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Attitude – The Prerequisite to Successful Selling?
Zig Ziglar, well-known American speaker and author once said, ‘Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude’. I have a feeling he was absolutely spot on!
Too often we hear the hype surrounding this mysterious thing called attitude; too seldom do we hear any substance. Initially, many of my trainees would cringe at the mention of the word, regarding it as some sort of cliché that defied any real meaning. Most conceded though, that managing their mood and maintaining the right attitude day after day was a real issue, so it became an imperative in our sessions to put the hype aside and come up with a practical way to handle it. I call this whole mood and attitude thing ‘personal prepping’, because if we are not consistently able to perform, no amount of last minute ‘meditating the moment’ or ‘beating our chest’ will carry us through a serious negotiation, prepare us for a difficult customer, or get our head ready for a testing sales challenge.
We know that a pleasant outlook backed by good people skills is the recipe for a successful face-to-face encounter, so it follows that this attitude of ours, our frame of mind, must be the key ingredient. After all, everything we are trying to accomplish in selling depends on how well we relate to others… and… there are two parts to the story, because there is an enormous difference between the day-by-day psyche and the longer-term, where a sustained positive mental attitude is demanded of us year-by-year. Let’s look at both aspects.
Our momentary attitude – our mood – can be easily changed, even manipulated. Any change in our surroundings or our environment can temporarily give us a boost, or drag us down. We accept that coaches can have an incredible impact on a team’s will to win during the half-time interval in a football game, and we know that management can inject a real stimulus into the business environment with a spontaneous reward or incentive here and there. On the other hand, a common cold, a late night, a ‘stoush with our spouse’, or some sad personal news, can bring us quickly back to the pack. Our new car is only our pride and joy until someone does a number on it in the car-park with a shopping trolley. Our exclusive new outfit suddenly loses its sparkle when someone else turns up in an identical one. It may be simply that we have received one too many knock-backs lately and are not feeling at the top of our game. Yes, there are countless things, some devastatingly serious, some comparatively trivial, that can mentally or emotionally handicap us.
In some respects, buying and selling is a bit like playing competitive sport, and not surprisingly, most salespeople are pretty competitive. But we are also a little fragile sometimes, and feel we are only as good as our reputation and only remembered for our last personal performance. It’s hardest in retail, where we mostly deal with complete strangers who aren’t acquainted with our batting average. Each time, it’s a new innings, and again we must go out to bat with a big ‘zero’ against our name. No wonder that we sometimes find it hard to deal with the pressure. Under these circumstances, it is said that the ups may be hard to beat but the downs can be harder to bear. It is near impossible to present an upbeat outer shell if we can’t escape being weighed down by this sort of inner baggage. It’s a safe bet that the other party will sense it, and as our attitude is contagious, they will probably catch it. We finish up virtually talking to a mirror, and it’s not a pretty sight!
The good news is that many of these feelings are nothing more than short-term handicaps. They are really just a reflection of our mood rather than our enduring attitude. They are literally the bumps and grinds of our daily routine, and most of them are perfectly surmountable. How we manage to avoid them in the first place, or if we can’t, how quickly we bounce back, depends very much on our temperament. So while we are making this comparison between business and sport, perhaps we should observe an obvious similarity: that the most revered player award for most sports – ‘best and fairest’ – is not necessarily about winning at all costs. It’s about consistency, about keeping an even keel, about not letting your personal feelings and frame of mind overcome you. In that respect, it probably applies just as appropriately to selling as it does to football or basketball.
We’ll come back to some of these short-term issues shortly, but first let’s look at something which is of even greater significance to salespeople – a sustained attitude that endures beyond our mood of the moment, a mindset that allows us to span the short-term adversities and give us lasting interpersonal stability. There is no ‘witchcraft’ involved in this. Instead, you can use a handy diagnostic tool to break down why your ongoing attitude may or may not be quite right. It is a simple two by two drill-down questioning routine that works like this…
If you ask yourself why your attitude to a particular product, service, or concept is not quite right, or why you are uncomfortable dealing with a certain type of person or circumstance, then the answer can really be only one of two things – a simple ‘either/or’. You are either short on enthusiasm (do you have the willingness?), or you lack self-confidence (do you have the wherewithal?). For example, you are certainly not going to have the right attitude to buying or selling something if you are not enthusiastic about it, and you will be fooling only yourself if you lack the self-confidence to talk about it with any authority. It’s not difficult to ask yourself this very straightforward question, and pinpoint the cause. It simply has to be either your enthusiasm or your self-confidence.
The ‘enthusiasm’ factor: If you feel that it is your enthusiasm that is not quite right, ask yourself why. Again, your answer can only be one of two things: your lack of product knowledge, or your lack of belief in the product. It certainly is difficult to have any real enthusiasm about something you know little about, and the surest way to stifle your enthusiasm about something is to not totally believe in it. Via this simple questioning routine, you can quickly establish the cause of the problem. It has to be either a lack of product knowledge or a lack of belief in the product. You are then able to take corrective action, perhaps seeking out ‘later or greater’ information to overcome your knowledge or belief shortcomings and reinstate the required levels of enthusiasm.
The ‘self-confidence’ factor: On the other side of the equation, product knowledge provides us with a ‘double whammy’, as it not only appears on the Enthusiasm side, but also as the first factor on the Self-confidence side. Little wonder then, that so many salespeople believe that product knowledge is everything. The second self-confidence factor – interpersonal skills – doesn’t come as a surprise either, with a lack of confidence often related to uncertainty or discomfort in dealing with certain types of people. This is the interpersonal issue. It can reflect a general frailty in your people and selling skills, or specific concerns over things like age or gender. In business-to-business dealing, it can be due to not having done sufficient research of the other party. So if self-confidence is the issue, it simply has to be a problem with either product knowledge or people skills.
