EPISODE 358: Sales Expert Angela Rakis Tells How to Get Unstuck by Knowing the Four Levels of Selling Confidence

Subscribe to the Podcast now on Apple Podcasts!

Become a member of the elite Institute for Excellence in Sales and watch hundreds of replays!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on April 19, 2021. It featured sales leader Angela Rakis from Metis.]

Register for the May 7 IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum here.

Find Angela on LinkedIn here.

ANGELA’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Salespeople solve problems for people. If you don’t believe in it, and it doesn’t fit with your values and what you believe in, your success is going to be hard found. When I find myself being defensive or denying the importance of something, I know something’s up. If I start getting defensive, something’s wrong that I probably caused.  Maybe I need to up my game and get back out there and push a little harder. The defensiveness is my key, that’s when I stop and ask myself what’s going on. I think you can use that with a team too. If you’ve got a teammate that you ask about how did the call go, and they get all defensive, when it went bad, they start blaming everybody else. Hey, who owned the call? Let’s start figuring out what’s going on. That was one of the tricks that I’d kind of come up with, and it’s held true for a few years now.”


Angela Rakis: I am a long-term, bag-carrying saleslady. I have been in sales over 25 years, started at IBM for 13 so I’m classically trained in sales. Had the joy of going to sales training every single year, which seemed ridiculous and painful at the time. Now I’m so grateful that I’ve got that education and background.

After that, I went on to Xerox and then a couple of other mid-sized companies. What I learned when I went to the mid-size companies was that the sales strategies and structure that I learned at IBM was needed in the small and medium business space.

Going in and just putting that structure down, we would see an incredible increase in revenue for the company. I just thought that was super fun. The last company I was at that I was doing that got sold to a global firm, and I just did not have it in my heart to go to another big global company again.

Started Metis Sales Solutions and focusing on helping companies grow revenue. Through that, I’ve just become really passionate about selling with confidence and how needed it is.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. I would imagine through all of this that everybody’s confidence has taken a little bit of a ding. It’s really hard, you don’t know what anybody else is going through, you’re kind of walking on eggshells which makes feeling confident a little bit more difficult.

Angela Rakis: I think we all got in our head a little bit too much. It’s what happens when you sit there by yourself, and you don’t have your team to bounce ideas off of. It’s made a big difference, and team support, organizations like this are very important to keep not just morale up, but self-confidence up.

Gina Stracuzzi: Angela, take us through the four levels of selling confidence.

Angela Rakis: Through this last couple years, I really started to focus on what motivates people and how do you keep the team going. Self-confidence continually comes up, and where they are in this spectrum of self-confidence facilitates different ways of motivating your team or motivating yourself.

I’m trying to put together a playbook that says here are the different levels. These are the characteristics we see in each level. If you’re a manager, here’s some ideas on how you can manage your team up. If you’re a solopreneur or an individual contributor that doesn’t have a lot of support, what can you do as well?

I wanted to start mapping that out for myself, and now I’m finding a lot of people are very interested in it. When I think about confidence in sales, you really have to be aligned and confident on a lot of different areas. The first piece is the company you work for, the products and services that you sell, you’ve got to believe in all that and be super aligned with your values and what you’re selling and doing.

That’s really external factors. Then you look at the internal factors of confidence which are do you believe in sales as a profession? Do you believe in your skills that you’re able to actually do what’s needed? Have you got the belief in yourself to go forward and represent the company? That’s the inner work, the self-confidence piece of it that I really am focusing on right now.

Your skills, your belief in the process, sales as a profession. If you can get those aligned, you can get your self-confidence picked up and take it to the next level.

We all know how important self-confidence is with sales, and it really shows in front of your clients as well. If you are in front of a client and you’re lacking confidence, even if the lack of confidence is internal in your own skills, it may come across as you’re lacking confidence in the product you’re selling. It gets misunderstood.

Even though you may love your company and love the products, if you’re not projecting yourself with confidence, you may fall flat. Not to discount that belief, because we’ll pull on it as we talk in a little bit of this. We really need to be congruent on both the external confidences and the internal confidences.

Gina Stracuzzi: Because as we’re solving problems, we can’t come off as if we have a solution if we’re not confident in it, I would imagine.

Angela Rakis: Right, you’ve got to get your clients to be confident, and if you’re not, you’re never going to get them there. You get a little stuck in the process. Let’s jump into low self-confidence on the next slide. I laid this out.

At the bottom, what is your belief? If you’ve got low self-confidence, you don’t really have a lot of belief in yourself or in the process. You don’t believe in your skills as a salesperson. You may believe in yourself as a person, as a mother, as a baseball player, but not so much as a salesperson. You can be a confident person, but when you get into this role in your career, you’re not so confident and you don’t really trust the process.

