Sales Question and Answer #51 – How to Stay Upbeat

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Q.  I find it difficult to stay upbeat and positive all the time.  I have a tendency to get down on myself when something goes poorly and then find it hard to look forward to the next sales call.  I can’t be the only sales person who struggles with this. Can you help?

how to overcome sales slump depression.

A.  Thanks for asking a question that the vast majority of sales people don’t have the courage to ask.  Yep, the situation you described is an occupational hazard.  Most sales people have times when they are hesitant to make the next call or take the next step because they’ve just be rejected in the last.

I think that sales people, in particular, are sensitive to this.  Two reasons – first, we face rejection more times in the course of a week than almost any other job title.  Second, since we spend so much time alone, we often mentally dwell on our shortcomings and failures much more than the person who works in an office or in proximity to other people.

So much for the problem.  Are there any solutions?  Of course.

For now, let me focus on just one.  About ten years ago, Martin Seligman, PhD., authored a book called Learned Optimism.  I expect that it is out of print, but if you can find a copy, I’d recommend that you do so.  Learned Optimism provides a solid answer to your challenge.

In it, Seligman describes his lifework.  As a research psychologist, Dr. Seligman began by studying helplessness in dogs.  In an early experiment, he put dogs into a cage from which they could not escape, and subjected them to mild shocks.  After some effort at escape, the dogs would give up trying and lay down.  Later, he put them into a cage from which they could easily escape, and subjected them to the same mild shocks.  The dogs would just lie down and give up.  Surprisingly, they did not attempt to remove themselves from the irritant.  They had learned helplessness and hopelessness.

In subsequent experiments, Dr. Seligman found a similar behavior in human beings.  Put into a room and subjected to irritating noises from which they could not escape, they soon learned to give up.  When put into a room with a mechanism that would turn off the noise, they still didn’t try.  They had learned helplessness and hopelessness.

From this beginning, Dr. Seligman continued to formulate a thesis he calls “learned optimism.”  It says, basically, that human beings learn to have either a pessimistic or an optimistic outlook.  Dr. Seligman’s book contains a self-assessment to measure the degree of pessimism or optimism of the reader.

Dr. Seligman’s thesis arises from the way people explain negative events to themselves.  When something negative happens, as it eventually will, the way you explain it to yourself determines your pessimistic/optimistic attitude.  There are three components of this “explanatory style.”

The first component is the degree to which you believe the event to will be permanent.  Pessimists believe negative events will be permanent, while optimists believe that they will be temporary.

The second component is pervasiveness.  Pessimists believe the causes of negative events are universal, affecting everything they do.  Optimists believe them to be specific, and limited to the individual circumstance.

The third component is personal.  Pessimists believe that negative events are caused by themselves.  Optimists believe that the world is at fault.

Here’s how this behavioral perspective works in the everyday life of a sales person.

Let’s say you visit one of your large accounts, and your main contact announces that the vice-president for operations has signed a prime vendor agreement with your largest competitor, and that all of your business will be moved to that competitor within the next 30 days.  That’s a negative event.

As you drive away from the account, you think to yourself, “I blew it here.  I should have seen it coming.  I’m never going to learn this job.  I’ll blow the next one too.  I mismanage them all.”

Now, that’s a pessimistic explanation of the event.  Notice that you have explained it in a way that is personal, “I blew it.”  Your explanation is also permanent, “I’m never going to learn to do this job,” and pervasive, “I mismanage them all.”

Now stop a minute, and analyze how you feel as a result of this explanation.  Probably, you feel defeated, dejected, depressed, and passive.  These are not the kinds of feelings you need to energize yourself to make your next sales call.

Let’s revisit the situation, this time offering optimistic explanations.  The same event occurs — you receive bad news from your best account.  As you drive away, you think to yourself, “They really made a bad mistake this time.  It’s a good thing the contract is only for a year.  That gives me time to work to get it back.  I’m glad it was only this account and no others.”

