In my pre-psychology career, I once had the opportunity of having meetings with two sales teams in directly competing technology companies. The first team were completely demotivated by the other competitor’s aggressive pricing and what they perceived as the poor reputation of their own organisation. Most of all, though, they were appalled at the terrible service delivery that followed the sale. One sales person said that he suffered remorse after each sale, wondering what sort of hell he had unleashed on the unwitting customer.
A matter of weeks later, I was with an equivalent team in the competitor company also bemoaning the heavy discounting of the other company and the toxicity of their own brand. But most of all, they complained about the awful service delivery that followed the sale.
The truth is that every complex business-to-business sale in the twenty-first century risks operational issues being experienced by the customer in delivery. And if the sale isn’t complex, then there’s little need for a salesperson as the customer can simply order online. So whether one is selling complex software solutions, telecoms infrastructure or indeed anything else, some operational wrinkles are inevitable. It may feel to the salesperson that they happen more frequently in their own organisation – and this may indeed be true – but the fact is that it is true just about everywhere.
For the salesperson, the challenge is not to become demotivated. Where this does happen, it is often a symptom of lack of mental toughness. We have worked with senior sales people that have begun to catastrophise so heavily about delivery problems that they convince themselves that it is almost futile to try to sell. In one extreme example, we asked the salesperson to list all his sales for the year and then score how well the delivery had gone. Far fewer than he imagined had gone poorly – as few as one in ten. We are wired to remember poor experiences more acutely than good ones, something psychologists call the negativity bias. So it’s natural to think that delivery is always a disaster – the truth is that it probably isn’t.
What is very noticeable in teams that claim that their organisation is singularly poor at delivery is how few salespeople leave. After all, a high-performing sales person that was genuinely being limited by operational issues would be financially penalised. So why would they stay – often for years?
The other behaviour that suggests a lack of mental toughness is to become immersed in the delivery issues at the expense of sales work. This is often rationalised as either a) activity that will please the customer and yield further sales revenues or b) necessary because delivery colleagues can’t be trusted to do the work satisfactorily. In all most all cases, this is a rationalisation – sometimes unconscious – for sales avoidance.
The fact is that no organisation is perfect. High performing and resilient sales people with high levels of mental toughness accept this and recognise that part of their role is exerting an appropriate level of influence over delivery colleagues. In every team where there are salespeople demotivated by delivery issues, it is still possible to find one high performer that manages issues calmly, pulling delivery colleagues together with a light touch and resolving problems patiently and constructively. As with so much in sales, this too is all about mindset.
By Ian Price, co-founder of Sales-Mind, a business psychologist and author of ‘The Activity Illusion’. Sales-mind is a team development consultancy that is 'all about mindset'. They develop mental toughness in growth-oriented leadership teams, full-time sales teams and professionals that need to sell as part of their role.