Get in the habit of maintaining a positive attitude

Walter Rogers
President and CEO
Baker Communications
According to legendary New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “90% of baseball is mental. The other half is physical.”  Clearly, Yogi – despite his fractured math – could have also been a legendary sales professional if he had wanted to be, because that is exactly the same formula that highly successful sales professionals live by every day. To be perfectly clear, there is a physical, functional, tactical side to selling. Product knowledge, presentation skills, proficiency in the use of the CRM and other Sales 2.0 strategies – these are all vital for achieving sales success. But in the end, Yogi hits the nail square on the head; the biggest key to success is 90% mental.

We all know that selling can be a tough business. When the economy is down or the competition is tough, sales professionals start hearing a lot of “Nos,” which can be devastating. It is not unusual for the average sales professional to lower their aspirations, and begin to doubt their abilities at times like this. Highly successful sales professionals, however, don’t allow temporary setbacks to define them. That is what makes them highly successful. It is also what leaves the rest of us wondering, “How do they do it?”

First of all, let’s clear about one thing: Highly successful sales professionals are human, just like everyone else. It is not that they never get frustrated or experience a let-down when a promising deal falls through; they are subject to those inner voices that try to plant discouragement and doubt, just as are we all. However, what separates highly successful sales professionals from the rest of the herd is the mental and emotional discipline they are able to bring to bear at such times that helps them to stay focused and constructive. The good news is that anyone can learn to apply this discipline and focus in their own lives, and reap the benefits as well.

To achieve Yogi’s 90% mental benchmark, highly successful sales professionals lay a strong foundation built on four solid pillars:

Believe in your product – Some sales professionals see selling as just a job. It pays the bills and it is better than being a door greeter at a discount retailer, and with that attitude, they are able to make an okay living selling anything to anyone. On the other hand, highly successful sales professionals are passionate about the products and services they sell, and are unabashedly enthusiastic about the value and benefits they bring to their customers. Yes, they also care about closing business and driving revenue, but it is also very important to them to know that what they offer their customers is exceptional in every sense of the word. The confidence they have in their product helps to motivate them, even when the market is rough, because they know they have good news for someone today.

Believe in your training – Effective training is a key component of selling success, and we are not just talking about product training or being able to run a demo. Anyone who can read a brochure or a spec sheet can come away with a decent grasp of product knowledge. What we are really talking about here is solid, in-depth training in sales process, consultative skills, customer relationship strategies, sales effectiveness with CRM, and a host of other skills and capabilities to help the sales professional feel confident in any customer-facing situation. When a sales professional receives this kind of training, and when it is reinforced by regular, focused coaching, it delivers a steady boost of positive mental energy that the highly successful sales professional can leverage to overcome temporary setbacks.

Believe in your company/organization – This is not exactly the same as believing in your product. If the company culture doesn’t have a strong commitment to treating customers well, and also treating sales professionals well, then a lot of the joy of selling evaporates as the sales professional spends too much time fighting the organization and its policies, either on behalf of himself or his customers. The resulting burn out can quickly lead to discouragement, lower productivity, and, ultimately, to the sales professional leaving the organization in search of a place where the opportunity for success on their terms is greater.

These first three pillars are certainly important keys to helping a sales professional maintain a positive attitude. If you believe in your product, your training, and your organization, then your emotional energy can be channeled into being proactive and creative in the face of market adversities, instead of being flamed off as frustration in other areas. However, these three pillars alone can’t consistently deliver a positive attitude. In many ways, the fourth pillar is the most important attitude pillar of all:

Believe in yourself – Entire books and sales courses have been built around this topic. It is huge; it is the holy grail of creating and maintaining a consistently positive mental focus. Right now we will focus on a very important principle:

Situations don’t cause emotions. It is what we believe about the situation that causes our emotions to it, and our emotions usually determine how we will react.

This is a universal principle of human behavior, but here is a very simplified example of how it applies to sales.

Bob, to sales manager: “This economy is terrible. No one is buying. My customers hate me. I can’t get past the gatekeeper at my biggest opportunity. There is too much competition. I can’t sell anything. I give up.”

Sales manager: “Really, what makes you say that?”

Bob: “Over the past week, I bet I have made 200 calls and I can’t get anyone to set an appointment. Obviously, I don’t have a chance.”

Sales manager: “Hmm, that’s odd. I was talking to Amanda this morning and she was actually excited today. She told me that, even though she had made 200 calls this week with no luck yet, she was convinced her luck was about to change. She refocused her strategy, refined her presentation, and has narrowed her target prospect set to maximize the impact of her new presentation. She was really pumped when I talked to her.”

Bob and Amanda both had the same situation: 200 calls and no appointments. Bob believed this meant there was no opportunity for him and no option but to fail, so he was ready to quit. However, Amanda, rather than blaming the economy or the prospects, believed this to be a temporary slump that could be rectified by changing her approach. To her, the situation represented an opportunity to succeed by learning something new, so she got right to work on a new strategy.

Respected motivational speaker and life coach Tony Robbins would say that Amanda has learned to “tell herself a different story” about her situation and her options. Bob looked at his slump and told himself that he was going to fail. Amanda looked at her slump and told herself that if she would change her strategy and learn to do some things differently, her chances of success would go way up. It isn’t hard to predict which story will have the happier ending.

Highly successful sales professionals never let the situation – i.e., the economy or the competition or the customer – define them or dictate their attitudes and emotions. Instead, they believe in their product, they believe in their training, they believe in their organization and – most of all – they believe in themselves and their ability to adapt, grow and learn from any situation to achieve greater success. That is the story they tell themselves, and they stick to it, no matter what.

Take me back to the ball game

Returning to the baseball metaphor in closing, what pitcher has won more games than any other pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball? The answer is Cy Young, who won an astonishing 511 games between 1890 and 1911. As a matter of fact, his name is on the award that is given every year to the best pitcher in each league. Now, this next question is a little trickier. What pitcher LOST more games than any other pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball? The answer is Cy Young! Between 1890 and 1911 the winningest pitcher in the history of baseball was also the loser a whopping 316 times! And just to add insult to injury, this pitcher — whose job it is to get people out — also gave up more hits than any other pitcher in history – 7,092 to be exact. That brings up another record held by Cy Young – most runs given up: 2,147.

Okay, so where are going with all of this? We are simply trying to point out that the most revered and honored pitcher in the history of baseball also holds all the records for being the biggest LOSER! But in baseball, just like in sales or in life, even when you lose some, you still have a chance to recover and come out a winner. Cy Young didn’t quit the game because of a few losses. He loved the game, he loved to play, and he knew he was good. But most of all, he knew that the key to being a winner is 90% mental, and went to work every day expecting to win. Highly successful sales professionals believe – and act – in exactly the same way.
Action Items:
Take an attitude inventory: On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, do you:

Believe in your product
Believe in your training
Believe in your organization
If you score a 3 or below on any of these, you are likely to have attitude problems. If your cumulative score for all three is less than 10, you are definitely likely to have attitude problems that will make it hard for you to keep a positive mental attitude and become a highly successful sales professional.
Thought experiment: What kind of stories do you tell yourself when you hit a slump when deals aren’t closing or margins are too low? Do you make excuses, rationalize, blame the economy or the customer? What would happen if you told yourself a different story? What could you tell yourself that would help you reframe the situation and focus on actions that would lead to a different outcome?