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Pathways to the Sale

(Musings, Anecdotes & Insights by Dominic Spano, Ph.D.)

The wise teacher leads you to the threshold of your own mind (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

Behind The Sales Encounter

This is the third article in which I convey my belief that salespeople who are not endowed with natural God–given talent can still become outstanding at their work by understanding some of the scientific principles that underlie our performance out in the field—in particular those of an emotional or psychological nature that are corollary to the Sympathetic branch of our Central Nervous System. In my first article, entitled Real Estate Expiries, I noted that my own particular awakening to the power of the dynamics that I believe are linked to our Sympathetic Nervous System occurred as a result of my exposure to a young sales rep who joined our office and immediately began to separate himself from the rest of us. The follow–up article on Sales Resistance & Objections suggested that we sell who we are and it also alluded to the influence, on our behavior, of the 'fight or flight' component of our Sympathetic Nervous System. In turn, this influence will ripple to our sales results. The paragraphs below will take those thoughts a step or two further and, hopefully, lead to ideas that help generate a stronger sales call.

To start off with, I am not a believer in the existence of a magic set of words or phrases that lead to magical results. Although I do see value in the strategic use of 'canned phrases', in my own career they were not the formula that unlocked my hidden abilities. A canned presentation kept me focussed and ensured that the points that had to be covered were indeed presented; but in and of itself, it did not lead to results that were indicative of my true potential. Instead, I believe there is a state of mind that is conducive to doing the things that are necessary to attain success in sales. Furthermore, I believe that we can all achieve that state of mind and consequently program ourselves for superior results than we thought we were capable of. For one thing, the field of Cognitive Psychology (see, for example, Wikipedia or About.com Psychology among others) notes that a person's behavior can be modified by making changes to his/her cognitions. And I think most people would agree that we tend to perform at the level that is consistent with our beliefs—no more and no less. Hence, by elevating our core belief regarding our ability to excel, we should be able to increase our sales production accordingly. Or, as people like Dr. Wayne Dyer might say, if we don't like the person that we've been up until today, there is no reason why we cannot be a different person from tomorrow onwards.

Let us not forget that some people have not only been handed major challenges in their lives, whether as a result of accidents or other tragedies, but they have taken on those challenges head–on and, in so doing, became role models for others (see, for example, Rick Hansen, Terry Fox, among others). In the larger scheme of things, most of us have it pretty easy and we need to count our blessings. But there is a major lesson we can learn from the exemplary lives of these extraordinary people; namely, they teach us that we all have untapped potential within us that, when called upon, will push us to extraordinary heights. Indeed, we are all like the tip of the proverbial iceberg—there is so much unseen potential that is just waiting to be developed. The selling profession merely asks that we raise our bar, seize the gauntlet it casts in front of us, recognize the unique talents we were each given, then accept the challenges She places in our path for they will lead us to the success we seek. Those extraordinary people noted above remind us that the person on the inside is still the same, regardless of the exterior circumstances or appearance. Hence, their winning attitude persists—and so should ours. Things that might make us succumb to the temptation to quit should instead motivate us further. And this is where I think the Sympathetic Nervous System, along with the ripple effect it creates, is key. If we internalize an elevated standard that we firmly believe we are capable of attaining, then it will come to pass. But, as we all know, nothing in life comes easy and, with rare exceptions, nothing is ever handed to us. We actually have to work for it. We have to earn it. We have to become it. An understanding of our cognitions in order to become more effective salespeople requires some initial work—not a lot mind you, but some effort is indeed needed if we are to come to psychological terms with what is happening in our nervous system whenever we have anxious or challenging encounters as opposed to relaxing ones. Once we are able to apply those concepts to our own cognitions, we will be in possession of a powerful tool that is at our disposal whenever we call upon it, and the potential for growth will be unlimited. Furthermore, in my experience, an understanding of the sales dynamics that I believe are at play as a result of the Sympathetic Nervous System is the quickest route to the modification of, for lack of better words, 'sales behavior' and, hence, to an improved sales performance—especially since the fight or flight reaction originates there and issues surrounding the locus of control can likely be traced to it as well. Add to this the fact that some people are governed by an external locus of control while others see life through an internal one and it becomes obvious that human interactions can result in a significant amount of 'push–pull' behavior, which can make closing a sale quite challenging. Hence, a little insight can lead to big results. (Note: A detailed discussion of these principles as they apply specifically to the selling environment can be found in my ebook Pathways to Sold: The Science Behind the Sale, available through both Smashwords and Amazon.)