That’s an optimistic explanation because your explanations were not personal, permanent, or pervasive.  How do you feel about your future as a result of this explanation?  Probably, you feel energized and hopeful.

See the difference?  The event was the same.  The only difference was the way you explained it to yourself.  One set of explanations was optimistic, leading to energy and hope, while the other was pessimistic, leading to dejection and passivity.

Dr. Seligman has isolated optimistic behavior as one of the characteristics of successful people.  Using various techniques he’s developed, he predicted elections by analyzing each candidate’s explanatory style.  The most optimistic candidates often win elections.

The implications for you are awesome.  If you can improve your explanatory style, and make it more optimistic, you’ll create more positive energy and hope for yourself, no matter how difficult or negative the circumstances with which you must deal.

Learned optimism can be one of your most powerful self-management techniques. It’s based on this powerful principle:

Your thoughts influence your feelings and your actions, and you can choose your thoughts.  Here’s how he suggests that you do that.

Step One.  Analyze your explanatory habits.

Wait until you must deal with some negative event or some adversity in your life.  Then, stop and observe what you are telling yourself about the event.  What do you believe about yourself and the reason why bad things happen?  Ask to what degree your explanations are personal, permanent or pervasive?

Step Two.  Note the consequences of your explanatory style.

Pessimistic explanations always lead to passivity and dejection.  Optimistic explanations always lead to energy and hope.  Which is more likely to propel you to future success?

Step Three.  If you’re pessimistic, you must change the way you think.

Your future success depends on your ability to rise up and meet adversity with renewed energy and optimism.  You can do this by choosing to think differently.  Dr. Seligman makes the following suggestions.

Distract your thoughts.  In other words, when you find yourself thinking negative and pessimistic thoughts, tell yourself to “Stop!”  You can even say it out loud, or shout it to yourself.  Just “STOP” thinking those things.

Then, shift your thoughts to something else.  I’d suggest you think about something that brings you pleasure or satisfaction, or something at which you’re good.

Dispute your explanations.  This is a longer-lasting approach.  Argue with yourself.  Reason your way out of your negative thoughts.  Look at the evidence, or suggest alternatives.  Reason from the implications or usefulness of what you’re thinking.

Back to our example.  On the way out to your car after your miserable call, you are thinking to yourself “I blew it here.  I should have seen it coming.  I’m never going to learn this job.  I’ll blow the next one, too.  I mismanage them all.”

When you catch yourself thinking defeating thoughts, argue with yourself.  Think, “Wait a minute.  While it’s true I may have been able to do something if I had seen this coming, the truth is that the VP would never see me.  The other company must have had some special “in”.  That doesn’t mean that this will work anywhere else.  It’s just this account.  There certainly isn’t any evidence of this possibility happening anywhere else.  And, the truth is that the entire purchasing department is not happy about this course of events.  If I stay close to the account, they may find lots of reasons to continue to do business with me. ”

What you’ve done is argue with yourself in order to change your thought processes.  As a result of thinking differently, you have more energy, more hope and, therefore, more likelihood of success in the future.

You can change your thoughts.  You can choose to think differently.  You can choose to believe differently.

And that fundamental decision about how you think can, more than any other single decision, affect your future success.

Dr. Seligman has discovered, through his scientific research, a truth that has been known for thousands of years.  The Apostle Paul, writing in the book of Romans, counseled new Christians to, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  And Solomon said that, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

Your choice of what to think about, and how to think about what happens to you, is one of the most important choices you’ll ever make.

So, when you find yourself feeling depressed, dejected and with little energy, recognize how you are thinking, and think differently.

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine, His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.” Check out his latest book, The Heart of a Christian Sales Person.”

