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“It’s just my 2 cents.” It’s your weekly pipeline call, and yet again, someone is not carrying their weight. And better yet, you hear them discount their own opinion. “In my humble opinion . . . “. Oh no. Do they present our customer-facing pricing as a humble opinion as well? The whole sales team can hear their self-worth is in the red.
I have analyzed the communication styles of twelve of my highest-performing former peers. The common thread of quota-killing representatives at VMware, Microsoft, and Dell was their high confidence. Read on to learn how to develop your communication style to bolster your struggling seller’s self-worth.
One of the tools that have helped me overcome self-doubt is self-affirmations. I delivered affirmations to myself in a mirror. Nothing has made clearer what has subconsciously held me back for decades than these conversations with myself. I walked down the street differently. My acknowledgments in everyday conversation automatically became positive. I started pursuing opportunities where I could make the most significant contribution.
Besides myself, many famous people have had the same life experience. David Goggins, the famous Navy Seal turned ultramarathoner, refers to his experience as the Accountability Mirror. Lisa Nichols, a formerly poverty-stricken single mother advocates “mirror work” as the foundation for all self-transformation. These are just two examples of celebrities who were able to stop draining force of doubt through self-affirmations.
That said, in the brass tacks business world, you can’t issue a marching order of “Go Talk to Yourself.” It is your job to improve the team’s performance. And you probably already know that confidence correlates with quota attainment. But how can you do this without crossing a personal boundary?
To explore how enterprise sales managers could use affirmations to energize their sales teams, I interviewed four managers, two salespeople, and a psychiatrist (to keep us in check). I played one of the famous satires of self-affirmations on Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley show. The video featured Stuart Smalley, the aptly named show host. He interviewed Charles Barkley, a basketball player whose confidence is rattled, and Muggsy Bogues, a basketball player with a powerful mind.
After watching the episode, I told each sales manager that these people now report to them. Whom would they place in which sales role? What sales methodology would their new hire know? What could the interviewee say to increase their new hire’s confidence?
Suyog Prabhu, Senior Director at Virtusa, pointed out that “Who you are is quite important in a sales individual.” The Saturday Night Live video featured Muggsy Bogues. Muggsy Bogues is an undersized NBA player who stands 5’3″ tall. When Muggsy had the ball, I felt like I was watching at a bunch of lumberjacks who couldn’t find their child. A declarative affirmation that you could use in his honor is: “You are on par with your customers.”
Also, when you say to your seller, “Your perspective matters.”, you’re helping them communicate confidently with customers. Salespeople are always encouraged to ask questions. Do not say this to doubtful sellers. They will ask too many questions!
Vinay Vijayan, Vice President of Sales at Iris Software, suggests you tell your struggling salesperson this positive affirmation: “You’ve got what it takes.” You’ll still need to use constructive criticism during your pipeline call. When you use affirmations throughout the week and constructive criticism during the inspection, you have a winning combination.
I’ve always found sports analogies are very difficult to apply to business. Mastering how to stretch tight hamstrings is irrelevant to people whose job consists of sitting on relaxed hamstrings. But what is critical in both basketball games and sales is making good, quick decisions on your feet. Per Danny Estrada, KPMG alumnus and former Director of Sales Platforms, our “basketball court” is the meeting room where “One foul could mean you’re out.” This comment may stir up memories of my former colleagues who said one fateful sentence to a customer. Game over. If you’re managing a former athlete, use analogies from their sport to up their game in the meeting room.
John Margiolas, a Solutions Consultant for Adobe, observed that affirmations are “not producing anything to act on.” That may be the most common reason why enterprise sales managers aren’t using them. We are so accustomed to asking about the “next step” for our CRM system. We forget that the most influential forces in this world are intangible.
Think for a moment about how you acted in your life when you felt loved. Love is a far-reaching force. It affects the entire solar system of your life. If you feel loved, you will shoot for the stars. But when you feel unloved, you’re lying in a puddle of hopelessness on your couch.
The same is true of trust. I interviewed a handful of enterprise customers in 2019 about why they chose a technology vendor and stayed with a vendor. Trust was the most common answer. Concepts like love and trust serve as umbrellas because they shelter us from difficult circumstances. An affirmation from a respected sales manager can also serve as an umbrella. Don’t dismiss affirmations just because there’s no CRM checkbox asking whether you delivered one.
Besides using doubtful language, an insecure seller typically has a pipeline consisting of small deals. When they hear you encourage them to chase a larger deal size, they become defensive. And when the customer isn’t willing to buy what they’re pitching, they resort to blaming. Either themselves or others. As noted by integrative psychiatrist Dana Shaw, MD, an appropriate response for these threatening scenarios “would be non-reactive”. To help your struggling seller believe he/she can handle big deal objections, try this broad affirmation: “You can choose to listen calmly.”
I intentionally plugged the sales training question into my interviews. I did this to jog the memory of each interviewee. Would there be sales training that they credit with increasing the confidence of their salesperson? Do they attribute their own increase in confidence to any particular training company? Whether they chose Sandler Training, Extreme Sales, or the Challenger Method, no one credited their chosen training program. One of the enterprise sales managers I interviewed was Adam Draper, Vice President of Global Sales at Introhive. He said, “The ability for a salesperson to self-reflect and be honest with themselves is how they truly become great.” Ideally, your seller is naturally driven to do their own self-affirmations. Realistically, I have increased the confidence of sales engineers and business development representatives through private coaching.
Confidence is the strongest predictor of killing quota in the persuasion business. If you consistently and frequently practice using affirmations, your sellers will make performance-enhancing decisions. Amazingly, one of my interviewees started our call with an affirmation. Mohit Tandon, a Regional Head at Tata Consultancy Services for Fortune 1000 and mid-market clients, said, “I’m super proud of you.” There are a few chosen sales managers for whom delivering affirmations is just who they are. For the rest of us, we need to choose to use affirmations with our struggling sellers deliberately.
P.S. Many of the sales managers emphasized how important it is for salespeople to listen well. To learn about listening, have a look at Dave Kahle’s “Beliefs that Limit Sales People”.
About the author
I am a theatrical sales trainer who developed her sales expertise by running $250K – $200 MM deals for All Covered, Dell, Net@Work, and Tata Consultancy Services. My work has been seen, filmed, and distributed at Microsoft, Refinitiv, and Waters Technology.