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posted: 1/17/2017 1:00 AM

Don’t slip on the black ice

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Being consistently successful in the sales profession is challenging because it necessitates an equal blending of both "art" and "science." About 20 percent of all salespeople can be categorized as high performers; they have mastered this complexity and are able to skillfully apply it in their professional lives. As superstars, they succeed in executing the external skills and behaviors critical to sustaining excellence and, also, demonstrate their understanding of the internal psychology that drives their decisions to act and/or modify their behavior when apparent.

Last week, I had a shocking experience while driving to a client's office. Road conditions seemed to be optimal; the sun was shining brightly against a blue sky, there was no snow or rain and traffic was light. I relaxed and peacefully listened to some music on my favorite satellite radio station. (On a side note, satellite radio has totally transformed my experience from one of exasperation, in the early days of my sales career, as I frantically searched for a decent radio station from location to location, to one of pure pleasure. One push of a button; no stress.)

About two hours into my drive, I hit a patch of "black ice" on one of the GPS-directed, backcountry roads. My car began to swerve and spin out of control for what felt like an eternity. Wikipedia, by the way, defines black ice as a thin coating of glaze ice on a surface, visually transparent, allowing the road itself to be seen underneath it.

It is practically invisible to drivers! By the time I recovered, I found myself firmly planted in a snow bank on the side of the road.

Luckily, there was minimal damage to my car and I sustained no injuries, but I couldn't help but wonder how this potential disaster had just occurred.

It wasn't lost on me that the sales profession is vulnerable to the danger of "black ice" and unsuspecting salespeople regularly encounter it. By operating in their comfort zone, as I did when driving, they miss the "black ice" when dealing with a prospect and then wonder why the sale wasn't closed!

This is where blending "art" and "science" in the sales profession comes into play. To effectively deal with any danger of "black ice," salespeople must develop and apply a high level of self-awareness. How? I highly recommend outlining the problem or opportunity on a piece of paper and enclosing it in a circle.

The circle serves as a "force field" where all factors with the potential to affect the outcome are identified. Next, ask yourself: "What internal and external experiences have I had that might influence my perspective of it?" This exercise, if honestly performed, facilitates inward reflection and should lead to self-responsibility and heightened self-awareness.

Whether your attitude and behavior yielded consistent success or "failure" in sales, you acknowledge the role you played throughout the process and commit to making any necessary modifications when warranted.

Just as my past driving experience during seemingly perfect conditions lulled me into my comfort zone, salespeople with low self-awareness may blindly accept a prospect's response without questioning it.

If approached with well-developed self-awareness, however, the completed circle should reveal a solution that is not only crystal clear, but also, actionable! Had I been more self-aware, I might have avoided the calamity altogether.

When I evaluate a salesperson's effectiveness, self-awareness is at the top of my list of attributes. Sales professionals who internalize the "art" and "science" of sales exemplify self-awareness, take responsibility for their own shortcomings and never waste time blaming circumstances or making excuses for their shortfalls.

As we enter a new year of promise, commit to critically reviewing and modifying your own thinking! You can avoid the pitfalls of "black ice." Go conquer your worlds.

• Bill Bartlett owns Corporate Strategies, A Sandler Training Center. Text "SalesTip" to 71813 to receive Bill's bi-weekly newsletter.