Those of us who choose Sales as a profession are familiar with the emotional rollercoaster it provides. The elevating wins, then there are the days where as Steve Jobs put so eloquently “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” Yep, it is a profession where you need your hard hat on occasionally to go the distance.
Whilst we are up to our armpits riding this journey, what we often aren’t aware of is the diverse professional capability, grit and resilience that is developing within us at the same time.
It is infrastructure that is formed to help us adapt to our daily environment. A bit like Wolf’s Law and the remodelling of bone. We remodel to endure the changing load and like any manufacturing process, it can’t run on an empty tank.
Relationship based sales is a slow burn game. One where your engagement won’t be maintained by merely showing up to work. Repeated high performance requires continual monitoring of and investment in your – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual engagement. (Recommended reading, The Power of Full Engagement, Loehr & Schwartz)
Without this investment, a consistent drive for high performance has the potential to crack your wellbeing foundation leading to increased risk to the business you are care taking and to quite simply, affect your love for the job, a contributing factor to burnout. (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2019)
I leant this the hard way. My experience recently published here
Following my crash and burn, came the considered process of self-reflection. I dissected out my career lessons and settled on 8 critical factors for a Sales Professional to consider when developing their selling practice. What they are not, are wellbeing tips on mindfulness, purpose & the importance of exercise to our health. What they are, are strategies to face your day to day reality of sales. The are designed to keep your engagement tank full, keep you believing in yourself and lastly, keep you loving what is a deeply rewarding and lucrative profession. I hope they are helpful.
1. Responsibility vs Blame – It all starts with you.
There will always be external factors that influence a sales performance or the way a business is managed. Let’s call them “the frustrating uncontrollables” or the “F.Us”. Despite these inconveniences, there is still a lot you can control, should you choose to take responsibility and hold yourself accountable for your choices.
We must own the decisions we make.
Taking responsibility for the lens you look through provides a sense of freedom and emotional release. It creates brain space which is much better served engaging you with life. On the other hand, should you choose blame, it does the exact opposite. For every bit of blame cast, a burden is added to your shoulders that starts to weigh you down. Take a few common selling frustrations:
“My sales target is too high” – your number is your number. On paper, it is an “F.U.”. What you can control is the lens you look through. Is what you are doing working? What can you do differently to accelerate momentum and achieve a better result?
“My products are outdated” – you have what is in your bag. Where you can’t always control the rate of innovation, you can control the quality of service you provide and personal leadership you demonstrate. If it were up to the customer, what would they choose – i) great product with poor service or ii) generic product with A-game service?
The most valuable asset in your armamentarium, is you.
“It’s the customer’s fault” – the customer can do what they like. If a customer is proving difficult or making a decision against your favour, there is every likelihood you don’t understand them well enough yet. Go back to what you can control, your value discovery process and ability to learn about that individual and their business.
When you are in the daily grind, this is not as easy as it sounds. The support of a mentor with an objective eye to challenge your thinking, not only helps you grow, it keeps your self belief alive.
2. Professional Boundaries
Technology might be designed for 24 hours connectivity, but human beings are not. The boundaries you set for yourself speaks volumes of your core values and enable you to maximise your spiritual engagement.
You control your availability. I fully understand how easy it can be in sales to feel like if you don’t jump at every customer demand, you will lose that customer. You won’t. Should that be the case, then they aren’t a customer worth having.
Your customers will respect you more when you respect yourself.
This doesn’t mean you need be neglectful. It is about being responsible for managing expectations, communicating effectively and setting up resources that enable you to succeed – team rosters, flexible working arrangements and a personal moral code that works for you when it comes to social media & technology.
Your presence at work affects your professional performance. Your presence outside of work, affects so much more. Your life or identity is not your job. Controlling your boundaries leads to greater respect and more trusting relationships all round.
It demonstrates the human behind the professional.
3. Relationships – Hero your Customer
Fact: Sales is a numbers game by way of measuring performance. This is something I have always had a “love-hate” relationship with. Riddle me this – Why is it that at times, it feels like your numbers are the marionette that control your energy levels and you are the puppet? They set the tone of the day.
For tenured Sales Professionals, you’ll no doubt recall a year where you felt you were busting your gut but the numbers didn’t follow through. You progressed your customer relationships along the engagement journey, but it wasn’t convenient for the sales target delivery timeline. The personal effort wasn’t reflected in the result – by traditional measurement.
I have always preferred to prioritise relationship building over numbers and found when I have, the result is delivered when it is meant to be – in spades. It develops a solid foundation that will continue to grow, based on the genuine bonds formed with the human behind the customer.
This isn’t a superficial process. It requires patience, tolerance and an obsessional curiosity to establish a deep understanding of what is important to the customer and why it matters.
Prioritising the relationship puts the focus on the customer rather than the number, which focuses on you.
Let me be clear, I am not saying ignore your numbers. You need to be aware of what you are accountable for. What I would say, would be when you find yourself asking the daily question “How will I fill this number?”, pivot your thinking to “What relationship do I need to develop to fill this number?” and “How will I develop that relationship?”
As a Sales professional, this strategy fills your motivation tank. You become fuelled by the developing relationship as it becomes a process you are more in control of. Even if the progress is small, it is still progress.
That then leads me to the question of “How do you do this effectively and develop this skill?” In it’s simplest form, through your curiosity for your customer and your ability to align and deliver value. Emphasis on “it’s simplest form”! It is a subject matter very close to my heart that deserves the spotlight of it’s own article. Stay tuned!
