There is a science behind having the right focus.
By Carole Mahoney
I have observed lately that several of the clients I have been working with, everyone from salespeople to vice presidents, have struggled to maintain a positive outlook.
No surprise when you consider that some studies show that 60% to 70% of our daily thoughts are negative, and not only that, but 95% of our thoughts are repetitive.
So not only are we thinking bad thoughts, we’re also repeating them. Add the current economic and political climate into the equation, and it’s not really a surprise.
Creating a positive outlook was one of the hardest things I had to do when I got into sales! It gets easier, but like most things: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Daily maintenance is crucial. After all, a negative outlook is an obstacle for all sales professionals when it comes to setting goals, managing time, and even how quickly they learn a new habit or skill.
What Does Scientific Research Say?
Martin Fishbein at the University of Pennsylvania and Icek Ajzen at the University of Massachusetts created the Theory of Reasoned Action that suggests our internal decision to perform a particular behavior is determined by our attitude towards that behavior.
In general: “An individual will hold a favorable attitude toward a given behavior if they believe that performing the behavior will lead to mostly positive outcomes.”
The same applies for negative attitudes and behaviors too: A person is less likely to perform a behavior if they believe the behavior will have a negative outcome.
This means a person’s attitude depends on what they think the significant people in their lives think they should say or do.
For example, if your parents told you that people will think you are rude if you ask them about money, that can form a negative outcome in your thinking. So, when you have to ask someone about their budget or establish the costs of a service for someone, you may try to avoid it.
According to Fishbein and Ajzen’s research, the most effective behavior interventions are directed at changing specific behaviors, not broader behavioral categories. If you want to lose weight, “an intervention to jog for 20 minutes twice a week will work better than an intervention that targets the concept of exercising.”
So, focusing on the daily activities and behaviors are more likely to help a salesperson working for you than telling him or her, “You need to fill your pipeline with more opportunities and leads.”
A negative outlook is an obstacle for all sales professionals when it comes to setting goals, managing time, and even how quickly they learn a new habit.
Additional findings published in 2007 by the Department of Psychology at New York University and the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience at the University College London used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data.
It showed that optimism activates the parts of our brain called the rostral anterior cingulated cortex and the amygdala. When activated, these help us downplay negative emotional responses and drive us to go after higher-stakes goals. Furthermore, when we are not in a negative state of mind, we are able to learn and understand more easily.
The study showed that an optimistic outlook is more focused on near-term events and successes. So as a sales manager, if you are trying to help your salesperson go after a goal that will motivate them, think short-term first.
The Difference Between Outlook and Mindset
Outlook has been defined as “a person’s point of view or general attitude,” whereas mindset is defined as “the established set of attitudes held by someone.” Think of outlook as an attitude, which is a component of a mindset.
But is it just a part of a larger whole if outlook impacts so many other components of your mindset? Is this proof that the struggle with a poor outlook I observed with clients is a predictor of things like why they struggle to set goals that align with their why, don’t prospect enough because they don’t manage their time, or even how quickly they are able to learn and improve?
What Does the Data Say?
Here is what I found using the Objective Management Group data of more than one million salespeople across the globe.
Elite salespeople had the best outlook and had the highest level of motivation, desire, commitment, and speed of learning. But as strong outlook decreased, so did the levels of motivation, desire, commitment, and speed of learning in salespeople who are doing okay but could improve.
And in the weakest salespeople? Those with the poorest outlook had the most dramatic decreases in motivation and learning.
Specific to setting and going after their goals, the difference in outlook also has an impact. Those with strong positive outlooks were more likely to have written goals that were meaningful to them, had a plan to achieve them, and developed a system to track their progress.
Those salespeople were 298%(!) more likely to be elite performers who had 32% more skills because they were open to learning and doing whatever it took to reach their goals.
How Does This Apply to You?
Most of us know that a negative outlook is kryptonite to anyone in sales. Its impact on things like bravery, grit, curiosity, and empathy means you may be bailing out in tough situations and become more emotional than normal.
Tough situations can include anything that seems risky—like prospecting (“No one wants to talk to me.”), qualifying (“This is too nice for them.”), even setting goals (“I have to be realistic; what if I fail?”), managing your time (“I have no control over that.” and “Too many people need me.”), and trying to learn or unlearn a skill or habit (“Why bother?”)
So, if you’re saying those things or others like “I can’t seem to get a break!” and are struggling in sales, it might be time to see what the real obstacle to your growth is.
Stay tuned for the next column in the August 2023 issue of Water Well Journal where we will dig into specific strategies and tactics you and your team can do to develop and maintain your positive outlook.
Carole Mahoney, as the founder of Unbound Growth, has coached Harvard Business School Entrepreneurial MBA students on sales and been featured as a top sales coach by Ambition and Sales Hacker. You can contact her directly at www.unboundgrowth.com.