizes the notion that life doesn’t just “happen” and that the forecast of our lives are carefully designed by us.

Covey breaks down these schools of thought into two distinct categories—Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern.

The Circle of Concern categorizes individuals as ‘reactive’ people. Reactive people tend to spend too much time on things in which they possess little to no control (weather, traffic, political issues, etc.). In relative terms to a sales development role, a reactive individual spends too much time worrying about matters such as:

  • Nobody is picking up the phone
  • Nobody replies to my emails
  • My territory is weak
  • I keep getting “ghosted” on lead calls

Although each of these issues can be improved upon through proactive habits, you ultimately cannot ensure 100% certainty about any of them.

You have no true idea when it’s the perfect time to get a prospect on the line. There is no email drip in the world that has a 100% open and response rate. Not every single company needs your solution and some simply can’t afford it. Finally, there is no magic button that fully guarantees a prospect will hop on the conference line, no matter how many times you confirm things.

The Circle of Influence highlights the contrary belief. This construct identifies individuals that are more ‘proactive’ people. Proactive people maintain their focus on things that are controlled by them only (eating habits, sleep schedule, spouse choice, etc.). In relative terms to a sales role, someone with a proactive mindset focuses their efforts on things such as:

  • Being punctual and focused every day
  • Methodically completing homework and research
  • Maximizing dialing outreach time
  • Following-up with prospects religiously

There are most certainly influential factors as a sales pro that can make these habitual efforts more difficult, but it is ultimately up to you on whether you choose to maintain self-discipline in the areas you can control.

The early bird really does get the worm. Being the first one in the office and the last one to leave every day builds character and dedication to your craft (and as a bonus, the right people will notice your efforts). A cold call won’t seem so cold on the other end if you are able to offer some key nuggets of info that are highly relevant to your prospects.

Reactive or proactive – it’s your choice how you want to proceed, but it’s not hard to figure out which category the best sales pros in the world fall in to.

Don’t Imagine the Wall, Imagine a Way Around It

At the end of the day it’s easy to justify why you did or didn’t meet your daily, monthly, or yearly expectations. And to be certain, many sales pros face headwinds that are out of their control in many ways. But a strong sales pro will fight hard to not let a few tough circumstances lead to imaginary barriers that make them give up too easily. If you control these four common excuses and develop a mindset that these are very solvable issues, you’ll be far more successful in the long run.