The Damaging Psychology of Sales Reps and 3 Crucial Habits of Top Performers The reasons why sales reps underperform are not entirely mysterious.

By Graham Young

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


I can remember not too long ago working as a sales rep for a technology company in Vancouver. The size of each deal ranged anywhere from $100 all the way past $100,000. Everyday I would go into work excited to make any sort of sale that would boost me closer towards my monthly quota.

Success for me at the time was only based on external factors. How much money I was making, what car I drove, what kind of clothes I wore and how I ranked each month on the list of sales reps.

Because my success was based on results, so too was my motivation. This was fine when sales were good, but sabotaged me when they weren't. It got to a point where if I didn't make any form of a sale on a given day, I'd leave feeling dissatisfied and as if I didn't do enough.

These dips in success initially pushed me to work harder and longer. However, when that didn't provide immediate gratification, I noticed that I was creating new counterproductive habits in order to satisfy myself in the short-term.

Rather than allocating a certain amount of time to cold calling new prospects or mapping out an email plan to reach potential customers; I'd try to find the quickest buck everyday. I'd go through my massive list of outdated opportunities and continuously hound those customers, hoping they would eventually turn into a sale. As in my mind, a current prospect was not only easier to talk to, but they were also much closer to buying something than a brand new one.

As many of us do in the age of technology, I was in need of instant gratification, in order to satisfy my need of being satisfied. Everything that I couldn't see closing within 30 days became boring and unfulfilling.

This way of thinking damages performance.

For so long I had been training my mind to believe that success was strictly based on the results I put up on the scoreboard.

So when sales were high I got complacent and felt I didn't need to follow through with the critical activities that got me to that point of success in the first place, such as cold calls, asking for referrals, email plans, client follow-up, asking the tough questions in meetings, etc.

The problem is that habits are either sharpened on a daily basis or lost over time.

By slacking off and riding the wave of revenue, those habits were slowly being unconditioned from my mind. By being complacent during the good times, I hadn't been sharpening those important habits, and it was hard for me to pick them back up again.

I wasn't ready to cold call. I wasn't in the mood to prospect. I was scared to pick up the phone, and worst of all, I became disengaged and lost all motivation because I had trained my mind to only feel good when there was a tangible result.

On top of all this, because my success was only based on results, when sales started to drop, my confidence took a significant hit as well.

If I had nothing to show that day or little revenue to show that week, then it was deemed a failure. I wasn't excited to come into work. I felt like my worth as an employee was sinking. I compared myself to my colleagues, and I even became jealous of their success.

Here's the brain science behind sales.

The exact amount of revenue you bring in each month is, in many ways, out of your control.

So when you only base success on that number, you ignore your efforts. This can be very damaging for humans because we may be doing all the right things and putting our best foot forward, but because the numbers don't add up, our self-worth plummets.

The challenge is that when you think this way, your brain goes into a reactive and defensive state. It does this because it recognizes you are lacking something in your life, and in its overly protective nature, zones in on the problem and tries to fix it immediately. So your brain begins to now view your quota as a threat.

Any time a threat is present, this reactive fight-or-flight state forces you to narrow your focus on that problem, block out external information in your environment and concentrate on the short-term. Being hyper focused on the problem cuts off your long-term vision and is the reason I began hounding existing accounts, providing significant discounts to customers and doing anything I could to bring in money now.

To make matters worse, my brain began to perceive everything that wouldn't produce immediate revenue as a threat - from company meetings, to my colleagues success, right through to an incoming lead, because I knew it wouldn't turn into a sale fast enough that month.

Here's how to elevate your sales performance.

As a performance consultant and speaker, I create programs and corporate workshops that simplify the brain science behind increasing employee engagement, productivity and sales performance.

When trying to optimize performance out of anyone, it's important to look at every angle, especially the psychological aspect. Rather than reprimanding employees for missing target or for not meeting their daily activity level, understand what's going on inside their mind.

Related: 6 Ways to Make Motivation a Verb

The psychology of a sales rep is important to empathize with and explain to your staff, otherwise that motivation and engagement can be difficult to gain back.

Once they accept their shortcomings and understand that their monthly revenue and behavioral roller coaster is very normal, you can then begin to rebuild those habits and elevate their mental state over time. Here are three crucial habits of high performing sales reps.

1. Consistency is key.

Help your team understand how habits are formed. Teach them to follow through with each habit or skill every single day no matter what.

Habits are not action items that need to be carried out in full everyday. They just need to be addressed and focused on a bit to remain ingrained in our mind.

Related: 10 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Know and Live By

For example, if your reps are too busy to make their 20 cold calls for the day, then make sure they at least make one no matter what. Find the time to keep those critical habits alive even when you're exceeding your quota, so that if things drop off you can pick them back up quickly.

2. Peak mental performance.

Each morning I tell myself that I am successful because "I'm following my passion, and I'm learning and growing from every single thing that happens to me."

It doesn't matter what mistakes I make or if I'm well below my monthly quota. I force myself to base my success on my effort and if I'm learning from my experiences and applying that knowledge to continuously grow.

Our brain learns from repetition, the words we say to ourselves and how those words make us feel.

Related: How One Liquor Brand Impresses Its Most Important Customer: Bartenders

By saying the above to myself, it gives me control over my success and how I feel everyday. My feeling of accomplishment is not based on external factors that I can't control - like if someone buys something from me. Instead, it's based on my effort and my actions. This puts me in a positive mental state so when I interact with others I'm speaking from a place of confidence and certainty, not from fear and deficit.

While this may sound counterintuitive to success, the reality is it takes my brain out of that lacking and reactive state and enables me to optimize my brain's performance. I trust in my ambition and work ethic so much that this just gives me an opportunity to reduce stress, and enjoy the journey.

3. What can you measure?

Of course it's easy to measure how much revenue you've brought in each month. But it's not easy to determine exactly what you did to create that number if you don't measure what you do on a daily basis.

It may feel tedious and even boring, especially when you're exceeding your sales quota, but remember if you don't have a track record of what made you successful, then you'll never know how to sustain or regain it. Here are some questions to ask yourself each day.

  • What are the primary activities that lead to my success? Am I conditioning those habits in my mind everyday?
  • What are the response rates of my different types of messaging?
  • Do I have an unknown or under appreciated problem to bring to my prospects attention? How is it resonating with people?
  • How many large companies or high net worth individuals am I going after compared to smaller ones?
  • How much am I relying on my current contacts and opportunities instead of brand new ones?

Try to take your eyes off the end prize.

Focus on your daily routine, and feel success in following through with those activities. When you focus on consistency instead of destination and trust in your relentless work ethic, you always feel successful no matter what is going on around you.

Wavy Line
Graham Young

Keynote Speaker

Graham Young writes to simplify the psychology and neuroscience behind human performance. He has spoken on stage to thousands of people, provided corporate training to some of the largest companies in North America and written in publications including Entrepreneur, TIME and Business Insider.

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