I must believe in a product in order to sell it

Beliefs that limit a salesperson’s performance: I must believe in a product in order to sell it.

man in suit

By Dave Kahle

As a sales trainer, I often confront a difficult obstacle that stands in the way of developing more effective sales people. Too often sales people are hindered by limiting beliefs that prevent them from implementing the best practices, principles and processes that can multiply their results.  They remain bound by internal barriers of their own conception.

Here’s an example.  A Customer Service Representative wants to move to outside sales.  He was good at his job of reacting to whoever was on the other end of the phone line and responding effectively to the request of all the customers.  As a result, he forms the belief that success is a matter of responding effectively to everyone.  He’s moved into outside sales, where he naturally brings along that belief.  In that new position, he continues to operate on the basis of that belief, responding effectively to everyone who has a request for him.  As a result, he finds himself spending inordinate amounts of time with small and needy customers, and very little time with larger, more sophisticated and higher potential customers.  And as a result of that, his sales are mediocre, although he feels fulfilled.

It’s not that he doesn’t have the ability to do better; it is just that his belief limits his effectiveness.

This example illustrates just one of many beliefs that limit the productivity of sales people.  Many of these self-limiting beliefs are so subtle that they operate beneath the level of consciousness, supporting some behaviors and preventing others without the sales person’s conscious awareness.  In order to unleash the sales person to higher levels of productivity, these beliefs must be recognized, challenged and changed.

“I must believe in a product in order to sell it.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this.  I hear it frequently from new sales people, and occasionally from more experienced reps.  It is often pronounced with a bit of a smug, self-righteous attitude and projects the air that this is the last word on the subject – “That’s my position.  Period.  End of conversation.”

That’s too bad.  Because, as long as the sales person holds this belief, he will never achieve his potential.

It’s detrimental because it holds that the product, or more specifically, the sales person’s opinion of the product, is the ultimate influencer of sales behavior.  The sales person’s opinion becomes more important than the needs and situation of the customer.

Here’s an example.  At one point in my life, I sold men’s suits and sport coats in a relatively expensive men’s clothing store.  At a time when the average price of a man’s suit was around $100, we had one line of suits that sold for an average of $350 — three and a half times the price of the average.

I personally thought that it was a waste of money.  Why pay that much, when you could get a perfectly good suit for a third of the price?  I would never buy one of those.  I just didn’t believe in it.

Now, if I had been ruled by the belief, “I must believe in the product in order to sell it,” I would never have shown those suits, never had suggested them, and never had sold them.  However, my personal opinion didn’t matter to those people who wanted the extra details and more expensive look of that line of suits, and who could afford them.

I would have allowed my personal opinion to stand in the way of the sale made to someone who did not share my opinion.  In so doing, I would have limited my sales and hindered my ability to fulfill the customer’s needs.

Now, you can say that the example isn’t a good one.  We all have limits on what we can spend.  You’ve missed the point.  It could have just as well been a product line (and, in fact, it was) that was extremely cheap.  I didn’t believe in that line, either.  I didn’t think that line was worth the money.  But, I didn’t let that opinion stand in the way of the customer who could afford nothing more.

You see, the point is that my (or any sales person’s) opinion should not take precedence over the customer’s needs.  It puts the wrong issue at the heart of the sales process.  When you hold this belief, the sale is not about the customers’ situations, opinions and needs; it’s about your opinion of the product.

This article (S-45) is available in an expanded version. Check it out here.

Who gave you such omnipotent insight?  Where did you acquire such absolute judgment?  Where did you gain such arrogance as to think your opinion was so important?

In my career, I have sold countless things in which I did not believe.  Given the choice, I personally would not have purchased them.  I don’t see that as a flaw in my character; I see it as a strength.  It says that I was never so arrogant as to think that my opinions over-ruled the customers’.  It says that I tried to always hold the customer’s situation and the customer’s opinion as a higher value than my own.

Thus, it did not matter what I thought of the product, it only mattered what the customer thought.

That’s why this belief is so limiting.  It removes possibilities from your ability to understand your customer, and it removes options from your menu of solutions.

