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  • Association of Professional Sales

Masters of destiny: What sales professionals can learn from elite sports people

Science has already supplied the answer to what makes a more effective sales team. The trouble is, almost no-one is yet putting it into practice, says business psychologist Ian Price.

He told today’s seminar, at the Association Of Professional Sales (APS), the answer is fostering optimism. To cope with the psychological pressures of selling, with its frequent knock-backs and frustrations, sales people need to be taught how to build up their resilience to rejection.

Price believes sales professionals who feel battered and misunderstood should console themselves that they have more in common with elite sports people, than with their non-sales colleagues, in the amount of pressure they are expected to withstand.

Donald Trump mocked Jordan Spieth as a choker after his recent Masters defeat, but Spieth’s caddy summed up why optimism is so important to a winning mentality when he wrote: “Don’t feel sorry or sad for us. We won’t get stuck in this moment, nor should you. We will work harder, fight harder and be better for it. We will bounce back as we have done many times.”

Ian Price says sales people also need to learn how to channel the pressure they face, otherwise they start to develop telltale behaviour that they are trying to avoid the painful parts of their job. They slacken off on prospecting for new work to avoid further rejection. They engage in displacement activity, focusing on less important tasks such as record-keeping. They keep their pitches short, uninspiring and risk-free, the proverbial “show up and throw up”. They don’t ask enough questions about future business, and their forecasts become unrealistic.

In his APS talk, Understanding the Psychological & Behavioural Elements of Resilience in Sales, Price said they may even convince themselves there is no point in bringing in more sales as other parts of their own company will only let them down on delivery.

“They’re happy to come close seconds, telling themselves: ‘We were there, we were down to the last two,” agrees Lance Mortimer, chartered occupational psychologist with Level 3 Communications, who co-presented the seminar.

Traditional sales directors who bark at their team to “man up” when things go wrong are usually only adding to the pressure, and hence to the distorted thinking that makes sellers unconsciously sabotage their own future success.

Instead, sales people can get their mojo back by challenging their own negativity. Instead of wailing: “It’s all my fault I lost the sale!” or “I’ll never sell again!” they should reflect that everyone has the odd bad day, and there were probably external factors that meant they didn’t win that time.

The primeval part of the brain is quick to form sweeping emotional judgements about avoiding pain, and it is stronger and works five times faster than the rational brain, warns Price.

He concludes, it takes practice to develop optimistic reflexes. Like the best sports people, you have to work at it all the time. As Spieth’s caddy wrote in his Facebook post: “winning shows your character and losing shows ALL your character”.

For more information, contact Ian.

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