The War Within

A Salesperson’s internal war that rages every day and 3 ways to win each battle

First and most importantly, I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or anyone that can give needed mental health medical advice.  I am, however, a salesperson who has had success and failures in the constant battle that goes on inside the mind of anyone who sells. 

Mental Warfare

I describe it as a battle or a war because that is exactly what it feels like as salespeople venture out into their territory.  We go from calling on a current customer who loves us and gives us a feeling of real accomplishment.  We have created a profitable, positive, long-term customer relationship.  The very next moment, we make a cold call, which ends abruptly with the prospect telling us, “I don’t have time for another salesperson today.” 

And the battle rages on.  One minute bolstered by positive results and the next, brought right down to one of our worst fears, rejection.

The Cost of the Battle

The battle often comes at a great cost to us and our company.

  • Reduced prospecting.  Self-doubt and the dreaded Imposter Syndrome keeps us from calling on prospects.
  • Reduced Closing.  To ask a closing style question, we need the confidence to know we are recommending the best fit for our customers.  The mind battle lowers our confidence and makes us hesitate or not ask for the close at all.
  • Employee turnover.  At its ultimate level, if our salesperson becomes overwhelmed by this mental war, they will often quit to do something else.  Sometimes, this is the best choice.  The reward of a sales career did not appeal enough to this person to persist through the battle.  Nothing wrong if that is the best decision for them.  Just make sure that one of these mind games might not help them continue the mountain climb to sales success.

Mind Games

Here are several mind games you can play to quiet that battle.  Some work some of the time.  None of them work all the time.  You just have to stay in the fight.  If one doesn’t work, try another or a combination.  Keep in mind that some of us are better at these than others. 

  1. Fake it till you make it:  We’ve all heard this one.  I find it’s only helpful for a short period of time.  It’s good advice for those lacking confidence due to inexperience.  One important note on this mental tactic, never lie or deceive.  Faking it doesn’t mean you make up technical aspects or give advice you don’t have the knowledge to give.  Also, while you are faking it, your customer probably knows.  While they may allow it for a short time period, they are fully expecting you to gain the true expertise needed to be their trusted salesperson.

I have seen salespeople live by this for most of their sales career.  Instead of putting in the effort to “make it”, they operate nervously for years in the “fake it” mode.  For me, I’m comfortable faking the confidence which gives me the courage to make that cold call.  However, I would feel phony if I didn’t strive to become knowledgeable enough to have true confidence (making it).

2. Run on someone else’s confidence in you:  This is an external twist to “Fake it till you Make it”.  Find someone in your life that believes in you and can provide helpful advice as you fight the mental battles in selling.  Suggestions are your sales manager, another salesperson in your company, your spouse, or a mentor.  Seek their advice to build your mental strength.  I was lucky enough to have a sales manager that provided this support in my mental battles in sales.  He fought these same mental battles himself in the same market and in some cases with the same customers.  His confidence in me meant everything in my battle with self-confidence.  Equally important was his ability to provide another perspective.  When I felt like I was getting nowhere with my sales or I had made an irreparable mistake, he was able to provide a different perspective.  Sharing his own experience plus that of all the salespeople he managed was enough to make me feel like I wasn’t the only salesperson who felt this way. 

A fellow salesperson who you can trust and confide in is also a great person to help you in your journey to mental strength in sales.  They sell the same products in roughly the same geography to many of the same types of customers.  The old saying, “Misery loves company” is fitting.  However, don’t ruminate on the misery. Vent with your colleague and then seek out a solution.  Constant venting of all the negative aspects without seeking a solution can become overburdensome.  They might feel like you are dumping all your problems on them. 

The most important element of this type of help is that you must feel that the other person has your best interest at heart.  These moments of doubt require you to trust the other person.  To help build that trust, remember that every person has these issues.  It doesn’t matter how confident someone appears on the outside.  On the inside, everyone struggles with this battle.  Don’t be afraid to share your struggle first.  It might surprise you to find out who else is having the same issues. 

3. Turn around and look down the mountain:  This technique is helpful when you feel overburdened or lack confidence during a long journey.  When climbing a mountain, it is common to, “keep your eyes on the prize”, the mountain top.  That’s great, except it can often seem like the goal is so far away.  You’ve been climbing and climbing and progress feels slow.  One mental technique to battle this is to turn around and look at how far you have climbed so far. 

In sales, the journey up the mountain can seem equally far away.  It starts at the beginning of your career when you have no credibility and no customers yet.  All roads are uphill at this point.  Sitting in my first sales meeting, I realized that I had the lowest sales results by far in my business.  My territory was less than 25% of some of my peers.  To battle the internal self-doubt, I had to look back over my life and realize all the other mountains I had climbed in my short life.  Maybe this sales mountain would win, but I would still have all my previous accomplishments to look back on. 

The mental challenge of climbing the sales mountain can even come later in your career after a very large and important customer quits doing business with you.  Ten years into my sales career, I was riding pretty high on myself.  I hit sales targets, earned awards, and built a healthy territory.  Then, one of my larger customers quit doing business with me.  It was a huge blow to my confidence.  It shook my feelings of invincibility.  After all, I had been publicly recognized in my company for being a good salesperson.  And now, I had the embarrassment of losing a large customer who was also important to our financial success. 

Seeking the counsel of those I was close to, several advised me on how far I had come to get to this point.  They had to point out the state of sales in this geography when I started and how far it had come.  They pointed out that I had done far greater things than overcoming this momentary blip on the radar.  They reassured me that every successful salesperson goes through this experience at some point. 

Whether or not one of these techniques helps you, there is one important point to keep in mind.  The first step in fighting a mental war is awareness.  Just knowing that every other salesperson out there is fighting their own mental battle is enough to put your mind at ease.  No matter how calm, cool, and collected they appear, they still run into these struggles when selling. 

And as with all of us, the war within rages on.

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