No wonder that sales people who hold this belief only achieve a fraction of their potential.

If this belief is one of the fundamental tenants of your opinion as to what constitutes a professional sales person, it’s time to rid yourself of it.  Instead of focusing on your opinion of the product, focus on the customer’s situation, and the customer’s needs.  Your job is not to impose your opinions on the customer’s behavior; it is to meet the customer’s needs with solutions that fit the customer’s situation.  In so doing, you’ll break through the barriers that limit your effectiveness, and move to a higher realization of your own potential.

By the way, you’ll find this kind of insight into dozens of sales issues in our Sales Resource Center®. It houses 435 training programs to help every one live more successfully and sell better.  All delivered over the internet, 24/7, for one low monthly fee.

How do you sell something you don’t believe in?

This is a Sales Question and Answer article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

Q.  How do you sell something if you don’t believe it is right for the customer?

A.  What a great question.  I suspect that every sales person, at some point in his career, wrestles with that question.

Let’s think about this together.  We should start out with a clear understanding of what we mean by “sell.”  I’m not being Bill Clinton-ish here, I really believe this is central to a resolution of the question.

One definition of “sell” is this:  You have the product, and you are actively and strongly promoting it as an appropriate solution to the customer’s needs.

Or, it could be that “sell” means:  Your customer has discovered the product on his own, and is actively seeking it.  They discovered that you are the source, and want to buy it from you.

You can see the difference, I hope.  In the first situation, you are recommending the product, while in the second, you are only responding to the customer’s request.

One other thought as preface:  Your question said “If you don’t believe it is right for the customer.”  Notice your words – “If you don’t believe”.  We’re talking about beliefs and opinions, here, not necessarily facts.  In other words, you could be wrong.

You don’t think that it’s right for the customer.  But you probably don’t know the customer’s needs, the customer’s situation and the customer’s values nearly as well as the customer does.  Allow for the fact that the customer probably knows better than you do what is right for them.  So, it is entirely possible that you don’t believe it is right for the customer, but the customer, knowing his situation much more deeply and clearly than you know it, believes that it is right for them.

Now, let’s try to assemble these random thoughts into a coherent response to your question.

If you are proactively promoting the product (scenario number one, above) and you don’t think it is right for this particular customer, then I believe that you have an ethical responsibility to share that belief with the customer.  Temper your comments with the understanding that you could be wrong.  This is just your opinion, after all.  If the customer wants to go ahead with the purchase anyway, you should not refuse the order.  It may be that you are wrong.  If you have shared your concerns with the customer, it is now his decision, not yours.

It may be that you don’t like the product at all, and you don’t want to promote it to anyone.  There is something better out there that they should be buying.  Again, that’s your opinion, based on limited information about the customer.  If we only bought the best product, none of us would be driving Hondas and Fords and Chevy’s — we’d all be in BMWs.  There is a place in this world for products of less than the best quality.

vintage car in need of repair

It may be that the product doesn’t do what you are told to claim it does.  That’s a different situation.  I dealt with this exact situation once in my career.  The product just simply didn’t work.  It hadn’t been field tested and had been rushed to the market too quickly.  The initial deliveries resulted in problems, and were routinely returned.  In that situation, I could not, in good conscience, promote the product.  To do so would be that I would have to lie to my customers.  It wasn’t a matter of good, better or best, it was a matter of a deceitful promise about the product.  Frankly, it was the reason I left that company.

Let’s go to the final scenario:  The customer has discovered the product on his own, and wants to buy it from you.  I would very softly and subtly raise some questions about the efficacy of the product.  If the customer still seems intent on buying it, take the order.  Remember, you could be wrong.  The customer surely knows his situation better than you do.

Thanks for asking what turns out to be a deep moral question.  Good luck as you sort through your options.

About the author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.  Sign up for his free weekly Ezine, His book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been recognized by three international entities as “one of the five best English language business books.”  Check out his latest book, The Heart of a Christian Sales Person.”

