How to Build Resilience in Sales By Becoming More Optimistic

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As outlined in the previous article on failure in sales, gratitude plays an important role in helping salespeople remain grounded. In addition to gratitude, practicing meditation can also help keep things in perspective under times of stress.

This post discusses why it can be easy to lose perspective and  why these techniques can combat the negative rich sales environment. When salespeople begin to lose perspective, their performance can suffer and attachment to negative experiences can be their downfall.

Meditation and gratitude offer ways to build more optimism in sales and protect mental health. When practiced consistently and used together they retrain the brain to become more resilient, happy and achieve better performance.

The Environment

Every day, salespeople must persevere through an abundance of negative triggers, experiences and thoughts. To better understand their environment, reviewing metrics on a standard outbound sales strategy will explain this:

Let’s say, you as a salesperson, starts with 100 new prospects.

Through calling and emailing you generate responses from 15-35% of your list. The equivalent of 15 to 35 prospects.

Of the prospects that you reach, 30-50% are qualified. This gives you an average of 8 to 12 qualified opportunities.

Then, from those 8 to 12 qualified opportunities you convert 30-50% into customers.

As a result, at the end of your sales efforts you have won an average of  3-5 customers from the initial lead list of 100 new prospects.

That’s a lot of work to strike gold. 

Being Optimistic in Sales is Hard

For most companies, these are generous conversion metrics and typically achieved by those with mature sales processes and good product market fit. 

Most outbound strategies being done by growing companies will yield closer to 2-3 customers – if they’re lucky.

With metrics like this, it is clear that in order to be successful, a salesperson must be persistent. During this process they’ll face countless negative experiences that can impact their mental health.

Negatives experiences like – Rejection, buyers ghosting, deals falling through and time spent on non-responsive buyers. Triggers and outcomes that are emotionally charged, which makes it easy to lose perspective. Opening the door to self-doubt, depression and anxiety. 

To combat these forces, salespeople need to learn how to become more optimistic and focus their attention on positive outcomes that happen daily, but are easily forgotten.

Positive experiences like – reaching the decision maker, setting a demo, or finally connecting with someone they have spent months trying to contact. Small wins that show progress, but are overshadowed by powerful negative events that impact salespeople long after they occur.

Even when a salesperson has a good day on paper by hitting their metrics and closing a deal; they can still leave the office feeling discouraged.

Understanding how salespeople perceive their environment can offer insight into why it is easy to become discouraged in sales and why their mental health can spiral when they become attached negative experiences.

Consciousness 

Consciousness is how a person perceives their environment. Within sales, it includes everything a salesperson is experiencing in the moment. 

John Yates, PhD, does an excellent job of explaining consciousness in his book The Mind Illuminated.

Your consciousness during a sales call is perceiving everything from the tone of the buyers voice; to your internal thoughts and feelings about them; to your colleague spilling coffee on your desk beside you.

There is a lot going on in a sales environment and a lot of information for consciousness to try and process. Therefore, to be efficient, consciousness is divided into two parts.

Part 1 – Attention: 

This part is focused on the object of attention

These objects can be internal experiences like your thoughts, emotions or feelings. Or the objects can be external experiences like situations, physical objects and events that surround you.

When you are focused on an object of attention, it dominates your conscious experience. For example, during a sales call you may be focused on the buyer’s tone – the object of attention – and trying to understand what it means: 

Are they interested? Did I catch them at a good time? Are they in a good mood?

Part 2 – Peripheral Awareness (Awareness): 

This part is scanning the environment around the object you are focused on and looking for new things that are more important. Scanning is being done both for internal and external experiences.

For example, awareness is scanning the environment around you, while your attention is focused on understanding the buyer’s tone. As your colleague’s spilt coffee inches towards your computer, awareness brings the risk of computer damage to the focus of attention. Your attention moves away from trying to understand the buyer’s tone to now focus on stopping the spilt coffee.

When attention is alternating between multiple objects (tone and spilt coffee) it is called multitasking. Focus between objects is alternating so fast, that it appears seamless – but it’s not.

In our example, you’re able to clean up the coffee, while still being able to understand the buyer. But it’s not perfect and depending on how focused your are on the coffee, some important details in the conversation will be missed.

This happens because consciousness has limits, just like your body getting physically tired during a workout. 

