Resilience: A Key Quality for Sales Success

By Malcolm Fleschner

Resilience is the ability to brush ourselves off after getting knocked down, learn from our mistakes instead of repeat them, and rebuff rejection instead of internalize negativity. It’s also what sets high-performing sales professionals apart from the also-rans.

Unlike those who experience rejection and say, “That wasn’t a lot of fun; I’m not going to do that again,” the best sales reps have a way of channeling rejection to power their internal drive to improve. According to the president of a leading performance-management firm, a resilient attitude “has an enormous amount to do with who we are, who we become, and how we succeed.

“Great salespeople don’t just distance themselves from rejection,” he says. “Instead, they think about what happened, take the learning lessons, and envision the opportunity to go back in and do it again, because they feel they can take that challenge on and change the outcome. They know they can’t go back and do it again, but in the back of their mind they’re dying for a similar opportunity, because they know what they’d do differently. And that kind of resilience is part of what makes top salespeople so special.”

But resilience is more than a beneficial, individual character trait. It’s also a key tenet of effective organizational leadership. Particularly in the current economic climate, resilience can often mean the difference between organizational survival and oblivion.

“When we look back on the great leaders in history, they always seem so certain about their decisions,” says our expert. “We know that’s not the case, though. I think about Dwight Eisenhower who, after the Normandy invasion, delivered a great speech about grit and determination. But he had also written a speech in case the invasion failed, and in that speech he stated that he felt the Allies had taken the proper tack, but he took full responsibility for its failure.”

Eisenhower’s example holds lessons for business leaders today, who owe it to the people they lead to show outward confidence despite any lingering internal doubts, says the expert.

“We have one client who told us that when the economy started going south, he had just spent nine months working on a new plan but had to scrap the whole thing,” he says. “Another client said his company, a regional bank based in South Carolina, had to change its definition of success. The bank recognized that success today isn’t necessarily what it would have called a success three years ago. So it had to celebrate success in a different way when it occurred, rather than have the same success metric and then feel like the bank wasn’t doing well.”

Times that call for change and adaptation are where resilience and leadership intersect. “Leading is about gathering all the information you possibly can, reflecting on it, arranging it in a way to exploit a space no one else sees, and then diving in,” he says. “But today that time between reflection and action has all but disappeared. So the challenge for leaders is enormous, as they’re responsible for setting a tone and deciding to take the organization in a different direction – all with less time to make these momentous decisions.”

Resilient leadership means more than making tough decisions, however. Often, what happens after a course of action determines a leader’s success. Sales leaders have to know what they’re up against and then make the best possible decision based on the information at hand.

“Then you have to believe and move forward with a strength of conviction,” says our expert source. “Because if that conviction isn’t there, people aren’t going to follow. They’re looking to you, and that’s what’s going to give them the faith to move forward and try to weather the storm.”