Make the Customer the Hero and the numbers will follow, as will the monetary reward & recognition. Most importantly, by focusing on the relationship, you will be gaining a connection that will be with you beyond your job, it will be with you for life.
Your trusted partnerships are the guardians of your reputation & contribute to the legacy you leave.
4. Managing Control of the Conversation
How often have you been in a conversation with a customer and signed off with them saying “I will get back to you.”?
Two weeks later you have heard nothing and are in the tricky position of not knowing what to do next. Do I reach out? Will that appear too persistent? “They must not be interested” is the story you tell yourself.
You need not make that story into an emotional storm in a teacup.
If you ended the conversation with “Excellent, I will follow up with you in a fortnight.” You are managing expectations of both parties, empowering yourself with control and putting yourself in the driver’s seat of the conversation.
It frees the customer up from having to do more work.
The easier you make the process for the customer, the more the barriers and smokescreens will come down. You have an opportunity to demonstrate your personal leadership, time and time again. Reliably delivering, communicating and meeting the commitments you make – a driver of trust.
5. Shared Accountability
The feeling of being responsible for every aspect of your sales business can be overwhelming, particularly if there is a high service commitment for each sale you make. It is an unnecessary burden to bear and as the business grows, creates an unsustainable practice that pushes you to your limits and creates a ceiling above your business, preventing growth.
If you don’t delegate and engage your team, your business can’t grow.
Speaking of a high performance industry I know well – Medical Device – there are a large number of people and teams involved in the customer episode of care, including the customer.
Every member of that team has a role to play & decisions to make. Let them. Disseminate the information required so they can own their role. Communicate in a way that releases the burden from you having to own every aspect of the process and make sure they are clear on both your quality standards and expectations of their part of the process.
This includes holding your customer to account.
As much as we might like to think we can, we can’t make a decision on behalf of our customer. It exposes us to unnecessary risk and increased mental pressure.
Remember, we only have the part of the picture the customer is willing to share.
Running detail by your customer in advance manages their expectations and puts the accountability back on them, releasing it from you – and they know it.
6. Know Your Source of Inspiration
When were you last truly inspired? What effect did that inspiration have on you?
Inspiration engages us with ourselves. It breaks the monotony circuit in our brain and flicks on the energy switch for each of our tanks – physical, mental & emotional.
For sales, it maintains our motivation, develops self-belief and offers a different perspective – crucial for the reinvention of a selling conversation.
The last thing we want to do in sales is be predictable.
I never appreciated the importance of inspiration until after my experience with burnout. I had to rebuild my relationship with myself and that started with understanding what it was about life that would excite me, engage me and give me the energy required to fuel a new passion. It started with exploring my curiosities. If something sparked my interest, I would explore further.
Sources of curiosity came from everywhere – people, conversations, books, podcasts, events, places – generally when I least expected it. With time, I had a series of curiosity dots that I was able to start joining together.
That “dot to dot” exercise, created my new future landscape.
Never stop being curious of your sources of inspiration. A disciplined approach to ensure they appear in your week will break the monotony, maintain motivation and keep you energised.
The only person who knows what truly inspires you, is you.
7. Understand your Triggers
Stress responses pull the plug from your energy tank, knock your confidence sideways and detract your focus from the task at hand.
A nervy turn by a Sales Professional doesn’t serve the customer well, nor the business and most importantly, your well-being. If that is the case, then what is to be gained by putting yourself in a situation that triggers these responses? Particularly situations that could have been avoided.
Do the self-analysis to understand what stimuli consistently trigger your stress responses. Write them down, look for patterns. How do you react? What impact does that behaviour have on those around you?
Being highly attuned to these stimuli enable considered management of your response that will minimise detrimental effect on yourself and those around you.
None of us are perfect. We do have a choice of learning how to manage our imperfections and perhaps, even use them to our advantage.
8. Never Stop Learning about Yourself
How much time do you dedicate to your personal growth?
The busyness of life often sees our learning take a back seat. If we don’t spend the time learning about ourselves and how we adapt to a changing world, we might wake up one day and find the only change we have adapted to – is the status quo. Meanwhile, the world has moved full steam ahead around us whilst we have turned into the Statue of Liberty.
This was the situation I found myself in years ago and it was like someone hadn’t just held up the mirror, they had slapped me in the face with it.
Life’s experiences had seen me grow throughout my Sales career. I had used my strengths to survive. That’s what strengths do, they make you strong. However, from a professional growth perspective, I had never enlisted anyone to challenge my thinking or to help me understand the importance of understanding what was important to me beyond what I was currently doing.
What does learning look like now?
a) Defined core values that lay the foundation of my decision making.
b) Monthly mental fitness check-ins with a coach who challenges my thinking and holds up the mirror.
c) Daily investment in reading which I have used to train my ability to focus. My “book a week” challenge isn’t a challenge at all. I soak it all up and practise what I learn every day.
d) Regular investment in my passion for networking to understand new people and industries.
e) Grabbing an inspiration spark when I find it and loving the exploration that follows.
All of this, helps me understand what I am working towards and what comes next.
As a Sales Professional, never stop investing in your learning – your mental engagement. My experience is only one. There are many other forms it could take. You could decide to focus on mastering your sales craft. Here’s a challenge ~
Become the Sales Professional who can outsell you. 😉