Attention and awareness are sharing the same energy source. When you focus attention on one thing to gather more detail, awareness of the surrounding environment decreases and becomes less clear. 

For example, while reading this post – detail of the text is clear and easy to understand, but surrounding plants, people and sounds will be blurry. 

The energy consciousness is using to to focus attention and scan your environment is being shared.

Attention & Awareness Are a Team

Attention and awareness are constantly working together; feeding information to a salesperson about the world around them. This information needs to be accurate so they can respond and behave in a way that benefits them. 

When either one fails to perform we are likely to overreact, make bad decisions or misinterpret a situation.These situations are also more likely to occur when we’re deeply focused on something that requires all of our attention. 

Situations like this happen all the time. During heated arguments, a break-up or when an important deal falls through. Experiences that require so much focus to process, it has left awareness blind and unable to properly scan the environment.

This is called losing perspective or having tunnel vision. Attention becomes so focused on one thing, there is no energy to process anything else.

To make matters worse, negative thoughts or experiences are powerful and standout. Your attention and focus become obsessed with them, making it hard to breakaway. 

Research on 12,000 journal entries found that the negative effect of a setback at work on happiness was more than twice as strong as the positive effect of an event that signaled progress. Setbacks were also more than three times stronger at increasing frustration, compared to the power of progress in reducing frustration.

With awareness being less effective at scanning, because attention is stuck processing negative experiences; positive experiences like a call going well or a demo getting booked are easily forgotten. 

Multi-tasking in Sales

Though an event like “rejection” may be over in an instant, negative experiences tend to hold a salesperson’s attention long after they occur. 

In many cases, you could still be thinking about getting rejected in the morning, while in the midst of talking to a new client in the afternoon. To make matters worse, it’s easy to be unaware of the impact it is having on your performance.

While engaging with a new customer, you may be thinking:

That person this morning was so rude…Did I say something wrong to them? Were they just in a bad mood?…SHIT…. What did the person I’m talking to just say? Was that a buying signal?

Work and sales is go, go, go and rarely is enough time spent processing negative events and thoughts all at once. As a result, consciousness and attention keeps going back to the experience whenever there is spare energy.

Getting caught on these emotions and thoughts makes it easy to underperform. Distractions, mistakes and errors occur that can trigger more negative experiences, leading to spiraling and declining mental health.

Negativity Bias

This tendency to spend more time contemplating negative experiences compared to positive ones is completely natural. It’s called Negativity bias.

Even when two things (positive vs negative) are of equal intensity, more negative natured experiences have a greater effect on your psychological state.

This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Ancestors who were more connected and aware of bad things, had a better chance of survival. This process helped our ancestors focus their attention and store details about threats to memory.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford, states negative experiences generally require more thinking and information to process. Therefore, this increases the likelihood of salespeople to dwell on negative outcomes compared to positive ones.

Relationship research also confirms this idea that bad is stronger than good. It showed that increasing positive behaviours in a relationship will have less of an effect than decreasing negative behaviours. This provides further support for the diary research mentioned previously.

Unfortunately within sales however; salespeople are not always able to control the negative experiences that occur in their environment. 

They can however, control how much time and energy is spent processing them. To do this, salespeople need to strengthen the quality of their consciousness. 

By increasing the quality of their attention and awareness they gain control of their thoughts, emotions and behaviors. They can learn how to unstick from the negative experiences and redirect focus towards the positive ones.

Enter meditation and gratitude.

Meditation 

John Yates explains how meditation helps improve the quality of consciousness and achieve two primary objectives:

Objective One: Stabilize Attention

Stabilizing Attention means you’re able to intentionally direct and sustain your focus on something for longer. For example, when a bad call happens, you can fight natural tendencies to focus on negative experiences and focus on the positive learning instead. 

Stabilizing attention also helps you control the scope of attention. This means reducing the number of distractions that break your focus and capture your attention. In other words, you can be present with a client, rather than thinking about a deal falling through a few hours earlier

Objective Two: Develops Mindfulness

Developing mindfulness is the second objective of meditation.

It allows you to recognize your options, choose responses wisely and therefore control how you respond to your environment. Mindfulness helps keep awareness strong, under times of stress to reduce tunnel vision.

When salespeople lose perspective, their awareness narrows and attention on negative events or thoughts intensifies. Their perception of the world around them fundamentally gets smaller and darker.

