Just to reiterate my previous post, no, we don’t control other’s and the decisions they make. And, that can be tough to swallow, especially when we must watch our friends, family, and customers make bad decisions. It’s at these moments when Stoic Philosophy implores us to take control, not of others, but ourselves. A primary example is job-related stress.
In Sales, a bad year or even a bad quarter can put us out of a job. Despite giving everything we have, we still lose deals, and when we do, it can hurt. Rest assured, it’s normal to feel this way at first. True Stoic Philosophy is not about eliminating our emotions, but getting them under control.
Although it’s unrealistic to never experience sadness or anxiety, some salespeople waste too much of their day anticipating and reliving their losses. Whether it’s the firing that never comes, or the sale that got away, we can trap ourselves in a cycle of reliving an event, over and over.
In this fashion, we waste valuable energy stressing over events we did not, or will never, control. Even worse, we confuse work and worry. If you believe the late Andy Grove, the one-time CEO of Intel who wrote a book entitled Only the Paranoid Survive, we all get paid to worry about the future. Perhaps paranoia is a prerequisite for top executives. For the rest of us, it’s a recipe for mediocre effort and even burnout.
Therefore, it’s essential for salespeople realize the choices they make every day. How do we want to feel, stressed or empowered? Paralyzed with fear or ready to take action? The Stoics would point out that our day-to-day mood, and the resulting choices we make, are some of the few things in life we DO control. It’s important to understand, one can choose not to feel stress and still be effective or even excel at work.
So, who would choose a career frought with stress and unhappiness? Only those who don’t realize or believe they have a choice. Ultimately, when we acknowledge that stress comes from within, we take back control and fuel ourselves to sell with more vigor and enthusiasm than stress could ever allow.
In your place onstage stands someone else shaking the hands of senior leadership claiming to be better than you. In this moment you want nothing more than for it to not be true. No, you can’t change the numbers from the past and you don’t have to fall back on excuses or bitterness. Instead the key to your come back may lie in Stoic Philosophy.
First, ask yourself, was it your name etched onto the sales trophy at the beginning of the year? Was winning this year’s sales contest a simple matter of obtaining what’s rightfully yours? Obviously not. So how then can you lose something you never owned?
Every sale requires a choice, one made only by one person, the customer. If you don’t believe me call your biggest account and ask if you can make buying decisions for them. As you can see we in sales exert influence, not control, over our customers.
A core tenant in Stoic philosophy is knowing what we do and don’t control. In the end your sales results are the output of many decisions for and against your product. How many of these choices do we control? Zero. Come to think of it, how many customer decisions did our higher-performing co-worker control this year? Zero.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t evaluated directly on our influence, but on our sales results. One of these data points is easy to measure; the other is not. And again, if customer influence and sales results were one in the same, we’d sign the sales contracts ourselves. Is it unfair to be judged based on decisions of out our control? Maybe, but Stoicism teaches that feeling upset by this fact is also, our choice.
Therefore, instead of personal wins and losses, you now have permission to focus on customer wants and needs. After all, isn’t that what we’re here for?
When it comes to travel, it’s all about the bag you carry. Take two identical suitcases. Despite weighing the same, the one stamped to a Carribean vacation feels infinitely lighter than one ticketed to a sales meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Traveling for fun and traveling for business can look very similar, yet feel very different. For vacations, we count down the days until we leave, for work trips, the days until our return.
Why do we hate business travel of all sorts? It’s not the work. Selling makes each day go faster. Conversely, it’s the dead time in-between the work. Whether it’s time spent driving, flying, or in hotels, it all feels useless, and for good reason. By driving 30-40k miles, I spend an estimated 50 working days a year, staring through my windshield. Other salespeople leave town for weeks at a time. Either way, it amounts to valuable time siphoned right out of our lives!
Still, we all accept sales travel as necessary, but does it have to be a necessary evil? Thanks to technology, we have more choices to pass the time than ever. Unfortunately, they’re not all created equal. Some time-killing activities make us feel and perform better, and some ultimately make life more difficult. Below is a guide to help salespeople make the most of down time. Consider avoiding the bad behaviors and replacing them with the better options provided.
