Here are some recent headlines:
- Business Wire: Economic optimism continues to drop—the economic optimism index is now 38.1% … with above 50% being optimistic and below 50% pessimistic regarding their economic situation in the future.
- New York Post: American optimism on direction of the US plummets nearly 20 points … We are thinking that the future of the U.S. is deteriorating.
- Pew Research: Americans say the U.S. in 2050 will be worse off in many ways.
- Gallup: Latest COVID-19 wave dents U.S. Optimism.
“I can, or I can’t. I am able, or I am unable. I have what it takes, or I do not have what it takes.” These are the unspoken or spoken words of optimistic and pessimistic people—the individuals in your sales team or in your family. These words, and others like them, frame what a person believes about their ability to achieve a goal and overcome the obstacles in their way to a good income and a better life as a sales professional.
People, children, and adults base their thoughts of competence on what they have been taught to believe about themselves and what they can achieve. They believe:
- I’m not good enough.
- I cannot learn to do this.
- I’m not able to.
When salespeople look through a metaphorical pair of eyeglasses at the world around them, they see through this mud of statements:
- People do not buy this time of year.
- I can’t accomplish what others do here.
- I can’t sell at this level.
- I can’t close a sale beyond a certain size
- I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
- People do not enjoy me calling on them.
- People will always respond in a negative way when I talk with them.
- People do not want to buy from me.
- I can’t learn to do this.
What if you or your child begins to develop negative belief habits—automatic routines of bad self-thought about themselves and their capability to make good grades or achieve a better future from their efforts today.
If we stop and look at ourselves and those around us, we can see the tendency to quit, miss, or fail being shaped by the belief in our ability to achieve. This is especially true when the achievement path is laden with a minefield of obstacles and repeated failure.
This makes optimism, the confidence level in reaching a successful outcome, one of the most important interpersonal factors in sales goal achievement.
Early Signs of a Negative Parental Impact
For the twenty years I coached youth and high school baseball, I could see the negative and positive effects of parental influence on the optimism of someone trying to successfully hit the ball. I saw defeated children buy into their inabilities and keep their bats on their shoulders to keep from striking out. They would not swing for fear of, and belief in, their capability. There were two reasons for their pessimism:
- They had been allowed to learn to quit early at everything in their life that was hard, or
- They had been told over and over that they would never amount to anything.
Hitting a baseball safely is a failure prone sport with the best hitters failing 70% of the time. Sales is a failure prone occupation with the best, especially in the beginning, failing as much as two thirds of the time to complete a sale.
As sales leaders and managers, we hear these words over and over again:
- Percent to quota or goal
- Making the numbers
- Average monthly sales
- Average monthly profit
- Hitting sales targets or sale goals
Yet an industry survey in 2012 found that 50% of salespeople fail to reach annual targets.
So, you hire someone to sell for you and they’ve taken a sales assessment, like the CTS Sales Profile prior to hiring. You know their level of optimism. It’s low, and you hire them. Maybe someone on your team has bought into the headlines, had a setback of illness in their family, or they are just one of those kids, now an adult, who has pessimistic thought habits instilled in their childhood. Let’s look at how we can be a change for good in their lives.
Leaders Positively Impact a Person’s Optimism
First, we’ll look at some research published by the American Marketing Association in 2014.
Learned Helplessness Among Newly Hired Salespeople and the Influence of Leadership by Boichuk, Bolander, Hall, Ahearne, Zahn and Nieves
The researchers shared these results of their study:
- Newly hired salespeople are likely to adopt pitch-oriented and pushy sales behaviors, without regard for a person’s needs, when they face repeated sales performance failure in their early tenure. As these failures increase, the effect of core transformational leadership, which stresses values, goals, and aspirations, decreases. Unless, and this is a big unless, salespeople are encouraged by their leadership to make performance errors with prospects and potential customers.
- Sales managers should work closely with their salespeople to set reasonable sales goals, and they should revise them throughout early employment based on their performance records.
- Articulating a vision (helping with values, goals, and aspirations), leading by example, and fostering the acceptance of group goals begins to diminish in effectiveness as a managerial focus when periods of failure accumulate for a salesperson. Repeated failure to hit goals counters this approach, unless it is combined with what they call error management: downplaying the stigma or missing sales goals and teaching them that they are likely to make errors, to make a lot of them. This could include asking the wrong questions, trying to uncover customer needs, or revealing themselves as novices without all the answers.
Before I summarize what this means, listen to my business partner’s story about being brought up in the potato fields of Alabama.
Formative Years on Alabama’s Potato Fields
Steve grew up with a domineering, heavy-handed father who was pretty fundamental and harsh about him working, taking responsibility, and making good grades.
His mother was the saving grace of the family. Steve remembers her countering the harshness with long conversations about why it would be good for him to get good grades and control his behavior in order to have a better life. She didn’t say, “Do this because I said so.”
Instead, she spent lots of time in conversation about why it was important for him to behave in a certain way to get the grades and the degree in order to get a job and have a better life. Her approach was transformational in his early formative years, and it helped Steve set in his mind a habit of thinking and performing in a hard-working, responsible manner in the pursuit of goals for a better future.
The Better Approach for Your Salespeople
Do you do that for those you hire? The opposite would be pounding on them for results—focusing on your numbers and results while keeping your distance and letting them fail or succeed without your example to see, or without any training from anyone.
Instead, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to be transformational leaders. When new sales reps begin, they are going to hear us talk about our vision and the important role they are taking toward the company and its customers—that they are now an important member on our sales team where everyone is expected to be a positive influence on each other.
Next, we’re going to sit down and get to know each individual we hire with a foundation interview. Afterwards, using a survival-lifestyle sheet, we’re going to help them look into the future and set an income and a corresponding sales goal at least 12 months out—a goal that’s meaningful to them and their life.
We’re going to teach them a sales process for the most effective way of reaching their goal, and we’re going to encourage them to fail a lot at all of it—developing rapport with different personality types, asking the questions you give them to uncover needs, making a customized presentation, and just being a novice without all the correct answers to frequently asked questions.
We’ll let them know that transformation and new habits require development time, and they require making mistakes—a lot of them. They will work hard at making themselves better, and we’ll expect errors to occur as they work to be responsible for the behaviors and efforts required of professionals.
We’re going to downplay results and perfection while helping our new reps be a part of the team as a learning contributor—working to make their life better as they grow at the skills of a solid performer. And, we’re going to stay with them, help them eliminate the mistakes they make, and help them know where they are as they are progressing.
Interestingly, while we may encourage them with words or praise their progress, a lot of their optimism, especially in the hard way forward, will come from our attention toward them—our conversations with them, our training, and our kind and direct correction. We are not responsible for their optimism or their motivation. They are.
In the end, the responsibility we take toward their development will provide for their increased competence, their progress toward an income that matters, and their overall optimism. Sales will increase. and the effect will be as transformational for them as it is for kids.
You have what it takes to do this. Now, do it!