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Beyond Growth Inc. | Markham, ON

By Tim Rooney

There are many truths and just as many myths about what it takes to be successful in life and in sales.

Test your knowledge and beliefs on these 5 questions.

1. Can optimism be learned? (and, what can Rory McIroy teach us?)

Most people would agree that being an optimist is a great advantage in sport and in life.  But can optimism be learned?

Every golf fan now knows that 22 year old Rory McIroy is being touted as the next Tiger Woods after his record breaking US Open win on Sunday June 19, 2011.  Rory’s victory, however, was as much about overcoming adversity as it was about playing brilliant golf for 4 days.

After his much talked about (and spectacular) collapse at the Masters earlier in the golf season – when he squandered a 3-shot lead going into the final ride – everyone wondered if was he going to choke again in the final round of the US Open.  So how did he overcome the mental hammering that his psyche must have suffered following his Master collapse?

We don’t know for sure, but maybe it has something to do with “the story he told himself,” known as what psychologist Martin Seligman calls our “explanatory style” or “the story we tell ourselves” when we fail.

Our explanatory style can be seen as the way we rationalize and deal with “bad stuff” that happens to us.  There are 3 components to your explanatory style that determine how you rationalize failure and how quickly (or slowly) you will bounce back.

Here is how Rory may have responded to the 3 components that make up explanatory style:

  • Is what just happened permanent? “No. I’m a great golfer – this is just a temporary set-back.”
  • Is it pervasive – does everything in my life suck? “No. I have so much to be grateful for – just having been to Haiti the week before the open as an ambassador for Unicef put things in their true perspective.”
  • Is it personal – was it my entire fault? “Yes. I did have a bad last round but I showed my potential in the first 3 rounds when I got myself in contention.”

According to Martin Seligman – who has great credibility in his field of applied psychology – optimism is something that can be learned [“Learned Optimism” – by Martin Seligman]

The essence of “learned optimism” is to challenge the negative stories we so often tell ourselves in response to the 3 explanatory style questions: “Is this problem permanent, will I never be the same again or is this just a temporary set- back? Is it pervasive – does this affect all aspects of my life? Is it personal? Learning to challenge the story that you personally might be entirely responsible.

Maybe the great Jack Nicklaus – summed it up best when he said this about Rory’s attitude, “He’s humble when he needs to be to be humble, and he’s confident when he needs to be confident.”

Fact or Fiction?


Answer: Fact. Optimism can be learned (from Rory McIroy)

2. “ABC” or Always Be Closing!

This imperative was made famous in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross and is as far from the truth as any of the false myths.

The truth is you can only close people who have figured out that they want to buy from you. It’s your job as the sales person to help the prospect reach the right conclusion and that includes deciding not to buy from you – which may be the right decision!

The better imperative therefore is “always be qualifying;” uncovering a real need and if you have that then proceed to discuss money matters and the prospect’s decision making process before making any presentation.

Too many sales people have a tendency to prematurely move to presentation mode or trying to close before properly qualifying the prospect. They then try to use outdated “closing” techniques and aggressive harassment to try and close the deal.

Fact or Fiction?


Answer: Fiction.  Qualifying is a far better approach (than hounding) to closing the right sale.

3. “Ask for the order?”

Why do you need to ask (or beg) for the order if you have properly qualified the prospect? You don’t.  Just keep in mind that until such time as the prospect gives you a “yes” or a “no” (both of which are okay!) the process remains open.

Fact or Fiction?

Answer: Fiction.  The only rule here is to get a definitive answer. NO MAYBES.

4.   “Sales People are born, not made.”

If you are a man who is 6+ feet tall, has superior intelligence and are very good looking, with all other things being equal you would definitely have the “edge” when competing  against another male sales person less than perfect in natural attributes.

But of course that takes no account of the human spirit and the capacity and determination to want to win. There are so many ways to offset natural disadvantages.

The best piece I ever saw was the story of Bill Porter from the Fuller Brush company, a door to door salesman born with cerebral palsy living in Oregon, Washington.

Bill was physically handicapped and had a speech impediment. As a young man he was given the worst sales territory and then proceeded to score amazing success over 25 years retaining customers and growing the business each year.

Growing up Bill’s mother always told him he “could do anything.” Bill, with his indomitable spirit, believed her. The world came full circle when it became his turn to care for his mother when she developed Alzheimer’s. Bill’s story was one of courage and perseverance against the odds – someone who made full use of every bit of potential he was given.

Bill became famous on ABC’s 60 Minutes before his story was made into the successful full length feature movie, Door to Door.  Bill was truly a remarkable man whose story reminds us about the power of the human spirit overcoming adversity. We all like to think we have a little bit of Bill Porter in us.

Fact or Fiction?

Answer: Half Truth.  Never discount the power of the human spirit in overcoming adversity.

5. The most critical period in the life of a sales person is the first 6 months of their new job.

I asked a sales person who recently got a new job how things were going. Here was his response:

“The new position got off to a bit of a slower start than I would have hoped.  Basically, they offered me the position and that was it, no orientation with the company, training, etc.  So I’ve spent 3 weeks finding out who does what, arranging my own training, figuring and ordering my own gear, etc.  On top of this I just found out that I might not be able to sell in the northern part of the territory and since my industries of focus are mining, forestry, and environmental consultants, this changes the game as I have a lot of contacts in this area and this area is where most of it happens.  I don’t know whether it’s stupidity on my part or just my own stubbornness to succeed, but I am still pushing forward full tilt.”

You might say his company’s lack of support  seems absurd, but this not as uncommon as you might think.

Why is this? Probably because too much emphasis is placed on getting up to speed on product knowledge and the internal processes for things like executing orders and expense reports. After this “initial training” the new sales person is then given a quota sent on the road after spending a week shadowing one of the incumbent reps and told to “get out and sell.”

All of this is fine – but what’s missing?

The following considerations would be a good start:

  • Understanding and getting “buy-in” for the quota given and what makes an ideal client target
  • If you are expected to both “farm” existing accounts and “hunt” for new business, how much time should you be spending on each?
  • What typical objections will you face and how best to handle them?
  • Regular check-ins on a daily basis to see how things are going
  • What differentiates your product from the competition and how do you best sell that?
  • Being very clear about expectations on reporting and who to go to for help

Fact or Fiction?

Answer: Fact.  Getting the right knowledge is critical to your sales success.  But the key is knowing what the “right” knowledge is.

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