Generally, that’s because you’re new into sales, and you haven’t actually seen it work. A lot of times, seeing is believing. Somehow, we get in our heads that well, it works for everybody else, but it won’t work for me. If you get stuck in that mindset, which is easy to do, how do you pull yourself out of that? This is the group that will hide and never make the phone calls. It’s really amazing what people will do to hide and not make a phone call [laughs].

We give people a lot of tools, Salesforce, and other tools to do their job. What I find is people start playing in the tools, and they start doing this analysis paralysis. I’m trying to find the right target, and I’m trying to research them and make sure that I have good talking points, and they just research and dig and never pick up the phone and make the call. If you’re seeing these patterns either in your team or yourself, you’re dealing with someone who’s really struggling and have to figure out a way to make that happen.

Another way that this tends to show itself is if you have someone on the team that is always selling the deal nobody wants to work on. The deal that always goes south or the client’s always mad, or it never comes to fruition. That typically is a sign you’ve got someone with really low self-confidence. Because they don’t have the confidence in themselves to lead and manage the client. If the client says, ‘‘Hey, do you do this?’’ They just want to make them happy, thinking that’s my job is to make the client happy, and so they say yes, sure we do that, when you might not.

Then they don’t trust the process. If you’ve laid out a sales process and a sales strategy that says here’s our target audience, and here’s what we sell and the value prop that goes with it, all those things that are in a sales strategy, you wouldn’t get stuck in just agreeing to anything. What happens is client says, or prospect says ‘‘Do you do this?’’ They want to be a friend, they don’t want to say no, they don’t know how to sell the value of what they are supposed to sell. They just go off track and sell anything. Then when it comes to implementing and handing it off, it usually falls apart.

It’s an internal and external problem. The client’s now mad because they didn’t get what they thought they were getting. Then the internal team is mad because you’ve wasted their time, they’re dealing with an angry client, and the salesperson is off doing their next deal. That’s a holistic problem.

When we look at people with low self-confidence, because it is twofold with self and process, it’s a holistic problem that needs to be addressed all around. One thing I found in this is if you’ve got somebody who’s new or if you’re new, surround yourself with a really good team. When I started at IBM, I hadn’t sold before. Been in the office, been running projects for the team, but flipped over from project management to sales. Like everyone else, I’m like, oh, I can do this, and no, it’s not that easy [laughs]. We all make that mistake.

Gina Stracuzzi: Listening to you describe the various scenarios that can add to someone finding themselves in this low confidence scenario, I think any of us that have been in sales for any length of time have found us ourselves in this situation. Either it was a product that we knew wasn’t as good as they were saying, or it was an investment or something of that case which I sold long time ago. I sold for really established companies with great reputations, and that was easy.

Then I sold for companies that, in my heart, I knew this wasn’t a good thing. I was that person hiding from not making calls, because in my heart, I knew that this wasn’t a good deal. I didn’t want to talk to people about it because I was afraid they might actually buy from me. Then I would have that on my conscience.

I think we all find ourselves there at one point or another. I imagine you agree that if you really feel strongly that you can’t have confidence in the process or the product or service that you need to move on.

Angela Rakis: 100%. You bring up a really great point that all of this has to align with your core values. We’re here to solve problems for people, that’s what salespeople do. If you don’t believe in it, and it doesn’t fit with your values and what you believe in, your success is going to be hard-found.

Then the other thing you brought up, which 100% is this spectrum of self-confidence, we all have dabbled in all of it. We continue to go up and down the cycle as we sell new products as we try new things, as we get promoted, as we get dropped down in front of a ridiculous client that’s rude and hard to deal with. Our confidence will ebb and flow.

There’s been times you have to just turn it up and go towards too much, and you do that too when you have to. You’re right, we ebb and flow through all of this. It’s not just a continuum of how long you’ve been selling. This is a conversation around the different levels of confidence, recognizing them, then working towards what do I do about it?

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a very good point, that it can change with whatever’s changing, even a promotion. Which is a good, positive thing, but it takes you a while to get your feet. Knowing that that’s a natural part of the process can actually, I think, benefit you. I would imagine because if you know, it’s coming, or you can just say okay, it’s just nerves, I need to work on building my confidence in the process and in myself in this new role, that’ll give you a little bit of breathing room on it.

Angela Rakis: We don’t need to be so hard on ourselves. If I’m having an opportunity I’m working and it’s just going sideways, I got to remind myself not to beat myself up. I’m not the perfect solution for everybody. Even though at this stage in the game, I’m selling myself, my services, what I know and my knowledge, but it’s still not personal.