Improving mindfulness helps keep awareness open so it can continually scan for positive experiences that attention can latch on to. By keeping the positives visible, it stops thoughts and emotions from becoming entangled on one negative experience. 

By achieving both objectives salespeople can learn to become more optimistic and stay focused on the progress being made. Progress that gives meaning to their work and helps them feel in control of their performance.

Research done on insurance agents measured how important optimism was in sales. As it turns out – optimism is very important. Results showed, agents who scored in the top 10% on an assessment of optimism sold 88% more than insurance agents who scored in the bottom 10%.

Practicing meditation regularly can help stabilize attention and make salespeople more mindful of the environment around them.

Meditation 101

There are various mediation techniques a salesperson can use to achieve the two objectives above. The three most common are:

  • Breathing techniques – where the object of attention is the breath. 
  • Guided meditations – where the object of attention are visual images being described.
  • Body scans – where the object of attention is physical parts of the body.

They all train consciousness in roughly the same way. 

First, they stabilize attention by strengthening the ability to focus on one object for a period of time and control the direction of this focus. This is done by focusing on the movement of the breath, the movement of visual images or the movement between parts of the body.

They also help improve mindfulness, by helping salespeople become aware of their thoughts. 

During meditation, while you’re focusing on your breath, awareness will naturally try to bring new thoughts or experiences forward for you to focus on. Thoughts that appear more interesting and tempt you to shift focus and give them attention. Sometimes these will be very sticky negative thoughts or experiences that are emotionally charged and hard to let go of.

Mindfulness does not mean you never break focus, it simply means you build awareness of these wandering thoughts and when attention gets stuck to them. 

With practice and using a technique called noting, meditation teaches you how to let go and detach from negative experiences. By learning this skill, salespeople can remain objective under times of stress and not lose site of the “big picture.”

Meditation helps keep the positives in perspective so optimism can remain high.

Practice Makes Perfect

With consistent practice, meditation strengthens consciousness and increases the amount of energy that attention and awareness can draw from. With more energy, salespeople will perform better and improve their mental health.

When you exercise and workout, you have more energy to be physically active. Meditation is a workout for the brain. It increases your endurance so you have more energy to be aware of your environment and control what experiences you focus your attention on.

By increasing the amount of available energy, Yates says the quality of both attention and awareness improves. For salespeople, it can feel like a superpower that achieves the following:

  • Your awareness fades less when attention is very focused on an object.
  • Awareness does a better job providing context and makes individuals more sensitive to how objects relate to each other.
  • Awareness processes information more effectively making it better at selecting the right objects for Attention to focus on.
  • Attention is directed toward the most important objects more frequently
  • Attention becomes clear, more intense and can analyze things more effectively.
  • Awareness remains strong, reducing the times attention get stuck. Perception remains more objective with less time for attention to turn them subjective.

Studies have shown that mediation can improve everything from reducing stress; to anxiety control; to enhancing self-awareness. Improvements that will improve sales performance and protect mental health.

It’s easy to imagine how much better a salesperson will perform if they experience even a small improvement in how they control their thoughts, emotions and behaviours.

Meditation provides one way to improve the quality of consciousness that helps salespeople keep progress in perspective. Practicing gratitude compliments meditation by training awareness to scan for positive experiences in their environment more frequently.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude means learning how to focus attention on positive experiences. Positives that get overpowered by negativity bias and sticky negative experiences that occur more regularly within sales.

When learning about gratitude, one concept that is important to understand is: 

Attention trains awareness on what to prioritize when scanning the environment.

As already discussed, negativity bias  means humans are naturally primed to scan and focus more on negative experiences. Gratitude helps rewires this process.

The more time and effort attention spends focused on an experience, the more salient related objects in the environment will become. Essentially attention is teaching awareness:

 “Objects or experiences like the one I’m focused on are important. Keep an eye-out for more.”

This process is easy to relate to, by thinking about things that stand out to you on a daily basis.

If you are a dog owner, your awareness will be more likely to catch the cute dog walking across the busy street than your friend who is a cat person.

A person with tattoos, will be more aware of the fine details in the design of tattoos on others, compared to someone with no tattoos.

If you spend several hours a day focused on your phone, you’re training awareness to prioritize notifications as very important. As a result, you might be mid-conversation with someone at dinner and one notification will break your focus. Your attention leaves the conversation, prioritizes the notification and narrows in to check the phone.

This happens all the time in Media as well. 

