Think Like a Winner

By Lain Ehmann

Woody Allen has said that 80% of success in life is just showing up. While that may be true for actors and directors, the rest of us have to work for a living, and working smart means thinking smart. Jill Konrath, president of St. Paul, Minnesota-based Leapfrog-Strategies, says thinking smart means more than matching the right peg to the right hole; thinking smart means using higher-level wisdom.

Konrath breaks smart thinking for salespeople into three categories: investigation, creation, and evaluation. Investigation refers to the process of researching and gathering information about your prospects, their market trends, decision-making processes, competitive offerings and the like. “Most reps are on autopilot,” says Konrath. “They don’t stop to think before they go in to see a customer. They hope their brilliance will arise in the moment. But top reps know that brilliance only arises after intense preparation.”

The second step involves creating new solutions, ideas and multiple options. “It’s the ability to see things in different ways, from different perspectives,” explains Konrath. Great salespeople ask creative questions of themselves and of their customers to generate creative responses, but they don’t just stop there. They create not just plan A and plan B, but plans C and D, too.

Finally, top sellers evaluate their options. They take a look at ideas and plans and review them before they’re implemented, thinking through possible objections, questions and pitfalls, and creating responses, says Konrath. They also perform frequent self-evaluations. After each encounter they pause to look at their own performance and determine what went well and what they can improve on in the future.

Managers who want to help their teams think smarter need to fundamentally change their philosophy and the work environment. “It goes beyond signing team members up for another course,” says Konrath. “You have to create a culture of learning.” Doing so doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as hosting a monthly conference call where big wins are discussed not just in terms of what happened, but how it happened, says Konrath.

Managers also can coach individual team members by asking pointed questions to help lead the salesperson in new directions of thought. Konrath suggests several methods: Ask the rep to speak from his or her customer’s point of view, or from that of a competitor. Ask for three plans, not just one. Lead reps through post-call self-evaluations. Set the expectations for them to stretch.

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