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Don't Let Rattlesnakes Scare You

By Shamus Brown
Posted Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Recently I was out trail running along the South Fork of the Yuba River. The Yuba River is in a beautiful canyon running east-west through the middle of Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. The terrain here is rocky, hilly and rugged, and is covered with a mixture of pine, oak, and manzanita trees.

The view while running this trail is spectacular. You cruise along a path about 100' above the river for miles while moving up and down hills and pounding over soft dirt and large rocks the size of baseballs. The air is very crisp and fresh most of the time here (except like today when we are having one of our many Western US forest fires).

While I run these trails, I am always scanning the trail ahead of me. My eyes scan the path a depth of one pace ahead of me to about 25 paces ahead of me. From time to time I also look as far down the trail as I my eyes can see.

I learned this habit of trail scanning in the outdoors from my experiences as a boy hiking with my parents. Once when I was very little, I was hiking with my family near the American River near Sacramento, California. I was only about 5 or 6 years old at the time. While walking along, my father stopped us all very abruptly. At the side of the trail coiled up in the bushes was a large rattlesnake ominously warning us by shaking the rattle on his tail.

Since that snake seemed almost as big as I was, you could say that I was just a little scared. Right then and there I learned that one has to be real careful while out hiking on trails here in the west. Rattlesnakes and other wild animals live here and they can be dangerous when scared or startled.

So last Tuesday as I was running my favorite Yuba River trail, I came around a bend in the trail, and what did I see? A rattlesnake. I stopped dead in my tracks. I had been waiting for this day for awhile. I run outside so much, I knew that sometime I would come across one of these. Because I was trail scanning, I saw him about 20' ahead of me. He was about 3' long, laying crosswise on the trail to warm himself in the sun.

I wanted to get a good look at how big he was, what his markings were, and how docile or aggressive he would be. So from a distance of about 12' I tossed a couple of small rocks at him to get him to move. I expected him to coil up and rattle after the first rock. Surprisingly it took a few rocks to get him to move even slowly, and it took a few more to get him to slink off into a hole and start shaking his rattle (lest anyone worry, I didn't hurt him). Turns out a snake warming himself this way is pretty docile.

OK, so what does this have to do with selling?

This experience made me think about fear. The reaction I had inside me when I turned the bend and saw the snake was similar to reaction many people experience have when they hear a siren and see flashing police car lights in their rear-view mirror. It also occurred to me that this is the same feeling many people get when they think about picking up the phone to make cold calls.

Now I don't like cold calls. And I am not afraid to admit this. Nobody likes cold calls. Anyone who says they do, has either never done them or is lying. I am talking about *real* cold calls here, the ones who have never had any contact with you or your company whatsoever. NOTE: Your first call to follow up on a lead with is not a "cold call"; rather this is a "warm call".

Sometimes though, cold calls are the only way to get the job done. When you are just starting your territory or business anew, or when you've drained last quarter's or last year's pipeline, cold calling is the fastest way to kickstart your sales.

Fear is a message. It tells you that something is going to happen that you need to be prepared for.

After running into that rattlesnake, I realized that I need to be better prepared for danger when I am in the outdoors. For one I own a snakebite kit. Was I carrying it that day? No. Duh. Lot of good a snakebite kit will do me if it's 10 miles away at my house!

I also found out that very few people die from snakebites each year: over 8000 people are bit by poisonous snakes each year, yet fewer than 10 deaths are reported on average. I used to think that I would die within 30 minutes of being bitten. Turns out that is not true for the species of snake I encounter in my area. One generally has a few hours to get treatment, and anywhere from 20%-50% of rattlesnake bites contain no poison (why waste a perfectly good venom shot on something too big to eat!).

I could have let this event scare me into avoiding running on this trail, or others like it ever again. Sorry, I like being outdoors too much to let that happen. So to prevent this from becoming a disabling fear, I educated and prepared myself. Now that I better know what the risks are and understand what to do in an emergency, I feel good about going back out running in these wild and rugged areas.

Take fear as a message to better prepare yourself. Here are just a few of the things you can do to be better prepared for cold-calling:

* Write out questions that uncover your prospect's likely problems,
* Write out one or two customer success stories that communicates your value,
* Write out a short elevator speech so that you can stay in question-mode.

By having these things ready in advance of your cold-calling you will be prepared to make calls without the need of a highly structured script.

One doesn't need to live with fear, nor should it cause one to give up on a great career in sales. Learn and prepare, and you can prospect and sell with confidence.

© 1999-2004 Shamus Brown, All Rights Reserved.

About the Author
Shamus Brown is a Professional Sales Coach and former high-tech sales pro who began his career selling for IBM. Shamus has written more than 50 articles on selling and is the creator of the popular Persuasive Selling Skills CD Audio Program. You can read more of Shamus Brown's sales tips at ( and you can learn more about his persuasive sales skills training at (


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