I was having a conversation this week with a young sales person, who had recently commenced her role in sales. She was sharing with me how difficult the role was and she felt that the pressure was mounting. “This is so much harder than I expected. Nobody told me that it would be this hard!” she said. So I asked her what she was expecting coming into the sales role, remembering that she had not been in a sales role before. “Well I expected that I would be given leads and I would then have a conversation with the customer, demonstrate our credentials, and close the sale.” Hmmm I thought. Someone had created an interesting picture of what sales is like, especially in the business to business market. Yes, sales I believe is the ultimate profession, and exceptionally rewarding. However, we also need to understand that selling is not easy, it takes time to develop your credibility and reputation, and this is simply part of the sales evolution.
It is quite rare for someone to come into a sales role, hit the ground running and achieve instant success. The challenge though is that many businesses and organisations expect instant results and begin applying pressure almost from day 1. This can result in undue pressure on the individual, which in turn affects performance, primarily because the person’s attitude and mindset is dented, and hence confidence drops – it becomes a dreaded cycle downwards.
I believe this is symptomatic of the instant gratification society that we are living in today, where the focus is on short term tactics and short terms results, versus investing time, energy (& money) in development of people to ensure longer term, sustainable success. Added to this is the incessant appetite to compare ourselves with those who ‘have made it’, who are successful. However, what we don’t tend to do is compare ourselves with those successful people when they were just starting out, when they were struggling. We look at the current day sports stars and entertainers, for e.g. Roger Federer, and wish we could be like them. We marvel at the overnight success of rock bands and forget to acknowledge the fact that the overnight success often took 10 years or more to achieve.
These stars understand that the struggle determines their character and ultimately their destiny. So the conversation with the young sales person then moved into looking at why the struggle is important and identifying strategies to implement, that would provide her with a blueprint to develop, move forward and ultimately achieve the success she was craving. Here is some of what we discussed :
- Everybody starts somewhere – this is a really important principle to understand and embrace. As Zig Ziglar says ‘You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start in order to be great’. Do you think Roger Federer was a champion tennis player the first time he picked up a tennis racket? Of course not. So why would you expect to be a champion sales person the 1st day you start in the role? Everyone must go through an apprenticeship and earn their stripes, and a big part of earning your stripes is to make mistakes, fall over, and sometimes ‘fail’. Accept that this is part of the process and embrace it.
- Be a voracious learner – Become like a 5 year old child in kindergarten where everything is new and they are endlessly curious. Explore each day and seek to learn from every interaction, from every conversation and certainly from every ‘failure’. It is through the struggle, through finding out what works and what doesn’t, that we make incremental steps forward, even though in the moment, it may not feel like it. Remember, through every challenge, your character is being formed, so stay true to the course of learning.
- Find a supporter – I understand that going through the struggle, through the hard times is not easy and sometimes not motivating, as well as lonely. As you go through this, it is incredibly important to have at least 1 person in your corner, who can act as your #1 supporter, a sounding board, a person who is there to pick you up when you fall – because you will fall. This could be your Manager, it could be a peer, or a mentor. It doesn’t matter who the person it, just make sure you have someone.
- Identify a Mentor or a Coach – I know for a fact that Roger Federer had a coach when he first began playing tennis. And guess what? He still has a coach today. The importance of a coach or mentor cannot be underestimated – it is a must. The coach or mentor can assist you in refining your technique, challenge you to keep on course and moving forward, as well as champion you for every small incremental step forward. They are often able to see what you cannot, and therefore provide some guidance and input that can short circuit the long road, because often they have been there before and you can benefit from their struggle and not repeat it.
- Expect challenges – now many advocates of ‘the power of positive thinking’ will disagree with me here, however, it is important to expect challenges. If you believe that the road to sustainable success is filled with rose petals and rainbows, then quite frankly you are delusional. There will be challenges, there will be roadblocks, there will be struggle. Expect it, and prepare yourself for it – that way you are much better positioned to be able to handle it, and take the learnings from it. As Jim Rohn said ‘Don’t wish for life to be easier, wish that you are better’. This forces you to improve and continue to move forward.
- Maintain a great attitude – the words of Zig Ziglar are so true, ‘Your attitude will determine your altitude’. In fact, everything starts with attitude, and this impacts your mindset, which then affects your behaviour and ultimately your results. Remember that it is not what happens to you that is important, it is how you respond to what happens to you that is important. And this comes down to attitude. Maintain a great attitude and you will be able to put the struggle into perspective.
After the conversation, the young sales person turned around with a sigh of relief and said “Thank god I’m not the only one going through this!” She now has a much clearer understanding of what it takes to be successful and that a major part of that is embracing the struggle, as it will develop her character, and ultimately shape her destiny.
If you are currently struggling, keep going. Hopefully there is something here that resonates with you and will allow you to keep moving forward towards your destiny!!
To your ongoing sales success.
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Darren is a Sales Leadership and Sales Performance Coach, Facilitator & Speaker. He is an experienced and committed coach with a background of sales leadership success in large organisations. He applies a genuine focus to coaching and developing high performing sales leaders who are looking to unleash the potential of themselves and their teams.