Sales is often compared to playing chess. The more you can anticipate the moves in advance, the better you are in closing a deal. Russian Grandmaster and former world champion Garry Kasparov once famously said he could anticipate as many as 14 moves in advance. Most successful salespeople are known to pursue long-term strategies. Their success depends on how often and how accurately they can anticipate and adapt to a prospective client’s behavior. Just like chess, sales is a mental game. So what does it take to become a successful sales professional?
“[In sales] mindset is everything. And the formula that we created and trademarked is based around this idea of performance equals knowledge minus leashes,” says Jason Forrest, award-winning author, behavioral change expert and maverick entrepreneur.
“Where a lot of training really fails, and where we struggle, is that we can teach people the strategies all day long to handle an objection, or to deliver a selling message. But if they don’t initiate contact, if they don’t engage because they’ve got some sort of leash that holds them back, it doesn’t matter,” Forrest tells George Leith, Vendasta’s Chief Customer Officer, during a Conquer Local Academy podcast.
In his book, The Mindset of a Sales Warrior, Forrest, who is also the CEO at Forrest Performance Group, identifies four mental leashes holding back sales professionals — stories, reluctance, rules, and self image. He believes removing these chokeholds helps us see the true, fully realized picture of their abilities.
So how can a salesperson get rid of these tethers to unleash potential?
“We can teach people the strategies all day long to handle an objection, or to deliver a selling message, but if they don’t initiate contact, if they don’t engage because they’ve got some sort of leash that holds them back, it doesn’t matter.”
Cut the stories
Get rid of the stories. They are just alibis — excuses on why a deal couldn’t be closed. The more a successful salesperson is, fewer stories or alibis he/she has. Stories are anything external that the salesforce believes to be true.
But then what exactly are external stories?
As part of training, Forrest explains, sales professionals could be asked the question, “What are some of the reasons why people aren’t buying today?” If the salesperson says he/she needs additional processes or words to convince the customer to think differently, or handle, for example, the pricing issue, they are “owning” it. But if they say anything else outside of that, such as, customers think the price is too high, better features or products are required or customers need to be better-qualified, Forest says, “that’s a story”.
To be a successful salesperson, one needs to own the situation. They need to reframe the stories. For instance, if you are telling yourself the customer didn’t buy because of the price, you could reframe it as “it’s not that the customer thinks we’re overpriced. It’s that I have not convinced them of the value that justifies the price.”
Work on the reluctances
Behavioral Science Research Press has identified 16 different types of sales reluctances that people have. These could be related to arranging payment, yielding (not coming across as too pushy or avoiding conflict), role rejection (not wanting to see oneself as a salesperson so rejecting a business title), social self-consciousness, stage fright, telephobia, among others. “There are 16 different types of reluctances that we can measure. And what’s interesting is that these are just tendencies and fears,” Forrest says.
The “yielding” tendency is most common, the one that costs businesses heavily in terms of lost opportunities. Yielding could be defined as the idea of maintaining positive relationships with clients wherein a salesperson hesitates to prospect or pitch due to an inherent fear of being considered too pushy or intrusive.
Sales is an assertive profession and requires salespeople to shoulder their way in the market and position themselves in front of the right people. On the other hand, yielding is by nature a passive, fear-based behavior that instinctively pushes a person on the backfoot to avoid dealing with a difficult situation.
“Individuals with yielding behavior often show a lack of prospecting capability, poor upselling and cross-selling skills, issues with quality control because they will not speak up about issues, and often undermine the actions of others, which all leads to the erosion of trust in relationships… the very things yielders do not want,” writes Sue Barrett, the founder and CEO of Barrett Consulting Group, a business consulting and education firm specializing in sales strategy, process, education, and culture. This results in clients not getting what they really need because yielding people will not ask more in-depth questions, assert themselves or challenge the views of others.
The best way to support a yielder is to help them recognize they are not helping customers by letting them make their own decisions. “If you truly believe your product or service can help the customer, it’s on you as a salesperson to bring them across that line and get them to the point where we can get this thing working for them,” Leith says.
“If you truly believe your product or service can help the customer, it’s on you as a salesperson to bring them across that line and get them to the point where we can get this thing working for them.”
Step away from internal rules
Forrest defines a “rule” as anything that a salesperson needs to see, feel or hear in order to engage. For instance, if you want to organize a workshop and seek an exact number of people, of a certain type, all of them smiling, and add similar other conditions, how often does it happen that all the boxes are ticked as per your wishes?
The answer is obvious. It doesn’t happen. Ever. But every sales professional has some or all of these rules for themselves. Setting these internal rules also comes from an inherent hesitation to engage with a prospective client. Often, salespeople wait for the right time before asking them the tough questions. They reason building a rapport furthers the chances of making a pitch without offending a customer. However, the problem with this approach is that ultimately when the tough questions come, they seem out of place or desperate.
If you worry too much about the right time and the right signals — or internal rules — you probably won't be assertive enough to get the information you need to help prospects.
How do you define yourself
What is our self-efficacy, our self-confidence, our sense of worthiness — self-image is about how we define ourselves. A good place to begin is to see if there’s a cognitive dissonance between how the world defines you and how you define yourself. Our self-image is the way we are today, while our self-esteem is largely determined by the relationship between our self-image, performance and what we strive to become. The closer our daily performance is with the ideal image that we have for ourselves, the greater is our self-esteem. And since our self-esteem determines our level of energy, enthusiasm and self-motivation, high self-esteem is a critical element in being a successful salesperson.
Here it would be pertinent to discuss the four levels of a salesperson that Forrest talks about in his book. The bottom level is a follower, where a salesperson just waits for the customer. The next level is a helper, and a majority of salespeople are in this stage. Then comes the leader who has the ability to not only steer himself but other people to a place they wouldn’t go on their own. The final level is the warrior, as per Forrest, the protector, “one who protects the customers from themselves, from making a not-thought-out decision when they are choosing to spend less, and therefore getting less.
“Modern sales warriors are under siege. They are fighting the impossible war because the customer is telling them that customer service is not fulfilling its promises. Prospects are saying the offerings are overpriced. Friends and family are saying they don’t get to see them anymore. Their boss tells them if they don’t make their quota, they are going to get fired. And if they are doing well, then coworkers say the only reason is because they have a great territory. They are fighting an impossible war on all fronts,” Forrest says.
Unleashing the leashes
Forrest lives on the leading edge of the sales industry and believes the only way to break your sales plateau is to completely change the way you look at sales. And that means an extreme focus on pulling the future of sales into the present.
“When it comes to sales, I believe you have three separate stories that define your success: the story you tell yourself, the story you tell your customer, and the story you tell your boss. The story you tell yourself is the most important of all. Your mindset is your viewfinder, and your core beliefs and values shape how you see yourself and the world,” Forrest says.
"When it comes to sales, I believe you have three separate stories that define your success: the story you tell yourself, the story you tell your customer, and the story you tell your boss. The story you tell yourself is the most important of all. Your mindset is your viewfinder, and your core beliefs and values shape how you see yourself and the world."
The four mental leashes are the voices inside your head whispering you can’t do something. The best training isn’t just telling people what to do, or how to do it, or even why to do it. It’s unleashing their mindset.
While Forrest specifically lays it out for salespeople from a coaching standpoint, there is a lesson here for each of us as individuals — as professionals and family persons — because it affects us all. It’s important for everyone to identify these four leashes, self-assess and walk through those necessary steps to remove any beliefs limiting us from reaching our goals.