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Positive Thinking: How Positive Thinking Can Destroy Your Sales Career

Alan Rigg

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Google Adwords expert Perry Marshall shared the following story in a recent e-mail:

"Do you remember Admiral James Stockdale, the guy who was Ross Perot's Vice Presidential candidate in ‘the 1992 election?

He didn't fare so well as a VP candidate, but he was quite an impressive military man. He was former president of the Naval War College and was the highest ranking officer in the “Hanoi Hilton" in Viet Nam. He spent eight years in Hanoi and was tortured numerous times by his captors.

Mr. Thomas Barnett relates:

"Stockdale tells the story of the optimists who never survived their time in Hanoi, simply because they clung far too much to their dreams of release and in doing so couldn't handle the brutal realities of what it took to survive the day to day.

"So instead of dealing with the here and now realistically, they tended to cling to the hope that they'd be home by whatever the next holiday was, and when that day came and went, their spirit would be diminished by that measure.

"Over time, they died because their spirit was extinguished by reality. "

Stockdale's explains his “paradox" this way:

"You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end (which you can never afford to lose) with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. "

What Stockdale was really describing is the flagrant abuse of “positive thinking. "

Why am I sharing this story with you? Because many salespeople damage their chances for success by being too darned optimistic.

I'm not saying that salespeople shouldn't be optimistic

A certain amount of optimism is required to survive the rigors of our profession. Where we run into trouble is when we look at our sales opportunities through “rose colored glasses". This can cause us to waste enormous amounts of time and effort on opportunities that, when viewed realistically, have little chance of ever closing.

How many opportunities do you have listed in your sales opportunity pipeline? For how many of those opportunities do you have a scheduled appointment at a specific date and time that is on your prospect's calendar for which you have a specific, previously agreed-upon agenda for advancing the sales cycle?

This can be a scary question. When viewed from this perspective, many (if not most) of our opportunities can look pretty weak.

It is easy to gain a false sense of confidence

We can be very busy and have lots of “opportunities" listed in our pipelines. Yet, if prospects won't commit to valid next steps. if they won't return our phone calls. if the endless lunches and other “relationship building" activities don't actually advance sales cycles. then how “real" are these opportunities?

There is an old sales adage that I repeat frequently: “Time is our only inventory. " The only way to achieve consistent success in sales is to carefully scrutinize where and how we spend our time. Successful salespeople laser-focus their time and energy on opportunities they have an excellent chance of closing. Unsuccessful salespeople waste much of their time on activities that make them feel busy, but don't produce sales.

The #1 thing you can do to improve your chances of sales success is to take OFF the rose-colored glasses when you examine your sales opportunity pipeline

Be brutally honest with yourself - how many of your opportunities REALLY pass “the realism test"? In other words, for how many opportunities:

1. Do you have a scheduled appointment

2. At a specific date and time

3. That is on your prospect's calendar

4. For which you have a specific, agreed-upon agenda for advancing the sales cycle?

When you look at your sales opportunities through this critical lens, don't feel bad if you discover you don't have anywhere near as many “real" opportunities as you thought you did. Isn't it better to find out now rather than later (such as after you were fired for not achieving your sales goals)?

The sooner you identify the deficiencies in your sales opportunity pipeline, the sooner you can take meaningful action to find more prospects that will pass “the realism test"!

Copyright 2007 - Alan Rigg

Sales performance expert Alan Rigg is the author of How to Beat the 80/20 Rule in Selling: Why Most Salespeople Don't Perform and What to Do About It. His company, 80/20 Sales Performance, helps business owners, executives, and managers end the frustration of 80/20 sales team performance, where 20% of salespeople produce 80% of sales. For more information and more FREE sales and sales management tips, visit .


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