Sell Like Hell? |

6 min read

“Sell like hell” was the tagline when I was in B2B sales, intended to keep us running at peak performance. That was what my boss told me, so I told it to myself and the members of my team.

I hear you asking, did it work? Not for everyone. In fact, for most people it didn’t work at all. Since then, I have trained thousands of salespeople as a sales coach and trainer. At one of the team coaching sessions, when I was with the sales leaders, they asked me what the single common trait among all successful salespeople was.

I remember racking my brain.

No, it wasn’t their personality.

It wasn’t whether they were extroverts, introverts or ambiverts.

It certainly had nothing to do with their sex, age, upbringing, social status, or the schools they had attended.

It wasn’t even their sales style or the kind of process they followed.

What I concluded at the time was that really successful salespeople were more self-aware than others. But my own research proved me wrong, eventually. I met a number of very talented and successful salespeople who had low self-awareness. They couldn’t explain their magic on a behavior or habit level, it was just something that came to them naturally.

Then I came across the longitudinal sales research of the Sales Executive Council in 2011. It became so famous that now their little red book is on the bookshelf of many sales directors. I think the research is sound, clear, and well-founded. I also believe they have captured many of the key elements of a winning sales style. They coined the phrase “challenger sale,” based on a sales style that seems to be the most successful.

The style is all about having rich business insights that allow the salespeople to challenge the way potential customers think about a relevant business problem. By reframing the customer’s thinking, challengers can use constructive tension to get decision-makers to ask for a solution instead of having to press the customer.

Still, I thought that the folks at SEC had it only 80% right. As convincing as the research may have seemed, something was still missing. I have seen many sales directors and sales people who were aware of the challenger sale model and yet, still were struggling. They followed the right steps and were properly skilled, but something was missing.

I eventually realized that the problem was people’s mindset behind the process. And this connects to the latest discoveries about the nature of motivation. According to Daniel Pink, studies point to the trio of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the pivotal sources of human motivation. And the people who find purpose in their work unlock the highest level of motivational power.

The original idea comes from Viktor Frankl, the world-famous therapist, who realized that the Jews who survived extermination camps in World War II all had found meaning in their life that carried them forward. For him it was that he wanted to rewrite and publish his book, which the Nazis had confiscated from him.

In research we conducted with Robert Dilts, we found that mindset has three distinct levels. The first and most foundational level is the meta mindset, which is responsible for our big-picture clarity. Purpose is one of the key ingredients of this level. On an organizational level, companies with a clear and powerful purpose will outperform others that don’t.

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From an individual prospective purpose-driven employees sell 37% more (Shawn Anchor), take 66% less sick leave, have 51% less turnover (Forbes and Gallup), and show 300% more innovation (HBR). Not having a higher purpose is like a fine engine that needs high-octane gas but is running on a low-octane one. It will damage the engine sooner or later, and you will constantly feel there is more potential there that never seems to be realized. Perhaps it now makes sense to you why we say: mindset matters most.


What really drives sales performance.


I eventually connected the dots. If you can’t answer the question, Why will your customer’s life be better if you make this deal today?, don’t go out to sell. You will be inauthentic. You need to have an answer to the question and believe in it genuinely.

In general, being passionate about your product and solution, having a sense of purpose, and seeing a compelling vision will help you reach exceptional results. Mindset is democratized and it affects everyone; it doesn’t matter whether you are a sales assistant, key account manager, or the chief sales officer.

The second level is the macro mindset level, which relates to the mental disciplines and practices required to bring focus to the big picture and an ecological way of putting personal and business vision and purpose into action. Exceptional sales people have strong macro mindsets and avoid burnout. They seek feedback and are able to reframe difficult situations, and think learning instead of refusal.

Finally, the micro mindset level produces the specific actions necessary to build a sustainable path as an intrapreneur in an organization. Great sales people are very independent and consider themselves to be intrapreneurs and behave like a business owner even if they are employees.

Companies end up creating endless numbers of key performance indicators, refining their propositions and training their people, and, yet, they don’t reach a breakthrough. The great thing about focusing on mindset is that it creates intrinsic motivation, which trumps all other motivation. It creates an inner force that will carry people over challenging situations, the moments when their manager is not there, or when they have to put up with rejection.

I have worked with salespeople selling to farmers in the agricultural industry. I have worked with all types of people from private bankers to sales experts in the pharma sector, from the call centers of IT companies to retail sales people. In hindsight, the It factor the best-performing salespeople had in common was their strong meta mindset.

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