The more time and attention a story receives, the more important the audience will perceive the topic to be. Topics that are negative will be more sticky, captivating and hold attention for longer.

Gratitude in Sales

The same is true within the sales environment. Not only are negative experiences more common, negativity bias will make consciousness prioritize these experiences. Then, the more time our attention is stuck focusing on these experiences, the more potent other negative experiences will become.

That’s why it’s so easy to lose sight of progress. Even though you’re doing the right things and advancing sales, it can still feel like you’re drowning, failing and not cut out for sales. 

But this is not true.

You just need to regain perspective and train your attention to spend more time focused on positive experiences. Overtime your awareness will learn to prioritize positive experiences that also become more sticky.

Gratitude Re-trains Consciousness

When gratitude is practiced consistently, more time and effort is spent focused on the positives. 

This is how a salesperson can become more optimistic. They spend less time dwelling on the negatives, remain objective and keep the bigger picture in mind. Positives lead to more positives, creating momentum and more happiness.

This momentum a salesperson feels is the result of neural pathways in the brain being strengthened, which releases more dopamine and serotonin. Focusing on small wins means progress, which leads to you feeling happy (serotonin) about what you have accomplished. 

Progress also makes work meaningful and makes daunting sales targets appear more achievable. When sales targets are perceived as achievable, dopamine levels keep motivation high and continue to drive more success.

Research done by MIT showed that the pleasurable feeling that comes with success (even small) is brought about by a surge in dopamine. This chemical surge tells brain cells to keep doing whatever they did that led to success, causing success to soar.

Going back to the journal research done by Teresa Amabile – her team found the best way to motivate people on a daily basis to facilitate these small wins. Keep positive experiences in perspective.

Data shows that consistent small wins are better at producing happiness than one big one like closing a deal. Life satisfaction is 22% more likely for those with a steady stream of minor accomplishments than those who have one major one.

Benefits of Gratitude

Benefits of practicing gratitude can also be seen across many areas of a salesperson’s life – not just performance. Research has been done to support all of these findings:

  1. Allows toxic emotions to be let go.
  2. Reduces pain.
  3. Improves sleep quality.
  4. Aids in stress regulation.
  5. Reduces anxiety and depression.

By practicing gratitude salespeople can reprogram their brain to combat the negative rich sales environment. A technique that will help protect mental health and keep performance consistent, rather than suffering from ups and downs.

Key Take-Aways

Negative experiences within sales will happen and all salespeople have internal biases that make consciousness stick to them. When this happens it becomes easy to lose perspective, which impacts both sales performance and mental health.

To help stop this from happening, practicing meditation and gratitude can help salespeople achieve the following:

  1. Keep positive experiences that happen daily – visible to you – by improving the quality of consciousness (awareness and attention) and how the environment is being perceived.
  2. Combat the effects of negativity bias.
  3. Increase the amount of conscious energy that keeps them grounded and resilient during stressful periods in sales.
  4. Become more mindful of when their focus and attention gets stuck processing negative experiences.
  5. Learn to let go of negative experiences and thoughts that can hurt performance and mental health.
  6. Focus and control their attention on the buyer so they can be more effective at closing business.
  7. Become more optimistic by focusing on positive experiences, which increases happiness and sales performance.
  8. See progress and build momentum from one small positive experience to the next

Spending time practicing and learning a new skill or technique is never easy. In particular, practicing gratitude and meditation requires discipline, because the benefits will not be immediate. It takes time to reprogram how your brain naturally wants to perceives the world around it.

If you stick with it, however, your sales performance, happiness at work and mental health will change for the better. Your thoughts, emotions and behaviour will be in your control and no longer things that are reactive. The sales environment is harsh and you’ll finally be able to respond and navigate it – in a mentally healthy way.

About The Author

Jeff Riseley is currently the Founder of the Sales Health Alliance and Mental Health Advocate. With over a decade of sales experience – Jeff understands the importance of Mental Health in achieving peak sales performance.

Jeff combines his sales (Sales Mentor Alliance) and Mental Health expertise to improve sales performance through a mix of sales mentorship and mental health best practices. His strategies have helped sales teams improve their sales process, while helping them become more motivated, resilient and better equipped to tackle stressful events within sales.

He is currently delivering these strategies through on-site workshops, coaching and speaking engagements. To explore working with Jeff contact him at [email protected]

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