Permit the prospect to sell themselves

This is a Sales Tip of the Week from guest poster Shulman & Associates.

arm-wrestling-men on gratisography.com

The STORY:

Nick knew that the prospect was close to making a buying decision.  Her eyes darted back and forth between her left hand and the window looking out into the parking lot.  Just a little more pushing and he knew she’d close.

“If you decide to buy today, I think I can talk the sales manager into an additional amount off.”

Good, he thought, she’s looking at me now instead of the parking lot.  I’m not going to let her get away.

“Oh,” she asked, “how much off?”

“Well, only if you decide to buy today, I’m pretty sure I can get him to go another $200.”

“If I can have $350 off, I’ll make a decision,” she responded.

“That’s pretty steep.  How about $300?” asked Nick.

“Okay.  At $300 off I’ll write the check.”

“You sure?” asked Nick.

“Without a doubt.” she responded with a smile.

As Nick walked towards the sales manager’s office, he was mentally calculating that at $300 off, his commission would be peanuts.  But, he thought, this sale would push him to the top of the board for the number of sales.  He’d win the monthly $50 bonus for most sales for the fifth month in a row.

The Result:

Nick will probably be able to talk the sales manager into $300 off, and he will probably win the monthly contest for most sales for a fifth month. And Nick will collect his $50 bonus. The problem is that Nick gave up making the sale, with a decent commission, because he was focused on winning a monthly contest.

DISCUSSION:

Even though the prospect was close to making a buying decision, Nick did not have the self-discipline to make the prospect give up.  Deciding he had to push it along, Nick gave up.  He gave up $300 without having the slightest clue whether he needed to do this or not to make the sale.

Actually the prospect in this situation was the better salesperson.  Nick offered $200, the prospect counter-offered $350 and Nick settled on $300.  The prospect made Nick give up.

In general, this tactic, which should be used by salespeople, is almost exclusively used by prospects to manipulate salespeople throughout the country.  If you criticize Nick for the dollar amount of the discount, and not the fact that he should have kept his mouth shut, then you have fallen for this prospect tactic.

APPROACH:

Why do salespeople open their mouths in these situations? Simple. They fear the prospect will walk out the door without buying. Will the prospect actually not say anything and proceed to walk out the door? Absolutely not. So don’t say anything. Eventually the prospect will come to the realization that you are not going to give up, and she will say something instead. Depending on what is said, use that as your basis for deciding on what to do next.

THOUGHT:

Prospects have been making salespeople give up increased commission and sales for years…are you going to continue to help them?

About the author:

Shulman & Associates is a professional development firm specializing in sales and management training and sales force evaluation. Visit their website to register for a FREE Sales Training Workshop. Learn how to increase sales, improve margins, and accelerate new business development. Breakfast is included in this workshop.

To view the latest Sales Tip of the Week please click on the link below:

SALES TIP OF THE WEEK

Are your customer relationships an asset or an obstacle?

By Dave Kahle

Positive customer relationships are the basis of much B2B business, right?  Positive business relationships ensure us an audience with the customer, make every step of the selling process go easier, and even provide us with a competitive edge.  It’s not unusual for the business to come your way just because they like you the best.

But in today’s hyper-competitive economy, relying on your relationships is like trying to paddle through the storm in a leaky row boat – your effort will keep you afloat for a short time, but eventually you’ll find that you just don’t have enough resources to challenge the storm.  Relying on your relationships is a prescription for eventual failure.

Here’s why.  The world is full of B2B sales people who have built a solid business relationship with a segment of their customer base.  They then rely on those relationships to support them.

In doing that, they have missed the opportunity to develop their sales skills.  “I have great relationships with my customers,” they think.  “I don’t need to learn to sell well.”  And, for years, that was somewhat true.