I’m just not a fit for this person. Their business is going in a direction that I don’t have the skills or knowledge and I’m not going to put myself in a position where I’m promising more than I can deliver, so I’m not always a fit. Even to this day, when I’m selling my own services for my own company, it’s not personal, we have to remember that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Good point.

Angela Rakis: Let’s keep going, lacking self-confidence. I think we stand in this position a lot. We ebb and flow between this lacking self-confidence and just being truly confident in ourselves and what we’re up to. Again, no right place to be, just the acknowledgment. The not trusting your own skills is what we just touched on, Gina. I’ve got a new job, I’ve got a new position, a little bit different requirements from me, I’m not quite sure I know what I’m doing. I’m not quite sure I’ve got this down yet.

Your confidence may fall back from being truly standing in your power to a little bit lighter on the confidence. In looking at just a traditional evolution of a salesperson, this could also be the person that just doesn’t know how to progress a deal or get the deal closed. We often will say, oh, he’s not a closer. They could take it all the way to the five-yard line, and they can never close the deal. But they’re still an amazing salesperson, and if everyone could get the deal that far and the manager only had to go do one call to close the deal, then is that really that bad?

It’s when you can’t progress the deal that the real problem occurs. This is the nuance of taking a leadership role. It’s a leadership role within the company and with your team and owning the deal but it’s also a leadership role with your client. Being a subject matter expert, being a point of authority that they can trust you and lean on you, and you can take them where they want to go.

That’s pushing when you need to push and asking for the business when you need to ask or the introduction to the next decision-maker. When I was getting rolling, I spent a lot of time educating my clients. They would ask me how do you do this and I would give them great detail on exactly how we would architect something and deliver it, the phased approach, and here’s the implementation, I would just give it all.

They go great, thanks, and went by. I was like, what just happened? [Laughs] I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. I thought I was answering their questions, giving them the information. I wasn’t selling, I was educating. That one took me a little while to figure out. It’s a nuance. You think you’re doing everything right and you have to ask for the close. You’ve got to ask for the next step. You’ve got to hold a little something in your hand and you’ve also got to be able to explain the value of why you should do it for them.

If it’s something they can go do on their own, then you’ve got to sell your company and your team and why we’re the better answer to deliver this as opposed to self-implementing or building it yourself in the backyard. There’s a reason why you hire a professional, and that was the sell that I was missing. I was just selling the product. Being able to progress the deal and close the deal and having that leadership internally and externally is crucial.

When you think about managing somebody with this, you start to see these attributes and these traits and habits. Help encourage them to take more leadership roles. Leading the team, it may be as simple as leading meetings. Salespeople get really good at coordinating everything and almost project managing the deal. I got all the right people there, and we got the RFP in on time. I did all the work and all the steps, they’re project managing, they’re not leading the deal. They’re not leading the strategy, they’re letting the solution architect set the strategy, or they’re letting finance set the pricing strategy.

Whereas you, as a salesperson, own the outcome of that deal, and you need to be putting in place what the strategy is. Obviously, you take input from everybody and value your entire team. But you own that deal, and so as a manager, you’ve got to start encouraging your teammate to do that, to take that leadership role.

Gina Stracuzzi: I think that’s the thing too, to even think about for yourself, are you stepping all the way up? And if you’re not, why? I think that’s the big question to ask yourself, is why aren’t I? That’s a hard thing to go to somebody with. Like I’m here, I just can’t seem to get there. It’s a hard conversation for people to have but I would imagine it makes all the difference in the world.

Angela Rakis: It really does. That’s our job as leaders and managers of teams. If you’re managing a team, you have three jobs. It’s leadership, setting the vision and the strategy. It’s managing, making sure the tasks get done. It’s coaching, it’s getting your team to see more in themselves than they currently see in themselves. It’s you can do this, helping them see the bigger vision, letting them know you believe in them, and helping build their confidence, that’s your job.

Helping somebody, even if it’s baby steps. We’re going into a meeting, a big Zoom call or conference call. You can’t sit there silent and let everyone else talk. You own the deal, you’re going to kick it off, you’re going to have the questions, you’re going to make sure you pull everybody in, make sure the client is engaged. You own that call. You own the deal.

Those are just some things as a manager you can do or a self-evaluation. If you get off your next business call, and you think to yourself, I said five words the whole time. I listened, I took good notes, I got it. It was a great call, client is happy. What did you say? Did you say any words? Did you own that call? If the answer is no, then you need to figure out a way to push yourself a little bit further.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s really a great way to look at your sales calls. It makes me wonder, are there five core questions every salesperson should be regularly asking themselves to like do a mental check, if you will, a health check on their confidence?

