In all of the coverage of Derek Jeter’s fairytale end to a fairytale baseball career, one fact goes unmentioned: across 12,000 plate appearances, Jeter struck out over 1,800 times placing him 13th on the all-time strikeout list. And yet, Jeter is widely considered to be the greatest ballplayer of his generation. He, much like Babe Ruth before him, trained himself to overcome the fear of striking out in pursuit of getting on base.
Great salespeople do the same thing everyday. Being a sales professional requires a special kind of mental toughness to ignore all of the times the word no is spoken in pursuit of yes. In my experience, there are five traits found in every extraordinary salesperson that help define this resiliency.
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Achievers. Sales professionals invented the use of game mechanics in the workplace. Leader boards, the President’s Club and special incentives have been part of the institution of sales for decades. It is effective because salespeople care so much about winning. Achievement—more so than money—is the primary motivation for the best reps. They want money, of course, but they also want the thrill of winning the big deal and being recognized by their peers.
Reality distortion field. Exceptional salespeople don’t get flustered. They have a Zen-like ability to focus on the specific task at hand while exuding an aura of calm confidence. In the early 1980s, the Macintosh development team used the term “reality distortion field” to describe Steve Jobs’ charisma. Winning salespeople typically have a flavor of this condition that makes them unflappable in the face of challenges.
Control freaks. The average tenure for a VP of Sales is 18 months. The reason it’s not 24 or 36 months is that somewhere along the way they get surprised by a missed forecast and don’t have enough time to backfill the lost deal. That’s why the very best salespeople obsess over every detail of the presentation. They dress rehearse meetings. They’re at Kinkos at 5:30 a.m. meticulously assembling the proposal. Good salespeople hate surprises. And the best way to reduce the chances of being surprised is to focus on every detail of the process.
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Fiercely loyal. The stereotype of salespeople is that they are constantly scheming to line their pockets with the customers’ money. While this might be the case for bad sales reps, the opposite tends to be true for exceptional salespeople. The best are intensely loyal to their customers and step in to solve problems. If things happen to go awry after the sale, the sales rep works on their behalf to fix the situation. This is the social contract that all great salespeople live by.
Paranoid. Salespeople are optimists. They have to be to survive the emotional rollercoaster of winning and losing deals. But that optimism is often balanced by a healthy dose of paranoia. The best salespeople constantly ask themselves how could this go wrong? In one column, they will write down all of the ways in which they could lose the sale. And then in another column they write down what they are going to do to reduce the risk of that happening.
Mental toughness is half the battle. If you have what it takes to be told no on 50 consecutive calls so you can get the yes on the 51st call, then you are on the path to an exceptional career in sales. Possessing these five traits will get there faster.
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