Know Thyself, Grow Thy Sales

By Heather Baldwin

One of the key leadership tenets taught to would-be Army officers is: Know yourself. It also should be taught to anyone considering a sales career. This may seem obvious, but “it is striking how many salespeople have little self-knowledge,” observes Laurie Mellor, an executive consultant with Temple Financial Planning and author of Sales Success in Tough Times (Dream Depot, 2003). “Before you can sell to others, you have to understand them. Before you can understand others, you have to understand yourself.” Here are some important but often ignored ways Mellor says sales reps can better understand themselves.
Know how you are perceived by others. Mellor has asked a few clients he knows well how they perceive him and sometimes has been surprised by their answers. “We almost invariably do not see ourselves as others see us and it is essential to know how we come across,” he says. “We might think we are friendly and sociable, but if that comes across as smarmy we’ve lost the game.” So pluck up the courage and ask. Then listen closely to the answer without defending or explaining yourself. Once you’ve done this a few times you’ll have the courage to ask about a customer’s perceptions of you when it counts the most, such as when you’re not hitting it off and want to find out if you’re doing something wrong.
Know what makes you angry. If you have a tendency to become angry, know the warning signs and either avoid those situations or withdraw before your blood boils over, says Mellor. “I believe it is a myth that allowing one’s anger to overflow has a cathartic effect,” he observes. “In my experience it has a corrosive quality and, more often than not, one would love to be able to turn back the clock.” Customers will forgive almost anything but anger, he adds, noting that even if you apologize afterwards, the damage is done.
Know how you deal with customers’ stress. If your tendency is to mirror customers’ behavior and allow their irritation to create irritation within yourself, work on diffusing these types of situations. “Talk to yourself positively and remind yourself that the behavior customers display is their way of coping,” says Mellor. “Take a deep breath, change the pace and, if necessary, take a break to get yourself away from an intense situation. Chances are the customer also is feeling uncomfortable and would welcome some respite.”
Know your physical health. If you’re going through life at warp speed and your only respite is a beer at night, sooner or later you’re going to implode. For long-term success, take an honest assessment of your physical health and if you’re not truly satisfied with it, take steps now to make changes. “Exercise is doubly important in the sales business where stress can be the norm,” says Mellor. But it needn’t mean tedious hours in the gym, if that’s not your thing. Find something you love – baseball, karate, swimming, refereeing soccer games – and it won’t seem like exercise at all.

Know your best time of day. If you’re at your sharpest first thing in the morning, don’t spend the morning hours getting cups of coffee, catching up on the news and reading emails. Spend that time making prospecting calls, giving presentations and doing other activities that require you to be 100%. When your brain starts fading in the afternoon you can catch up on less-demanding sales activities. Conversely, if your brain doesn’t fully awaken until the afternoon, don’t schedule the biggest presentation of your career for 8:00 a.m. Your audience will regret it as much as you will.