Avoid: Unhealthy or Dangerous Habits
Yes, ideally, we’d all snack on quinoa and green tea all-day. Back in reality, we satisfy ourselves, on occasion, with unhealthy habits. Afternoon escapes to our favorite drive-through or retail wonderland can have harmful long term consequences. In fact, one habit is likely to feed the other (I love puns, please don’t judge!). Other habits, like texting and driving, put our lives at risk and should be eliminated. It’s helpful to remember the quicker the satisfaction arrives from a given activity, the quicker it leaves..
REPLACE WITH THIS: Learning and Creating
Consider the following temptation-inducing situations. Stuck in an airport terminal? Grab a book! It’s one of the best ways to sharpen your mind for selling. Have a long drive ahead of you? Download and listen to an audiobook! You’d be surprised how much time you can fill without extra calories or credit card bills. And what the heck do I mean by Creativity? Travel time provides the ideal environment to brainstorm! In fact, many of Meaning2work.com’s posts started as dictations to my iPhone while driving. The key, I’ve found, is to learn and write about subjects you enjoy. You’ll arrive at your destination, refreshed and fulfilled instead of haggard and annoyed.
AVOID THIS: Co-worker Gossip, Office Politics
Nobody’s perfect and we all need to let off steam, on occasion. It’s nice, at first, to know someone else shares your sorrow and frustration. As an ongoing topic of conversation, however, commiserating does little to make us feel better. We all know, that at times, life sucks. Why should we waste time bringing ourselves down? After all, bad luck has a way of interrupting us whenever it wants.
REPLACE WITH THIS: A Focus on the Future and Collaboration
Relax, no pom poms are required! Without using false positivity, we can acknowledge current problems and direct our conversation to actions. This is one of the most powerful ways we can use down time. Your mood will lift when you focus on what can be done instead of what can’t. And, talking through alternatives forces us to organize thoughts into logical form. In this way, the practice of verbally responding to a customer problem, in the safety of a coworker phone call, helps bring the solution to light. In my experience, trusted colleagues have helped to formulate my best ideas!
AVOID THIS: Negative Self-Talk
We’ve all done it. The minute we’re out of a bad sales call, we review it in our minds repeatedly, and experience the same pain, repeatedly. We know something must be our fault, so why not everything? Refer to “Your Worst Sales Manager: A Survival Guide” earlier in this blog for more on negative self-talk. Stories abound of perfectionist types, like Steve Jobs, and how much they accomplish. Does anyone ever ask them how happy they are? It’s good to be driven, as long as you also enjoy the journey itself. Sorry perfectionists, instead of making us better, self-criticism usually makes us worse.
REPLACE WITH THIS: Stoic Philosophy
Stoicism is the belief that we don’t control others, only our own choices here and now. And, not only do our choices include our actions, but also our feelings. Try listening on your podcast player to Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic.Each episode lasts less than five minutes. Neither pro or anti religeon, Stoicism is simply an empowering acknowledgement of reality. Learning it is like being handed something you’ve tried to find for years, the rules to life. The choice of what to do with the wisdom is yours.
There are many books and courses designed to help us optimize our down time. Some may be quite effective, given the time and effort. To get started, I offer a much simpler idea; use positive habits to crowd out negative ones. Think of your time like a garden. If you fill it with good things like seeds, fertilizer, and water, you can grow a bountiful crop. Otherwise, the weeds take over. Let’choose to spend our downtime wisely and cultivate the life we want!
“When you’re out in the field, make good decisions. After all, you not only represent yourself, but the entire company!”
A common sales mantra
Does any of this sound familiar?
It should. Many companies close sales meetings with this message for the same reason, it’s true. Often we act as a customer’s sole point of contact. As such, in their eyes, we ARE the company.
Hiding in plain sight, however, is a more startling truth; our companies also represent us. Our family, friends, and customers, are all aware of our choice of employer. Whether we like it or not, we’re often judged based on this choice. And, complain as we may about our company’s policies, it’s still our choice to follow them – and our customers know it.
Therefore, when our employers make serious mistakes, we, in our customer’s eyes, take on some of the blame as well. Any salesperson who’s had to deliver bad news knows this is true. Even if we voice disagreement with our employer to our customers, the reality of the situation fails to change. Thus, as sincere as it may sound, complaining directly to customers is mostly selfish. Doing so, for us, feels good and for the customer, accomplishes nothing. Even worse, when we publicly complain about our company, we invite customers to do the same.
And therein lies the problem, how can we be honest and helpful to our customers when we don’t agree with our own company’s policies? How can we sincerely represent our employers in a positive manner when they fail to do so for us in return?
