When you look at what determines high-performance in sales and marketing, so much boils down to volume of activity. Of course, quality is important, but frequency of communication is also important if you are going to capture and sustain the attention of busy, distracted people in a crowded marketplace.
In sales teams that I work with as a performance psychologist, the core issue is rarely a lack of skill in converting opportunities in the pipeline – it’s much more likely to be the sheer scarcity of such opportunities in the first place.
Sales people, almost universally, invest too little time finding new opportunities, which also makes them less likely to weed-out unqualified prospects that are not likely to convert and more likely to continue investing time in them. Similarly in marketing, teams often invest huge quantities of time polishing content and measuring its response at the expense of sustaining a high volume of output and persisting with lead-generating activities.
Persistence is Unnatural
Sports psychologist, Steve Peters, of “Chimp Paradox” fame, famously told Olympic track cyclists, Chris Hoy and Vicky Pendleton, that he wanted them to go “unnatural.” Pedalling away on a turbo bike for long periods beyond the point at which fatigue sets in goes against the way in which we’ve evolved. As Peters says, we’re wired for the jungle, not society in the 21st century.
We’ve not changed since our ancestors emerged from Africa some hundred thousand years ago and, in that environment, survival was often determined by our ability to preserve energy – for the next tribal raid, predator attack or hunting party – rather than squander it on something difficult. This is why when anthropologists have studied remaining hunter-gatherer societies, they’ve observed that people, particularly men, spend a good deal of time not doing very much.
So, now that I’ve given you an excuse for not doing the the washing up, you may also understand why we often find ourselves “too busy” to do some of the key activities that determine success in our role.
Negativity Leads to Avoidance
By its very nature, proactive sales and marketing activity will fail more often than it will succeed. Only a very small number of new sales prospects will engage in more advanced sales discussions; meanwhile some marketing activities will elicit great responses, and others won’t, and it will not always be apparent why.
For evolutionary reasons, the more primitive part of the brain wants us to avoid failure. Being ignored by prospects or failing to get responses is particularly negative, as we are wired to avoid being ostracized by our social group – in our ancestral environment, this could mean death – so, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we find it uncomfortable when our efforts at communicating don’t get a great response.
The problem with this negativity, is that it can encourage avoidant behavior which we then rationalize. How many times have you heard, “We tried that approach and it didn’t work,” or “that sort of messaging is futile.” It’s important to override that impulse and learn to persist.
Step 1: Develop a Growth Mindset
The question then becomes, “How?” If we shift our perception and learn to believe that we are constantly growing our abilities to craft impactful communications in a sales or marketing context, then we start to view failure simply as part of the learning process. And we fear it less. We are more open to learning from what didn’t work and can employ a “design” mindset, thinking of early efforts as prototypes that we continue to iterate. This approach also make us more open to learning from others, drawing lessons from successful practices elsewhere.
Step 2: Cultivate Virtuous Daily Habits
Learn from elite athletes, and build for yourself a goal-setting hierarchy — starting with your overarching target, whether this is for lead volumes or sales performance. In tennis, Johanna Konta found the pressure to win tournaments oppressive so, with her psychologist, she worked on a goal hierarchy with emphasis on the daily process goals such as, hitting 200 forehands in a morning. Similarly, work back from your overall target, figure out what this means for daily activity.
Pro Tip: Start with baby steps and find a time of day when your motivation is highest and you are best able to avoid distractions. For many, this is first thing in the morning. For content marketers, this can take the form of setting yourself a word target of just 500 words-a-morning. Over the course of a few mornings, you will have built up a substantial amount of text. In fact, it may be that you just need an hour a day. If you can avoid all other distractions, it is surprising how much you can achieve with an hour of focused effort. This brings me to my final point.
Step 3: Limit Distractions During Creation
The brain is very poor at multitasking (and, it turns out, this is equally true of women as men) as our working memory is tiny. A study that appeared in the McKinsey Quarterly in 2011 showed that multitaskers took 30 percent longer than those that focused on one task at a time and made twice as many mistakes.
This also means that we struggle to get back on task when we’ve been interrupted and, with repeated interruptions and distractions, our cognitive performance begins to suffer. This makes concentration and creativity harder and makes it still more difficult for us to persist in delivering high-quality output.
So, while we need to stay on top of feedback and responses to our output, this should be separate from the process of output creation. While this may seem paradoxical — particularly for those of us required to stay on top of social media chatter — we need to remove ourselves from all notifications and new messages when we are trying to focus on the cognitively complex work of creating impactful communication.
The results of our best work in sales and marketing is often delayed. Marketing content that initially appears to fall on deaf ears can later turn out to be a hit. The sales email that went unacknowledged can lead to a meeting when followed up weeks later.
While we yearn for constant feedback and can lose motivation when it feels as if our efforts are ignored, persistence is best built by detaching our daily habits from the occasional review of results.
Despite evolutionary instincts to the contrary, athletes understand the importance of persistence and focus and that success is often driven by the pursuit of small process goals every day. Employ a similar approach to sales and marketing and you will see an impact your performance.
Author Bio Ian Price is a performance psychologist with Recludo Consulting and the author of, “Head Start: Build a Resilient Mindset so You Can Achieve Your Goals”. Learn more at www.headstartbook.com.
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