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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)

The Sale, First and Foremost, Lies Within

In his Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow's interpretation of the concept known as self–actualization (see also Wikipedia, about.com Psychology, among others) basically states that virtually everything we do is to satisfy a need. We all want to feel important and worthy and fulfilled and relevant—and we strive quite hard to achieve those feelings. Most of the time we are not even aware of the underlying emotions and psyche that give rise to our drive, but the drama continues to play itself out precisely according to the way we are wired (another complicated concept to define). And for those of us in the selling profession, Maslow's view is a crucial concept that, in my opinion, should be given attention. Without intervention, we will perform, unabated, according to how we are wired, where I am using this latter term in a sense that encompasses our neurological make–up, as well as the influence our past experiences have had on our behavior patterns. In other words, an awareness of the factors that contributed to that so–called 'wiring' will give us some control over what we do rather than be at the mercy of whatever traits and experiences we were given in the lottery of life. If you stop to think about it, the selling profession is arguably the only profession that not only forces us to participate in the drama that unfolds as our life, but it also allows us to proactively write the script. And the kind of personal growth that takes place in the process will benefit us both inside the sales arena as well as outside of it. Note: I believe that the term selling encompasses a role greater than merely what we do when we are serving the needs of our clients and customers (see, for example, my poem on Life's A Pitch.)

I have always believed that there is a cause and effect to what we do (albeit it usually plays itself out on a subconscious level), including in our selling endeavors. I recall a note I took from a book entitled Peak Performers, by Charles Garfield. Of the scores of terrific points Mr. Garfield makes in that text, there is one that is worth repeating here; namely, on page 264 he says that peak performers are "motivated by achievement in their work and full development of their human faculties". Pause and think about that observation for a minute. Inherent to that statement is the belief that each one of us can fulfill the potential we were individually endowed with. Now not all of us are currently performing to that potential; but those words reassure us that we are certainly all capable of doing so—that there is no reason why we cannot perform at a higher level—we simply need to convince ourselves of the fact. In other words, we salespeople each bring something uniquely special to everything we do, including to our prospects and clients—an intangible that harbors the secret to our individual sales success. It can be copied and imitated, but it can never be truly duplicated because each of us is exceptional. It is this fact that sustains my belief that every single salesperson has the ability not only to excel but to do it in a manner that befits who he/she fundamentally is. The same traits that attract a specific spouse to us also make us compatible with a certain niche of people that will help us attain our goals. The challenge is to uncover the personal formula that makes use of our individual gifts. There is certainly no need to try and 'be someone else'. Note: there is an updated edition of Mr. Garfield's book, but my quotation is taken from the earlier version.

In the 1930's, what was a ground–breaking study at the time was completed. Its findings are still being debated today. Nevertheless, for your consideration, I will summarize its main finding. It has come to be known as the Hawthorne Effect study and it suggests to me a cause and effect relationship between a person's self–esteem, self–respect, etc. and his/her performance. Notwithstanding any controversy that might surround a study undertaken over 80 years ago, I admit to having carried its moral with me through two and a half decades and still counting. To paraphrase the original investigators, the subjects of the study responded not to money or to other motivational gimmicks, but to the attention that they received as a result of being the focus of the study. To the people in the study, attention equaled validation—it told them that they mattered. If we recall Abraham Maslow's theory, then I think it is very logical to conclude that a healthy view of oneself will lead to a superior performance. If you buy into this concept, then the investigators' contention that the improved performance noted in the subjects of the Hawthorne Study took place within the context of their own talent and motives becomes particularly relevant to those of us in sales. In other words, the enhanced results were personal to each of the subjects in the study—their subsequent performance did not rely on anything or anyone outside of themselves. Those people improved based on what they already possessed—they did not need to seek out an external magic formula or to try and become someone they were not. This fact should be very encouraging to all of us in sales, especially so to our managers who know from experience how difficult it is to try and unilaterally motivate someone indefinitely. The motivation has to come from within if long–term changes are to take place, and each of us has complete control over only one person. To quote an old sales trainer of mine, 'if it's to be, it's up to me'.

Notwithstanding the fact that each of us in sales can motivate ourselves to do more prospecting, to muster the willpower to do the tasks we would rather not do, and so on, the most important realization I come away with from the notion that people need to know that they matter, that they make a difference, is that those of us in the selling profession are being shown on a daily basis not only that we matter but that we make a huge difference in the lives of other people. The moment a struggling or insecure salesperson believes (and accepts) this fact, the desire to self–actualize cannot help but turn him/her into the type of person that prompted Charles Garfield to state, on page 266 of Peak Performers, "in a peak performer we see the kind 0f person every one of us has been at his or her best".

Note: Our self–esteem and self–respect speak to our core personality; hence it makes perfect sense to me that how we feel about ourselves will impact our sales production. Under my academic hat, I have spent a great deal of time studying this phenomenon and I have seen changes in my own career as my personality changed through time. My conclusion is that our self-beliefs are linked to the host of factors that define who we are (e.g. our upbringing, our formative experiences, our self-perception, etc.) and, in a selling situation, I feel very strongly that these traits play themselves out in response to neurological impulses that originate in our Sympathetic Nervous System, with perhaps the fight or flight response to those situations being the most important (as alluded to in an earlier article I called Behind the Sales Encounter). A detailed summary of my views on this dynamic can be found in my electronic e-book Pathways to Sold: The Science Behind the Sale, which is available through Amazon Kindle.

Until next time ... Happy Selling!

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