Angela Rakis: The way I’ve learned to do it for myself personally, and I think it’s a good general rule of thumb. When I find myself being defensive or denying the importance of something, I know something’s up. If I start getting defensive, because that’s not typically my personality, so something’s wrong. It’s, “Well, the client wasn’t paying attention, or they no-showed on the meeting, I can’t believe it.” Well, Angela, did you reconfirm and send the agenda, so they knew what the meeting was about? No, but we talked about it. Maybe I’m a little guilty here. Maybe I need to up my game and get back out there and push a little harder.

The defensiveness is my key, that’s when I stop and ask myself what’s going on. I think you can use that with a team too. If you’ve got a teammate that you ask about how did the call go, and they get all defensive, when it went bad, they start blaming everybody else. You’re like, whoa, hold your roll, who owns the deal? Who owned the call? Let’s start figuring out what’s going on. That was one of the tricks that I’d kind of come up with, and it’s held true for a few years now.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great. It makes me wonder too if you’re managing people who are new either to selling altogether or new to this field and your company, how can you help them build their confidence so that they’re building rapport with their potential clients? And the process goes smoother so they build their confidence quicker.

Angela Rakis: I’ve been surprised and kind of disappointed that sales training has really fallen off. Employers are hiring salespeople who’ve never sold before, or selling into a new industry or a new product and not providing the training but having the same huge expectations from the sales team. And that’s just not fair to anybody.

If you think you’re saving a dime by not doing training, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and not saving any money. Because it’s going to take your salesperson that much longer to start producing revenue for you. If you can do training consistently, it gets everybody in the company speaking the same language, running a standard process and methodology. Here is our strategy, here’s how we go to market, here’s our value prop. It makes it really easy for a new person to fold in because everybody’s doing it the same way, everyone’s saying the same things.

We all have our personality and our nuances, and we’re all good and bad at different pieces of it. But that playbook is in place, we’re using it, and we’re taking the time to train. Also, putting somebody new with somebody experienced and let them see how it’s done. Let them see that the process works. Take out that, “Well, I don’t think cold calling works.” Sit next to somebody who cold calls all day and watch it work. Now you’ve got to let that belief go because you’ve just watched it happen.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a very good point. I think you’re right. One of the things that we hear quite often from companies is that they have a hard time retaining people that they’re bringing in. But when you talk to the employees or the people on the other side of the fence, so to speak, what they’ll say is there wasn’t enough direction, or I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, or where we’re supposed to be going.

People are left to flounder a bit, and that does make it really difficult to stay confident or even, in that case, gain confidence. We have a question from Mary W. Mary wants to know how do you rebuild your confidence when a sale goes south? Especially at the last minute.

Angela Rakis: It’s hard. I hear you. You’ve got to understand that things happen. Your best bet is to do a post-mortem. Really stop and go through the deal and figure out where you took a misstep. What did you miss? What didn’t you listen to? What didn’t you take seriously enough?

Did you forget to engage somebody else? Once you understand what went wrong, then it’s like, okay, I got it. I won’t make that mistake again, let’s go back out there and get back in the game. I find it so much easier, and people I’ve coached and work with, it’s been very helpful when we sit down, let the emotion go, give it a few days. We all need a second to calm down after something major. You have a big loss.

Then you’ve got to sit down as a team and just honestly say, what happened? It’s the only way you’re going to learn and get better, and it helps you get out of the head conversations. “I screwed everything up. I’m no good at this job. I shouldn’t be doing this.” No.

When you get down looking at everything, you missed one thing. I learned I’ll never make that mistake again and now you’re that much better of a salesperson. But you should definitely be in sales because you got the deal all the way to the five-yard line. That takes a lot of work. You stayed in the game, you got there. Just figure out what went wrong, give yourself a break. Once you learn that, won’t make that mistake again.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. Chris wants to know what do you do if you have a boss that is always yelling about you not selling enough.

Angela Rakis: It’s hard. Obviously, there could be a lot of reasons why that’s happening. You’ve got to look at yourself. If he’s not going to motivate you, encourage you and support you, then that’s probably not good leadership for you to excel under. If you can find a way to go be successful slightly on your own, take your own tactics and figure it out on your own as you start selling, they should lighten up.

If you’re not getting the training, you’re not getting the mentoring, you’re not getting the support that you need, it doesn’t sound like a healthy environment. I think when possible and when it’s okay, maybe you need to move on. I hate to just give that advice so quickly, but do what you can to help yourself. Think about some of these things we’re talking about. Reach out to me, I can give you hints and tips on things you can try and do just to take care of yourself. Toxic is no good for anybody.