When I first realized that the dynamics of sales behavior, whether created by the customer or by the sales rep, are mirrored (hence recognizable) in our personal/social lives as well, I began to understand that I could control my sales results more than I thought I could. After all, if I had a say in deciding which social situations I could incorporate into my life based on whether or not I was compatible with them, then why could I not use the same scrutiny when deciding which business circumstances were compatible with me? Quite frankly, with this attitude I started choosing better prospects, I actually parted company with others, and the return on my time was elevated. I had caught on to the notion that our personality is at play both at work and in our social lives and when push comes to shove, a person tends to revert to his/her core self and to the behavior it entails. Thus, changing the core beliefs can change the outcome. The following two excerpts from my book The Defendant: Insights and Motivation for the Salesperson (in everyone) might illustrate this. The speaker in the first passage is a productive real estate sales rep who, while speaking to the protagonist of the story (who happens to be in a slump), reveals that his recovery from a failed marriage has shaped his current attitude towards his sales job. As is the case with many of us humans, one event in his life affected him deeply and, as a result, his cognitions changed, which in turn have influenced the subsequent evolution of his career.

"I used to think it was my fault. And I kept thinking like that until I stopped producing at work. I'm not kidding! During that period I couldn't sell a house if my life depended on it. I hit rock bottom, man. That proverbial rock bottom! I got physically ill and I couldn't produce worth a crap. At that point in my life she had been the only person I had ever allowed to get close to me, and boy did it ever backfire. It got to the point that I either had to change or self–destruct. Thank God our survival instinct is so strong, for that made changing possible for me.

Was it easy to change, you ask? Hell no! God help me, I'm ashamed to admit that I still have nostalgic dreams every once in a while—all these years later. But I've trained myself to think with my head, not my heart—'cause I'm no loser. And that is the attitude I take to my clients. I figure that my first marriage was sent to me for a reason. Hurt me once, shame on you; hurt me twice, shame on me!"

Later on, in a drunken stupor, the protagonist of The Defendant is reflecting on the downward spiral that has defined the recent phase of his sales career and, in a moment of introspection, stumbles upon some truths he had never considered previously. Here is what he says to his colleague:

"Is it so terrible to let go of the need to be liked ... and instead earn—demand, even—the right to be respected? Is there really such a thing as pleasing others? Has anyone ever really been able to do that successfully, no matter how well–meaning their attempt? As far as I know, the best anyone has ever been able to do has been to create the illusion that they are people–pleasers. Some have even done it successfully for a short period of time. But no one—and I mean no one—has ever been able to give another person power over him and have that person acknowledge it—an inch is never enough, a mile is never enough, an eternity will not be enough. The moment that some of that energy is needed for oneself, the person being, for lack of a better word, 'pleased' is inevitably disappointed in the friend. His basic, selfish, human survival needs take over. You may strive for 'give and take' relationships, but the reality is that, in the end, you have to please yourself."

At the very least, I hope the preceding excerpts suggest that there is such a thing as good business sense—and some personalities come by it a little more naturally than others. Nonetheless, virtually every salesperson who has ever struggled in his/her career eventually questions his/her perceptions, cognitions, etc. Otherwise, he/she will quickly learn that the selling field has a remarkable ability to weed out those who are not suited for a career on its turf. It is not surprising that successful sales reps have a knack for making the best possible decision at every given moment. For those of us who work strictly on commission, incorporating a good business mentality can be the difference between survival in the selling profession or switching careers. On this point, I must say that I feel strongly about how we view our clients, customers and prospects. Namely, although our interactions with them can certainly be classified as a 'relationship' of some sort and, as such, it is prone to many of the usual social norms, rules and etiquette, it is first and foremost a business relationship and this fact should usually not be set aside. As long as this reality is firmly established in our psyche, I believe our fight or flight response will be programmed for behavior that is in harmony with that thought and a sale will likely follow. In other words, when we accept our prospects as 'business partners' whose needs will lead us to a sale, then we will be capable of 'qualifying' them accordingly and, when necessary, willing and able to 'drop' the ones that use up our time inefficiently. As difficult, or perhaps cruel, as this attitude may seem to some people, it does delineate 'business behavior' versus 'social behavior'. Salespeople who do not recognize the boundaries tend to experience a lot of heartache. Furthermore, it speaks to their emotional and psychological needs and to the state of their fight or flight response.