It really is quite amazing to find that such an obscure area of our human make-up can be broken down simply by using this two-by-two formula. It does allow you to diagnose the problem, and it does prescribe the appropriate action required to overcome it. It is so basic it actually works. It comes down to a realisation that, while your mood can be easily influenced by changes in your immediate environment, your long-term attitude is dependent on the maintenance of your personal skills and knowledge repository to maintain both your enthusiasm and your self-confidence. Over many years as a manager and trainer, I have religiously applied this simple diagnostic process, the usual outcome being that the successful members of the team ultimately outgrew any reliance on me and adopted this as their own ‘physician heal thyself’ routine.
Apart from providing an ideal remedy for the day-to-day management of your own attitude, this handy tool also serves as a mini needs analysis for identifying training priorities for others. Next time you have any nagging doubts about your mindset, try it out. You might find that it is not exclusive to the formal buying and selling situation either; it also helps with your approach to various other pursuits and pastimes. In fact, if you feel you are on shaky ground with any endeavour, it’s not a bad idea to pause and quietly ask yourself: ‘What’s my problem here, am I lacking enthusiasm, or am I short on self-confidence?’ It will be one or the other, and when you drill down further, it’s a sure bet that you will arrive at a plan to tackle it. So this little routine stretches a lot wider than just the workplace application. It is one of those genuine life skills. I urge you to adopt it as just one of those ‘things you do’.
So, let’s go back now to those shorter-term out-of-sorts occasions – our mood of the moment. Now that we have discussed a means to harness our ongoing attitude, let’s take another look at how we can rein in some of those daily hiccups that can threaten to put a dent in it from time to time. It is a reality of life that we will be dealt our share of hard knocks, that we will at some stage suffer personal bereavement and tragedy: it is also inevitable that there will be times when we are lethargic, sick, injured, or simply have that ‘sick and tired of being fed up’ feeling. Yes, there will be times when coping with the seemingly unimportant trivia of others pales in comparison with the overbearing load of our own problems. We just can’t seem to concentrate on the job at hand. In truly tough times we have to dig deep, and find a way to wade out of the depths. For now though, we will revisit one or two of the downers that we can do something about, and some of those things that, let’s admit it, are self-inflicted. We can then look at a few good habits that will help us to radiate a better impression.
If we were an elite athlete, a media personality, or a public figure, we wouldn’t stay at the top for too long by turning up at work with a hangover or sleep-deprived after partying into the wee small hours. Our potential fall from grace may not be as exposed, but the dip in our performance would be. Common sense must prevail. We are at the front line, we are being scrutinised, and although we must try not to be guilty of doing this ourselves, books are definitely judged by their covers in the business world. So, just as critical to creating the right first impression are the issues of personal demeanour, cleanliness, bearing, grooming, and personal hygiene, all of which can positively or negatively sway the other party’s regard for what we say, what we do, and what we represent.
Even if we are not blessed with the looks of a matinee idol, the intellect of an Einstein, the wit of a comedian, the charm of a diplomat, the words of a journalist, or even the enunciation of a broadcast announcer, we must nevertheless proudly front up as the consummate professional, not sometimes, but every time. Going the extra yard to maintain a good health and fitness regime, to work on our general knowledge and social skills, and to remain attentive to the appropriateness of our dress and style, will all contribute to how consistently acceptable, respectable, and credible we appear to everyone we deal with. In our world of selling, it will give us a head start.
We must keep in mind that we are not only representing our employer here, we are promoting ourselves. Our reputation follows us throughout our lives, wherever we go, whatever we do, and with whomever we share it. We owe it to ourselves to relentlessly build, proudly cherish, and selfishly protect this individual brand of ours. We mustn’t overlook the fact too, that our personal stature enjoys the ultimate copyright protection. Nobody else can borrow it or take it from us. From time to time, others may influence it, some may even try to tarnish it, but in reality, it is we – and only we – who have the choice, and the right, to use or abuse our exclusive trademark.
One of my older trainees, a commercial salesman, provided us with a wonderful case study of the need to not only create the right first impression, but to maintain the standard. These days, he finds himself still happily doing business with people he first called on almost 40 years ago. Of course, time has changed a few things – his personal logo may look a little different with a few wrinkles here and there – but fortunately his personal brand still seems to have some real equity and still brings him considerable sales success. He confesses that it is highly unlikely that this enduring success has accrued through any particularly memorable actions or performance on his part, admitting that there probably haven’t been too many of great consequence. It’s more likely that it reflects an enduring perception of his reliability and integrity, right from the first encounter. He really does hope that is the case, and concedes that he would be bitterly disappointed if it weren’t.
There really is no escaping it. Remaining consistent and blemish-free can be a hard call, but it comes with the territory. Our greatest asset is our reputation, based on how we present ourselves and how we conduct ourselves. There is simply no room for black marks on the report card. They will be noticed, they will be remembered, and they will be accumulated. Yes, on the surface, others will politely acknowledge what they see and hear, but deep down in their subconscious they can’t help but form lasting impressions. They will be reading our attitude as well as our actions and they will be judging us on critical things like trust and believability, irrespective of the company we work for, or the brands, products and services we represent.
So we had better make sure that even the hidden dice are rolling our way, not just today, but every day… obvious and basic stuff maybe, but nonetheless, to those of us who make our living from this wonderful world of selling, an essential prerequisite to sustained success!
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