How to build resilience in sales: Part 1

The article below is written by the Sales Health Alliance and originally published on their website as one piece; part 2 can be found here

Learning how to build resilience in sales is an important skill to learn that is rarely taught.

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 build resilience and achieve better performance.

The Environment

Every day, salespeople must persevere through an abundance of negative triggers, experiences and thoughts. This is why it’s important for them to build resilience in sales. 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 if they don’t know how to build resilience.

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’ Role in Helping to Build Resilience 

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 That Build Resilience Together

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. This makes it hard to build resilience when we lose focus.

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?…. 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 behaviours. They can learn how to unstick from the negative experiences and redirect focus towards the positive ones.

Enter meditation and gratitude (part 2).