Let us now pause to look at a real–life example of people attempting to change their cognitions so that they can perform at a higher level. Those of you who follow professional golf have undoubtedly heard the analysts say "he couldn't close the deal", in reference to a player who led the tournament but blew it on the last day. (Tiger Woods is probably the only modern–day golfing professional who is exempt from that assessment). 'Closing' involves the notion of asking someone for something, and for many people this means overcoming the subconscious feeling that "I don't deserve it", or "I am not worthy of getting it", or some other thought that creates doubt. Most often, these are feelings traceable to our young years and they are reflective of insecurities that have brought a lot of residue and scars into our adulthood—scars that affect how the fight or flight response plays itself out. Hence it is easy to see that some salespeople might indeed have difficulty closing; that is, it feels too much like an intrusion—the end result of a ripple effect that has emotional and psychological roots. Golf being a solitary sport, I believe that the reason some golfers seek the services of a sports psychologist is precisely to try and modify their cognitions so that their thoughts and emotions are kept in proper check in order to achieve the result they desire. Selling is similar to golf in that regard and some of us need to modify our own cognitions as well; and when we do, we find that cold–calling is not such an unpleasant task after all (because rejection has less power over us), asking for the business does not feel as intrusive as it used to (because our self–esteem is not on the line), dropping undesirable prospects is actually beneficial to our business (because we respect our time and what we bring to the table more than we did in the past), etc. In my text Pathways to Sold: The Science Behind the Sale, I isolate the aspects of the fight or flight reaction that I perceive to be at the root of this behavior, with specific reference to their influence on the selling field.

Although we cannot directly control our customers' actions, we can, by understanding the psychology behind that action, present our data in the manner most appropriate to the circumstances. Furthermore, we all know from our life experiences that some people are dominant while others are subordinate or submissive. Where people lie on this continuum says quite a bit about their personalities. Hence many sales trainers teach us to sell to the various personality types (four major types seem to be the most common breakdown; for example, D. Forbes Ley, in his book The Best Seller refers to: Expressive, Driver, Analytical, Amiable, but similar classifications by other instructors abound as well). Other trainers take this a step further and suggest that we 'mirror' the personality we are selling to. Nevertheless, there are salespeople who never seem to assert themselves. Sometimes it is out of fear, sometimes out of the need to enable, sometimes out of low self–esteem, sometimes out of a lack of self–confidence, and so on. As Mike Ferry, a well–known real estate sales trainer, once told an audience I was part of: 'You can either run your own life, or other people can run it for you'. I re–iterate, I believe that the unlocking of the Sympathetic Nervous System holds the secret to improved sales performance regardless of talent level. To be sure, talent is important and the cream always seems to find a way of rising to the top; but an understanding of the nuances of the Sympathetic Nervous System and the programming it engenders in different individuals can bring the rest of us up several notches. In other words, those of us who are not blessed with natural instincts and ability need not wallow in the belief that we cannot compete with our more talented peers—we can indeed compete, and then some.

Let me end with a personal example. In my real estate career, I had a preference for door–knocking; and there were times I knocked on 300 or 400 doors a day. Then again, there were days that, for whatever reason, I did not knock on but a few doors before giving myself permission to pack it in for the day. Yet, there was no denying that on the days I stuck it out, even if I didn't have my heart fully into it, I generated leads that somewhere down the road turned into deals. In other words, the 'numbers game' definitely works. Moreover, we have all had the experience of putting in just a little more effort and watching it turn into substantially more business. Even a small positive increment can add up to a substantial difference in a salesperson's production. And that is what the Sympathetic Nervous System is all about—in my opinion, it has a large say in why we do the things we do. Hence, I feel strongly about it. In many respects, the machinations of the Sympathetic Nervous System hold the key to removing the hurdles or obstacles that have been preventing so many sales reps from doing the things they know they should do and wish they did more of. Indeed, a driven sales rep can increase his/her production dramatically. Add to this the fact that he/she is simultaneously increasing his/her understanding of the client's behavior and you can begin to see the exciting possibilities that can ensue and which will turn your career into an addicting ride from which you will never want to get off.

Solution to Riddle in The Expectation of Making the Sale: A close is not a selfish act; it is a helpful act

Until next time ... Happy Selling!

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