Now, however, they are paying the price of that position.  Many of their customers are seeing their businesses decline.  The relationships that so many sales people counted on to support them are no longer as profitable as they once were.  And, since they never spent the time and effort to improve themselves, they find themselves woefully unequipped to gain new customers, to create demand for their new products, or to persuasively gain bigger chunks of their customer’s business.  Their boat is sinking, and they never gained the skills necessary to keep it afloat.  The vast majority of B2B sales people have never been trained in the principles, practices and processes that are the best way to do their jobs.

Not only are they paying the price of never developing their sales competencies, they now find themselves restricted by those very relationships that were, just a few years ago, their meal tickets.

Here’s how this works.  A sales person develops a set of relationships, and then settles into a routine of seeing those people on a regular basis.  Those customers come to rely on him, and their purchasing patterns revolve around those regular visits.  As long as they order in a sufficient quantity, life is good.

But now, those same customers aren’t filling the coffers like they used to.  And the sales people find themselves boxed in.  They have created expectations in their customers, and those expectations now prevent them from investing time in developing more lucrative relationships.  How can they call on someone else, when doing so would mean that they can’t see their buddies as often?  That would jeopardize their current relationships.  And, besides, they just aren’t comfortable cold calling on prospects because they haven’t done that in years.

So, their reliance on relationships has caused them to neglect the development of their own competency, and built the walls around their comfort zones so high as to be almost insurmountable.  Faced with the demands of the new economy, they find themselves woefully under equipped as sales people, and fearful of striking out of their comfort zones.  Unsure what to do as they see their boat steadily sinking, they default to bailing even faster, and hope the storm goes away.

What to do – if you are a sales person in this position

Recognize that your relationships are just as likely to be an obstacle as they are an asset.  The solution is for you to change.  Get some education in how to excel at B2B sales.  (Check my website for lots of resources, or The Sales Resource Center® for a selection of online classes)  Start working, right now, to improve your sales competencies.  There are better ways to make an appointment, manage a first call, create a customer, expand the business, sell a new product, etc.

Gain the skills to keep afloat

Take on the mind-set that you will need to forever improve in these basic sales competencies, and start the never-ending process of improving your sales proficiency right now.  Look at it as a never ending process, not an event, and start the process as soon as possible.

Then, do a cold-blooded analysis of the profitability and potential of your current relationships, and identify those who are dragging down your productivity.  You’ll have to say “No” to some low-potential accounts before you have the time to invest more strategically in higher potential accounts.

Create two lists:  One list of high-potential accounts in which you want to invest more selling time, and the other list of low-potential relationships that are currently slowing down your progress.  (See 11 Secrets of Time Management for Sales People for details on how to do this.)

Now, methodically work at those two lists, gradually finding a way to excuse yourself from those low-volume accounts that drain your energy and time, and invest more heavily in those higher-potential accounts.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick.  But, it will help you keep your boat afloat while you gain the potential to take more control of your destiny.

What to do – if you are sales manager, and recognize the plight of some of your sales people

The formula is very similar for you.  However, instead of just expecting your sales people to change their behavior on their own, you need to be actively involved in the process.

Identify those sales people who are at risk of allowing their relationships to lead to their ruin.  Have a heart-to-heart talk with them, and lay out a plan for their metamorphosis.  Don’t be afraid to describe specific bench marks and deadlines.

Then, help your sales people get an education in the best practices of their profession.  Remember, it is not an event, it is the beginning of a never-ending process (check our Kahle Way® B2B Selling System)

At the same time, work with each sales person to help him rate the potential of each account, regardless of the existing relationship, and to prioritize his time to focus more time on the high potential accounts, and less on those that drain his time and energy.

Realize that you are embarking on a journey to help that sales person change his/her behavior, and that change doesn’t happen overnight.  You should, however, see steady progress.

If you don’t see progress, then you may want to consider the long-term future of this sales person, and how it impacts the company’s ability to survive and prosper.

Copyright MMXV  By Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved