If you think that as soon as you get to the top your self-doubt simply vanishes, you’ll be disappointed, no question. That’s not how it works. It will always be there. Am I really a top seller? That question never goes away. If the self-doubts should disappear altogether, there are generally three possible reasons:
1. You’re in a coma
2. You’ve changed professions
3. You’ve lost your grip on reality
In the third case it’s because you’ve become arrogant and obnoxious. That is, incidentally, an occupational hazard for us salespeople.
But this doesn’t happen to the really good sales professionals. Why not? Because they work with an abiding sense of doubt. Top salespeople need failures in order to reflect on what went wrong. Doubt and failure are the necessary building blocks of those discussions and feedback that make you better at what you do. A top salesperson can be carried around on the shoulders of her cheering colleagues for a week because she has just closed a colossal deal, as if she had dragged a whale onto shore with her bare hands. The same salesperson can feel dispirited and full of self-doubt simply because on the following day she failed to win over a particular minor client. That is something you have to live with, if you want to excel – the dizzying highs, the crushing lows.
Are all salespeople supposed to be bipolar now?
I’m not saying no, but what I can do is address the issue of how to deal with these emotional ups and downs without losing your grip. The key lies in two words - learning and feedback. Pretty straightforward.
Beware whom you learn from
Don’t take advice from a financial adviser who is broke. Avoid attending a conflict management class in which the trainer has a broken nose. Never go to a marriage counsellor who’s been divorced seven times. In short, don’t consult anybody who isn’t at or near the top of their field. That applies to salesmanship too. Of course, it’s always a nice feeling to see someone at work and think, “Hey, I can do that better.” But that doesn’t make you better.
Study those who impress you most. How do they do it? How do they speak? What do they say? How do they structure their presentations? How do they argue their cases? What makes them so impressive?
Learning doesn’t mean imitating. You’re not a copycat, right? Ask yourself this: From what I’ve seen, what are the elements that suit me? What fits my personality? What can I adapt, assimilate, develop, modify? Select, analyse, adapt – one, two, three. And number four? Practice. Practice what suits you best until it becomes second nature, until you grow sure of yourself, until it is a part of you, and until others can confirm it. Which brings us back to the second point: feedback.
You need feedback from other people
Who should it come from? A customer. A colleague. A family member. It can be anybody, provided you trust them. Someone who is both fair and honest and is able to judge what you are doing. Someone who means well.
At the beginning, I used to ask for feedback from anybody who crossed my path and probably got on a lot of people’s nerves. Today I approach it differently. I stick with some of my friends from the Sales Leaders, whom I find fair and forthright. Whenever we perform together, we make note of what we liked of the others’ performances and what we were less fond of. General comments are not always helpful; the aim is to ask for specifics on what they found effective or what bothered them. Then ask them again: What specifically worked and what didn’t? And how can I improve?
Consider feedback a gift and a precious one at that. Once you’ve weeded out the notorious grouches, and once you can face the enviers with equanimity, then even the feedback of a total stranger can bring you not only a step forward but also a step upward.
An example: Sales Night in Wiesbaden, Germany. After the event I was standing at the bar and a woman from the audience approached me. “Mr. Limbeck, can I give you a little feedback?”
“Of course, please do.”
“I’ve heard you give a speech before, and you were better last time. Yes, you were good tonight too. But somehow I was missing some of your cheekiness.”
The lady was right: I was good but not great. The reason was that my day hadn’t gone very well. As always, I arrived three or four hours before the event to get a feel for the venue and the crowd. But I had a few family problems that I was carrying around in the back of my mind. Anyone who had seen a past presentation of mine and could compare the two – like this lady – would have noticed the difference. This woman was neither envious nor a grouch. She wasn’t getting anything out of this, and she wasn’t currying favour. She simply wanted to offer some feedback. I thanked her and accepted the gift because I could learn from it.
What did I learn?
That it’s not the audience’s fault if you had a bad day. That the client deserves the best sales professional that you can summon. Whether you’ve just walked through hell and back doesn’t make a difference. Complaining won’t help. Be patient with yourself and assess the situation so you can continue to improve.
By Martin Limbeck, international sales authority and sought-after keynote speaker, dubbed 'The Porsche of Sales.' With his best-in-class German Sales Engineering approach, he helps sales professionals seal more deals. Martin has trained and inspired audiences in twenty-one countries for more than twenty years. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) has been honoured as Top Speaker of the Year 2014, International Speaker of the Year 2012, and Trainer of the Year 2011 and 2008. He teaches at Reutlingen European School of Business, Steinbeis University Berlin, and St. Gallen University, and is the author of several bestsellers, including NO Is Short for Next Opportunity: How Top Sales Professionals Think and Why Nobody Wants You to Get to the Top: ...and How I Made It Anyway.