Gina Stracuzzi: We hear a lot of lovely stories about teams feeling more supported than ever. There’s also been, from the initial days when bosses and companies were a little more accepting, and they were adjusting targets and doing everything they could to support their teams. Then it took a big pendulum swing as we entered the first quarter of this year. Like, okay, this has gone on longer than we thought, everybody back to the grindstone, same targets. And I think people are finding it difficult. I would imagine that confidence takes a big hit when you find yourself in this situation.

Angela Rakis: Well, it’s harder to give people recognition and encouragement. We used to see each other in the hallway or at the coffee shop. “Hey, great job on that call yesterday” or, “Nice work on closing that deal.” You get those atta-boys and those accolades walking down the hall. You get it from multiple people, that helps.

We all need that, and we just aren’t as good at or used to the, “Hey, great job” to all of our teammates. The administrative assistant used to be like, “Hey, Angela, great job on that deal.” She’s not going to text me and tell me that. But if she saw me in the hallway, she’d say it. It was nice that she recognized it. You don’t get that anymore. It’s super important to support each other. Sales is a team sport.

One of the things that is happening is sales leaders get promoted because they’re the best salesperson typically. It doesn’t mean they’re the best leader. We’ve got the slide up here on arrogance. We know a lot of sales people that are arrogant. We kind of have to be, the job’s hard, you have to be ridiculously positive and, “Yeah, I got this.”

If you start to dig into arrogance and where does it fall apart, you go through this self-confidence through assertive. I think assertive is the positive side before you get to the negative side of arrogant. You can be assertive and get stuff done, and take a stand when you have to. But when it goes too far is when you get to arrogance.

The team doesn’t want to work with you because you act like you don’t need them. “I’ve got this, I don’t need to follow the process. I can sell this on my own, don’t worry about it, I don’t need the team.” You start to be really dismissive of other people because you think you’ve got it on your own.

Then the other thing is the clients can start to pull away because they don’t feel like they’re being heard or listened to. You become this cowboy out there by yourself selling. If you’re good, they let you do it, and it’s fine. The danger is some of those people get promoted into leadership roles because they’re the best sales guy and they’re super confident.

They’re like, “Yeah, I should have this job, give it to me.”

No one wants to work for them because they just beat the heck out of them all day. It’s really a shame, but we don’t do good sales leadership training. We’ve always known sales training is important. But if you think about every year, you get your quota, you look at it and you’re like, how’d they come up with that number?

Then all of a sudden, you’re promoted to the sales manager, and you’re responsible for coming up with that number. You don’t know how they came up with it for the last ten years when you received it and no one’s told you how they did it. And now you’re responsible for creating it for the team. It’s really hard and it sounds like you might be in a situation like that where you’ve got somebody who’s maybe under the gun, sales are changing, harder, and that stress that they’re under, that attacking of the team seems to be flowing downhill as it sounds.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s probably when people feel pressure of their own. They tend to want to share [Laughs].

Angela Rakis: Nice way of putting that.

Gina Stracuzzi: [Laughs] We only have a few minutes left. This has been a really eye-opening way to look at confidence, breaking it down. And I really love the idea that, the reminder that our confidence can ebb and flow depending on the circumstances. Even the most trained and prepared person can feel a little bit less than confident in the right situation if it’s new or something goes wrong. I like your advice to not beat yourself up over it. Move on and move up, as the saying goes. In our last few minutes, do you have a piece of parting advice that people can implement today on getting their head right in the confidence space?

Angela Rakis: I think it goes back to that conversation we had about being defensive. Figure out what your trigger is or what your behavior is. Watch for it and then work on it. Take the time to figure out what’s going on and work on it. It can be something simple like some hack that you do before you go into every meeting. It can be, “I always put on my favorite socks.”

I don’t care what it is if that brings your confidence. Whatever works for you, works for you, take it. If you’ve got a team, watch for these signs that they’re struggling and get in there and help them. Give them the support. Confidence builds on its own, but slowly. If we work on it, we can get there a lot faster, be successful a lot quicker.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice. That starts from, I think, accepting what you just said that we all go through it at times. And sometimes you can feel very confident and something goes wrong that you didn’t expect and it shakes you. It’s accepting that it’s going to shake you a bit and then getting over it. That is very precise.

Thank you so much, Angela. I really appreciate your time and your thoughtfulness around this important topic. Because it is the difference between failure and success, really. If you don’t address a lack of confidence for whatever reason, it will fester, and it will knock your socks off. Even if they’re your favorite socks. [Laughs]


Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *