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Optimism and sales: 5 ways to manage optimism in sales

We tend to think of salespeople as naturally optimistic.  But this is based on data as well as being just what we’d expect.

Selling is one of the few roles in which people actively choose to face rejection in order to achieve success.  To quote Warren Buffet “You need to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince”!

If you are involved in cold calling you probably have to make 18 calls to get through to a decision maker.  80% of buyers will say “no” 5 times before they’ll say yes. So all in all you have to be optimistic to put yourself through all those rejections.

I have just been reading an excellent piece in HBR by Michelle Gielan that ends up with a link to her online optimism/success correlation test

She builds on the work of her one-time research partner at The University of Pennsylvania Dr. Martin Seligman who carried out strong research on the correlation between optimism and sales success.

In the 1980s he and Peter Schulman used a test to position 100 MetLife salespeople on a “pessimism-optimism spectrum”  “Agents who scored in the optimistic half of (his optimism testing) explanatory style sold 37% more insurance than agents scoring in the pessimistic half.  Agents in the top decile sold 88% more insurance than those in the bottom decile.” (Over a 2 year period)

Here’s what Michelle Gielan adds to this work.

Some of her work correlates optimism with financial wellbeing e.g. “Nearly two thirds of optimists have started an emergency fund, while less than half of pessimists have.”  It also seems that optimists suffer financial stress 146 days a year fewer than pessimists do. I find this really interesting it’s not key to optimism and sales.

Her application to work is even more striking: “Those in the top quartile for optimism as compared to their peers ”” are 40% more likely to get a promotion over the next year, not to mention six times more likely to be highly engaged at work, and five times less likely to burnout than pessimists.”  That’s a strong endorsement for optimistic thinking!

When it comes to sales she identifies a 37% difference in the sales result and a 31% difference in productivity between optimists and pessimists.

How to be a sales optimist

This is not about blind optimism or putting on rose-tinted spectacles.  Sales is tough and being an optimistic seller does not simply mean believing that everything you touch will “turn to sold”.  Martin Seligman absolutely does not favour blind optimism but talks about “flexible optimism ”“ optimism with its eyes open.”

Here are my five practical ideas on managing your sales optimism:

1. Recognise that selling inevitably involves rejection.  It’s an active choice. In my 30s I found myself in a really tough commission only sales environment.  I had to make 100 cold phone calls a day Monday through Wednesday in order to get 8 appointments on Thursday and Friday in order to get 2 deals a week.  In practice that meant accepting 292 “No”s on the phone and 6 to my face in order to have a successful week. I simply had to recognise that those 296 rejections were the route to selling (and financial) success.

2. Understand your success and that of others.  Analyse what you do that gives you your wins.  Hunt out successful colleagues and friends and ask them how they do it.  Work on your “conscious competence”. Your sales success is not down to luck.  Be clear about what works and actively replicate it

3. Be a “river” not a “drain”.  The more you actively encourage others the more encouragement you will receive.  Make a conscious effort to tell people around you how good they are, hat you rate them and honour them.

I know it sounds a bit cheesy but don’t underestimate its power – not just in changing how you think about others but in changing how others respond to you. Michelle Gielan encourages her readers to “send a two-minute email each day to someone new and different, praising or thanking them…Social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness, and it is strongly correlated with optimism.” Don’t just praise what people have done.  Praise who they are. Dr James Dobson’s writing had a strong influence on us when we were raising our children. He comments that praising the person rather than just the task has 10 times more impact. So try telling a colleague “you know I really enjoy working with you!”

4. Manage yourself before sales visits or calls.  On a recent workshop with a group of trade & investment professionals in Boston we agreed a few best practices.

  • Don’t take calls from negative people before you go into a sales meeting.
  • Plan better to avoid ridiculously stressful travel schedules for key sales visits (not always easy but worth trying).
  • Take exercise before a sales visit, a walk, increased oxygen, managed breathing and a warmed up voice make a real difference.
  • Dress for success.  Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself.

5. Engage in positive but interrogative “self-talk” before a sales meeting. The received wisdom of 20th century selling was that the salesperson should pump themselves up before a call.

For instance Og Mandino author of “The greatest salesman in the  world” encouraged people to say to themselves: “I am nature’s greatest miracle”¦I will be the greatest salesman the world has ever known!” Maybe a better approach is Bob the Builder’s “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” This is backed up by a research study in which one group of people had to ask themselves whether they would solve a set of puzzles and a control group had to tell themselves they would.

The self-questioning group solved nearly 50% more puzzles than the self-telling group. (Cited by Daniel Pink in his excellent book “To Sell is Human”.

What would your top tips be to encourage optimism when selling?


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