Overcoming Self-Doubt in Selling

by Dr. Wayne C. Diamond, for High Probability Selling.  © 2005

Anyone who has done any selling realizes that some forms of rejection are inherent in the selling process.  Obviously, not everyone will buy.

When a sale doesn't close, two types of salespeople emerge.  One knows that his/her best has been done, but factors beyond their control may have caused a blockage to making the sale.  The other type of salesperson is one who takes rejection personally, experiencing residual low self-esteem, and self-doubt about the future or the next selling opportunity.  Such self-doubt will most likely cause this type of salesperson to attempt to dominate and/or control the next prospect.  This action will greatly inhibit the possibility of closing the next sale.  Unspoken customer resentment, or, apathy will result.

It has been my experience, while working with salespeople over the last few years, that the chief inhibiting force that precludes sales success is self-doubt.  How does this self-defeating mechanism originate?  In childhood!  So many parents see their children as extensions of themselves!  If they experience self-doubt as parents or in their overall personas, they often impose their self-doubt on their children through domination, or control to compensate for perceptions of weakness.  Any lack of personal strength or self-doubt in a parent will greatly reduce recognition of a child's own strong abilities.  They may even regard their children as a threat.  A child's strengths can be a powerful spotlight on what they failed to accomplish — either in their own childhood or in their adult life.  It is quite difficult for a child to succeed or realize their potential in this environment.

Success may even bring guilt for the child, because it may create a perception of separation from who and what the parent is.  A foundation for self-doubt has been laid — the child may succeed in some way, but will it be acknowledged?  Or, the child's success may bring out that classic remark, “You should have done better.  Why didn't you get an A?”  A child will then have self-doubt and any success will appear empty.  In this powerfully negative dimension, an overall question will surely arise — “If I'm successful, who will recognize or appreciate it?”  Thus begins self-doubt, which can become a life-long pattern.

Very few people become salespeople as their first choice of occupations.  They land in a sales job.  The principal reason for this may be about money, but a more important reason is that in sales there is a daily opportunity to prove oneself — in an attempt to overcome self-doubt.  Along with this quest for validation, difficult questions will soon emerge: “Can I really do this work successfully?  Can I perpetuate any success that I might create?  How can I move up to the next level of success?”  Infused with some degree of self-doubt, these reactions often become part of the fabric of a salesperson's work life and personal life.

How can these patterns of self-doubt be healed or changed?  First, there must be an acceptance that no degree of selling success can fill in the emotional or practical reactions to what did, or didn't, happen in one's youth.  Any attempt to gain power over others in the selling process to compensate for self-doubt or weakness in one's background is completely futile.

Secondly, realize that everyone, at times, has self-doubt.  A way to overcome it is to make conscious supportive choices at these difficult times.  A fine one is to seek out communicational intimacy, with a trusted friend or relative, through emotional honesty.  Positive emotional connections help to create a supportive environment when self-doubt is present.  The power of emotional truth also creates a profound sense of unity and well-being at times when low self-esteem spontaneously arises out of self-doubt.

Thirdly, organize your daily thinking around the inner strengths that you possess.  These might be honesty, loyalty, creativity, dedication to completing tasks, tenacity and/or most importantly, your love for family or friends.  Whatever your personal strengths may be, honor them.  Remember, it is the qualities that cannot be taken away from you that have the most value in life — even in the face of self-doubt.  This isn't just self-talk in the midst of self-defeating patterns.  It is honoring the best of who you are while in the midst of adversity.

Note — Dr. Diamond died a few years after this article was written.  He left us with two recordings of workshops that he had led:  “Selling Beyond Fear” and “Overcoming Skepticism and Distrust.”  Both are available as downloadable MP3 files here.