To break from this blame trap, we can resolve to do two things: internally advocate for the customer and make more thoughtful career decisions. When our company fails our customer, we need to bravely advocate on behalf of both our customer and our company. This can include being transparent and offering ideas for comprise. If our ideas fall on deaf ears, we should reformulate and try again. If our requests continue to fall on deaf ears, we can then consider working for an employer that better aligns with our values.
What are your values? It’s a worthwhile question to consider. Ask yourself this, if you left the field for an extended period of time, how would your company treat your customers? If they would make efforts to mimic the service you provide, you’re in a good spot. If not, your company may not fully appreciate you or your customers.
Would you want that kind of a firm representing you?
“All the World’s a stage and the men and women are merely players.”
Are you a real salesperson? If not, could you at least act like one? For customers, we play the passionate, yet in-control, sales consultant. Over an entire 10-hour workday, we struggle to say the right things, to the right people, at the right time. If we can just get our message accross, the customers are sure to give in – or so we think. And, at day’s end, like faithful zombies, we eat, stare at the TV, and wander to bed. What if we have it all wrong? What if all our focus on pulling off the perfect, line-by-line, sales pitch is actually hurting us? Read on and decide for yourself.
Why we feel we must play a role.
As early as the 1700’s, makers of household items like soaps sent independent pitch men to roam the countryside to pray on the ignorance of farmers. At the time, an aggressive approach paid dividends. After all, the rural folk had little to no exposure to the wares of traveling salesmen and could be pressured into buying them. Therefore, as companies began to bring salespeople in-house, they encouraged (even expected) them to act like their high-pressure, high-performing predecessors . And thus, a belief in a “sales personality”came to be.
Despite modern, solution-oriented, empathic sales training, salespeople are still expected to aggressively handle objections and ask for the sale. When a customer has a concern, we have handy acronyms to feed us our next line. And if the customer accepts our semi-scripted answer, we go in for the fully-scripted close. As a result, acting is fully baked into what we do.
Here are five reasons this approach needs to change:
1. Acting prevents us from learning.
If we train like actors for long enough, we also become apt to learn like them. Even the most skilled salespeople can occasionally be seen, in sales meetings, asking other’s to repeat lines they deem effective. Sadly, when we could be armed with additional value for customers, we arrive home poised to put on a play.
2. Acting wastes time for customers and salespeople alike.
Alas, sales thespians, our lives don’t consist of repeatable scenes. When it comes to real life and what people actually say, no script exists. Therefore, even our best attempts to plan calls are doomed to partial success, at best. In reality, over specific words or phrases, we’re better served preparing for the content of a discussion. We can answer many more questions when we don’t need to memorize deliberately phrased answers.
3. When we act out a role, we miss opportunities to sell.
According to scientists, it’s impossible for the human brain to hold more than one conscious thought at a time. Therefore, when our mind is stuck on our script, it cannot take in the customer’s mood and the moment itself. The result? We miss the chance to empathize with clients and solve their problems.
4. We don’t want actors to sell to us, so why should we do it?
Would you rather work with a salesperson who hears what we say, or an actor struggling to stick to a script? The answer is simple, we need to stop acting and start selling. In doing so, we can have direct and candid conversations with our clients and be ourselves. In the place of canned closing techniques, we can ask targeted and specific questions based on what the customer tells us in real time.
5. The direct approach: why it’s hard and why it’s easy.
Shifting away from a script-based selling approach has both immediate challenges and benefits. Without the structure of memorized lines, we can firstly feel exposed, even lost. When listening intently, one cannot plan what to say next. It’s both scary and exciting. Fortunately, compared to memorized sales pitches, unscripted conversations can achieve a much greater depth . They often enable us to find the crucial pieces to closing sales such as hidden objections.
Let’s leave acting to those at the community theater. We have selling to do, and our customers are waiting!
Can you sink a put like Brooks Koepka or Tiger Woods? Why not? Many salespeople play golf multiple times a week. In some sales jobs, it’s a crucial way to connect with customers. Why then, aren’t more salespeople graduating to the PGA Tour? Surely, if time was an issue, retired people, golfing everyday, would make the Senior Circuit. Perhaps there’s something in the way pros practice that sets them apart? If so, how can we in sales benefit?
Can Salespeople Truly Practice?
