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Mental Toughness and Sales Success

Posted By John Chapin, Monday, August 5, 2019
In an article two months ago, I mentioned the five foundational personality qualities necessary for sales success: people skills, mental toughness, work ethic, attitude, and character (honesty and integrity). If someone is missing any one of these, they won’t make it in sales over the long haul. Of the five, I find that the one that is most overlooked is mental toughness. Not just in the initial search when looking for a new sales rep, but also after the person is hired. When someone comes to you, they either have good people skills, work ethic, attitude and character, or they don’t, you can’t teach those. They also come to you with some level of mental toughness. It may be high, low, or somewhere in the middle, but they at least have some. That said, mental toughness is a skill that can be, and should be, developed after they’ve been hired, similar to sales skills and product knowledge. This is where many companies miss the boat. While almost all companies have some form of product and sales training, very few do any mental toughness training, and mental toughness can make or break a salesperson. 

Why mental-toughness training?

There’s a saying that 90% of life is mental, or as Yogi Berra reportedly said, “90% of life is half mental.” Whether or not you like math or Yogiisms, one thing is true: sales, like life, is pretty much 100% mental. Think about it, 100% of our waking hours, and most of our sleeping hours, are done through our brain. With the amount of rejection required to be successful in a sales career, one needs to have a high level of mental toughness. When people fail at sales 99.9% of the time it’s due to a lack of activity: they didn’t make enough calls, to talk to enough people, to get enough qualified prospects, to make enough sales. What causes the lack of activity is either fear of rejection (addiction to the approval of others), complacency (the comfort zone), or an inability to persist and persevere when they encounter repeated failure and rejection. The cause of each of these is a lack of mental toughness.

What is mental-toughness training and how do you do it?

In short, mental toughness training is training people to overcome the mental hurdles they encounter in sales and in life. Essentially, it’s developing someone’s grit and determination. You do it by discovering what they’ll fight for and what they’ll die for and then helping them use those emotional hot-buttons when they are down or otherwise unmotivated. This requires a deep dive into the psyche via targeted questions that cover the past, present, and future in all the major areas of life. What you’re after here is their WHY. In other words, why do they do what they do? Why do they get up in the morning and go to work? Why is it critical that they succeed in their career? A powerful WHY is the key to having a high level of mental toughness. As Nietzsche once said, “He who has a [powerful enough] WHY to live, can bear almost any HOW.” In other words, if the why is powerful enough, a person will go through almost anything to achieve their goals. That means they’ll push through rejection, won’t allow themselves to get complacent, and even when they are feeling down and beat up, they’ll still have the persistence and perseverance to keep moving forward.

While finding someone’s why involves some extensive questioning over several weeks, in short, you discover someone’s why in two areas: pleasure and pain, which is the language of the brain. First, on the pleasure end, what are they running toward? What do they want for themselves and the people in their lives? Do they want a house on the lake or a new sportscar? Do they want to send their kids to school wherever they want to go to school? Do they want to take a trip around the world with their family? Do they want to retire and travel? So, on the pleasure end, what are their goals and dreams, and how much money do they need to make those goals and dreams a reality? So, start with goals, but keep in mind, for most people positive goals aren’t enough to keep them motivated long-term. As a result, we need to leverage pain. Pain is a more powerful motivator than pleasure for humans. What “pain” is someone running from in the present, hoping to avoid in the future, or striving to overcome from the past? What has happened to them that motivates them? Did they get fired from a job? Did someone tell them they’d never amount to anything? Is there an ex-spouse or ex-boss that they’re going to show that they made a mistake? Are they afraid of not having enough money? Are they afraid of how they’ll feel if they don’t provide for their family? Where are the issues, or the pain, and what are the motivators or demotivators behind those? When you think of motivation, think of the 3 Ps: people, possessions, and proof. What do they want for the people in their lives, including themselves? What possessions do they want and what values do those possessions fulfill such as: peace of mind, security, love, and excitement? And what do they have to prove to themselves and others? Do they need to prove they are worthy, important, capable of taking care of their family, or that they’re good enough? 

When you discover what’s truly important to people, what they are willing to fight and die for, then you and they will have the necessary emotional hot-buttons to push in order for them to get through fear, step out of their comfort zone, and get back up after they’ve been knocked down.

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