Seriously, is there a driving range equivalent to what we do? Is there a place where we can work on specific parts of our approach? The best we’ve come up with is sales training, sales meetings, and actual sales calls. Given the brevity of the first two, salespeople typically have to practice in real sales calls, with real business at risk. And often, in the moment, developing a skill is the last thing on our minds; we want to make the sale.
According to Dan Coyle, author the bestselling book, The Talent Code, expert performers in a variety of fields, grow into greatness with focused-practice, not talent. Sure, we’ll likely focus on skill development at our next meeting (when our manager is looking), but not in the regular practice of our job. For the busy salesperson, the drive for results supersedes the need for growth.
For salespeople, what does growth even mean?
One might suggest the abilities to listen, speak, make decisions, and read non-verbal cues as crucial to sales. These, however, are only manifestations of our skill. If we dug deeper we’d find one skill driving all the others: the ability to think. Grow this skill, and all the others benefit.
It’s been said there are 70-90 variables one can change in a golf swing – a grip change here, a stance change there. A salesperson’s variables, (their skills), are internal. What we say or do in front of customers is a mere byproduct of the beliefs we hold and decisions we make. For people like us, thought hopefully precedes all communication.
How on Earth does one practice the mental skills needed to sell?
One important practice method is what you’re doing right now. Reading is one of the best workouts for the mind. At its base level, reading forces us to make a choice; think about the information presented or go away. The minute we focus on the words and their meaning, the workout starts. In doing so, we build the mental strength to understand, analyze, and solve our customer’s problems. And in sales, the bigger the problem we solve, the more we and our customer stand to gain!
Do hard-working salespeople have the time to read?
Absolutely not, most have administrative work and activity metrics to worry about. Sadly, our bosses may be right, we may have more free time than we realize. For example, many of us fill the gaps between sales calls with things like talk radio, social media, or idle phone chatter. Why not forego ONE conversation or radio program a day and listen to an audiobook in the car? Some of us, while stuck waiting for our next appointment or flight, can read books or articles instead of vegging on People Magazine or cable news. The time is there if we truly want it.
Good news! You’ve already started!
You’ve made it this far. Why not read another article or pick up a book on sales? Then read another. Read until you have opinions on your profession you’ve never had before. Heck, you may even find yourself inspired to write!
The real challenge of our jobs is not how much we can sell, but how much we can learn about selling with the limited time we have. Therefore, the endless loop of call after call is not enough to sharpen our skills.
Agree or disagree you’ve made the right step in reading this. Why not continuing growing your mental muscle by reading more? Who knows? Your competition may be doing that right now.
One step up to the roulette table and we can imagine our winnings. Who doesn’t want extra cash when on vacation? Still, do we expect to win? Do we decide that nothing less than a fistful of cash? Of course not. That’s not realistic. Nobody likes losing but, instead of raging at its unfairness, we accept it. Otherwise, casinos couldn’t stay in business. We knew walking in the casino door that we could, and probably would, lose money.
We’re Not Factory Workers
As salespeople, our mind is often on where we deserve to be, not on where we are. We see the hard labor we put into selling, and therefore, think we deserve success. We imagine we work an assembly line where one’s work translates into tangible pieces. We forget that, in sales, there’s no guarantee that anything comes out the other end of our effort. Therefore, if it’s not us at the top of the year-end rankings, we think a crime has been committed. Someone has cheated. These results can’t be true!
We’re All Playing the Odds
Consider a random salesperson, (we’ll call her Mary), and put her in a company that compensates its top 10% of performers highly, and the rest modestly. Not knowing anything about her, what realistic chance should we give Mary to make it into the uppermost group? A statistician would tell us 10%. Still, would knowing her skills, experience, and work ethic change her chances? Based on this information alone, no. After all, we know nothing about her co-workers!
If that’s the case, why do we expect our own chances to be any different? There are many moving parts to a sales organization: each rep and their motivations, each manager, and hundreds or thousands of customers. Even so, having observed our own work and no one else’s, we expect to top the rankings. Why else are we angry when someone, other than us, achieves success? That success should be ours!
It’s Time to Get Realistic
Humility is important, but so are realistic expectations. Unfortunately, the term realism is often looked upon as an excuse for negative people. Ironically, in the place of stress, realism gives us practical ways to move forward and avoid further losses. No, it’s not giving up or admitting defeat. Instead, when we’re realistic about success, we finally open ourselves up to finding it.
All that we can do is hope for the best possible return in exchange for our finest work. Lamenting the luck of others only closes us off to how lucky we are. Many of us leave casinos feeling unhappy about losing. Few of us leave feeling cheated or wronged in some way.
Why? We walked in the door with a realistic outlook; we wanted to win, but were willing to lose.
Think about the worst sales manager you’ve ever had. What about them irked you the most? Did he compare you unfairly with others? Was no accomplishment ever good enough? Did she monitor your every move, never allowing you to ever feel in control?
Relax. Put that person out of your mind. You’ve had worse.
Our worst manager is probably still with us.
Indeed, that jerk that we slaved under years ago may be gone. But someone more ruthless may have stepped in to take her place. It’s the one person with the ability to always slip past our defenses – ourselves.
Our problem is not in handling poor managers, but in being one.
Think about it. Managers grow frustrated with employees who can’t take criticism. And, we employees despise being crticized unfairly. Yet, as evil as this atrocity is, we freely commit it on ourselves. We search far and wide for managers who don’t micromanage but ironically expect our days to go perfectly to plan. We hate when the boss plays favorites while, at the same time, we put others on a pedestal as somehow better than we could ever achieve.
Doesn’t criticism make us better?
No, improvement does. That doesn’t mean all criticism is bad. When it originates from and is delivered with respect and care, criticism can be life-saving. The problem is in the packaging. When used correctly, criticism is a fire that can forge us like steel. Shame, on the other hand, is a gas can to be thrown on that fire, only more dangerous. If we allow it, shame triggers our internal tyrant to take over and magnify any criticism to harmful and unproductive levels.
Self-criticism: we don’t wear it well.
Your worst managers (the external ones) may have also been critical of themselves. Does that make their actions any easier to take? Humility and self-acceptance, can free our minds to focus on others. Conversley, what good are we doing anyone else when we down ourselves? We may even risk becoming someone else’s worst boss.
Don’t criticize, Accept.
Upon admitting we have a problem with negative self-talk, we can start the challenging process of accepting ourselves and others. Psychologiy pioneers like Albert Ellis and David Burns have done some life-changing work in this area. Anyone who lacks the patience to read their books should subscribe to this blog where I often summarize their findings.
Accepting yourself, regardless of faults and mistakes, will make you both a happier and better person. And yes, this will help you be a better salesperson as well. We may indeed still be our own worst sales manager. Now, at last, we can do something about it.
Many parents, including yours truly, have made the same mistake. Let’s call it the Ice Cream Effect. “Score a goal junior, and we buy you an ice cream cone!”, we might say. Score two and you get a hot-fudges sundae! Sooner or later, we find our child needs an ever-increasing supply of ice cream (or trophies, or other incentives) just to play the sport.
Why does this happen? Isn’t generous pay for a hard day’s work, an effective tradition? In the short term, yes. When our sales numbers are good and we’re getting praised, we love sales. Can we blame our leaders for dangling trips, bonuses, and other rewards in front of us?
But, hurry and enjoy your sales incentives quick, before they melt away! Soon, a new fiscal year arrives and we’re back to square one. Impossible objections, indecisive customers, and service issues, they’re all part of life in sales. All of a sudden, we not in love anymore. Instead, we’re the kid who hates baseball until he hits a home run. Here’s the problem: to our employers, our job is to sell. To our customers (you know, the people who pay for everything), it’s to solve problems. They don’t care how many rewards we rack up.
And, it’s solving problems that gets us the sales we want. We need to take the leap of faith required to focus on the job itself, not sales incentives, or even job security. Soldiers, who risk much more than a pink slip, want to see live battle. ER doctors, who can easily handle patients with sinus infections, want to treat traumatic injuries. These people want to do the hardest parts of their job.
Why do we hire salespeople, at great effort and expense, and ask them to do non-selling work like completing reports?
“Because, aside from selling, that’s what we pay them to do,” is the response I’d expect from many a manager. Still, would you hire a plumber for your sink and ask him to fix a ceiling fan? Even if he agreed, wouldn’t you expect him to get the plumbing work done first?
Just as your Spring lawn looks it’s best when your landscaper isn’t also doing your taxes, salespeople sell more when they’re focused on selling.
If we want salespeople to give us marketing or decision support data, we should pay them for it. In lieu of money, this can mean lowered sales expectations or increased time off.
Seriously, don’t we have to pay for most goods and services of value? Non-selling activities take away from what salespeople are hired to do, sell.